So I have a confession to make. Prior to the release of ‘The Mandalorian’, I had never watched any Star Wars movie. All my friends have continuously begged me to watch, but I did not give up. Don’t hate me yet… I was just afraid of becoming addicted to the Star Wars fandom. But then, Disney+ announced its first live-action series in the Star Wars franchise and the overwhelming response made me watch its trailer. It was one of the most amazing trailers I have seen, and I couldn’t stop myself binge-watching all the episodes of Season 1 and Season 2 during the Christmas holidays. Everyone praised the series for its casting, music score and direction, but no one talks about its visual effects developed by a company called Industrial Light & Magic founded by none other than George Lucas.
Industrial Light & Magic or ILM has been creating visual effects for four decades now and it was not until when they changed the VFX game by introducing StageCraft technology which basically blends virtual backgrounds with live-action which makes use of real-time rendered virtual sets displayed on LED screens. How cool is that? To create this immersive effect, ILM built from the ground up a massive, curving panoramic LED surround screen, which allows virtual environments created in Epic Games’ Unreal Engine, a game development engine, to be projected in the background while actors performed in front of the camera, along with practical effects with props like blasters, lightsabers and speeder bikes, in the foreground.
Jon Favreau, the series’ show-runner, writer and executive producer had this idea to approach the production the way it is, after gaining massive experience from working on movies like The Jungle Book and The Lion King where he faced challenges on certain sequences on lighting, shadow formation, etc. The approach offered the opportunity to not have to rely solely on green or blue screens, but instead have the actors see and interact directly with their environments and be filmed for in-camera VFX shots. Favreau released a behind-the-scenes video where he states that this technique will likely change the future of filmmaking.
Well, this ground-breaking technology not only saves time but also requires less money when it comes to shooting on a deadline with overheads of reshoots, location finalization, etc. All you need is to render the design set piece to emulate the environment using the Unreal Engine and you are good to go.
Already the gaming industry is booming. As of 2018, video games generated sales of US$134.9 billion annually worldwide. Who would have thought this 20 years ago? With game engines like Unreal Engine being extensively used by one of the most bankable series for Disney+, I am quite confident that the future of filmmaking will have massive influence from this Virtual Production, and this is just the beginning for more innovations.
This is the way!