Zero Density: The Next Level of Virtual Studio Production

* This interview originally published on CIO Applications

Tijen Armagan, CEO

Virtual studio sets that allow real-time collaboration of people and computer-generated environments or objects in a seamless manner are not exactly new to the broadcasting industry. Sports broadcasting companies, in particular, are known to use various immersive technologies to attract and create memorable virtual experiences for viewers. But what truly makes a show stand out is the photorealism it achieves. During the 2018 FIFA World Cup, a Belgian channel virtually transported star player Eden Hazard from Russia to their studio in Belgium for a live interview. To everyone’s surprise, the hologram of Hazard fit perfectly in the studio, sitting on a chair and making realistic eye-contact with the hosts. Now imagine an augmented reality-enabled dragon flying into a stadium, soaring around as the spectators gasp in utter disbelief, and letting out a good roar before taking off again. How incredibly impressed the audience must have been by such visual experiences!

All of these stunning virtual studio production achievements were brought to fruition by Zero Density—a technology company dedicated to developing creative products for broadcasting, augmented reality, live events, and e-sports industries. How Zero Density made a quantum leap in the world of media and virtual studio production can be discovered from the company’s CE0 Tijen Armağan’s comprehensive interview with CIO Applications.

How would you best describe Zero Density’s unique value proposition?

Zero Density offers the next level of virtual studio production with real-time visual effects using its incredible virtual studio and augmented reality platform, ‘Reality.’ The platform leverages various advanced real-time compositing tools as well as Zero Density’s proprietary keying technology to help create immersive content and revolutionize story-telling in broadcasting, media or cinema industry. Today, we are proud that various leaders in the media & entertainment industry including Eurosport, Fox Sports, EA Games, and Shanghai Media Group rely on our virtual studio production products.

What led to the development of ‘Reality’? How has the platform evolved with current trends in the media and entertainment space?

The most pressing challenges for virtual studio production were believability, poor usability, and tiresome implementation processes. Although broadcasters and producers were hugely in favor of virtual sets, they could not use them effectively. We saw the need to solve these issues and brought the highest level of quality, ease of use, and incredible visual effects that have been defining the scene ever since. When nobody even remotely imagined the adoption of game engines for real-time production, we went on-air in 2016 with our cutting-edge product ‘Reality’. We disrupted the industry and were also awarded two prestigious IBC Innovation Awards.

Initially founded as an R&D company, our aim is to identify gaps in the industry and develop creative products to fill these gaps.

Reality’ is taking broadcasting to the next level by providing tools for creating captivating content with the highest photorealism possible, and in turn, revolutionizing story-telling

With regard to current trends, there is always a need for attractive ways of story-telling to create a gripping connection with the audience. The most fitting way to achieve this is to have visual excellence and premium content. Virtual studio production with ‘Reality’ is taking broadcasting to the next level by providing tools for creating captivating content with the highest photorealism possible, and in turn, revolutionizing story-telling.

Could you elaborate on the features, functionalities, and benefits of Zero Density’s offerings?

Zero Density’s Reality Engine is based on Unreal Engine by Epic Games which provides rendering realism for 3D environment and is the world’s first real-time, node-based compositor that enables real-time visual effects pipelines. It also enables complex hybrid virtual studio operation by seamlessly combining virtual and real environments. To enhance the effectiveness of virtual studio production, we have also developed our own components. And one of the most important components is the Reality Keyer, the world’s first and only real-time image-based keyer that works with tracked cameras.

What makes Reality Keyer different?

Reality Keyer is not a chroma keyer, but an image-based keyer which allows lighting directors to freely illuminate green screen non-uniformly. As a result, directors match green screen video with dramatically lit 3D environments and this is massive game changer for keying workflows. With an ability to work in 3D space and also enable end-to-end 4K production, Reality Keyer provides spectacular results for keying of contact shadows, transparent objects, and sub-pixel details such as hair. For instance, most keyers struggle to handle soft shadows, which results in loss of valuable details that blend with the virtual environment. Reality Keyer enables complex hybrid virtual studio operation by seamlessly combining virtual and real environments.

Could you provide us with a case study to illustrate the efficacy of your offerings?

2018 World Cup had notable broadcasting milestones, and many of them were achieved with the help of ‘Reality.’ A French TV channel, TF1’s WC broadcast marathon raised the standards in the industry as a result of several ground-breaking technical and visual achievements. Zero Density enabled TF1 to expand their virtual studio and unveil a virtual world by blending together various physical and virtual elements. The channel’s set was animated with 30,000 interactive supporters in the stadium in addition to numerous virtual scenes ranging from the team bus to locker rooms.

What distinguishes Zero Density from its competitors and what are the company’s plans for the near future?

Zero Density is a new company that entered the industry by disrupting it. Instead of being weighed down by legacy software, Zero Density focuses on cutting edge development and creation of innovative products, changing workflows while bridging industries.

‘Reality’ enables the most photo-realistic virtual studio production in the market since it first went on-air as a one-of-a-kind product. Our technique of compositing green screen images with graphics in 3D scenes results in real-time, realistic reflections and refractions of people as well as physical objects inside the green screen. Furthermore, our proprietary ‘Reality Keyer’, portal window, video wall, and an ability to shoot 360-degree together make the most significant difference by making the audience unsure whether what they watch includes real videos or digital renders.

We are growing rapidly and have launched our Europe branch recently along with a new release for ‘Reality’ based on Unreal Engine 4.20. We want to emphasize that ‘Reality’ is not a tool but a platform, which will respond to the evolving needs of the industry with every new release. In the near future, our Reality platform will also target the film industry, enabling producers to shoot on-site, collect raw data of images and graphics, track it into a single stream, and eventually deliver it to the postproduction crew.