Blade handles post and VR on Survivor SA

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SCREEN AFRICA EXCLUSIVE: Survivor is certainly one of the world’s most successful reality shows and this year M-Net has commissioned their sixth local version.

The previous season was produced back in 2013 with Survivor South Africa: Champions, filmed in Malaysia and featuring a change to the format by introducing ex Springbok captain, Corne Krige and Bafana Bafana footballer Mark Fish to the game as captains of two tribes.

This season has an all public cast who are all avid fans of the game. The location is a collection of various islands off the town of El Nido in Palawan, Philippines. This season also saw the extension of the amount of days stretching to 39 days, considerably longer than any of the previous seasons of Survivor SA.

Le Roux Botha, series director of this season of Survivor South Africa, is in charge of ensuring that the creative roll out is consistently appealing for viewers to keep coming back for more. “The Philippines location consisted of various islands that were utilised for challenges. This meant that the design of the challenge and the location needed to be integrated. All the challenges took place on different islands which meant a lot of logistical consideration in setting up the challenges by the Art and Construction team, led by Val Groenewald. The Filipino construction crew were incredible, having intimate knowledge of the locations and how to set up challenges on the different islands. Some of the local crew had worked on several previous Survivor versions, including the US, French, Swedish and Australian versions. We had 12 different islands that were alternated to give a different look to each of the challenges,” explains Botha.

Survivor SA producer, Darren Lindsay had to keep a close eye on moving 871 crew flights and getting two and a half tons of gear across the world to start on time for 39 days of the game: “For Survivor South Africa 2018, we used Visual Impacts’ services to supply a variety of cameras to ensure that the imaging aspect was of the highest quality,” Lindsay informs. “The main camera choice for all the games, reality and Tribal Council was the Sony PMW400. This camera is the workhorse in the reality market in camera rentals. It is extremely tough and reliable and was the only choice for a physically challenging shoot such as Survivor. Complementing the PMW400 was a variety of Canon 2/3” ENG zoom lenses including the HJ11, HJ22, HJ17 and 2 x HJ40’s. The pairing of Canon Glass and Sony PMW400’s always delivers crisp clear images and has a really pleasing colour response.”

A complete multi-camera fly-away system with full CCU Control (Camera Control Units) was needed to ensure perfect colour and exposure control by an engineer. This was done by using a bespoke fibre system custom built by Visual Impact South Africa that was used on all of the games challenges as well as Tribal Council. Lindsay explains: “By using fibre we were able to take racks control into areas that are traditionally inaccessible to conventional Triax systems. We also provided a line cut to the editors by using a Data Video Vision mixer and a Video Devices Pix270i ISO Recorder. This way of working provides a visual link to the post team in one file of a particular game play scenario or Tribal Council.”

The choice to use a complete fibre system with Video, Audio, Comms and CCU control was vital due to the distances to set from the control area/room as well as having to run over water for many of the games locations.

Su-aad Mouton, the post-production producer for Survivor SA at Blade, adds: “Post-production prep starts long before the actual project lands on the island. Preparing edit suites, ingest machines, a server and ensuring all necessary equipment needed for the set-up had to be packed to be shipped half way across the world,” informs Mouton. “We then had to create a workflow that runs smoothly to accommodate various cameras and their codecs. This would include: night cameras (Sony CX560, Sony Pxwx70), gimbles (which includes underwater footage), PMW 400’s, GoPros, drones, Jib, Sony Fs7, Sony A7s. The workflow had to include copy and transcode methods and time to ensure that all media is ready and accessible to editors – based on the island – for edit on an Avid system.”

Blade engineer, Peter Hangelbroek, had to ensure that all the post-production requirements were met. “We used the old school Avid Isis 5500 and multiple External Raid Drives for storage. About 90-100TB raw media was shot… We used two HP Z8 series, for ingesting of multiple card formats and cameras. The Avid MC 8 and DaVinci Resolve 14 was utilised for transcodes, and we chose to use HP LTO 6 and MacBook Pro for Raw archiving.”

“The responsibility of managing all the camera cards for the various cameras was a challenge. A missing camera card meant missing footage. The post-production set-up had to accommodate the shoot schedule and factor in the tight turnaround time for receiving the cards, dumping the media and getting the cards back out to cameramen for the next shoot scheduled just a few hours apart… Meticulous logs were kept for clip count to ensure we could always track media back after 39 days of shoot and eight months of post-production,” adds Mouton.

Survivor SA reality edits are crafted in post-production by Craig Bleksley – who has edited all seasons of Survivor SA – as well as Andrew Dixon and Nic Archer. Archer, who has worked on Survivor SA Mozambique, Maldives and now Philippines had this to say about editing the show: “This is one of the most challenging productions to edit. The sheer volume of material means that an episode can be approached from any angle, and there are a lot of compelling stories to tell. Including the best plot points in an episode, whilst still working in sub-plots and texture is a difficult task, so getting an early start on the content is vital. Compared with the US franchise, the post-production team is small – three offline editors and one assistant cut the entire season. This year we filmed over 2640 hours of footage which Bladeworks manages on a day to day basis.”

Mouton believes that being on the island with production gives the editors invaluable insight about what happens each day. “A complete post-production team from Bladeworks is responsible for ingesting, transcoding and backing up all the material on site. The daily footage is then synced up and the editors start watching and marking important plot points within days of it being filmed. A great advantage of having this happen on location is that any potential issues can be identified and corrected early.”

This season of Survivor SA also sees the introduction of a Virtual Reality platform – another first for M-Net, the platform gives viewers the opportunity to immerse themselves into the islands’ locations and games as if they were physically there.

Botha says that he is incredibly pleased to be part of another M-Net first: “When Bladeworks suggested their VR for Survivor SA, we jumped at the chance to get involved.”

Mandy Biart, VR producer at Blade, believes in the prospects of this new platform, “Virtual Reality adds another medium to market, which is the first person experience in which the consumer can experience the brand in a whole new tactile way.”

The VR team used the Insta360 Pro camera that was made available by Visual Impact. Francois Venter from the Blade VR team runs down some the specifications: “The camera has six 200 degree lenses along with a camera control app which made it a breeze to work with.  We were able to get the perfect placement for the shots as well as see what the final stitched image was going to look like before continuing. The 360 images we captured were also seamlessly stitched together using the Insta360 Optical-Flow based stitching software. One of the biggest challenges we faced when capturing the 360 images was finding a hiding spot for the crew. Not seeing the crew at any point during the show is one of the elements that makes Survivor such a great show. The fourth wall is never broken by a camera man in shot or a light stand somewhere in the frame.”

TECH CHECK:

EQUIPMENT

  • Camera: Sony PMW400
  • Lenses Canon 2/3” ENG zoom lenses

“We used Visual Impacts’ services to supply a variety of cameras to ensure that the imaging aspect was of the highest quality. The main camera choice for all the games, reality and tribal council was the Sony PMW400. This camera is the workhorse in the reality market in camera rentals. It is extremely tough and reliable and was the only choice for a physically challenging shoot such as Survivor. Complementing the PMW400 was a variety of Canon 2/3” ENG zoom lenses. The pairing of Canon Glass and Sony PMW400’s always delivers crisp clear images and has a really pleasing colour response.” – Darren Lindsay

Written by Warren Bleksley, Bladeworks Post Production

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