What is Virtual Production, and why is it better than green screen?

What is Virtual Production, and why is it better than green screen?


Have you ever wondered how filmmakers create stunning and realistic worlds that don’t exist in real life? Did you know that there is a new technology in play that is beating the good old green screen by leaps and miles?

First, let's define what is a green screen and what is virtual production.  


Green screen, also known as chroma key, is a technique that involves filming actors or objects in front of a green or sometimes blue background, and then replacing it with a digital image or video in post-production.


This can lead to some amazing scenes, and at the same time, can be quite boring and sometimes even devastating for the actors. Just look at this famous scene, where actor Sir Ian McKellen, had a breakdown on the set of The Hobbit.

It's also a very slow process, and the bane of all video editors. Lots of directors instead of reshooting a scene, they say, don't worry, we will fix it in post, inducing heart attacks for VFX specialists around the globe.

Green screens have also been around for a long time, are relatively cheap to set up, and have been used successfully in films like Star Wars, the Matrix and Lord of the Rings.

If you are starting out, or working on a small project, then green screen is an excellent choice for a cinematographer, but you must calculate the editing and vfx costs and time this will take beforehand, otherwise there is a very high chance the project will run out under you, and you will need to sell your kidney and possibly your firstborn child to compensate.


Virtual Production may have started in the 2000, but it only really picked up around 2019, when game engines could render realistic background scenes and not pixelated messes.

VP is a game-changing technology that allows film makers to create and manipulate digital environments in real-time, using tools such as LED screens, motion capture technologies, and game engines like Unreal Engine. 

It offers many benefits over green screen, such as more creative freedom, faster workflow, lower cost, and better performance. 

Most often it involves a massive LED screen in the background, and then filming the actors or objects in front of it in real-time. 

It allows filmmakers to see and adjust the final result in real-time, instead of waiting for post-production. This saves time and money, and also enables more creative experimentation and feedback.

It gives filmmakers more creative control and flexibility over the visual elements, such as lighting, camera angles, and special effects. They can change the background, the weather, the time of day, and the mood of the scene with a few clicks, and create a more immersive and realistic experience for the audience.

It reduces the cost and time of building and transporting physical sets and props, and travelling to different locations. Filmmakers can use existing assets or create new ones using game engines, and then display them on the LED screen, without having to worry about the logistics and the environmental impact.

For example, The Mandalorian, which used a massive LED wall and the Unreal Engine to create immersive and photorealistic backgrounds for the Star Wars universe. 

It also enhances the performance and immersion of the actors, who can interact with the virtual environment and react to the visual cues. 

They don’t have to imagine what the scene will look like, or act in front of a blank screen, which can be challenging and mentally exhausting. They can also see themselves in the monitor, and adjust their expressions and movements accordingly.

Motion capture can also be a lot of fun for the actors, and can create some realistic scenes in otherwise unrealistic movies, like the live adaptation of The Lion King and the Hobbit.

In conclusion, whether you are a fan of Star Wars, Marvel, or Disney, you have probably seen and enjoyed the results of virtual production. 

This revolutionary technology is here to stay. It offers filmmakers new ways to create engaging and immersive content, with greater efficiency and flexibility than green screen. 

Green screen has its place, especially in smaller and more budget friendly productions, but it can be quite demanding for the  VFX artists and it's very hard to make on the fly changes. 

If you are a cinematographer or a filmmaker who wants to take the next step and enter the big boys league, you should definitely consider using virtual production for your next project.

Though keep in mind that virtual productions are not cheap either. The price of a Led Screen for virtual production starts at 3 million USD and it only goes up for there. The one they used on the set of the Mandalorian was 100 million USD.

Do you prefer virtual production or green screen? Have you used either technique for your own projects? What are some of your favourite films or shows that have used virtual production or green screen? I would love to hear from you. 

Thank you for reading, and stay tuned for more tips and insights on cinematography and filmmaking.





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