HTC Vive has unveiled the Mars CamTrack, a system designed to put real-world actors into virtual environments Mandalorian-style, at a relatively affordable price. It'll let producers film actors against a projected background that moves in sync with the camera so it looks like they're in a real environment.
The system uses existing hardware along with a new box called Mars that processes all the signals. It also includes a pair of Vive Trackers (3.0) to track camera, light or prop movement, three Rovers to send the signal from a Vive Tracker to Mars and a pair of Base Stations (2) that determine the exact location of each Vive Tracker and Rover module.
The idea is to use Unreal Engine to create virtual 3D environments (space ships, planets, etc.) that can be manipulated in real-time on a computer and projected onto a screen. You then track up to three cameras and feed the signal into Unreal Engine via a system called LiveLink. When the camera follows the actor, the background moves in real time based on tracker data so that it looks like the actor is really in the scene.
There are some big advantages to this technique. Everything can be done in one place with no need for expensive location shoots, and sets can be changed on the fly. It also makes performing easier, as actors can see their environment rather than needing to pretend it's there. Plus, it saves on post-production costs — according to ILM, the technique was used in 50 percent of The Mandalorian's shots. The technique also works for greenscreen shooting, as a video linked by HTC Vive shows.
Setting up such systems can be complicated, but HTC Vive promises features like automatic calibration for camera offset and lens distortion. It also has plug and play compatibility, letting you sync Unreal Engine's LiveLink system "with no additional software required."
Mars CamTrack is being sold in package with the Trackers, Rovers, Base Stations, Mars unit, cables, a calibration kit and more. The early bird price is $5,000, which isn't cheap (and doesn't include a projector and other things you may need), but it is a bargain compared to what it would cost you to try to build one yourself. If you're interested, you can now register to buy a Mars CamTrack kit.