The Windcatcher set in the volume stage

Leading Australian producer Meg O’Connell has given an enthusiastic tick of approval to NantStudios’ LED volume screens at Docklands Studios Melbourne.  

The technology was used for a climactic fire scene in the newly-released Stan Original feature Windcatcher, with the International Emmy winner declaring it was more cost-effective and safer than being on location.

Initially based at DSM for a cast read-through and pre-production, the Windcatcher production team was storyboarding the fire scene when they accepted an invitation to check out the LED volume screen in stage 3 (the smaller of two operated by NantStudios at Docklands Studios).

It was a light-bulb moment for O’Connell: “We immediately wanted to do it in there, but it took us a while to make a decision while debating the pros and cons.

“How we justified it financially was running the numbers on VFX and realising that if we don’t spend this now in-camera, we’ll spend more on VFX down the track.”

Another consideration was potential security and safety issues in dealing with children, fire and smoke.

An LED volume displays pre-shot footage or digitally created scenes in the background while actors perform in the foreground.

Lennox Monaghan in the climactic final scene filmed at Docklands Studios

In the case of Windcatcher, there was “a scene near the end about ten minutes long where the kid runs onto a field when there’s a fire coming,” said O’Connell.

“(Shooting in the volume stage) gave us so much control compared to if we’d shot on location where we’d need a fire truck and a team of safety people to protect the actors.”

To create the fire scene, the DOP shot plates on location in the forest.

Then, the VFX team from Resin worked with NantStudios to create the fire asset for the volume stage.

To sell the shot, the art department built a set with grasses from the actual location and a rusty old car in the foreground.

O’Connell says: “NantStudios made it so easy for us. We had a half day bumping in so we could test the fire scene.

“We did 25 per cent (of the scene) in the volume and 75 per cent on location, and we could have done 100 per cent on the volume, for the look of authenticity it gave.

“In some ways, the parts shot in the volume look more real than the parts shot on location.

Lennox Monaghan on set

“An unexpected bonus was how we used flickering light from the fire on the screen to light everything on the day, with our gaffer working with the VFX guys and cinematographer.

“There’s so much latitude to be able to moderate and modulate to change the light.”

Windcatcher tells the story of 10 year olds Percy Boy, Daisy and Keithy who band together to stand up to grade five bullies at school sports day.

Set in a small country town it stars Jessica Mauboy alongside Kelton Pell, Pia Miranda, Ngali Shaw, Jessica McNamee and newcomer Lennox Monaghan as Percy Boy.

Jessica Mauboy at the script read-through at Docklands Studios

O’Connell says filming at Docklands Studios helped things run smoothly.

“The convenience of being at the studio meant we could run between teams and unit and catering and everyone was in the same place

“All the crew loved it, especially as they were coming from different parts of Melbourne, to be all in one location was important.

“Everyone at Docklands was so friendly and warm.”

Meg O’Connell

From Unless Pictures and Every Cloud Productions, Windcatcher is produced by Meg O’Connell and Drew Grove. Executive produced by Bernadette O’Mahony for ACTF, and Cailah Scobie and Rachel Okine for Stan.

Meg O’Connell was development manager on the Logie and International Emmy-award winning Ludo series Bluey and produced the International Emmy winner Doodles.

Windcatcher is the first collaboration between the Australian Children’s Television Foundation (ACTF) and Stan.