The LED scenes suffer because of this realization error

The popular form of virtual production is struggling, but why?

Virtual production and cinematography has recently undergone a massive change. Many thanks to The Mandalorian successfully making waves in the industry for its inventive use of an LED stage and virtual production pipeline for filming, many productions want to use virtual production tools in their workflow rather than an approach traditional.

These LED stages have become one of the fastest growing areas of visual effects and production technology, growing from three stages in 2019 to approximately 300 stages in 2022. Unfortunately, the industry’s rapid leap to these types of scenes reveal a huge flaw in many productions.

An industry watcher told The Hollywood Reporter that the business, technology and creative models of these expensive LED stage installations require a better understanding by filmmakers before the stages can be utilized to their full potential.

“The Mandalorian”Credit: Lucasfilms Ltd./Disney+

The problem of market oversaturation

LED stage installations are beginning to clog virtual production pipelines.

Miles Perkins, director of film and television industry for Epic Games and maker of the Unreal engine used in virtual production, reports that the increase in capacity comes from investments by studios, stage complexes and VFX companies.

Oscar-winning VFX artist Ben Grossmann estimates that the cost of building an LED sound stage for virtual production can cost between $3 million and $30 million. It depends on the size of the LED wall and the structural engineering needed to upgrade the scene.

This high price does not take into account the media projected onto the LED walls, which is the most expensive element of the process. “You could start spending a lot, very quickly, on content,” Grossman says.

The lack of preparation of the filmmakers is the reason why the LED scenes are facing growing pains.
“Thor: Love and Thunder” Credit: Walt Disney Studios movies

Any film or television that would have used a green or blue screen is now opting for LED stages. disney account strongly on the scenes. Having already used them on The Mandalorian and Thor: Love and Thunder, the studio is ready to use the scenes on other upcoming projects like Lucasfilm’s Ahsoka and Marvel Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania.

Other studios are following in Disney’s footsteps in this new world of virtual production, with Star Trek: Discovery, Bullet Train, Shazam: Fury of the Gods, and Francis Ford Coppola Megalopolis using the LED scenes to intensify their CGI-based worlds.

There’s nothing wrong with using these types of stages, but oversaturation of stages is currently unsustainable. Some stakeholders are starting to worry that there are too many on the market right now, especially when the demand for traditional sound stages is also on the rise.

The virtual production stage at Warner Bros. Studios. Leavesden in London, which opened in 2021 and was used for HBO broadcasts Dragon House, is already closing.

“Due to the high demand for studio production space, Warner Bros. Studios Leavesden’s virtual stage will be reverting to a traditional soundstage to provide more flexibility for our customers,” a Warner Bros. representative said. That means the company spent over $30 million just to retire the LED stage after a year, making that investment essentially useless.

The lack of preparation of the filmmakers is the reason why the LED scenes are facing growing pains.
BTS on “The House of the Dragon”Credit: Television distribution Warner Bros.

Proceed with caution

As I said before, there’s nothing wrong with wanting to use an LED stage, but productions need to understand how to work with these types of stages before jumping into the deep end of virtual production.

But if a filmmaker doesn’t know this before going on stage, things can start to look bad. Unfortunately, LED stages are still very new and few filmmakers are comfortable enough to use them.

As an unnamed source told The Hollywood Reporter, “Some [shows] were super successful; others were a bloodbath because people were unprepared.

The lack of preparation of the filmmakers is the reason why the LED scenes are facing growing pains.
The LED stage for ‘The Mandalorian’ Credit: Melinda Sue Gordon/Lucasfilm Ltd./Disney+

How to Prepare for LED Stages

LED turntables can help control production costs, schedules and complexities instead of traveling to locations. These types of scenes are the perfect place for filmmakers to experiment and see what works best for their needs.

But as with any technology, there are some downsides.

Cinematographer Greig Fraser, who won an Oscar for his work on Denis Villeneuve Dunes and used LED scenes to The Mandalorian and part of The Batmansays that virtual scenes “don’t do midday or daytime sunlight very well,” but can be great for endless sunrises or sunsets.

“If you have something happening in a dawn or dusk environment – which we did in The Batman on the construction site overlooking Gotham, then it works really well because you’re dealing with soft light,” says Fraser.

While LED stages can solve some of the logistical issues of filming on location, Fraser thinks there’s a danger when filmmakers don’t understand what something is good for and what it isn’t for.

The lack of preparation of the filmmakers is the reason why the LED scenes are facing growing pains.
‘The Batman’Credit: Pictures from Warner Bros.

To help filmmakers understand what LED stages are for and not “give virtual filming a bad name,” Epic Games created its Unreal Fellowship, a 30-day course in virtual production. Participants apply for a place on the course, and those accepted receive $10,000 from Epic Games to complete the course.

Since its launch two years ago and its partnership with the American Society of Cinematographers and Art Directors Guild, the course has trained approximately 2,000 professionals.

The Visual Effects Society is also helping filmmakers by introducing an online virtual production glossary to help anyone in the industry understand terms like “virtual production”. According to the glossary, virtual production is defined as a technique that “uses technology to join the digital world to physical work in real time. It allows filmmakers to interact with the digital process the same way they interact with live production.

This definition hints at what the future of cinema will look like. Virtual production, whether it’s an LED stage or performance capture, will create an immersive experience for cast and crew that may well translate to audiences. But to make that possible, filmmakers need to step back and learn as much as possible about virtual productions before embarking on one.

What do you think of virtual productions? Do you think LED scenes are trendy or will they be around for a long time? Let us know what you think in the comments!


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