Netflix transformed its hit South Korean drama series, Squid Game, into the biggest reality competition ever with 456 players competing to win $4.56 million dollars.
To pull off such an ambitious production, Studio Lambert and The Garden enlisted the help of ENVY’s onset specialist workflow division, ENVY CAPTURE. The CAPTURE team, under the direction of Studio Lambert’s production management team were on-hand throughout the entire shoot, creating unique rigs for each game, managing the multitude of media record streams, as well as logging and archiving the material ready for the offline edit at ENVY’s central London facilities.
The ambitious ten-part series, “Squid Game: The Challenge,” pushed the boundaries of creativity and technical prowess, all within the tight time frame of 16 incredibly busy days. This production posed a challenge like no other, as the shooting schedule needed to balance capturing reality-style content while also setting up and rigging for the next thrilling game.
Elliot Leigh, Location Supervisor at CAPTURE, encapsulated the project’s magnitude, remarking, “It was one of the most extensive reality shoots ever undertaken, featuring some of the most ambitious games designed for a reality setting.”
ENVY CAPTURE played a pivotal role in this project, having been actively involved in pre- production from the early stages.
Ricky Martin, the Head of Technical Operations, expressed his excitement, stating, “When you’re approached to establish the recording infrastructure for a project of this magnitude, it’s impossible not to be thrilled. Managing complex workflows and challenges is our specialty, and ‘Squid Game’ presented the ultimate test.”
“In its essence, our role is to craft the technology and infrastructure for the most extensive reality production ever undertaken.” This formidable task is only part of their responsibilities, as Toby Weller, Solutions Architect at CAPTURE, explains, “then the days when we’re not recording the largest reality production ever, we are tasked with recording some of the most intricate game shows ever conceived.”
However, what sets their work apart on this project, from the standard reality production workflow, was having to deal with the additional editorial elements (such as VFX). We had to adapt and develop new workflows to deal with editorial requirements that are more in line with a drama production. As Ricky points out, “What was different for Squid Game is that we had to create new work flows and tech that allowed us to incorporate standard reality capture alongside more complex elements. This added a unique layer of complexity to our work’’.
Ahead of and during the shooting stage, high levels of preparation and intricate planning were required to ensure the success of the production stage within a tight shooting schedule. “The scale of the project demanded meticulous planning,” explains Ricky Martin, “Each day of production presented unique challenges, requiring seamless coordination among all technical teams and their respective technologies to smoothly transition from one scene to the next.”
“CAPTURE sat at the heart of this,” adds Ricky, “to ensure that all decisions onset provided the best output for the editorial process both onset and later back in the post-production stages back at ENVY.”
As Elliot elaborates, “Every stage of production – every game, every dormitory change, every setup – was documented in immense detail by our team and then shared with the entire production so we were all working to the same up-to-date version of the plan.”
“From there,” Toby continues, “CAPTURE designed each recording setup and media pipeline to seamlessly receive content in a way that would streamline the editing and finishing processes in the subsequent stages.”
Behind-the-Scenes – ENVY CAPTURE
Creating a reality show of the magnitude of “Squid Game: The Challenge” brought forth unique and complex challenges for the production team. Unlike other reality shows, where camera setups often remain consistent, this show demanded a flexible approach.
Elliot shed light on this aspect, stating, “The multi-camera setup on Squid Game: The Challenge had to be changed and rigged for each individual game to maximise coverage and capture all the key action and drama.”
Each game presented its own set of demands, with up to 24 ‘rig’ cameras and dozens of PSC cameras tracking the 210 participants residing in the dormitory. Furthermore, the production team had the flexibility to add extra cameras when deemed necessary. For instance, in the case of the show’s opening challenge, ‘Red Light, Green Light,’ which featured all 456 contributors, the setup had to be shifted to a larger space to accurately replicate the original program.
Ricky shared insights, saying, “There were 32 streams of media and an additional 18 cameras recording, which is understandable when you see the size of the game and the number of contestants to keep track of.”
Throughout the reality portions of the production, 24 ISOs (isolated camera feeds) played a central role, with dedicated ISOs for interview rooms. Toby highlighted their efficiency, revealing, “ISOs for interview rooms were also transcribed live, with reports delivered straight to production teams after each interview.” As the show progressed and contestants were eliminated, the ‘Dormitory’ record constantly evolved, adapting to the changing dynamics with varying bed arrangements, cameras, and microphones.
Elliot summarised the collaborative nature of the project, stating, “This is one of the shows where we had the most collaboration with production, and everyone was communicating on how certain parts were going to be shot. There is no guide out there to explain how a project like this gets made.”
Indeed, it was a testament to the industry’s most innovative minds, coming together to find solutions and streamline the media management process from set to suite.
On a production of this scale, one of the paramount challenges was to establish a system that allowed a sizable editorial team to seamlessly annotate and access content in real-time, as the unfolding events demanded. This solution needed to consolidate all production notes into a single, accessible location, obviating the necessity for copious paperwork or the arduous task of sifting through extensive timelines of media content.
To address this challenge, CAPTURE spearheaded the creation of a groundbreaking cloud- based solution known as ‘Story.’
Ricky explains, “We recognised the need for a tailored platform that could cater to the unique demands of our production notes while ensuring accessibility and ease of use for our editing team.” CAPTURE’s innovative ‘Story’ platform delivered precisely that. It provided fully customised production notes that could be effortlessly edited and reviewed in the cloud. What set this solution apart was its seamless integration with Avid, aligning media and sequences seamlessly with the corresponding notes.
With ‘Story’ in place, each commissioned story received a unique identifier. This ingenious feature simplified the process of locating specific stories for editors and producers during offline edits. In an industry where efficiency and precision are paramount, CAPTURE’s ‘Story’ not only met the challenge but also raised the bar for real-time production note management.
Since its inception in 2021, ENVY CAPTURE has embarked on a global journey, providing solutions to a diverse array of fixed rig productions, each brimming with its unique creative vision and aspirations to elevate their projects to new heights. When reflecting on the monumental scale of “Squid Game,” Elliot Leigh, Location Supervisor at ENVY CAPTURE, shared his perspective, saying, “There was an undeniable grandeur to it, a sense that we were contributing to something colossal. It was truly captivating to witness every participant immersed in the games, living out their lives with the tantalising prospect of walking away with $4.56 million.”
He went on to express the emotional investment that the team, much like the viewers, had in the show’s contestants, stating, “We all had our favourites, individuals we were definitely rooting for, and a sense of disappointment if they were eliminated. This sentiment serves as a testament to the exceptional quality of the show’s production, given how deeply we were engaged while working on it.”
By the end of the two week shoot, ENVY CAPTURE had recorded 9536 hours of media, backed up on 272 PSC Cards, which were backed up to 102 LTOs and 828 stories were commissioned throughout the production phase. When combining all of the native media, backups and stream media, the total amount of media amassed to 1.1 petabytes across the whole project.
Challenges and Key Moments
Although the production and CAPTURE rig is planned far in advance, there can sometimes be changes that are not anticipated or changes that want to be made during the shooting stage – the challenge can be to accommodate that.
Elliot says “We would have discussions with production on how to best record a particular sequence, sometimes there were requests to capture extra streams or factor in different cameras to maximise the content being recorded.”
Toby added, “With any fast-moving productions, you have to expect the unexpected and we always had a plan in place to best prepare us for any requests, sometimes that was simply more equipment, other times that would be rethinking the way a scene is shot entirely to make things work.”
Even with twenty-four streams recording all the action, the task to record all of the action for 456 players proved to be an interesting challenge. “It was about following what looked interesting, never about following a particular person and creating a story from that. You could never predict what would happen in the next game. Fixed rig used to be aboutrecording everything and creating the story after it has been recorded.” By not predicting potential winners of the show and by equally recording everyone’s conversations, it keeps the outcome a mystery.
Squid Game: The Challenge replicates the original Netflix show perfectly, with several of the original games being made in real life. When the show’s creator, Hwang Dong-hyuk paid a visit to the sets, even he could not believe how detailed and true to the original the different areas were.
When asked about their favourite game from the production, the CAPTURE team had diverse preferences. Elliot shared his choice, stating, “I’d go with ‘Glass Bridge.’ It was brief but incredibly tense watching it live, knowing there was a 50/50 chance of elimination or advancement.”
Ricky chimed in enthusiastically, declaring, “For me, it’s a no-brainer—’Red Light, Green Light.’ It presented a monumental challenge in terms of scale, and it marked the first and last time we saw over 400 players in action.”
Toby, on the other hand, cast his vote for ‘Marbles,’ explaining, “I’d pick ‘Marbles’ for its deceptive simplicity. It was one of the trickier games to capture perfectly due to the close- quarters action, requiring a delicate touch and precision.”
Squid Game: The Challenge truly took fixed rig productions to new heights. The combination of technical excellence and creative ideas have created a series that the entire team are proud of. When asked what the future holds for fixed rig productions, Toby remarks, “The world of fixed rig recording has evolved significantly, offering much greater scalability than in the past. We’re discovering innovative methods to enhance our recording capabilities.
Ricky added, “Stories are now being crafted right on the set, and we’re exploring more creative pathways to seamlessly integrate them into the editing process. This, in turn, enriches the overall quality of the show, benefiting everyone involved.”
When amalgamating all the native media, backups, and streamed content, the cumulative volume of media amassed to an awe-inspiring 1.1 petabytes, a testament to the colossal scale and complexity of the entire project.
Once the offline edit was completed, the post production was wrapped up by ENVY’s team of talented creatives to transport us into the game.
Andrew Cloke, ENVY Colourist: “Squid Game: The Challenge was a very fun project to be involved with, especially being a fan of the original drama.
The series presented an exciting challenge with such a large number of cameras and different framerates being recorded across the games and sections in the players dorm. I really wanted to unify all these different elements to make it look uniform. Initially I graded in the style of the drama series, which was cold and gritty, but the producers and I decided itdidn’t match the feel of a lighter entertainment show.
The other unique challenge in this series was that I got to composite shots within Baselight. The VFX vendors for the show were NVIS and they were fantastic to collaborate with. They regularly checked in on the colour pipeline and once that was locked down, they provided EXR files with embedded elements and data that could be loaded into Baselight. These shots were prepared by George and Sally in ENVY’s Data Lab which were conformed and set up on the timeline along with the locked cut of the programme ready for me to finesse. I would then comp the VFX elements into the original shot then grade each of the elements to make it look cohesive. The reason for having the VFX elements created separately allowed me to have more control of the shot and was way more efficient when it came to delivering a complex grade. NVIS were involved in the reviews making sure the VFX elements were working okay with the original shots and could make tweaks as needed.
There were also sections where I would rotoscope shots with a lot of movement which took time but the final results were absolutely worth that extra time. Squid Game: The Challenge was a real team effort across the entire project and something we can all be proud to be a part of.”
Squid Game: The Challenge was delivered for Dolby Vision HDR in the Aces Colourspace.
Ben Ormerod, ENVY Dubbing Mixer: “The brief from the Studio Lambert and The Garden teams was to keep it true to the 2021 series and before mixing the show, I rewatched the original series to remind myself of the mood and tension that gets created using the sound.
We wanted to match the effects to the original such as the tannoy system and the sound of the guards which were revoiced and blended into the mix. The show also contained music from the original show and that was fused into an amazing score that helps drive the stories on the screen and also amplifies the tension of the games.
There were no boom microphones in the show, so I largely was cleaning and utilising audio from the players’ radio microphones. All of the best microphones were selected in the tracklay and then in the mix, I isolated each of the individual voices and reduced any background noise picked up by the radio microphone.”
Andy Hodges, ENVY Dubbing Mixer, added: “We all really wanted to honour the original show as much as possible. Ben began the series and established the style of the mix and together we made sure that style carried right across the series.
I used RX Advanced 8 to clean up the audio, including the built in tools de-click and de- plosive which removes pops and bumps to the microphones which is especially useful with a lot of movement and action from so many contestants. I also used RX8’s spectral repair and spectral de-noise which analyses pieces of audio, identifies any sound that should not be there and repairs that waveform.
I had a lot of fun on the series and really enjoyed watching it back in review sessions with the clients. People are really going to be blown away by the scale of the production.”
Squid Game: The Challenge is available to watch now on Netflix.
Head of Technical Operations CAPTURE: Ricky Martin Solutions Architect CAPTURE: Toby Weller
Location Supervisor CAPTURE: Elliot Leigh
Colourist: Andrew Cloke
Online Editor: Luke Carter
Dubbing Mixers: Andy Hodges & Ben Ormerod Post Producers: Rosie Hargreaves & Luke Gagin
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