Best Virtual Production Solution: LED vs Green Screen
Whats best green screen or LED – We asked Virtual Production Director Asa Bailey who’s spent the last 12 months testing panels and cameras in his North Wales development studio.
What’s the best option for producing the highest quality Film and Television content using Virtual Production Technology? Both have their advantages says seasoned Virtual Production Director Asa Bailey who has spent the last year testing LED panels and camera systems, for both in-camera VFX and real-time AR compositing in his North Wales development studio.
“I am a big fan of the Mandolorian, and appreciative that it’s done so much to make Virtual Production a household word, but it’s really confused a lot of people who produce film and television,” Asa Bailey says as he discusses the latest-and-greatest commercial film and television production solutions with customers.”
LED is expensive and in-camera.
“I think because they create a great experience for everyone on-set, LED screens have become all the rage. And they do work well but they are expensive and that makes a lot of folks think VP is not for them, I just want to make it clear that LED is not the only choice for virtual production. And people keep approaching me about shooting cinematic content and they are surprised when I say they can’t afford to do it using LED screens.”
Virtual Production is the art-and-science of producing content combining the real with the virtual (AR) or shooting fully virtually (VR) where everything in the scene is synthetic, in Bailey’s case he’s known for his work placing live actors into 3D virtual environments rendered in real time by very fast computers on set. Bailey and his company On Set Facilities Ltd. are world-leaders in the design and development of virtual production studios and the hardware/software pipelines that make them work. With more than a decades experience using virtual production technologies on set, Bailey has built and shot on both state-of-the-art LED screens and on state-of-the-art green screen environments, worldwide. He also oversees and shoots in-engine for pre-production visualisations using cloud collaboration for pre-vis, he’s often shot a film before the crew even get near set.
“Here’s what they don’t tell you about shooting on LED screens,” he says. “First, you have to work hard not to see those pixels and digital artifacts related to them even when you are shooting 4K for television. Backgrounds are fine out of focus, but you have to watch you don’t hit the wall with your focus and reflections can play tricks too. When you move the camera closer to the background, the pixels become more visible. So you have to keep your actors away from those backgrounds. If you are working on a 2.6 pitch screen you’ll not want your actors to be any closer to it than say 10′ (about 3m).
That means you need to build big screens to get the cast and camera away from it, real sets need to be built too to add layers of real depth to sell the shot so you need production design too. Shooting on a set with big LED screens is not like shooting in the real world.” Bailey continues, “Actually, shooting on an LED screen comes with the one real drawback that comes with shooting in the real world. Currently What you shoot is what you get. If I shoot against that LED background and then want to go back and revise it, it’s not easy. I have a live actor and he really has something behind him in-camera.
To amend or replace that LED background I have to do it frame by frame. In the future this may change as we start to record data off camera and we could potentially deep composite FX into the camera optical layer, but we are not there yet. Some will tell you to switch the LED green, but that’s no way to think about LED as a rule, sure you can do it but thats one hell of an expensive green screen, a luxury many can not afford”
Real-time compositing on green screen has it’s advantage.
“Traditional green screen virtual production puts actors in a green environment which costs next to nothing to create with paint or curtains. We put the digital background, real talent, special FX, and digital characters into the computer where it is composited live. We use camera tracking technology so that as the camera moves and shoots in the real talent, an exact-match digital camera moves and shoots in the digital world around them. The images are then sewn together in real time and are seen in the real word hero camera and on monitors and big screens around the set so the director and cast can watch. This process creates fully ready-to-edit previz for high end cinema projects or ready-to-broadcast quality content, all in real time.”
Bailey explains, “Here’s the benefit. When I’m shooting for television or cinema, using green screen, I have all the elements I need to go back and change that background, we record everything as separate plates, foreground, optical, background. If I decide I want the background more gloomy or the chromakey masks could be better, I have the actors on my in-camera (recorded on the card in camera RAW) green screen plate, I have the digital environment and all the matched camera movement in-engine. I can make changes and re-render in minutes. If I want to take that content into theatres, I can re-render the environments, compete with all characters and effects, at any resolution and re-composite to create a full quality very high-resolution film, insanely quickly, in a few hours or a few days. The process can even be an automatic cloud render process. The only question is what resolution I’m looking for.”
But wait, Bailey is also a total LED convert too.
When asked if that means producers shouldn’t use LED screens, Bailey laughs. “OSF sells LED screens and they are our highest cost product. And once you have had the benefits of LED on-set its tough too go back. What I have come to love them for, is not just for creating backgrounds, but most of all, I love them for creating environmentally matched lights adding to my usual fixtures. It’s nice when a character walks into a tunnel or into a wood and up to a fire, the lighting updates to reflect that change. I’ll now always use LED mixed in for my scene lighting, but for me in-camera, its a choice based on each scene I shoot.”
Bailey sums up, We certainly hope producers do continue to buy LED systems its an exciting area and it will undoubtedly evolve as a technology. We just want to make sure our customers fully understand that LED versus Green Screen is a false choice.
You need both, ideally you’ll have a store of LED on the production to pull on set as you need it based on your shots and scenes. Our virtual production simulcam solutions shoot both. They shoot what we call ‘Full Spectrum Virtual Production, MatteView can shoot on green / blue screen, or our users can shoot on LED screens, or shoot fully virtual in VR, and we are around to help them understand when one is better than the other for any given project, scene or shot.
On Set Facilities is now selling robust, turn-key, state-of-the-art virtual productions solutions in the UK, US, South America, Europe, Asia, and the Middle East.
“We have basic fully virtual simulcam systems that cost around $80K that let producers shoot animated series and feature animations in real-time. We have $150K solutions that let producers shoot episodic television or theatrical release projects on green screens and LED. And we sell LED stage systems that range in price from around $500K upwards. Every system comes with training and a warranty, and we stand behind the producers who use our technology to ensure they can achieve their creative and business objectives. We want every customer we support to understand and enjoy all the benefits of the virtual production solutions we sell.
For more information on On Set Facilities Ltd. Solutions, visit www.onsetfacilities.com.