How LED Walls Are Changing TV and Film Production

Ayden Lambert Nov, 9th, 2020

Updated: The Mandalorian Season Two Announced | StarWars.com

Image from StarWars.com, depicting “The Mandalorian”.

For years Hollywood has tried to fully master the use of Green Screen technology. The end goal being a fully realized, seamless blending of real actors/props with digitally created backgrounds and CGI creations. A new technology may have entirely circumvented the need for this and it’s been popularized by “The Mandalorian” on Disney Plus. Let’s take a look into this new technology, how “The Mandalorian” uses it and how it has the potential to reach into all corners of popular media production.

Art of LED Wall Virtual Production, Part One: 'Lessons from the Mandalorian'  – fxguide

Image from FXguide.com, depicting the LED wall technology in action.

“LED walls make the lighting better, filming smoother, and in certain cases, cost a lot less than using green screens., “How Emmy-award-winning ‘The Mandalorian’ uses virtual sets over green screens”, Blake. C, Insider, https://www.insider.com/green-screen-virtual-sets-mandalorian-2020-4)

As Insider says, LED walls have created an incredible amount of advantages for new production projects but what are LED walls? Utilizing a form of advanced projection to cast complex backgrounds, this technology serves as a virtual set and this services all sides of a production. For an actor it is far more beneficial to a performance, allowing cast members to engage with an environment they can actually see and feel themselves acting in. For crew members it reduces time spent fiddling with green screen contraptions and simplifies VFX in pre and post production workloads.

This has a positive effect on how the stories are told. With a simplified work setting and fully realized environments to work in, directors can guide their actors in new and more thorough ways that were not possible with green screen. No matter how good your VFX artist, nothing compares to a real set and LED walls just replicate that far better than green screen projects. As the above referenced article says, in many ways LED technology takes far less of a toll on a production budget to boot.

How 'The Mandalorian' and ILM invisibly reinvented film and TV production |  TechCrunch

Image from TechCrunch.com, a wider look at an LED Wall set.

“Removing the green screen is never as quick as VFX artists would hope, and it also casts green light over the set and the actors. Even green-screen substitutes, like projecting an image onto a screen behind the actor, fail to dynamically respond to camera movements the way they would in the real world., Edwards. P, Vox, “The technology that’s replacing the green screen”, https://www.vox.com/21529002/green-screen-mandalorian)

This article highlights how green screen technology has failed big budget productions in several ways. This was something Disney hoped to avoid with “The Mandalorian”. For their big exclusive show to launch with their big streaming service, Disney Plus, they embraced the LED Wall technology. “The Mandalorian” utilizes it in order to give a streaming series the look of a blockbuster film.

As the titular character traverses many visually different planets and spacecrafts, lead actor Pedro Pascal is able to see each of them as though he was really there. It’s no understatement to say how much of a leap this is from distracting green screen backdrops on a set. For a show like “The Mandalorian” I imagine it is especially helpful as Disney has claimed that all of their Disney Plus exclusives will have a big budget look. Actors in modern blockbusters often joke in interviews about laughable VFX stand-ins on set but it seems this is something “The Mandalorian” will not have to deal with as often.

Disney Gallery: The Mandalorian' Season 1 Episode 4: Proud display of what  could end use of green screens forever | MEAWW

Image from Meaww.com, crew members of “The Mandalorian” at work.

As someone in the Interactive Media Arts program, it is very exciting to be entering the production world at the same time as this technology becomes more widely used. It doesn’t seem to be slowing down either as director Matt Reeves “The Batman” has claimed to be using LED Walls as well. I’m very intrigued to watch where this goes, both seeing the work behind the scenes and the final results. If anything, it’s a good time to be in training for media production.

How Cutting-Edge ILM Technology Brought 'The Mandalorian' to Life

Image from NoFilmSchool.com, set photo from “The Mandalorian”.