Way back in November of the year that shall not be named (fine, it was 2020. Whatever…) I had the opportunity to sit down with two wonderful gentlemen from MELS Studios and geek out about one of my favorite subjects: filmmaking!
Who or What is MELS?
Enter Studio President Martin Carrier and Vice President of Post-Production and Distribution Sébastian Labbé. Both come from the greatest production house you’ve probably never heard of; Montreal, Quebec’s very own MELS Studios.
What’s that? You’ve never heard of MELS Studios? Told ya!
Despite the lack of name recognition, the company has become a premier destination for film, television, and commercial creatives alike. Further, MELS offers a wide array of services for everyone from the budding filmmaker to the established professional. Not only are they a production house featuring soundstages, post-production, and distribution, however. Additionally, they also offer services in the virtual, mobile broadcast, and advertising arenas.
MELS initially began as a humble equipment rental house. Eventually, it developed into Mel’s Filming Studios (under the direction of Mel Oppenheim). However, as the studio progressed, it came to be known officially as MELS Studios, adding sound and imaging to round out their “one-stop-shop” identity. Today, they provide a start to finish service for any film, television, or commercial project. Services cover everything saved for music composition, all centered in Montreal, which happens to be one of the world’s premier entertainment hubs.
As Seen on VG
Lest I continue to sound like an advertisement myself… Let’s get down to the brass tacks of who Martin and Sébastian are, where MELS is, and why we sat down on that fateful November day.
Martin Carrier, the aforementioned President of MELS, has only been at the company since mid-2020. Notwithstanding, he has shaken things up significantly in his short time there. Carrier came from the video game industry initially. He worked at Ubisoft and was the Founder and Studio Head of WB Games in Montreal.
Sébastian Labbé also has a background in the video game industry. Having worked at MELS for over five years, he also spent time at Ubisoft. Specifically he worked on, among other things, Rainbow 6 Siege.
Buzz Word: Mandalorian
But why did I sit down with Séb and Martin that day? What could possibly be so cool, so interesting that it would merit me releasing an article and video interview about it, even six months later?
(Side Note: My apologies go out to Martin, Sébastian, and Stephanie Pfingston at Lumos PR for taking so long to get this up. There were many extenuating circumstances, but here we are! Yay!)
You may have seen featurettes about the LED Virtual Production stage used on the Disney+ series The Mandalorian. Taking a page out of that book, Carrier and Labbé took a handful of months in mid-late 2020 to dive into the project of constructing their own Mandalorian style LED stage, up at MELS in Montreal.
This incredible technology bypasses the need for blue screen/green screen filmmaking. Moreover, it uses a giant, real-time active LED background to display a realistic, digital backdrop directly onto the soundstage. But this is no static backdrop. Oh no. This new digital landscape utilizes the Unreal Engine technology. Initially developed for video games the tech controls the movement of the background in concert with camera movement.
Instead of having to imagine what the background will look like, whilst staring at a big green screen on set, the actors and film crew can actually see the landscape. From the deserts of Tattooine to the rooftops of Paris, the visuals are there. They’re live, and even adjust perspective with the movement of the camera.
Why You Need To Know
Labbé explains it best:
Coming from the video game world you can now think of the camera as a remote control, or a joystick for a video game. And instead of playing the controller with your hands, you’ve put it onto the camera, and then whenever the camera moves, those actions are sent to our server and the Unreal Engine compensates in real-time so make it seems like everything is moving as if you’re really there.Sébastian Labbé
Carrier continued to talk about the excitement surrounding their project; “Now with the exciting world of virtual production, we’re merging those worlds [Video Games and Filmmaking] together that have sort of cohabitated but never really been working together. We wanted to bring it together and create, in Montreal. The same thing as the very exciting stuff that went on for Mandalorian. The virtual stage, filming and using game engines to generate effects in real-time on-screen with camera-tracking and capturing it on the fly with almost no post-production involved.”
Partnering with other local companies who specialized in live-show lighting as well as Epic Entertainment, they collaborated to create the “Magic Box”. A 30 foot by 15 foot LED soundstage with a tiled LED ceiling, which is perfect for active background or lighting if the occasion calls for it.
“With this technology, it can be ‘Magic Hour’ for 12 hours if you need it,” Labbé stated regarding one of the many advantages of the Magic Box.
But Wait, There’s More!
MELS also features a fiber-optic system called Dark Fibre. That system connects the nearly 20 studio buildings in Montreal. By doing so it all allows them to render and transfer data files securely and instantaneously. The net effect is a streamlining of their production, giving them nearly instant access to newly designed backgrounds and scenes for input into the Magic Box.
I spoke with Martin and Séb for over an hour. But… For internet purposes, I had to siphon it down to the tastiest bits about the development and use of their Magic Box. Also, Take a look at the video below. There you can hear more from Martin Carrier and Sébastian Labbé about the exciting things they’re doing up in Montreal!
Find MELS Studios Online
You can check out more of my interview with the company’s President Martin Carrier and Vice President of Post-Production and Distribution Sébastian Labbé in the video on this very article!
Also, Check out www.mels-studios.com/en for more information!