The new style of filming technology used
Have you already watched The Mandalorian? This action-packed and very well regarded series set in the Star Wars universe follows the adventure of a bounty hunter much like Boba Fett and Jango Fett as he treks the Outer Rim shortly after the fall of the Galactic Empire, in between the 6th and 7th movies, in order to bring to safety a 50-year-old baby from the same species as the beloved Master Yoda.
However, not only is the series really well done from a technical and creative standpoint, but it also brought to mainstream some incredible new technologies that are bound to change the way movies are made. Check it out!
Do you know what is a “volume”?
A volume is what people in the industry call the stage where they do green screen filming. It is normally a cube or a partial cube whose walls and ceiling are green, in order to allow filmmakers to add CGI backgrounds to movies.
This use of CGI was really helpful to add more complex models to films, as well as to reduce the need to go to other countries in order to get the background they need. However, it comes at the cost of making it very hard for actors to get into character. It is hard to get immersed into the action when everything around you is green and you just have vague stage directions and the script to go by.
So, it would be great if we could mix a computer-generated background AND actual, physical backgrounds, right?
Stagecraft: ILM’s innovative volume
Meet Stagecraft. In order to handle that problem, Industrial Light & Magic (ILM), the company responsible for the visual effects in the series, has created a volume which actually displays the background during filming, instead of needing to add it afterwards.
Being based on Epic Games’s Unreal Engine, Stagecraft is a huge panoramic LED screen, complete with a LED screen for the ceiling, which is able to render 3D backgrounds in high definition and change on the fly, reflecting the needs of the scene.
And the innovation technology goes even beyond that. If you just use a panoramic screen as a background, as the camera moves you are able to notice that the angles change. The image is made of 3D models, but the screen is still just a surface. So, to prevent the illusion from being broken, the computer behind the screen keeps track of camera movement and updates the screen accordingly.
About 50% of the scenes in The Mandalorian were filmed using this technology, so if you didn’t notice anything, it means that it’s working very well.
Possibilities and limitations
Of course, as you may imagine, the possibilities are endless. This brings an entirely new era of film making, creating the perfect balance between actor immersion and special effects, which is bound to make scenes more dynamic and help actors get in their roles and make a good impression to the audience.
Even better. As it uses a LED screen, it comes with the advantage that you don’t need to do anything fancy in order to get the intended lighting on the stage. The LEDs themselves are powerful enough to illuminate the entire set and apply the colored light on the actors, making the lighting look much more natural.
But, of course, nothing is perfect. As Stagecraft is powered by a LED screen, the camera can’t zoom too close to it or it’ll capture those same weird striped patterns that we see when we’re too close to the screen.
Even though the ceiling is also able to display images, it has some problems too. That screen doesn’t have a definition as high as the walls’, and between the walls and the ceilings there is a frame that holds a bunch of cameras, meaning all of this has to be removed later on in post-production. That frame is also present in normal volumes, but the green screen really helped in post-production.
Still, this is basically the biggest application yet of Stagecraft. Considering the current rate of technological evolution, we definitely haven’t seen it reach its full potential.