We all know the green screen, it can become a mist covered planet, deserted jungle, packed stadium, background for a restaurant and yes, the golden gate bridge in our zoom virtual background. But if it is functional than why replace it? Well it is not very convenient to use in the film industry for the following reasons:-
• Everything needs to be perfect, the lighting, the tone of the green screen, and even minor folds in the screen can ruin the footage.
• It takes a heavy toll on the actors because It is really hard to imagine a certain scene, if you’re only surrounded by green screens.
• It is also a laborious job to make the images on the green screen dynamically respond to camera movements the way they would in the real world.
• What’s worse is, you also get the “green screen spill”. The spill is what you call the screen’s reflection on metallic elements of the set or the light it casts on them and the actors. Which, then again, need to be removed in postproduction. More hours of post-production means more money too.
The Industrial Light And Magic (ILM), thought of a more “innovative” approach to this. They thought of circling the stage with LED (Light-emitting diode) panels that use the same technology as video game engines, to place a realistic-looking world behind the actors. LED screens aren’t something new, we know. But the fact is that for years, LED screens’ resolution has been too low and its cost too high to use instead of green screens. Additionally, GPUs (Graphics Processing Unit) weren’t powerful enough to render realistic elements. However, that’s beginning to change. By combining high-definition LED panels with Epic Games‘ Unreal Engine, tech borrowed from the video game field, artists can create realistic 3D backgrounds. LED walls make the lighting better because they provide realistic colours and reflections on the actor and props. No more spill problem to fix during post-production. And thanks to the Unreal Engine, the background moves strictly with the camera’s field of view. This allows motiontracked cameras to execute traditional cinematography techniques within the virtual set for smoother filming. Since the background is filmed at the same time as the acting, you can adjust elements on the fly and adapt easily to any change, making it less time-consuming. This will bring Visual Effects into a new era.
The Disney+ live-action Star Wars TV show, The Mandalorian, was one of the first big productions to use this technology. They created a circular virtual stage of 75 feet in diameter and 21 feet high. This stage was given the epic name of “The Volume”. Building a set like this is a huge investment at first, however, the creators claimed that it allowed them to limit the amount of stage space they used. Besides, they also limited the expenses of traveling to locations, building new sets, and post-production. All of which had a big impact on time and budget, making the investment worth it.
This innovation was a creative breakthrough for both VFX (Visual Effects) artists and the Director. It completely switched the process of the film industry. VFX is now the first step before filming and editing instead of it being the last one. The artists create the background beforehand so when it's time for shooting, they can work directly with the actors, set designers, gaffers, and prop designers to make everything run smoothly. On the other hand, for the Director, it was a gamechanger in order to use the background for better storytelling.
I hope you learned about the technology that is slowly replacing the green screen. I am saying slowly because, even though it has significantly reduced, we can’t totally replace it for now.