One of the most impressive parts of The Mandalorian (besides Baby Yoda, the heartwarming story and the second season finale’s surprise) was the production design, with realistic and varied locations, sets, and effects despite the comparatively lower budget for television production as opposed to a blockbuster movie production.
More than half of the first season of The Mandalorian was shot using Industrial Light & Magic’s (ILM) new StageCraft technology, which uses giant 20-foot-tall LED video screens to create fully digital environments as in-camera sets and backdrops. ILM worked with Epic Games’ Unreal Engine to build these purely digital environments which were then projected around the actors and physical set elements (like spaceship parts or speeder bikes) to create the finished project. As part of that effect, those LED screens are actually then shot on camera for a seamless effect that replicates location shooting without the costs. (The 3D environments are specifically lit and rendered from the perspective of the camera to accomplish that.)
There are also real benefits to the virtual sets compared to a traditional green screen setup. Since the actors are actually on the set with the displays, they can see and react to things in the background while they’re actually shooting, instead of imagining effects that will be added later.
It also means that the lighting from those digital sets is present on set and interacting with the physical elements, like the actors and props. So shots where Mando and Baby Yoda sit around a fire, with the sunset shining off Mando’s armor still look right because that light is actually there on set. It’s just coming from an LED screen instead of an actual sun.
Additionally, because the “sets” are just digitally projected 3D environments, they can be moved around and edited on the fly. Don’t like where a mountain is in the background for a particular shot? Simply move it around, or just delete it entirely.
ILM had already been using effects like this on existing films, like Star Wars’ Solo, where the “windows” of the Millennium Falcon were digital screens, allowing for the lighting effect of the hyperspace jumps to be projected on the actors’ faces in camera. But The Mandalorian took the technology to a much bigger scale, with a 270-degree semicircular LED video wall and ceiling that created a 75-foot-wide set.
The Mandalorian’s first season is just the start for this new technology. ILM is making StageCraft available for use by filmmakers and showrunners worldwide as an end-to-end solution, meaning that the digital set technology could be showing up in a lot more TV shows and movies in the future.