How We Built The Best PC For Virtual Production

Austin MacKay
Director of Virtual Production
Isaiah Smith
Technical Director & Lead Unreal Engine Supervisor

Updated: August 16, 2023

If you found this post by way of our website, you’ve probably already gathered that we’re pretty big believers that virtual production is the future of filmmaking. Look no further than our trip to Pinewood Studios in Toronto, Canada to see what a talented team, a lot of troubleshooting, and some superpowered computers can bring to life in just a week’s time. Virtual Production is changing the game.

But what actually goes in to building a virtual production supercomputer? These builds need a ton (and we mean a ton!) of firepower in order to handle the creation of virtual environments and real time rendering that make virtual production so revolutionary.

By the way… if you’re still asking “What IS virtual production? Don’t worry, we’ve got you covered here with an explainer on all things XR Virtual Production on LED Walls. 

Here at CoPilot, we've done the research, consulted the industry experts, and yes - forked over the cash - to build what we believe is our best PC for virtual production. AKA, we’ve done the hard work, so you don’t have to! 

A few things about our build: it was designed specifically for mixed-reality virtual production on an LED wall using Unreal Engine. If you’re just looking to do some heavy duty asset generation or world building for your virtual productions, this build might be a bit overkill for you. It’s also best not to think of this post as a “how to”, and more of a… “check out this really cool mega ultra PC that we built, and stay tuned to see what it can do”.

With that out of the way, here are some of the big decisions we made when it came to building the best PC for Virtual Production:

Intel vs. AMD - Deciding between an Intel and AMD is one of the biggest decisions you’ll make in a build and once you do, there’s no turning back! To make sure we made the right call, we spoke with a few Emmy award winning professionals and for us, the answer was clear: AMD was the way to go.

CPU - In choosing our CPU, we wanted something that we could grow into. So naturally, we chose a beastly piece of computing technology called the “Threadripper”. And yes, it looks sick.

Motherboard - When you choose a CPU like the Threadripper, you’ll need a motherboard that can handle all that… power. We opted for a TRX-40 style board, and more specifically the (simply named) ASUS ROG Zenith 2 Extreme Alpha. More names = more power.

GPU - Oh GPU’s… how one part can cause so many problems. It’s been well documented that GPU’s are in extremely short supply, no thanks to crypto miners. So when we finally got our hands on one, it became the crown jewel of our build. The NVIDIA RTXA6000 boasts 48GB of built-in RAM, 4x more power than any 3080 on the market, and no - we don’t have an extra one.

The wildest part about the GPU? In order to run some bigger virtual productions on large LED volumes, we may need to run more than one. In fact, our build has room for two A6000’s. If you’re looking to power an LED volume, this GPU is the gold standard.

RAM: To push our rendering and exports to the next level, we needed to make sure we had that RAM to keep up with the rest of this powerhouse PC. We chose the G Skill Trident Z Neo (128GB - and in RGB, of course). Now, while we could have gone with the larger 256GB option, we decided that 128GB was what felt right for us - for now.

SSD: Now, we don’t know who needs to hear this… but if you’re not using SSD’s right now, you need to make a change. We picked up the Samsung 980 Pro, which launches Unreal Engine in next to no time. If this ever needs to get faster, our motherboard allows for the installation of 5 SSD’s: that’s a lot of flash memory.

Case: At CoPilot, we’re a visuals company - and our build needed to look the part. That meant… RGB. A lot of RGB. We went with a full-sized ATX Case in our classic CoPilot colours.

Note: If you’d also like to look the part as a member of the CoPilot crew, just check out our Merch here.

Cooling Fans: With a high power build like ours, cooling becomes critical. We chose a set of double fan’s from Noctua, partly because they offer an AMD Threadripper-sized CPU mount which made it a perfect fit within our PC.

Power Supply: Finally, to power all of this tech (and all of those RGB lights!) we selected the Corsair HX1200. That’s 1200 watts of blazing power to keep the juice flowing during long days on set.

Sourcing these individual parts took a lot of time, a lot of patience (looking at you, GPU…), and frankly - a lot of money. However, we believe that this is one of the best PC builds on the market today for virtual production. It’s a top of the line machine that is rocking our world, and helping us build new ones… virtually, of course.

As we continue our journey into virtual production, we’re going to continue sharing what we learn through videos and here on our blog. Consider subscribing to our YouTube channel to be the first to know when we have new content available, or check back here soon to see how we’re using this ultra-PC to make some virtual production magic.

Introducing CoPilotXR's Rack Mounted Virtual Production Solution

As the landscape of technology continues to evolve, so do the demands of our company. Our latest PC build has been designed to complement its formidable predecesors detailed above.

The concept behind this PC build was clear from the start: to craft a mobile virtual production workstation that can effortlessly accompany us wherever creativity takes us. This meant leveraging some of the stellar components that have already proven their mettle, elevating them even further, and assembling a collection of peripheral systems to make a virtual production ecosystem that can address any on-set requirements that may pop-up.

A CPU that Rivals the Best

At the heart of this PC is the AMD Threadripper 5995 WX, a powerhouse CPU currently reigning as the highest-rated workstation CPU on the market. Its impressive multi-threading capabilities and processing power make it the ideal choice for handling the intricate demands of virtual production.

Motherboard Might: Upgrading the Core

The motherboard of any workstation is its backbone, and with this much power not just any motherboard makes the cut, and very few have the specifications our build was going to need. We’ve elevated the game by installing the ASUS PRO WS WRX80e-SAGE SE WIFI, boasting a colossal 2 terabytes of RAM. Compared to the 256 gigabytes in its predecessor, this enhancement means we can handle even the most memory-intensive tasks with ease.

Embracing Mobility: A Case for Portability

With mobility as a primary focus, we’ve opted for the Silverstone RM42-502 chassis. Designed for rack mounting and travel portability, it perfectly aligns with the ethos of this build. This choice empowers us to take the creative process on the road, maintaining our production quality no matter where we are.

Pioneering Virtual Production Tools

This build doesn't just rest on its powerful hardware; it's also equipped with cutting-edge tools for immersive virtual production.

The Blackmagic Ultimatte 12 4K serves as a green screen workflow marvel, seamlessly integrating the environments we generate and allowing real-time keying. This means we can merge real and virtual seamlessly for a truly immersive experience.

Beauty doesn't just generate magic; it captures it too. The Blackmagic Hyperdeck Studio records multiple input streams including the live key generated by the Ultimatte, storing it directly onto SSDs. This immediate post-production capability empowers us to hit the editing desk right on the spot, ensuring a seamless creative workflow.

When it comes to gathering input signals, handling live keying, and managing computer inputs, the Blackmagic DeckLink 8K steps in. Serving as a translator, it directs all video signals shared within the system ensuring proper communication and that the data is transferred to the required tool for production.

Fueling Virtual Production Innovation

Without this dynamic blend of hardware and tools, virtual in both indie and professional productions wouldn't be possible.

With these upgrades in place we're well-equipped to take on the most ambitious virtual production projects.

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