The Entertainment & Recreation industries, like most modern arenas of business, have been uniquely impacted by the COVID-19 shutdowns and confusion. Many film and serialized television projects have been postponed or canceled due to the pandemic, and those that have soldiered through have had to reduce locations shoots to accommodate tightening budgets and travel restrictions. But the show(s) must go on, and clever tactics involving digital screens will undoubtedly save the day in many prominent cases going forward.
For instance, many of you out there have probably heard about how Disney+’s The Mandalorian’s shot more than 50 percent of its first season using a new methodology and workflow involving a virtual production stage with a background comprised of LED screens. Thanks to a series of partnerships involving showrunner Jon Favreau’s Golem Creations and Industrial Light & Magic (ILM), amongst others, actors were able to perform in front of a mixture of practical set pieces carefully positioned and lit in conjunction with a 25-foot by 75-foot, 270-degree semicircular LED video wall. Using the ROE Black Pearl BP2 screens, with a maximum brightness of 1,800 nits and a 2.84-millimeter pixel pitch, The Mandalorian was able to capture many visual effects in-camera and produce photo-real digital landscapes of exotic planets in a galaxy far, far away while virtually eliminating the need for greenscreens as well as physical locations.
In fact, the past five years have seen more and more digital screens show up onscreen as set dressing or even as part of the plots in our favorite cinema and television programs, whether we’ve caught them in increasingly empty theaters or from the quarantined comfort of our own homes.
Another notable example comes from everyone’s second-favorite gargantuan sci-fi franchise. CBS’ new Star Trek series Picard, which picks up The Next Generation captain’s story after he’s retired to his family’s French vineyard, finds the titular character investigating a matter concerning Artificial Intelligence (AI) and synthetic lifeforms at the Daystrom Institute early in Season 1. This location is well known in the Trek universe as a prestigious Okinawan science lab. However, it’s rarely been featured in scenes until the reboot show decided to employ the futuristic interior of the former Sony Pictures’ building and its relatively new digital display installation at One Culver in Culver City, California.
This 907-square-foot One Culver display is an integrated interior-facing media experience designed to activate LBA Realty’s revamped glass atrium design, and it was completed in early 2018 by L.A.’s own StandardVision. It utilizes two 5-millimeter display technologies to embrace the architectural space-frame within the atrium, and a central ‘hero’ section made of lightweight LED tiles maintains a content-friendly 16:9 canvas. The characters in Picard discuss the finer details of android robotics directly in front of this impressive digital display in motion. Check out our case study and podcast links below to learn more about this renovation and digital display installation from StandardVision’s Senior Vice President of Media Platforms Josh Van Blankenship and Creative Sales Director Helen Higbee.
Projection mapping is another increasingly popular way of stylishly displaying content, both publicly and now onscreen as we’ve seen in the Netflix-produced short film/music video/musical of Thom Yorke’s Anima. This visual companion to Yorke’s 2019 solo record of the same name, helmed by cinematic wunderkind and frequent Radiohead music video director Paul Thomas Anderson, makes good use of the practice. More specifically, the video has offscreen projectors shine frenetic imagery onto monolithic surfaces on location rather than relying on CGI or double exposures in post-production.
Other extraordinary examples come from the latter installments of the beloved John Wick trilogy starring Keanu Reeves. Digital signage installations show up as practical sets and practically emerge as characters unto themselves. In the franchise’s first sequel, the fight scene with the supervillian climaxes inside a fictional museum installation that features a hall of mirrors à la Enter the Dragon and/or The Lady from Shanghai, except digital signage technology makes the game of cat and mouse that much more dizzying and disorienting. And, in Chapter 3: Parabellum, massive LED walls and billboards at the Continental Hotel provide a memorable backdrop for the last showdown between Wick and super assassin Zero played by Mark Dacascos of Double Dragon and Iron Chef America fame.
Speaking of TV, game show and various reality TV vehicles of all shapes and sizes have been benefiting from digital signage in one form or another for going on decades. And, in addition to prerecorded content media, plenty of new use cases may arise for theatre or concert performances down the road, assuming live events ramp up again fairly soon.
To conclude, it’s seems somewhat easy to forget what digital content + screens can do for us, because they’re more or less ubiquitous in our modern culture, but as this blog shows, there’s no shortage of potential or payoff. In other words, they’re not just for informing and/or advertising anymore. In addition, these aforementioned examples go beyond the arguably outdated CGI representations of what we realistically think will be possible in dystopian futurescapes portrayed by works like Children of Men or Minority Report (our industry’s favorite specimen). Instead, the examples of real digital signage in the proverbial field that were discussed above illustrate that displays and projections can essentially become extensions of art direction and production design — celebrations of cumulative multimedia that can almost literally create new worlds for a myriad of purposes, onscreen and off.