Beyond the evolution of acting brought by digital tools and mechanical body extensions of all kinds widely acclaimed by motion capture studios, to which we will devote other articles, special attention should also be paid to the new generation of movie sets.
The green or blue screens having invaded daily life of actors at the digital era of today, the principle of video wall programmed to display live images behind actors already exists for nearly a century, in one form or another, with demonstrated advantages like extending or enriching the story and interplaying with characters on stage or set. The advance today is not in the idea but the execution. In the new media age we currently experiment, by a confluence of technologies that redefines virtual production, it keeps on establishing its positioning within the creation of films and enhancing both its narrative contribution but also its effective support for acting.
As a perfect example illustrating this argument, the groundbreaking LED stage production technology created for Lucasfilm series ’The Mandalorian’ by ILM.
In short, this innovative step made in virtual production, result of a collaboration with Epic Games (Unreal Engine), allows - by use of monumental LED walls - to render and manipulate real-time environments with startling realism, replacing the green walls and providing real-world lighting at the same time. In other words, this unprecedented workflow offers a simultaneous and almost total interaction with the spatial environment as well as capturing the global moving activity of the scene while respecting perspective and light modulations through self-regulating system recalibrations.
Formally named Stagecraft, it is a non static 20-foot high, 270-degree semicircular LED video wall with ceiling and a 75 foot in-diameter performance space, called the Volume. Cinematographer Greig Fraser explained, “We wanted to create an environment that was conducive not just to giving a composition line-up to the effects, but to actually capturing them in real time, photo-real and in-camera, so that the actors were in that environment in the right lighting — all at the moment of photography” . The colours from the projected scene wash therefore over the actors on set, creating realistic lighting in-camera and saving hours of grading in post production.
If we must undeniably applaud the technical achievement and its inventive approach, a special importance must also be attached to consequences that massive LED walls will automatically have on the actor’s work.
David Morin, who heads up Epic’s LA Lab, goes in that direction by pointing that green screen or even black box virtual production is a very intellectual process that requires the actors to constantly imagine how things will look and everyone else to figure it out later. At the opposite of static green walls and foam blocks indicating obstacles, Stagecraft, on the contrary, allows actors and film crew to re-approach places in more natural and efficient conditions. The angles of perspective are automatically readjusted to the camera and actors movements as well as the reflection of the surrounding scenery luminosity on characters, according to the expected aesthetical forms and dramaturgical impact. “Here, suddenly, it’s a very natural thing. The video walls bring us back to making decisions and improvisations on the set.”
If the contribution is from a technical point of view considerable, for the actors this approach is beneficial since they can relate more spontaneously to the story surroundings, faithfully reproducing on-location shootings without limiting traditional on-set filming techniques and visual CG extrapolations. This new filmmaking paradigm will obviously offer greater space to freedom and character’s in-depth introspection to the actor than ever did green screens.
- Groundbreaking LED stage production technology created for hit Lucasfilm series ‘The Mandalorian’
- Behind the scenes: The Mandalorian’s groundbreaking virtual production. By Adrian Pennington.
- The Mandalorian: This Is the Way. By Jay Holben.