The first episode of The Mandalorian was released on November 12, 2019. Despite a worldwide pandemic that upended production and filming of nearly every studio, the second season of The Mandalorian debuted on October 30, 2020, less than a year later.
How did Disney / Lucasfilm produce an entire season of The Mandalorian so quickly during a pandemic? The answer: StageCraft.
StageCraft is what’s next after green screen. It’s a massive computer generated LED that wraps around physical sets, allowing real actors to interact with a photo-real environment.
Green screen has been in use for decades. Actors are accustomed to stepping on to a film set to be asked to imagine that instead of the single-color green tapestry behind them, it’s vibrant landscape, crowded city, or whatever else the scene demanded.
StageCraft replaces that green screen. When actors steps into the scene with Stagecraft, they don’t need to imagine there is a vibrant landscape behind them, the giant LED wrap-around wall displays it, live and with movement. Actors are embedded.
StageCraft is like a theatre production set where all the pieces change instantly. Physical set pieces are rolled out. For The Mandalorian, that could be a life-sized prop speeder bike or dew back. Then, the StageCraft LED has the Tatooine background rear projected all around.
So, filming is so much faster; rather than fly a crew from Tunisia for an on-location Tatooine, a few set pieces are switched, the LED board shifts, and voilà, you are filming on Tatooine.
Actors aren’t looking at a green screen, imagining it will become Tatooine in post-production, they see Tatooine right before their eyes. Better, StageCraft appears right in the camera display for the director to see how the entire shot is coming together in real time. And the projected scenes are in parallax, so the perspective shifts as actors move about.
Then everything can be entirely transformed in less than 24 hours. An elite crew of visual effects artists and ILM engineers known as the “Brain Bar” render and manipulate the environments being beamed on screen, setting up filming for the next day. Like a good hyperdrive, the Brain Bar can take Mando to a whole new planet in just a day’s time.
Says Jon Favreau: “We’ve been experimenting with these technologies on my past projects [Jungle Book] and were finally able to bring a group together with different perspectives to synergize film and gaming advances and test the limits of real-time, in-camera rendering.”
With Favreau being the show runner or producer for so many of the upcoming Disney+ Star Wars projects, StageCraft is here to stay, meaning Star Wars fans are ultimately the beneficiary of this technology. We get great looking shows, faster.
Kevin Feige has brought the tech over to the Marvel side as well, giving us something to look forward to with the upcoming Marvel shows on Disney+.
Adds Richard Bluff, the visual effects supervisor for The Mandalorian, “Jon Favreau found the breakthrough that George [Lucas] was always looking for when he first explored the idea of a live-action TV show.”
Now it’s here.