making movies surrounded by real virtual environments

The Volumeā€ for The Mandalorian at Manhattan Beach Studios

I’ve never seen it, but this in-depth article on filming “The Mandalorian” is fascinating. Instead of filming actors in front of an enormous green screen and later replacing it with CGI background and special effects, as you see in Game of Thrones “making of” featurettes, the actors act in “the Volume,” encircled by 270 degrees of video wall and a video ceiling that display the surroundings of the scene rendered photorealistically from the point of view of the camera lens as they film! It’s the old technique of projecting the scenery behind actors in a car while one pretend to steer it, times 10,000; the Holodeck from Star Trek: Next Generation brought to life.

The consequences of this are far-reaching. They can shoot a desert scene as dawn is breaking for 10 hours. The actors see their surroundings, they don’t have to imagine them. One you wouldn’t think of is it removes much of the need for set lighting. The wall of LEDs *is* the ambient light of that desert dawn (although it doesn’t work as well for direct sunlight). It means metallic things naturally reflect accurate details of the scene.

The Star Wars environments tend to be based on real places on Earth, so they have a “scanning and photogrammetry team that would travel to locations such as Iceland and Utah to shoot elements for the Star Wars planets. … the scanner straps six cameras to their body which all fire simultaneously as the scanner moves about the location.” (Nice job!) And then, instead of doing location scouting to imagine what filming will be like, “the director and cinematographer can go into the virtual location with VR headsets and do a virtual scout. Digital actors, props and sets are added and can be moved about and coverage is chosen during the virtual scout.”

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