LED wall ins­tead of green screen

Vir­tu­al Pro­duc­tion reinvents the film world

A digi­tal set in real time ins­tead of shoo­ting in front of a green screen: this is what Vir­tu­al Pro­duc­tion pro­mi­ses. The future will see films being made in huge LED stu­di­os whe­re any set­ting, loca­ti­on or a spe­ci­fic back­ground can be pro­jec­ted as con­tent while the came­ra is run­ning. This opens up com­ple­te­ly new pos­si­bi­li­ties of inter­ac­tion and sto­rytel­ling for the direc­tors and actors. But the film­ma­king pro­cess will also see chan­ges. The tech­no­lo­gy requi­res a new kind of plan­ning and approach during the pro­duc­tion and post-pro­­duc­­ti­on. Whilst one has to invest stron­gly, for exam­p­le, in the tech­no­lo­gy at one point, lar­ge sums can then be saved elsewhere.

#mediatech­t­alk: Vir­tu­al Pro­duc­tion - the next big thing

Two vir­tu­al pro­duc­tion stu­di­os have been built in Pots­­dam-Babels­­berg in recent months. It took DARK BAY GmbH just a short time to build the “Volu­me”, one of the lar­gest per­ma­nent LED stu­di­os of its kind in Euro­pe. The “Halos­ta­ge”, on the other hand, is a fle­xi­ble LED stu­dio, with its share­hol­ders Kame­ra Lud­wig, LAVAlabs and ICT Halos­ta­ge now plan­ning fur­ther LED stu­di­os in Ber­lin and Bran­den­burg. Their stu­dio has an LED volu­me of over 1,000 squa­re metres.

We spo­ke during the #mediatech­t­alk on 22 June, 2021 with the two experts, Phil­ipp Klaus­ing, Mana­ging Direc­tor of DARK BAY GmbH, and Erik Wolff, Board Mem­ber of ICT-AG, about the crea­ti­ve and tech­no­lo­gi­cal pos­si­bi­li­ties of Vir­tu­al Production.

They give first-hand accounts of the new pos­si­bi­li­ties and the impact of the LED walls on film pro­duc­tion. Both start the dis­cus­sion with a premise.

“Vir­tu­al and Mixed Rea­li­ty Pro­duc­tion is more than a sound stage, it’s not just a ren­tal pro­duct you hire. It’s a form of pro­duc­tion,” says Phil­ipp Klaus­ing from DARK BAY.

And Erik Wolff adds: “We are deal­ing here with a tech­no­lo­gy that offers a gre­at oppor­tu­ni­ty – an oppor­tu­ni­ty to chan­ge and reinvent film­ma­king. It has the poten­ti­al to deli­ver savings in cos­ts and time, but, abo­ve all, free up crea­ti­ve poten­ti­al. This requi­res tech­no­lo­gy dri­vers, infra­struc­tu­re and specialists.”

Crea­ti­ve poten­ti­al, cost savings and total­ly new job profiles

The term Vir­tu­al Pro­duc­tion actual­ly does­n’t go far enough and is bet­ter defi­ned as Mixed Rea­li­ty. For while the con­tent is being digi­tal­ly pro­jec­ted onto the LED wall, the actors act in the fore­ground in rea­li­stic sets. Ide­al­ly, the sce­ne is tra­cked with a 3D came­ra so that a par­al­lax effect is crea­ted in the came­ra. The fact that film loca­ti­ons can thus be made to look more authen­tic is sure to be the most out­stan­ding fea­ture for film­ma­kers. This is not neces­s­a­ri­ly the case when you are film­ing an epi­so­de of Tat­ort in Müns­ter or Ham­burg, but it’s cru­cial when crea­ting fan­ta­stic worlds or sce­nes set on the moon and Mars, for exam­p­le, or real­ly dif­­fi­­cult-to-access places on Earth like Mount Ever­est. This is also true of the series “1899” which tells the sto­ry of emi­grants who set off to cross the Atlan­tic by steam­ship in the last century.

Phil­ip Klaus­ing refers again to the exam­p­le of the Net­flix pro­duc­tion: “We had begun wri­ting the scripts during the lock­down last year and then had to con­sider: how do we tell a pan-Euro­­pean series that is not only set in the North Atlan­tic, but also at loca­ti­ons in Spain, Scot­land, Den­mark? How safe are we going to be at out­door loca­ti­ons during the pan­de­mic? A stu­dio envi­ron­ment pro­tec­ted from the ele­ments was the obvious choice.” This was a cru­cial fac­tor for DARK WAYS GmbH when deci­ding to set up DARK BAY GmbH. Apart from sim­pli­fied logi­stics and a safe stu­dio envi­ron­ment, Vir­tu­al Pro­duc­tion also offers advan­ta­ges from an artis­tic point of view as far as the light­ing is con­cer­ned. Com­­pu­­ter-gene­ra­­ted back­grounds don’t nor­mal­ly shi­ne real light into the set. They don’t crea­te reflec­tions as you would have in real life on such reflec­ti­ve sur­faces as pudd­les, car roofs or metal hel­mets. Some­ti­mes, it can just be a beam of sun­light hit­ting the ground. This crea­tes natu­ral light and is imme­dia­te­ly per­cei­ved as such by the human eye. Thanks to the huge LED walls, the light­ing is rea­li­stic. The cor­re­spon­ding back­drops are sup­pli­ed by ser­vice pro­vi­ders who are fami­li­ar with crea­ting digi­tal worlds and, in some ins­tances, come from the games industry.

Advan­ta­ges and disadvantages

But despi­te all the advan­ta­ges, the­re are also rest­ric­tions with an LED stage – issues such as colour shif­ting, focus and blur­ring or the moi­ré effect were dis­cus­sed in more detail in the #mediatech­t­alk. Accor­ding to Wolff, one needs to explo­re the limits to this tech­no­lo­gy and its poten­ti­al. He and his team are now deve­lo­ping their own LEDs to impro­ve reflec­tions or working with war­ning sys­tems that flag up the cine­ma­tic grey areas.

The gre­at chall­enge and, at the same time, oppor­tu­ni­ty is now in trai­ning qua­li­fied per­son­nel - both experts are in agree­ment about this. Film stu­di­os with LED walls offer end­less pos­si­bi­li­ties, on the one hand, but the­re are limi­ta­ti­ons on other levels. Film­ma­kers need to under­stand how to work with the came­ra and depth of field or how to get the most out of actors’ move­ments in front of the LED wall. Set desi­gners and the art depart­ment should plan in advan­ce on how they are going build real phy­si­cal sets which can har­mo­ni­se with the back­ground. Advan­ce plan­ning is key sin­ce one can then dis­pen­se with who­le stages in the post-production.

“We film­ed a ship’s deck in the pel­ting rain in the North Atlan­tic and were then able to have the foo­ta­ge edi­ted and scree­ned by the cli­ent right away that evening. That’s half the batt­le and worth all the effort expen­ded in other places,” says Klaus­ing. The time saved in post-pro­­duc­­ti­on is in kee­ping with the way one works with many strea­ming pro­vi­ders who are often on very tight sche­du­les. For others, the time saved is not the main advan­ta­ge, the crea­ti­ve poten­ti­al is what is worth every investment.

Working with the LED tech­no­lo­gy is still about “lear­ning on the job” for many acti­ve film pro­fes­sio­nals. The play­ers from the film indus­try, film school and rese­arch insti­tu­ti­ons are working clo­se­ly tog­e­ther within the Media­Tech Hub Pots­dam and at the film pro­duc­tion hub in Pots­­dam-Babels­­berg. The experts both agree that inves­t­ing in Vir­tu­al Pro­duc­tion offers peo­p­le here a gre­at oppor­tu­ni­ty to play a key role in influen­cing and dri­ving the film mar­ket for­ward in the years to come.

Addi­tio­nal information:

Dark Ways’ “Volu­me” has just been award­ed the pri­ze for Best VR Tech­no­lo­gy at the VR Now Awards.

Dark Ways GmbH


Halos­ta­ge / ICT-AG

About MTH Blog

The media tech­no­lo­gies of the future are alre­a­dy being used today - not only in the enter­tain­ment sec­tor, but also in a wide varie­ty of indus­tries. Chris­ti­ne Lentz meets up with tech enthu­si­asts, estab­lished com­pa­nies and rese­ar­chers for our month­ly Media­Tech Hub Pots­dam blog to tell the sto­ries behind the inno­va­ti­ve busi­ness models.

More blog articles

About MTH Blog

The media technologies of the future are already being used today – not only in the entertainment sector, but also in a wide variety of industries. Christine Lentz meets up with tech enthusiasts, established companies and researchers for our monthly MediaTech Hub Potsdam blog to tell the stories behind the innovative business models.