Between now and Christmas, Animationsinstitut is once again conducting intensive research into the future of filmmaking. Walls of LED screens have been erected in Studio 1 on the campus of Filmakademie. With them, virtual sets can be created, which are becoming increasingly important in the film industry. The institute's Research & Development department uses them to test new filming methods. Students learn about the possibilities offered by this technology in the Set Extension Workshop. To this end, some student teams can use the novel studio design for their projects.
In the following interview, mathematician and media computer scientist Simon Spielmann talks about the opportunities offered by the LED wall and explains how the technology works. Simon is a senior engineer in the research and development department of Animationsinstitut as well as a lecturer in the Technical Directing program. For years, he has researched methods to make developments in real-time computer graphics useable for the film industry.
Dear Simon, what's the deal with film sets made of LED walls?
Until now, scenes that contain computer-generated landscapes or photographic backgrounds have been shot primarily using blue and green screen technology. In this process, people or objects are shot in front of blue or green surfaces and following this, they are placed in the desired imagery afterwards. In the future, high-resolution LED walls could replace this method. With large display technologies, virtual content can be brought directly to the film set.
What are the advantages?
A major disadvantage of green and blue screens is that the detailed design of scenes in terms of the interplay between acting and the visual environment takes place after the fact. An acting challenge follows suit. This is because the actors are often forced to act largely blindly or only on an imaginable level within the environment. Recording errors, which have to be rectified at great expense in post-production, are also happening quite frequently. The LED screens, however, function as a kind of stage.
In addition, screens nowadays are so bright that you can light well with them. So well, in fact, that LED walls will soon be able to supplement the lighting technology on set.Simon Spielmann
So the scenery that can be seen with the naked eye on set is close to the image shot for the film?
Exactly. This gives you more control and greater accuracy when shooting. In addition, screens nowadays are so bright that you can light well with them. So well, in fact, that LED walls will soon be able to supplement the lighting technology on set.
Last year, there was already a test system in Studio 1. You experimented with it, a first workshop was held there and parts of the student projects NEOSHIN and HIGHSCORE HEAVEN were shot with it. What was your research focus at that time?
We still have a whole range of problems to solve when it comes to this technology. For example, our department is working on software solutions that can simplify directors' work with the screens. Say they want to make changes to the image on set; the projections could easily be redesigned using the VPET tablet application developed by Animationsinstitut. In addition, suitable ways must be found to ideally match the screens and the camera to create the best possible final image. We try to synchronize computer-animated imageries with real actions in such a way that acting and image interact live. Crucial to this is the camera tracking system.
Due to the pandemic, the technology has been on everyone's lips in the film world. Why?
Such on-screen film sets are basically the same in terms of their construction regardless of the studio. Therefore, it is possible for shoots to take place in different locations, thus avoiding or reducing travel by film crews. This became interesting for production companies when shoots all over the world were restricted by hygiene regulations. The technology could also eventually open up a whole new area of business. It is conceivable that lighting setups and VFX set designs could be offered as presets by service providers because they can be digitally loaded into any LED screen studio in the world.