Blackmagic Design cameras and software are a staple of independent filmmakers and high-end productions. Steve Dabal of film production house The Family takes technology to a new level.
Steve Dabal has extensive experience in film and visual effects and founded The Family in 2015, a premier film production house in New York specializing in production, virtual reality, AR/XR, animation and visual effects.
Dabal’s introduction to virtual cinema came from a multi-LED screen projection art installation he and his team created, which was accepted into SXSW. They couldn’t rebuild it at SXSW, so they created a “VR port” in the facility, where visitors could use VR goggles to view and experience it.
“It opened up the idea of ’this technology is a cool new way as a communication tool,’ and we just started experimenting with it,” Dabal said.
From there, Steve and The Family started using virtual reality and augmented reality for different tasks. He and his cinematographer did virtual location scouting with Google Earth. So when they arrived on the scene to film, it was as if they had already scouted the area.
They also use virtual reality and augmented reality to prepare for a production, including previewing and even a new way of storyboarding by drawing exactly what the filmmaker wants.
The Family’s virtual production soundstage features 50-by-12-foot LED walls that can be rendered in real time, allowing filmmakers and content creators to create entire worlds without the need for a green screen. They will be able to see what the final product will look like, thanks to The Family’s expert team of XR operators and 3D artists.
“We can only accommodate three or four crew members, including director, DP and gaffer, so it’s fun, and we can do DMX lighting and no physical props,” Dabal said. “But we can also increase the size of a major commercial shoot fivefold, and we have a full production team.”
To make this mammoth workflow work with affordability in mind, Dabal and his team rely on Blackmagic Design cameras, hardware and software to get the job done.
Blackmagic Design Workflow
The family uses a number of Blackmagic Design cameras and gear, including the URSA Mini Pro 4.6K and URSA Mini Pro 4.6K G2, pocket movie camera 4K, DeckLink 8K Pro, SmartScope Duo, ATEM Mini, Intensity Shuttle and some vital converters for the production house. In addition, they cut and calibrate on DaVinci Resolve.
“The URSA offers an accessible price point for indie productions while delivering a punch that doesn’t compromise essential features like genlock, LUTs, RAW formats, dynamic range, and more,” Dabal said. “It’s pretty amazing how comfortable their camera systems are for people from different backgrounds and industries that we work with every day.”
“When I was in school, the Blackmagic pocket movie camera just released, so we put it where other film cameras couldn’t go. Today, someone can walk into our facilities and start filming with URSA, without the need for a specialized camera or training. Blackmagic is just perfect for what we offer our customers and also for our own production needs.”
During his undergraduate studies at ArtCenter College of Design, Dabal learned how to use DaVinci Resolve for color adjustments, masking, power windows, and more. Today, he and The Family use Resolve for their post-production workflows.
“DaVinci Resolve is a powerful and comprehensive NLE that guides our footage through the post-production process. Transcoding, DI, editorial, VFX and, of course, color grading,” Dabal said. “The fact that it’s still free with every release is really amazing.”
Dabal said he liked the ease of the NLE.
“I can do my stitching in Resolve and then share the cut with other editors to collaborate,” he said, “but I always have the ability to go back into the cut and refine it, make visual effects on a shot and grading the project, all in one application.It’s an incredible workflow that can be scaled from a standalone project all the way to commercial production.
Blackmagic Design equipment keeps The Family’s production facilities running smoothly. As Dabal explained, even the HDMI-SDI and HDMI-SDI converters work well, especially with live streaming.
“We have many non-standard connections and multiple streams, but Blackmagic devices allow us to convert them all the time and have become the unsung hero for us,” Dabal said. If they had chosen something else, he thinks there would be greater potential for failure.
Overall, Dabal and The Family are able to offer a state-of-the-art environment for their clients, from small independent projects to full-fledged commercial productions. And at the heart of it all is the equipment and software they use from Blackmagic.
“BMD has created this beautiful ecosystem of hardware and software that is affordable and meets the very high quality standards that all manufacturers are held to,” Dabal said.