At The MandalorianLucasfilm’s space wéstern, have “shot” on the exteriors of alien worlds without leaving the set, and not only that. All of the special effects were built from curved LED screens and Unreal. This is just the beginning of a revolution in film and science fiction that pushes the boundaries of what has been possible so far.
The end of chroma key on film sets.
Contemporary cinema is undergoing a technological transformation that affects all the professions involved in film production. Never before has so much cinema been produced and consumed as now. The irruption of the platforms of streaming has been a profound change, but the pandemic has precipitated in a few years important changes in the technological agenda of film production that were intended to be implemented in a slower and more gradual way.
Studio work using chroma key was imposed in film production from the development of VFX effects and has reigned in the productions of the last decades. Now it has given way to a technology capable of offering virtual spaces endowed with great realism, which allows shooting exteriors, the most spectacular, without leaving the set and with enormous precision. This is achieved through LED screens that simulate the real space.
From Terminator 2 a Avatar
The first morphing was used in the film Willow (R. Howard, 1988) a Lucasfilm production that won the Oscar for best special effects. The technique was universalized by Michael Jackson in the music video of Black or White and in the same year James Cameron went even further with Terminator 2the first film to use the morphing to simulate human movements endowed with impressive realism. After this film, Cameron, who also won the Oscar for best effects, founded the company Digital Domain with Stan Winston and Scot Ross.
The next step was taken by the ineffable Steven Spielberg with. Jurassic Park (1993), a film in which the level of realism of the computer-generated images of the dinosaurs was astonishing.
Cinema was beginning to take unprecedented flight thanks to new tools such as. Softimage and other specific software such as Renderman o Massive.
Filmmakers could begin to dream up real or fictional dramatic scenarios and situations with a visual display that cinema had never before been able to create. Final Fantasy: The Force Within (H. Sakaguchi, 2001) made a very creditable attempt at computer recreation of humans, but it was Georges Lucas and Peter Jackson who were the stars of the 2000s scene, incorporating increasingly sophisticated visual effects into the saga. Star Wars or in the character of Gollum, from The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers (2002), developed by Weta. But the rules of the game changed again at the end of that decade, when James Cameron introduced Avatar in 2009. This film combined camera tracking work (camera tracking) with motion capture (motion capture) and allowed the movement of the actors to be replaced by virtual characters.
The Mandalorian: a new twist
So far we have discussed the evolution of visual effects following a studio shoot with. Chromakeywhich is the situation preceding the possibilities offered by LED technology and the new real-time filming system that began to be implemented with the production of The Mandalorian.
It should be noted that, from a technical point of view, the video game world has been ahead of cinema by making possible such powerful real-time rendering engines as Unreal Engine, capable of supporting photorealistic images in real time.
The evolution of this real-time rendering capability has been the key to operating the change in the filming system with a formula that aims, among other things, to reduce production costs, the dream of any executive producer.
A virtual world in 4K resolution
The change in the filming system basically consists of replacing post-production work with camera work, creating a studio where the actors and some elements located in the foreground are real and behind them moves a whole virtual world in 4K resolution generated by large-format LED screens that moves in real time.
For the shooting of The Mandalorian has required a semicircular screen over 70 meters long and 6 meters high creating a 270-degree circumference topped by another large screen on the roof of the studio. The technology StageCraft has also been used in the production of Batman of 2022.
The technical advantages of this new system are many: scene changes and control of the final image, something that until now was in the exclusive hands of post-production; light and color correction of the screens identical to those marked by camera, which allows the integration of real and virtual elements; dramatic immersion in the scene for the actors and the technical team, leaving behind the everlasting green background in which everything had to be imagined; reduction of the work of shooting on location, the most critical moment of any shoot, always subject to unforeseen events and, above all, to high costs due to the movement of equipment; finally, it reduces post-production time.
It is true that all are advantages, however, this type of filming is only available to those who can afford it. The empire’s cinema is like this, although the rental price of this equipment can vary greatly depending on the needs.
Quentin Tarantino, to cite an example from another sign, is of the opinion that these systems break the natural magic of film shooting on location. For my part, I completely agree. But that’s another story.
Ignacio Oliva Mompeán, Professor of Cinematography, University of Castilla-La Mancha
This article was originally published in The Conversation. Read the original.
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