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Green Screen vs LED Volume Soundstage: Exclusive Insight with Director of Photography, Oren Soffer

Updated: Mar 10

Green screens have long lost their Hollywood mystique as amateur filmmakers and online creators alike have discovered endless ways to make use of its potential. Now in its place, the LED Volume has taken the stage and appears to be the new protagonist in the universe of virtual production. But before we’re blinded by the LED lights, what exactly is a Volume LED soundstage, and compared to a green screen, what are the potential challenges we need to consider with this latest technology?

Green Screen Has Been The Standard

Since the 1980s, special effects and computer graphics have been added to films using a neon-green screen in the background of shots. From bringing Indiana Jones to the rainforest in Brazil or teleporting Marvel’s Captain America back in time, there are numerous examples of how digital effects can turn the green background into anything with either computer-generated imagery (CGI) or background footage named plates.

LED Volume vs green screen, graphic explainer by Selena Dols

Clearing the Stage for Volume LED

Recent Hollywood movies like Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 and record-breaking Barbie are visually optimizing their storytelling using Volume LED soundstages in place of a green screen. The Volume technology became widespread after the launch of the first season of American space Western television series The Mandalorian in 2019, using on-set virtual production (OSVP) with virtual effects created by Lucasfilm’s VFX studio Industrial Light & Magic, or “ILM”.

The Volume soundstage is made up of a wall of high-end LED panels which are used to display 3D content or video footage to form a background behind actors. These panels are linked with computer-synchronised cameras and physical scenery to allow live shooting in front of what is basically an extremely large, sophisticated television screen. StageCraft is a video wall technology designed by ILM that is used by the Volume stage. Consequently, the whole production becomes more efficient, saving time with computer-generated imagery displayed directly on the LED walls, removing the step of compositing the shots in post-production - a necessity when shooting with green screens. 

Director of Photography, Oren Soffer: Exclusive Insight on the Volume LED Soundstage

Academy award nominated Director of Photography Oren Soffer
Director of Photography, Oren Soffer

In order to get quality insights concerning this advanced technique, we asked Director of Photography Oren Soffer about his experience working with LED Volume stages. Winner of the Craft award for Cinematography for the short film ‘Opera of Cruelty’ in 2017 and co-cinematographer for science fiction film ‘The Creator’ which has been nominated for the Academy Award for Best Visual Effects 2024, Oren Soffer speaks about his vision for the future of this technology.

The Creator film, Director of Photography Oren Soffer, academy award nominated for visual effects VFX with ILM
The American science fiction film ‘The Creator’, directed by Gareth Edwards, is nominated for the Academy Award for Best Visual Effects and the Academy Award for Best Sound. Source image: instagram Oren Soffer (@orensofferdp)

Current Challenges With LED Volume Technology

When asked about the challenges regarding LED Volume stages, cinematographer Oren Soffer points out that the biggest challenge currently are the costs of using the technology: 

OS: ‘’The cost is often very prohibitive - using the technology is very cost and labor intensive, from the technology to the large crew required to design, render, and run the footage that goes on the LED wall and operate the complex software and hardware needed to run the system’’, mentions Mr Soffer. ‘’Additionally, the environments need to be rendered and designed very specifically to create the right kind of interactive lighting environments that maintain the Volume illusion - it’s very easy to make choices that end up creating footage that feels just as fake and disconnected from the background as if shot on green screen. Lighting and lending choices need to be very precise in order for the technique to work and for the illusion to work on camera.’’

It goes without saying that the chance to put visual ideas successfully into action on LED Volume walls doesn’t come without required skills and investments. These prerequisites create a high threshold for those who want to get their hands on this technology.

The cost of the Volume LED soundstage

That said, if you are able to utilize this technology, there are great advantages, like the ease of filming from a local production studio. The necessity of moving a production to different locations to take specific shots, obtaining the required permits to film on location and experiencing external noises as an obstacle when filming - things like traffic sounds, airplanes or high wind - are eliminated. And no matter if Mother Nature decides on rain, sun, snow or hail - with LED Volume you can be in control of the lighting and the environment which allows for maximum power over the different shades of gray and color in the world of filmmaking. 

The Future of LED Volume Technology

Without a doubt, the LED Volume technology impacts the current way of filmmaking. For Oren Soffer, the effect it has on his work is exciting as it offers another level of visual transportation:

OS: ‘’LED stages influence my job and the industry in that they provide another tool and option for filmmakers to foster creativity and create an immersive filming environment that helps sell the reality of a scene for the actors and helps create more realistic and immersive lighting in an artificial studio setting.’’

The entrancing atmosphere that is brought to life on set can blur the line between reality and imagination on screen, now that LED Volume stages "imbue footage with a more organic, grounded feeling’’, as specified by Mr Soffer. As for the future of this technology, the ball is in the court of the current and next generation of filmmakers.

OS: ‘’The current and next generation can add their authentic touch to filmmaking through the use of LED volume technology by rejecting ‘common knowledge’ about the technique and simply blindly repeating what’s been done before, and instead forge a new path, experiment, and try new things.’’

Creative possibilities with the Volume LED soundstage

If enthusiastic artists have the opportunity to explore the possibilities of this cutting-edge technique, there’s no doubt that upcoming productions will begin to exceed our expectations. As long as the future is not planned by the past and Hollywood writers are sufficiently supported to do their job as well, it’s only a matter of time before we can indulge in the next era of films and series created with LED Volume soundstages.


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