The popular YouTube channel Insider published this interesting behind the scenes look of the ‘The Mandalorian’ series and how it was one of the first large scale productions to use LED walls instead of green screens and explains why it was used, how and why it may revolutionize the film (and TV) industry.
Green (and blue) screen has been the de-facto tool for creating complex scenes that can not be reproduced on set or virtual effects in post for decades. However, there are significant drawbacks and inherent difficulties with green screens such as uneven lighting and green/blue cast on actors. It also means that the actors and production team can’t see the actual result during the making of the production and it also implies quite a bit of post-processing work.
There have been some alternatives used over the years including scene projection. The idea to project an image as a background for a scene isn’t new. We have seen that countless times in car chases in different movies but it had problems like the inability to move the car and footage in the back at the same time in a realistic way.
The technology used for the ‘The Mandalorian’ movie on the other hand is a completely different thing and it brings some of the most cutting-edge innovations of recent years and combines them to create something that was not possible only a few years ago.
The virtual walls are currently very expensive and the resolution might not be very high (you kind of see it in the video above), but the advantages for the production are huge. The production of ‘The Mandalorian’ used massive 20’ high by 270-degree semicircular LED video walls and ceiling with a 75’-diameter performance space. some very advanced computation (curtesy of powerful NVIDIA graphic cards on set and Unreal Engine technology was used for tracking and perspective of the backgrounds in real-time in relation to the camera position, movement, and the actors to create changing realistic backgrounds and lighting.
‘The Mandalorian’ in particular would have had a hard time if green screens would have been used as the main character uses shiny armor which would have reflected a lot of the green from the walls. Another interesting advantage is that virtual walls allow you to project almost everything into a scene and smaller sets are needed with fewer props which can be projected (they still need to be created digitally and that means that a lot of the work for a scene needs to take place before shooting rather than in post (which changes some of the workflow typically done on a big-budget production).
The biggest problem this new virtual screen solves is lighting. While a green screen reflects light (and adds a green cast) the new virtual screens emit light and are basically huge light sources in themselves. While they do not replace the lighting on the set you can control them and they provide realistic colors on the actors which stand next to them and the props on the set and as an added bonus – there is no green/blue cast.
Virtual sets can actually include a local green screen if needed (a green area around an actor while the rest of the virtual background shows a different image) and you can see some examples in the videos above and below.
Modern virtual sets are still a very new technology. There are still situations where even if costs allow virtual sets are not going to be used like when real explosions are done on set (nobody wants to destroy those expensive LED walls, replacing a green screen on the other hand cost next to nothing). There are some other aspects which can make the use of those walls more complex as well. FXGuide posted a very extensive two-part article on different aspects of the production of ‘The Mandalorian’ using virtual walls and if you want to dive deeper it is a must-read (see part 1 here and part 2 here).
VOX had also covered this technology in a recent video
As always, you can find many more behind the scenes videos on the BTS section here on LensVid.