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ARRI supported the creation of the DARK BAY Virtual Production Stage

From the initial planning to the final installation, ARRI provided holistic expertise and top-notch equipment to create, together with partners, the DARK BAY Virtual Production Stage in Babelsberg near Berlin.

The DARK BAY Virtual Production Stage was built to provide film and television series productions with a state-of-the-art LED environment for virtual backdrops. It is currently one of Europe’s largest, permanently installed LED studios for mixed reality film productions. Located on the lot of the prestigious Studio Babelsberg AG, the DARK BAY is embedded in a large production facility with multiple studios and an extensive film infrastructure. The stage is outfitted with a total of 1470 ROE RUBY 2.3 LED panels, ARRI lighting and camera equipment such as SkyPanel, Orbiter, and ALEXA Mini LF, Vicon and TrackMen tracking, as well as NVIDIA graphics cards. Its elliptical shape, with a diameter of 23 m (75 ft) and a height of 7 m (23 ft), allows for very wide camera angles and totals. In addition, the LED panels have a smaller pixel pitch than other LED volumes, making image artifacts, occurring between the camera and LED wall, easier to handle. The LED volume has also been built around a 21 m (69 ft), motor-driven revolving stage, which significantly enhances the creative possibilities of the stage, allows for much higher efficiency in shooting, and is unique in the world.

As one of ARRI’s first mixed reality studio reference projects, the ARRI Solutions Group provided consultant services for the overall technical planning as well as the installation, coordination, and oversight for all the components of the DARK BAY Virtual Production Stage. “In the future, art and technology will merge in the DARK BAY. For productions of the highest quality, state-of-the-art hardware was combined with engineering services to create an innovative overall system in close coordination with the client and business partners,” explains Markus Zeiler, ARRI Executive Board member. “To make this lighthouse project possible, all ARRI business units—Camera Systems, Lighting, and Rental—worked together intensively under the project management of the ARRI Solutions Group.” As a result, the customers benefited from an international team of experienced engineers and project managers in combination with ARRI products, highly regarded for their high quality and user-friendliness, along with a worldwide network.

Watch the DARK BAY being built in the video below

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The idea for the DARK BAY stage came from the creators of the successful Netflix show “Dark,” Jantje Friese and Baran bo Odar. With the space, they intended to realize the vision of their next production and, at the same time, create one of Europe’s biggest and most advanced mixed reality studios. To meet these lofty goals, their production company DARK WAYS GmbH partnered with Studio Babelsberg AG and founded the DARK BAY GmbH in 2020. Supported by funding from the Ministry of Economic Affairs, Labor and Energy of the State of Brandenburg, they built the studio and are in charge if its operation. The investment was made possible by a long-term booking commitment from Netflix for their local content productions. At the same time, the infrastructure remains open for bookings of the volume by all filmmakers, independent of Netflix.

ARRI had been a long-term partner for the creators, working closely on the Netflix series “Dark” through rental and postproduction services. In the initial phase of the studio planning, ARRI joined DARK BAY and provided to support with the broad range of competencies ARRI possesses across its business units. ARRI cameras, such as ALEXA LF, had been the centerpiece of virtual productions since “The Mandalorian,” and ARRI has decades of experience in color management, image science, optics, lighting technology, and integration into modern workflows. The ARRI Solutions Group has designed, planned, and implemented high-end film, TV, and broadcast studios around the world for years. ARRI also has the experience and human resources to support pioneering production workflows with hard and software and quickly supply all kinds of necessary studio equipment.

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DARK BAY meets ARRI (left to right): Jantje Friese, Baran bo Odar, Philipp Klausing (all DARK BAY), Nik Summerer (DP on “1899”), Christina Caspers-Römer (DARK BAY), Dr. Michael Neuhaeuser, Dr. Johannes Steurer, Stefan Soellner, Stephan Schenk, Elfi Kerscher, and David Bermbach (all ARRI) Photo: © Alex Forge/Netflix

For DARK BAYS’ landmark project, ARRI Camera Systems experts delivered an ARRI Mini LF set and a UMC-4. They also helped with the programming of Unreal© Engine Plug-Ins to handle metadata and offered their expertise in color calibration, moiré testing, and simulation. ARRI Rental supplied the lighting, grip, and camera equipment as well as custom-designed ALFA lenses used for Netflix’s “1899,” DARK BAY’s first hosted production, tailored not only to the individual look requirements but also optimized for shootings in the LED studio. Initially, ARRI Lighting supplied more than 70 SkyPanels S60-Cs. In the meantime, over 50 Orbiter lampheads as powerful direct lights, versatile in their application for different mixed reality set environments, were added and integrated.

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More than 70 ARRI SkyPanels (pictured) and over 50 ARRI Orbiter lampheads were installed at the DARK BAY    Photo: © Alex Forge/Netflix

The ARRI Solutions Group was responsible for integrating all subsections and coordinating partners on-site and served as the general contractor for the DARK BAY’s technical outfit. Together, all departments have also been involved in building a reference studio in Munich that mirrors the technology used in Berlin and is being used to develop tools, evaluate technology, and test the integration.

“ARRI Solutions Group was commissioned with the overall planning.”

“In spring 2021, we built our high-end LED studio in a record time of three months on the premises Studio Babelsberg AG. The team from the ARRI Solutions Group, one of the few vertically integrated service providers with a spectrum of knowledge that spans LED, light, camera, and data technology, was commissioned with the overall planning,” explains Philipp Klausing, Managing Director of DARK BAY GmbH and producer of “1899.” “The balanced inclusion of the needs from a creative and technological aspect, like direction, camera, lighting, and VFX were indispensable for us to guarantee the creative intention of the studio. The high level of bundling competence that the ARRI Solutions Group offers, was essential for the studio to be assembled and delivered in time and quality.”

Since mixed reality productions are relatively new on the scene, the team has learned a great deal in the process of working on the DARK BAY Virtual Production Stage. Specifically, they have been able to gain more experience working with mixed reality technology and maneuver around extremely short delivery times. Knowledge was also won in terms of the differences in customer needs between film and TV studios. Building a technically perfect and state-of-the-art studio does not mean the results are good enough. An experienced VFX supplier, studio staff, and film production team are still essential pieces of the puzzle. However, without a perfect studio as the basis, all efforts are futile.

“DARK BAY is very happy with the installation. That’s what counts.”

The main challenge of the project was the extremely short planning time. ARRI was approached in October 2020 to take over the integration of the stage. Knowing that the purchasing of the goods could not start before mid-December, and the stage build could only start in January 2021 (including 800 m² of new concrete floor), the team was aware that they would have a hard time setting everything up by the end of March 2021. Project Lead as well as Planning and On-Site Manager of the project, Stefan Soellner, Head of Technology Mixed Reality Production Solutions at the ARRI Solutions Group, sums up: “The five months of planning and installation have been a tough ride, but DARK BAY is very happy with the installation. That’s what counts.”

Currently, filming is taking place in the DARK BAY for the Netflix production “1899,” the new mystery series from the makers of “Dark.”

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Currently, filming is taking place in the DARK BAY for the Netflix production “1899.” The actors, including Alexandre Willaume and Anton Lesser, are captured with ALEXA Mini LF and ALFA lenses specially created for “1899” by ARRI Rental. Photo: © Rasmuss Voss

David Bermbach, Head of Global Technology at ARRI Rental, who was also Project Lead from the side of ARRI on the DARK BAY Virtual Production Stage, relays: “Visiting the studio now, I’m still left speechless watching the creative power it unleashes—and humbled by the faith and courage of the ‘1899’ team committing themselves to this endeavor. At the same time, it makes me proud to see all the different departments at ARRI working together and with all the dedicated partners passionately, joining forces, and delivering—despite the time pressure and all the technical challenges—this new creative tool to our industry.”

A project of this size and versatility cannot be done without great partners. Therefore, ARRI would like to thank especially Baran bo Odar, Jantje Friese, Philipp Klausing, and Christina Caspers-Römer from DARK BAY for taking the risk and make the stage possible. And of course, all involved companies and suppliers (see below) for coping with the pressure and delivering perfectly in an extremely short amount of time.

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A project of this size and versatility cannot be done without great partners (left to right): Christina Caspers-Römer (DARK BAY), Stephan Ukas-Bradley, Stefan Soellner, Thomas Stoschek, Fynn Kahlert (all ARRI), Philipp Klausing (DARK BAY), and Thomas Higgins (ARRI)    Photo: © Alex Forge/DARK BAY

Not only the teams from DARK BAY and ARRI are very happy with the outcome. In September 2021, Netflix founder and CEO Reed Hastings visited the DARK BAY and the “1899” set—and raved. Read the details on “Deadline” and “Head Topics.”

Project name: DARK BAY Virtual Production Stage

Project timing: 

October 2020: Begin planning
End of December 2020: Begin purchasing
January 2021: Begin site works (excavations, concrete foundations, …)
February 2021: Start LED Wall installation and other installation works
March 15, 2021: Start LED Wall calibration and testing
April 1, 2021: Stage is production ready, continue tests, first set installations
May 3, 2021: Start volume shooting for “1899”
Principal: DARK BAY GmbH
Location: Stage 3, Studio Babelsberg
Studio specs: 
Studio size 56 m x 30 m, height 14 m
LED volume (ellipse) 367 m², 7 m height, ROE Ruby 2.3
LED ceiling 253 m² (horseshoe)
LED gates 96 m², four separate movable parts
ARRI SkyPanel ceiling 162,5 m², more than 70 S60-C, more than 50 ARRI Orbiter
Server Room with 22 Lenovo P620 and 44 NVIDIA RTXA6000
Vicon Motion System and TrackMen GmbH
21 m revolving stage, up to 25 t load

ARRI services:

Technical planning
Coordination of 10 major installation companies
Coordination of technical purchasing
Construction site management
Lighting installation including more than 70 ARRI SkyPanels and more than 50 ARRI Orbiter
ARRI Mini LF camera package
Metadata integration into Unreal© Engine
Signaling backbone installation (network, video, lighting, sync, timecode)

Involved companies (in alphabetic order):

ARRI
Art Department Studio Babelsberg
Atos
Brinkmann & Wiehn
Faber AV
Framestore
Frontline
Megapixel
Nefzer
NVIDIA
Rittal
Setis
Studio Babelsberg
TrackMen
ROE
Vicon

For more information about DARK-BAY, please visit www.dark-bay.com.

Opening Image: © Alex Forge/Netflix