The Future of Cinematography: Virtual Production | Greig Fraser & Roger Deakins

Filmmaking Guides
November 1, 2023
8 minute read

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Introduction to Virtual Production

Cinematography is undergoing a transformation with the rise of virtual sets and virtual productions. In a recent video conversation with Greig Fraser on the Team Deakins podcast, they explore the potential of this technology and how it is reshaping the way cinematographers approach their craft. The conversation covers a range of topics, including the disadvantages of green screens, the advantages of virtual sets, and the challenges and opportunities presented by this new frontier. Let's dive into the key takeaways from their discussion.

The Disadvantages of Green Screens

Greig Fraser, the cinematographer of 'The Mandalorian,' expresses his dissatisfaction with green screens and highlights the limitations they impose on the creative process. He envisions a future where live-action becomes less prevalent in mainstream Hollywood films, gradually being replaced by virtual sets and computer-generated environments. Fraser emphasizes the importance of having something tangible for actors to interact with, as it significantly impacts their performance and the overall authenticity of a scene.

Fraser explains that working with a green screen requires the cinematographer to imagine and light the scene based on their own interpretation, without any visual reference of the background. This lack of real elements to anchor onto makes it challenging to achieve the desired look and feel. In contrast, virtual sets offer a more immersive environment that allows cinematographers to create lighting scenarios similar to real-world settings, resulting in a more authentic and engaging visual experience.

The Power of Virtual Sets

The conversation delves into the concept of an LED volume, a circular arrangement of LEDs with a roof, which serves as a virtual set. This technology enables cinematographers to replicate different lighting scenarios, such as sunsets or twilight scenes, with greater control and flexibility. The LED volume acts as a framing tool, allowing the camera movements to interact seamlessly with the virtual background, creating a sense of depth and realism.

Fraser and Deakins discuss how the proximity of the LED screen to the actors affects the lighting dynamics. As the light source is closer, the falloff and interaction with the foreground differ from traditional lighting setups. While there are physical differences, proper calibration and exposure ensure that the virtual set provides a convincing and natural-looking lighting environment.

Challenges and Opportunities

The transition to virtual sets presents both advantages and challenges. On one hand, the freedom to shoot exterior scenes like sunsets without time constraints opens up new possibilities for filmmakers. The ability to create highly detailed and interactive backgrounds enhances storytelling and allows for creative exploration. However, the absence of physical locations requires a shift in the cinematographer's mindset. Virtual scouting becomes crucial, where the production team collaboratively creates scenes from scratch, relying on wireframes and discussions to plan coverage and framing.

Deakins emphasizes that while virtual sets offer tremendous potential, the cinematographer's role becomes more critical in shaping the visual narrative. The lighting and framing decisions are made on set, ensuring that the creative vision aligns with the director's intentions. The virtual set becomes a powerful tool for cinematographers to maintain control over the visual storytelling process.


Greig Fraser and Roger Deakins provide valuable insights into the future of cinematography and the impact of virtual sets on the creative process. The conversation highlights the advantages of virtual sets over green screens, such as enhanced realism, lighting control, and the ability to shoot dynamic exterior scenes without time constraints. However, they also acknowledge the importance of physical locations and the unique qualities they bring to certain projects.

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