LED Technique Created for Sci-Fi Could Provide an Alternative for Film Crews Limited by Lockdowns

A lighting technique pioneered for the film Gravity could be of use to small-scale video crews

LED screens were used to mimic lighting for this pre-pandemic Cadillac ad shoot. Framestore
Headshot of Patrick Kulp

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A cutting-edge effects technique used to bring space-scapes to life in big-budget sci-fi projects could be key to smaller video shoots here on an Earth gripped by the coronavirus pandemic, according to one major video effects firm.

The method involves reproducing a video backdrop on large LED screens to mimic the lighting and feel of a physical environment, without the need for a sprawling on-location shoot or the sometimes-clunky depth mismatches of a traditional green screen.

While the technique was pioneered for the 2013 film Gravity and further popularized by the Disney+ Star Wars series The Mandalorian, visual effects firm Framestore has released two case studies demonstrating how the tool can be used on a smaller scale for advertising shoots with limited crews or resources.

Though the case studies were shot before Covid-19 quarantine measures made large-scale film shoots impossible in most areas, Framestore is releasing them now in hopes of capitalizing on a newfound relevance.

“There may now be a huge benefit to just capturing or photographing specific locations where you want to shoot at the exact time that they look best in regards to the light, and basically creating a digital application of that,” explained Framestore VFX supervisor Michael Ralla.

“And then you put that on the LED screens in that stage, and that means you can actually move really quickly from location to location with a really small footprint and very, very few people, and capture 10 locations a day,” he continued.

In one of the case studies, the production crew behind Cadillac’s “Restless” campaign used an LED screen in a blue screen studio to recreate the lighting of a Cadillac in a luxury home window. They then applied it to an augmented reality model of the car superimposed on the original environment, since there was no way to transport the vehicle into the home.

In the other example, a crew filming a spot for Australian insurer NRMA used LED video to mimic scenery passing beside a driving car on a sound stage, without a “fake green-screen look” or the need for moving shots.

Both spots were helmed by Monster’s Ball and Finding Neverland director Marc Forster.

Brands have been turning to stock footage, user-generated content and animation as the coronavirus pandemic has made even smaller shoots impossible. While many countries have been easing restrictions to the point where full-scale studio production is now legal in a handful of places, Ralla contends it will be a while before many teams feel they can safely return to the field.

“Traditionally, on a soundstage or on location, you will have hundreds of people, and it’s crowded and it’s almost like an incubator for all sorts of germs when everyone’s running around and cramming into crew vehicles to get to and from set,” Ralla said. “That won’t be possible for a while.”

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@patrickkulp patrick.kulp@adweek.com Patrick Kulp is an emerging tech reporter at Adweek.