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The technology that’s replacing the green screen

The green screen might be doomed. And that’s a good thing.

It’s coming — and Hollywood can’t wait.

The green screen is a Hollywood staple. But should it be?

It’s easy to complain about overreliance on special effects, but for projects that require impossible-to-film environments or include incredibly expensive shots, how do you get the flexibility of green screens without the drawbacks? As the video above shows, there are solutions — and Charmaine Chan has worked on one of the possible options.

As a compositor for venerable visual-effects house Industrial Light and Magic (ILM), Chan has worked on films like The Last Jedi, assembling various digital elements into a beautiful, seamless image. Her job changed while working on The Mandalorian, one of the first shows to use ILM’s upgrade for the green screen: LED panels that use the same technology as video game engines to place a realistic-looking world behind the actors.

The result was a huge improvement, as green screens actually have a lot of drawbacks. Removing the green screen is never as quick as VFX artists would hope, and it also casts green light over the set and the actors. Even green-screen substitutes, 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. It also led to creative breakthroughs in which the old Hollywood order of making a TV show or movie — wherein VFX came last — was suddenly reversed. Now, artists like Charmaine work alongside actors, set designers, and other crew members during filming. That collaboration means this technology doesn’t just eliminate a screen — it eliminates a creative barrier.

Watch the video above to see how it happens.

You can find this video and all of Vox’s videos on YouTube.