Advantages of LED Backdrop In Virtual Production

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The use of visual effects in both TV and films has become a norm since a few decades ago. Thanks to the continuing advances in visual effects technology, we have been able to enjoy interesting movies such as Avatar, Star Wars, Pacific Rims, and Avengers.

Green screen is one of the most important techniques in filmmaking that allows us to enjoy stunning visuals like an explosion and roaring dinosaurs. The VFX industry is constantly evolving. LED screen or LED backdrop is now starting to gain attention in both filmmaking and TV production.

Virtual Production LED Backdrop

Image by The Verge and Sony Electronics. [Image source https://www.theverge.com/ and https://electronics.sony.com/]

LED screen is a display tool that is widely used in various applications such as concerts, live events, sports events, meeting rooms, and retail advertising. Most people do not see how it is related to filmmaking. Truth to be told, as a professional LED screen solution supplier in Malaysia, we also did not foresee the possibility years ago. It was impossible.

However, never underestimate the power of technological advancement. Allow us to discuss more the use of LED backdrop in virtual production. We will cover the advantages of using the LED backdrop in filmmaking and TV production.

Advantages of LED Wall in Virtual Production

What is VFX?

Visual effects, or VFX, refers to any manipulated or enhanced imagery that is not created during the live shooting. These imageries are created during the post-production stage, and they are computer-generated. It is the stage where the editing of both visual and audio are taken place after the live shooting.

VFX is not only about explosion, flame and liquid simulation. VFX is about enhancing storytelling and managing finite resources. A computer-generated explosion is not created to wow the audience. It is created to help to tell the story better. It is also created in post mainly due to the lack of flexibility in creating explosions during the live shooting. Some explosions are hard to be created in real life. Imagine when you want to explode a 100m-tall building. Are you going to explode it in live-action?

What is a Green Screen?

A green screen is a green-coloured backdrop used during the production. It is an important part of the chroma key compositing – a process where foreground live action is combined with constructed or separately filmed background footage during the post-production stage.

The green screen is the soul of VFX. Many effects are achievable only via the use of green screens. Use a green screen when you want to make your actor flies or interact with computer-generated situations such as tsunami or explosions. A green screen is also used when you want to create a location or an environment that is difficult to shoot, such as outer space and the volcano.

Green screen allows filmmakers to create creative and exciting scenes. It helps to tell stories more effectively. It turns impossibilities into possibilities. Besides, green screen helps to protect actors from dangerous environments. You do not need your actors to fight on top of a skyscraper.

However, if the advantages of green screen are limitless, why LED screens are starting to be used to replace green screens nowadays?

Some of the disadvantages of green screen are

  1. It is difficult for an actor to interact with the blank green volume. Getting into character is difficult too as the whole environment does not provide a sense of realism which could help the actor in creating the emotion needed.
  2. It is difficult for the director and the crews to work with the green screens. Imagination is needed when they are dealing with a static and lifeless environment. Worse comes to worst, people imagine differently. It could cause misunderstanding among crews and the live shooting could be affected.  
  3. Green spill occurs when a green-coloured reflection is cast on the actor or the shooting object due to the green screen. Green spill is very hard to remove, and it increases the workload of the VFX team.

What is a Virtual Production?

Virtual production mixes both computer graphics and live-action footage in real-time by using various tools and software. This is different from using a green screen in live shooting. Virtual production helps filmmakers to realize an environment where both computer-generated background and the foreground shooting objects or actors are visible in real-time.

One of the biggest advantages of virtual production is it enables actors to perform naturally within the virtual world. Real environment is displayed via the LED backdrop. It helps actors to respond to the surroundings as though they are real.

LED Backdrop. LED Wall in Virtual production.

Image by World Today News. [Image source https://world-today-news.com/]

Advantages of LED Backdrop in Virtual Production

The LED backdrop is the heart of virtual production. The LED backdrop is made of a huge number of LED screen modules. It can be a large or a small backdrop depending on the shooting requirement. For example, the curve LED wall used in “The Mandalorian” stage was 20 feet high. A total of 1,326 individual LED screens were used to comprise the LED video wall.

Some of the advantages of using an LED backdrop in virtual production are

  1. Immersive on-location experience
  2. Realistic scene lighting
  3. Flexible control of production
  4. Cost-saving and effective workload management

1. Immersive On-location Experience

As mentioned above, the LED wall or LED backdrop helps to combine both virtual backgrounds and live shooting objects or actors, to create an immersive world that replicates the natural environment. Can you imagine that the production of a beach scene is now able to take place at an indoor studio?

Both actors and crews can react to the virtual background in real-time. Actors can get into their characters easily, and the production team can make quick adjustments based on the virtual background. Communications in the production studio are now made easier.

2. Realistic Scene Lighting

The disadvantage of using a green screen is it could cause green spill. Green reflections that fall on the actors and the props are hard to be eliminated.

Besides, when a green screen is used, the backgrounds need to be generated in the post-production stage. The computer-generated backgrounds need to match their lightings to the lighting that is set at the production set. Light matching can be very tedious. If there is a mismatch, audience can quickly tell the difference. The CG background can look “fake” and unnatural.

When an LED backdrop is used in a virtual production, it can act as a background with realistic lighting and reflections. For example, when a sunset scene is displayed, the sunlight from the LED backdrop can be reflected naturally on the actors. LED screens can deliver a lifelike environment. When these are captured in the camera, there will be less work for the post-production team.

LED Backdrop. LED Wall in Virtual production.

Image by VFX Voice & Last Pixel. [Image source https://www.vfxvoice.com/ and https://lastpixel.com.au/]

3. Flexible Control of Production

When an LED backdrop is used, almost everything on the set can be adjusted quickly and on a real-time basis. As we mentioned before, the LED backdrop itself is basically a huge light panel. It provides the lighting on the actors. However, there are times when the lighting is not correct, at least from the perspective of a professional Director of Photography (D.O.P.).

Due to the beast computer and the rendering engine used, a lot of things on the virtual background can be tweaked on the set. Brightness, reflection and colour correction can be adjusted anytime.

The whole production set is now a controlled environment. The whole production process is smoother and more efficient compared to when the scene has to take place at an outdoor location. When VFX is able to be captured live in the camera with the aid of real-time rendering, it can reduce greatly the working hours needed during the post-production stage.

4. Cost-saving and Effective Workload Management

Film production is both art and commercial. For the film distributor, a great film needs to make money. No matter how powerful the technology is used, if it does not make the film profitable, the technology will eventually lose its value.

Virtual production using an LED backdrop is a valuable investment. Beside of all the wow factors, the technology can help the production in reducing the cost needed. The answer is very simple. When all the adjustments can be made directly on the production set, there are fewer hours needed for the post production. Hence, less money will be spent.

Furthermore, when outdoor locations can be brought into the studio with the LED backdrop, the need of outdoor production can be greatly reduced. Outdoor production can be very costly. A huge team needs to travel with equipment and props. Accommodation and transportation can cost a lot. Moreover, the team also needs to work on the shooting permits and licenses.

When workload and cost can be reduced, the producers can now have higher flexibility in arranging schedules and utilizing the resources more effectively. In short, when the budget is well planned and utilized, the film quality is guaranteed.

LED Wall for XR Stage - extended Reality

Image by VFX Voice & The Granary. [Image source https://www.vfxvoice.com/ and https://www.thegranary.co.nz/]

Conclusion

It is all about planning. LED backdrop in a virtual production can be a valuable investment if it is used wisely. Production team needs to identify both the advantages and the disadvantages. It is true that LED backdrop is an innovative and effective approach in film or TV production, but it is not necessarily the best option for every project.

Nevertheless, the application of an LED wall in a film or TV production has proved that it can bring unlimited possibilities in the future. It is a great opportunity that is worth to be considered.

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