Cinematographer Greig Fraser is known for creating grounded images. While those images are often gorgeous and evocative, the “Lion” and “Zero Dark Thirty” cinematographer is of a generation of DPs who puts a premium on naturalism, with scenes never feeling “lit,” nor backdrops feeling fake.
“Everyone knows that a movie is false,” said Fraser on IndieWire’s Filmmaker Toolkit podcast. “But if as filmmakers we give the audience too many reasons to lose the suspension of disbelief, I believe we’re working our way down a hole.”
It is interesting then that for the last five years, dating back to his experience shooting “Rogue One,” Fraser has been at the forefront of helping ILM develop it’s LED real-time backdrops known as “StageCraft.” A technology many believe, including Fraser, will replace blue and green screen in Hollywood film and TV production, and was for the first time fully implemented on Season 1 of the Disney+ series “The Mandalorian,” which Fraser served as producer and cinematographer.
On “The Mandalorian,” a 75-by-20 foot curved LED screen – with additional walls of LEDs behind and above camera – served as a live backdrop. It wasa virtual set created by a gaming engine, which when paired with new advances in camera tracking, can shift perspectives to match camera movement..
“The first time I put camera tracking on, I did some handheld work,” said Fraser. “Through the lens, I was in the location, even though I knew I was standing inside an LED volume. When it fooled me, I was like, ‘Solved, we’re off to the races.'”
While on the podcast Fraser talked about why these LED virtual sets are such a vast improvement on green screen. One of the biggest problem in shooting on green screen is the cinematographer and director cannot see everything that is in frame, leaving them partially blind as they compose and light shots.
“The difference between a good shot and bad shot can be an inch to the left,” said Fraser. “When you have the blue screen, you’ve got another set of eyes, eight months down the track, designing what you should have been designing on stage with the actor.”
On the podcast Fraser talked about the unique role a cinematographer can have in creating the virtual backdrops before production, essentially pre-lighting and deciding the position of the sun in a scene, which will then be there in real-time during production.
“It’s the perfect scenario for productive film production,” said Fraser. “If you can design the backgrounds well and the spaces well-enough, your change overs can take a very short amount of time.”
You can watch Fraser demonstrate his breakthrough work in the video above, and listen to the full conversation on the podcast.
The Filmmaker Toolkit podcast is available on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Overcast, Stitcher, SoundCloud, and Google Play Music. The music used in this podcast is from the “Marina Abramovic: The Artist Is Present” score, courtesy of composer Nathan Halpern.