Star Trek TV Productions To Add AR Wall To Create Virtual Sets, Like 'The Mandalorian'


Image Credit: Star Trek: Discovery, CBS All Access

Alex Kurtzman, the executive producer of multiple Star Trek shows, has confirmed that his productions have begun to include AR walls in place of on-location shoots.

 In the post-COVID-19 world, Hollywood has had to make several adjustments to restart production safely.  Many shows have sought filming techniques that allow production to move forward. Initially, as Europe and the UK opened up in the fall, many productions moved overseas. However, pandemic cases have once again been on the rise in both locations. Thus, forcing Hollywood to seek other ideas.

Star Trek: Discovery Season 3 Post Production

Star Trek: Discovery wrapped filming season 3 a mere ten days before Hollywood went into full lockdown mode. The plan was to do all post-production work remotely. This work included visual effects work. However, working remotely posed a challenge for one very conspicuous aspect of post-production work. How was the team going to handle any filming any additional footage that may be needed?

The visual effects team turned to an at-home, motion-capture production style. As ad-hoc as this may seem, the team has worked with motion-captures suits for specific Star Trek: Short Treks episodes.  Remote shoots posed their challenges. Careful planning went into how to carry out filming while not on set. In a recent interview with IndieWire, the team explained how they went about achieving their objective. Kurtzman states,

"These aren't entirely CG doubles for the actors, though. Each actor who needed pick-ups received motion-capture equipment to finish elements of their performance at home. It's an actual actor at their home motion-capture studio, which then gets rendered in the computer as a living thing. It's a real person…Each of our actors have been scanned, so we can actually impose their faces on a body, which is quite something."

Season 4 Production

Iceland's gorgeous scenery provided the backdrop for the season 3 opener episode, That Hope is You Part 1. In the post-COVID era, such on-location work is no longer possible. Even parts of Europe and the UK once thought safe have entered into a second lockdown. Enter Augmented Reality (AR) walls.

Kurtzman noted that the same Emmy-Award winning technology behind the Disney+ hit, The Mandalorian, will be leveraged for Season 4. Cast and crew have gathered in Toronto to begin their quarantine as required by Canada upon entry into the country. Filming of the new season starts in November. Extensive COVID-19 safety protocols will also be in place while on-set.

Instead of location shots, the team will deploy AR walls to create virtual environments needed. This AR technology uses wall-sized LED screens which envelope the actors in any environment. This technique's main advantage over green-screens is that actors can see their environment instead of vast seas of green. AR walls also make sense for a show that takes place in a distant future, mostly on alien planets.

The technology is being installed right now on the Toronto set for use on Star Trek: Discovery. Kurtzman and the team plan to use it on Star Trek: Strange New Worlds. Star Trek: Picard filmed all of its scenes entirely in Southern California. Star Trek favorites such as Vaquez Rocks were used for that show. If location shots are still prohibited by the time Picard starts filming, then AR wall technology will likely be used for it as well.

While it is a safe alternative to travel, it is expensive to implement. Ultimately though, that initial cost will be worth it if it keeps the Star Trek franchise master plan in motion.  Much like the Discovery crew, the production team behind the scenes demonstrates their curiosity for the new and unfamiliar to keep the story alive.