“The Volume – How Innovative Star Wars Technology Is Changing the Future of Film”
Since its inception, Disney Studios and Lucasfilm’s Industrial Light and Magic (ILM) has been at the forefront of technological advancements in filmmaking. These studios have always been forward-thinking in their approach to creativity and technology, whether it’s through CGI, new animation techniques, or the first usage of motion control cameras.
WHAT IS VOLUME
The Volume is the LED immersive soundstage used to film Obi-Wan Kenobi and The Mandalorian. The Volume, a nearly 360-degree stage made of seamless LED panel panels and a roof, was erected at Manhattan Beach Studios in California for the first season of The Mandalorian before being restored and enlarged for season two. The Volume replicas are now being erected all across the world, from England to Australia.
Filming people against a moving background is not a new technique. It’s been utilised in movies since the beginning, mainly for driving scenes where it’s not practicable or safe to put a camera on the car while the actor drives. The Volume is distinct in that it employs a range of technologies, including Unreal Engine and Helios, to modify the background as it is being filmed in real-time StageCraft is the process of using the stage and integrating these technology and special effects into the filmmaking process.
HOW DOES THE VOLUME FUNCTION?
If you ask any gamer about real-time rendering, they’ll probably tell you how awesome it is to be able to customise your character and the game’s world while seeing these changes play out in high definition cutscenes in a game, rather than viewing pre-rendered footage with the default character and world. The Volume works on a similar idea, and Unreal Engine, which is used for much of the real-time rendering, began as a video game engine before being employed as part of StageCraft.
Before filming on The Volume, the team must have a virtual background in place, whether it is wholly created in CGI, layered photos and footage of real scenery, or a combination of these technologies.
Unreal Engine then allows this pre-made background to be digitally altered while filming, whether it’s adjusting the lighting, layered objects in the scenery, or even the position of the background on the screens. The Brain Bar, an on-set crew of visual effects artists and engineers, works to ensure the backdrop is ideal and can usually change it in only a few minutes. This technology also enables camera-tracking, which changes the background as the camera moves, giving the scene a more photorealistic appearance.
Most Hollywood films and television shows now use green screen effects to replace backgrounds when a production cannot be shot on location. By positioning performers and props in front of
a green or blue-covered wall, the single-colored wall can then be digitally substituted for anything or anywhere in the post-production process. This technology has been honed for decades and has been used in everything from the Star Wars prequel trilogy to the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
Green screen has many drawbacks, not the least of which is the lengthy post-production time required to install it, as well as the difficulties of lighting sequences while preventing “spill” reflections, and the difficulty of matching filming to surroundings added later. With The Volume, the backdrops are created in pre-production rather than post-production, the lighting from the LED screens matches the set to the performers, and the environs are visible to everybody. Filming is now underway. Even The Mandalorian uses green screen technology in some scenes where only a portion of the environment needs to be substituted, or where spectacular effects or stunts would jeopardise the expensive screens.
IS THE VOLUME HOLLYWOOD FILMING TECHNOLOGY’S FUTURE?
Despite the excellent visual results produced by The Volume, it’s reasonable to expect that the cost will be exorbitant for any shows, movies, or companies lacking the cash and resources of a Disney behemoth. While this is true for the time being, there are other things to consider. For starters, The Volume requires less on-set location filmmaking, which means that rather than travelling to Tunisia to film the next Star Wars episode on Tatooine, it can be done in Manhattan Beach Studios. This not only saves money on airfare and the cost of transferring workers and equipment, but it also has a lower environmental impact. And, as anyone who purchased a computer in the 1990s can attest, the The more popular a piece of technology becomes, and the more mass-produced its components become, the less expensive it becomes over time.
Throughout the history of filmmaking, the industry has constantly pushed to develop better ways to make things function better, whether it’s through better special effects, better cameras and equipment, or better filming procedures. The Volume is more technically advanced than green screen technology, and it is becoming more widely available, with more studios developing their own immersive LED screen soundstages. While it may never totally replace green screens, The Volume is unquestionably the way of the future.