When it comes to visual effects, the XR stages change the order of operations for the film and television industry. Comprised of hundreds of LED panels joined together and powered by video game engines, XR Stages offer film sets the ability to merge principal photography and post-production into one large collaborative process.
Used on productions like Disney The Mandalorian, XR scenes eliminate the need for green screen, immersing actors in photorealistic backdrops. Video game engines like Unity and Unreal Engine create motion-sensitive 3D environments in real time, allowing the background to follow the actor’s movements and make it look like they’re walking in a distant landscape when in reality it is lit a soundstage.
“Just being able to film someone in multiple places in one day has to be the number one reason to do it. Second, to put people in impossible places,” said Greg Russell, co-founder of the studio. XITE Labs virtual production.
“It’s a bit of the Wild West,” said Lauren Paul, vice president of sales and marketing at Lux Machina, the virtual production company behind the XR technology used on The Mandalorian.
“There’s this desire to be able to see people interact with the world without necessarily having to take them into that world. And that’s where it’s going to be limitless,” Paul added. “It really makes medium hard hits, medium easy hits, and easy hits without the fuss.”
Don’t ask what the “X” in XR stands for.
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“The best way to think about it is that the idea is that the X can mean anything, which just means an available or viable reality that we can use,” said Dan Bartlett, associate dean of the School of Digital Media from Savannah College. of Art and Design.
Basically, XR can stand for Mixed Reality, Augmented Reality, or Extended Reality. But Bartlett wouldn’t limit his definition to a single word.
“Yes, we use mixed reality, because that’s what this LED wall allows us to do. Yes, we use augmented reality as we are able to put overlays in front of the camera feed to achieve foreground elements. So it’s just a matter of using all the tools at your disposal to bring the images to life. »
SCAD recently built its own state-of-the-art XR stage for students at its Savannah campus, as part of a sprawling 10.9-acre filming space with a Hollywood-style backlot and sound stages. The school, which is hosting the SCAD Animation Fest this week, will soon unveil an XR stage on its Atlanta campus.
The XR scene is a tool future filmmakers would do well to learn, according to Gray Marshall, chair of visual effects at SCAD.
“The term ‘disruptive’ is often overused in technology and all, but I don’t think it’s overused in this instance,” Marshall said.
“Traditionally, production design and visual effects didn’t really have a meeting place other than around the table from time to time. Now they live together. So if that’s not disruptive, I don’t know what is,” Marshall said. “This pre-production is broken. At the same time, to really create visual effects, it’s almost always been relegated to post-production out of habit,” he said. “So they all come together at the same time.”
The university hopes that giving students the tools to learn how to use XR stages will help them learn about the changing production landscape.
Sean Hussey, a film and television specialist with a concentration in production, is one of many SCAD students who have already started using the XR scene in student film projects.
“It’s been a really cool process so far to start with creating a lot of the environments that you see on an XR stage. That’s a big part of what our film class has been able to do as part of our collaboration – and then being able to take them and edit and put them on the XR stage, kind of test the camera settings, kind of figure out what the filming process is like,” Hussey said.
As for how he experienced the changes in the production process, Hussey says it’s all about workflow.
“I’ve always been used to ‘Let’s get everything ready to shoot, we’ll shoot everything, and then we’ll work in post-production with the visual effects, editing, color and all those great things. “But now we’ve taken a VFX team, which is mostly used to coming in at the end and bringing them into the conversation, at the beginning,” he said. “So we’re doing a lot more pre-production which is taking a little longer than usual.”
But people who work in post-production need not worry.
“I don’t think post-production is going to go away,” Marshall said. “Aspects of what we currently call post-production will now be part of pre-production and production. … They’re still going to be edited, there’s always going to be people who change their minds later, and there’s always going to be things to fix.
“Especially if you’re talking about really heavy visual effects projects, there’s always going to be shots that you just can’t do behind closed doors,” she said. “Even what you can film, there will always be a need for visual effects to some degree. But it’s about making it easier and staging the creative process.
“The more this technology is adopted, the more innovative we will be with what you can shoot,” she added. “Even on The Mandalorian, we went from just being able to do exteriors to being able to do interiors – being able to do office interiors, bedroom interiors, nightclub interiors, and that sort of thing. So I think we’re starting to see a shift towards what was previously thought to be able to capture, and there’s this growing interest, this growing scope, for what’s possible.
Main image: An XR scene at SCAD Savannah, courtesy of SCAD.