Star Trek: Discovery Season 4 is almost upon us. To kick off the show's hype cycle, Discovery's producers have shared a sneak peek at the new virtual set. Instead of the tried-and-true green and blue screens, the sci-fi show is moving to massive LED screens.
The technique, which casts a digital screen against a physical set, has already been used in a number of projects like Disney’s Loki and The Mandalorian. Giant LED screens have become especially popular in the times of COVID. Virtual sets in enclosed environment remove the need to shoot on location.
Virtual sets can also limit the reliance on green screen technology, which has a notoriously questionable past in many sci-fi shows. It’s also a lot quicker, and less expensive to have a virtual set.
American Cinematographer released a feature on the technology earlier this week. The feature showed how Star Trek: Discovery utilised the technique in the upcoming season.
“The LED wall is fantastic”
Virtual sets work by incorporating a LED wall in the background of sets. Lead visual designer on Star Trek, Jason Zimmerman, discussed the technology with American Cinematographer: “In the Covid era, btheeing able to shoot large-scale locations without having to leave the stage is a huge benefit.”
“The LED wall is fantastic for creating environments. And on Star Trek, of course, traveling to different worlds is something we’re very interested in doing,” added Zimmerman.
A Season 4 preview shows the virtual set, with a physical foreground standing against the backdrop of an alien world. Zimmerman is also working on the upcoming Star Trek: Strange New Worlds series, which also incorporates the virtual set technology.
Star Trek Discovery uses Pixomondo screens
The company behind the technology is Pixomondo, a German-built visual effect company with studios all over the world. The Toronto studio features a 270-degree, 7-foot by 30-foot horseshoe shaped LED fixture. It is where filming for Discovery and Strange New Worlds will take place.
Pixomondo head of studio and VFX supervisor provided a detailed breakdown of the technology to American Cinematographer: “The ceiling is fully customizable. So, we can either take panels out and hang practical lights over the volume, or just use the ceiling’s LEDs for lighting. We have over 60 OptiTrack motion-capture cameras with the ability to track two cameras — [which are] on Technocranes, Steadicams, dollies and the like — simultaneously.”
You can see the technology in action on the studio's Instagram.