S4 Studios is a one-stop-shop for virtual production and visual effects, with a studio in Los Angeles and a virtual production stage up the road in Canoga Park. Founded in 1999 as a design and VFX studio, the company moved into virtual production and in-camera visual effects (ICVFX) two years ago. Today, S4’s stage is highly trafficked between commercial, music video, in-car, film, and TV projects. To keep its LED walls, cameras, computers, and HTC VIVE Mars CamTrack system in sync, the studio relies on the AJA GEN10 HD/SD/AES sync generator.

The 2,300-square foot stage comprises a three-wall setup, geared toward in-vehicle processes and smaller budget-conscious productions. S4 Studios Owner and Creative Director Geoffrey Kater explained, “Virtual production doesn’t have to cost $50K a day, and we want people to understand that. Our stage is designed to let clients come in and shoot two or three locations in the same day without having to go anywhere. We swap out the locations for you, and you have complete control over the set. Then you leave with your final pixels.”

In-studio, computers are equipped with NVIDIA Quadro cards with sync options, so that down the chain they can all be synced together on the wall. Getting media into the LED processors is the next step, then projecting that media onto the wall. Tracking is handled by the HTC VIVE Mars CamTrack system. “With the size of our stage, Mars is absolutely perfect,” Geoffrey Kater said. “We hung the base stations up in a grid at about 10 by 10 meters, so it works perfectly for the amount of shooting that you can do in there.”

The next step in the process is getting the tracking to work on the client’s camera and accessing the media from the shoot. When S4 initially set up their pipeline, they quickly discovered that images were tearing due to sync issues and began searching for a solution. He added, “The whole genlock thing is kind of new to me, coming from visual effects, so as I was experiencing sync challenges, I took to the Mars Facebook Group where I found it was a fairly common issue, and that’s where someone suggested the AJA GEN10 sync generator as a solution.”

“We got the AJA GEN10, configured the little dip switches on the back, plugged everything in, and all of a sudden there was no more tearing, no more lines, everything was synced,” Geoffrey Kater continued. “The walls, the camera, the computers, and the Mars tracking system all synced at 24. And it was beautiful, amazing. We had finally figured it out with this magic box that we could plug in and forget.”

Genlock is now part of S4’s client prep consultation whenever they shoot on the stage, especially when clients haven’t worked with genlock. Geoffrey Kater and team make a point to explain why it’s important to the client, then bring them in to test their camera, because every camera is different. Some are fine without genlock, but S4 recommends it as a safety precaution. He concluded, “With the AJA GEN10 sync generator and HTC VIVE Mars CamTrack, I know that we are covered and all of our computer equipment, walls and everything are in sync. That’s the most important aspect of it for me.”

Gabriel Mays

AbelCine Director of Rental
As Director of Rental, Gabriel Mays oversees growth of Rental by nurturing business relationships and unifying the customer experience nationwide. In his previous role as the LA Rental Manager, Gabriel worked with producers, cinematographers, and assistant camera operators to provide the highest level of customer service possible. He also ensured that all their equipment needs are met on budget. Before coming to AbelCine in 2015, Gabriel previously worked as a Communications Instructor and Electronic Media Engineer at a private university. He taught various courses in electronic media, including film, broadcasting, and digital arts. Gabriel is an award-winning cinematographer, director, producer, and editor known for his innovative research and implementation of new film techniques. He was also one of the first to implement HDSLR cameras into filmmaking. He has been the cinematographer on dozens of independent films, documentaries, and music videos.