Blackmagic Design cameras and software are a staple of both indie filmmakers and high-end productions. Steve Dabal of the film production house The Family takes the tech to a new level.
Steve Dabal has an background in both filmmaking and visual effects extensive and founded The Family in 2015, a leading film production house in New York specializing in production, VR, AR/XR, animation, and VFX.
Dabal’s introduction to virtual filmmaking came from a multi-LED screen projection art installation he and his team created, which was accepted into SXSW. They couldn’t re-build it at SXSW, so they created a “VR Port” in the installation, where visitors could use VR glasses to view and experience it.
“It opened up the idea of, ‘this tech is a cool new way as a communication tool,’ and we just started experimenting with it,” Dabal said.
From there, Steve and The Family began using VR and AR for different tasks. He and his cinematographer did virtual location scouting with Google Earth, so when they arrived at the location to film, it was as if they had already scouted the area.
They also use VR and AR to prep for a production, including pre-viz and even a new way of storyboarding by drawing exactly what the filmmaker wants.
The Family’s virtual production soundstage includes 50-foot by 12-foot LED walls that can render in real-time, allowing filmmakers and content creators to create entire worlds without the need for a greenscreen. They’ll 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 accommodate just three or four crew members, including the director, DP, and gaffer, so it has a fun feel to it, and we can do DMX lighting and no physical props,” Dabal said. “But we can also scale up for a major commercial shoot and multiply it by five, and we have a full production crew.”
To get this behemoth workflow working 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 URSA Mini Pro 4.6K and URSA Mini Pro 4.6K G2s, Pocket Cinema Camera 4K, DeckLink 8K Pro, SmartScope Duo, ATEM Mini, Intensity Shuttle, and a few converters that are vital to the production house. Additionally, they cut and grade on DaVinci Resolve.
“The URSA brings an accessible price point for indie productions while packing a punch that doesn’t compromise on essential features like genlock, LUTs, RAW formats, dynamic range, etc.,” Dabal said. “It’s been quite incredible to see how comfortable their camera systems are to people from distinct backgrounds and industries that we work with every day.”
“When I was in school, the Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera was just released, so we put it in places other cinema cameras couldn’t go. Today, someone could walk into our facility and just start shooting with the URSA, there’s no need for a specialty camera or training. Blackmagic is just a beautiful fit for what we offer to our clients and also for our own production needs.”
During Dabal’s undergraduate studies at the ArtCenter College of Design, he learned 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, all-encompassing NLE that shepherds our footage through the entire post process. Transcoding, DI, editorial, VFX, and, of course, grading,” Dabal said. “The fact that it is still free with every release is truly amazing.”
Dabal said he appreciates the ease of the NLE.
“I can get my assembly done in Resolve and then share the cut with other editors to collaborate,” he said, “but I still have the ability to go back into the cut and refine it, do VFX on a shot, and grade the project, all in one app. It’s an amazing workflow that can be scaled from an indie project all the way to a commercial production.”
Blackmagic Design’s gear keeps everything running smoothly at The Family’s production facilities. As Dabal explained, even the HDMI-to-SDI and HDMI-to-SDI converters keep things running smoothly, especially with livestreaming.
“We have many non-standardized connections and multiple feeds, but the Blackmagic peripherals allow us to constantly convert those and have become the unsung hero for us,” Dabal said. If they had chosen anything else, he feels there would be a higher potential for failure.
All in all, Dabal and The Family are able to offer a cutting-edge environment for their clients, from small indie projects to full-blown commercial productions. And at the heart of it all is the equipment and software they’re using from Blackmagic.
“BMD has made this beautiful ecosystem of hardware and software that’s affordable and keeps up with the very high-quality standards we hold every manufacturer to,” Dabal said.