BY DAN MEIER
A major trend in recent years has seen traditionally post-production processes made a part of production. Consider the creation of visual effects, once added to a scene after the completion of photography on a green screen, now capable of being rendered in camera in real time. Rather than leaving actors to react to an unknown quantity or guess the nature of their scene partners, those elements can finally materialize on set. Somewhat ironically, actors have the gaming world to thank for this revolution, as it is games engines that power in-camera visual effects environments.
Hurlbut Academy uses Star Wars spinoff The Mandalorian as an example of pioneering this revolutionary technology. Millions of subscribers came to Disney Plus for Baby Yoda but stayed for the show’s special effects, which were achieved using a groundbreaking system known as StageCraft, described by No Film School as “the biggest thing since the invention of blue and green screen.” Powered by Unreal Engine from Epic Games, the system uses a 20-foot high, 270-degree LED wrap-around screen to display CG environments in real time — and all controlled remotely by iPad.
For the series’ cinematographer Greig Fraser, one of the biggest benefits was being able to control the lighting on set instead of having to match up the assets in post. “We have full control of the light, we’re not spending all that time trying to cut the sun, or trying to diffuse it, or trying to add negative fill,” he told Deadline.
“On the practical side, we’re able to move faster. But even more importantly, on an emotional side, we’re able to build the world that we’re wanting to in advance, knowing that we’re going to have an extended period of that particular controlled light.”
READ MORE: ‘The Mandalorian’ DP Greig Fraser On Developing Disney+ Drama’s LED Volume: “The Beginning Of Something Extraordinarily Powerful” (Deadline)
Beyond the worlds of Star Wars, other productions are integrating Unreal Engine into their workflows, including the third season of HBO’s Westworld. Seeing games engines embraced by projects with the most intense visual effects demands suggests a bright future for an industry moving away from costly post production pipelines, as Epic Games’ senior product manager Jonathan Litt notes in an interview with ProVideo Coalition: “Where previously turnaround times might have been a matter of days or even longer, we’re aiming for turnaround times of minutes.”
From on-the-fly lighting adjustment and shot composition to real-time set rendering and editing capabilities, filmmakers are already reaping the benefits of games engines. Director Joe Russo describes the experience as “like we’re moving from filmmaking 1.0, jumping to filmmaking 5.0 – and I don’t see any other path forward that is nearly as exciting, compelling, or freeing for artists as this path.”