The technology that’s replacing the green screen

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Vox
Published at : 22 Dec 2020
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The green screen is a Hollywood staple. Should it be?

It’s easy to complain about overreliance on special effects, but for projects that require impossible-to-film environments or have incredibly expensive shots, how do you get the flexibility of green screens without the drawbacks?

Charmaine Chan has worked on one of the possible answers. Vox's Phil Edwards spoke to her about her career and how it's at the forefront of a big technological shift. As a compositor for venerable effects house Industrial Light and Magic (ILM), she’s worked on films like The Last Jedi, assembling various digital elements into a beautiful, seamless image. Her job changed on The Mandalorian, one of the first shows to use ILM’s upgrade for the green screen: LED panels that used video game engine technology to place a realistic-looking world behind the actors.

It was a huge improvement, because green screens actually have a lot of drawbacks. Removing the green screen is never as quick as visual effects artists would hope. It also casts green light upon the set and actors. Even substitutes for a green screen, like projecting an image onto a screen behind the actor, fail to dynamically respond to camera movements the way they would in the real world.

ILM’s solution fixes a lot of those problems, and it also led to creative breakthroughs in which the old Hollywood order of a TV show or movie, in which VFX came last, was suddenly reversed. Now, artists like Charmaine are alongside actors, set designers, and other crew members during filming. That collaboration means that this technology doesn’t just eliminate a screen — it eliminates a creative barrier.

Watch the above video to see how it happens.

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