House of the Dragon has clearly captured the attention of the 29 million average viewers over the first five episodes alone (according to Variety). In order to accomplish this, the creators utilized cutting-edge new “virtual set” or virtual production technology to capture many of the special effects and sets featured in the television series.
Though the series features many scenic shots, some of House of the Dragon is filmed without the need for a physical set. House of the Dragon creators have released a series of “behind-the-scenes” tours which reveal their use of modern virtual production technology. Virtual production is a manner of filming which utilizes computer-generated content that allows real-time visualization and control of the digital environment in which you’re shooting.
Accomplished by projecting virtual environments and special effects using a wall of LED screens, the important distinction is that the effects are captured in real-time on set rather than being added in post-production. This can not only decrease production expenses by cutting post-production costs significantly, but it also provides actors with a more immersive on-set experience in comparison to the typical green-screen model of filming.
“Virtual sets” draw on a range of other technologies including real-time game engine technology, motion capture, and camera tracking. These technologies ensure that the imagery displayed on the LED screens appropriately anticipates the movement of the physical camera, thereby calculating the correct relative position for both the virtual camera and the angle of the object displayed on the LED wall.
House of the Dragon is not the first production to employ this new technology. As one example, virtual sets were utilized in both seasons one and two of Disney’s Star Wars television series The Mandalorian. The creators of House of the Dragon were, however, the first to use the new virtual production stage at Warner Brothers Studios in Leavesden in the UK.
The LED stage is comprised of more than 2,000 LED screens and 92 motion capture cameras, making it one of the largest in the world. Utilizing this technology allows both the cast and crew to adapt and interact with the CGI environment and effects in real time. It provides productions the opportunity to create sets that either do not exist or would be difficult and/or costly to film on location. Virtual sets also eliminate the need to account for variables such as weather, time of day, season, etc. as you have the capability to completely control the setting. One of the show’s stars, Rhys Ifans, explains it best stating, “For a director, it’s really useful in the sense that you could freeze a sunset.”
Since it can eliminate some on-location needs as well, virtual production technology became particularly important during the pandemic as it enabled productions to continue despite social distancing and travel restriction measures. As we enter a post-pandemic world and as this technology continues to gain more visibility through the success of shows like House of the Dragon, this technology is on track to continue to grow and expand the capabilities of the film industry.
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