One of the most impressive parts of The Mandalorian (unlike Baby Yoda) was the production design, with the varied locations, sets and effects, despite the relatively lower budget for television as opposed to a blockbuster.
It appears that it is because most were not real. Instead, more than half of the season was shot using the new StageCraft technology from Industrial Light & Magic, which uses giant 20-foot high LED video screens to create fully digital environments such as in-camera sets and backgrounds, like a new video behind the scenes.
Those environments are purely digital creations, that ILM built together with the Unreal Engine from Epic Gamesand then projected around the actors and physical set elements (such as spaceship parts or speeder bikes) to create the completed project. As part of that effect, those LED screens are actually shot at the camera for a seamless effect that replicates location shots without the cost. (The 3D environments are specifically illuminated and displayed from the perspective of the camera to achieve that.)
There are also real benefits to the virtual sets compared to a traditional green screen setup. Because the actors are on the set with the screens, they can see things in the background and respond to them while they are actually photographing, instead of imagining effects that are added later.
It also means that the lightning of those digital sets is present on the set and interacts with the physical elements such as the actors and props. So pictures where Mando and Baby Yoda are sitting around a fire, with the sunset shining on Mando’s armor, still look good because that light is actually set on it. It just comes from an LED screen instead of a real sun.
Moreover, since the “sets” are only digitally projected 3D environments, they can be moved and edited directly. Don’t you like where a mountain is in the background for a certain shot? Simply move it or delete it completely.
ILM already used this type of effects on existing films, Like it Solo, where the ‘windows’ of the Millennium Falcon were digital screens, allowing the light effect of the hyperspace jumps to be projected into the faces of the actors in the camera. But The Mandalorian took the technology to a much larger scale, with a 270-degree semicircular LED video wall and ceiling that created a 75-foot wide set.
Again, watch the ILM video for a complete overview of StageCraft. But best of all, The MandalorianThe first season is just the beginning for this new technology. The company announced today that it will make StageCraft available for use by filmmakers and showrunners worldwide as an end-to-end solution, meaning that digital set technology could appear in many more TV shows and movies in the future.