All Roads LED Here: Marvel’s Future with Stagecraft May End

If there ever was a piece of technology that went from being “the future” to having the Internet complain about it ruining experiences, it would be Stagecraft. The technology is quite simple, as it makes use of LED screens and pre-rendered elements to give actors something to act from. The Mandalorian popularized it and it became a useful tool during COVID and put Industrial Light & Magic on the map for many productions.

Cinematographer Greig Fraser has been a strong proponent against the use of greenscreen (but still uses them heavily for some of his biggest projects under new names like “Sand Screens” in Dune) and was one of the first to push the technology forward. He went on to make good use of the Stagecraft in The Batman after pioneering it for The Mandalorian. Still, even that great film couldn’t avoid some people feeling it was a little flat in its design give or take.

As its use went on, that complaint started to pick up more and more speed. It got to a point where the main criticism was that this technology creates a lifeless experience and truly only creates something that is “too polished.” Not really great for every project already filming at the time as its criticism took centerstage. Marvel went all in with projects potentially making good use of it, Thor: Love and Thunder, the upcoming Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3, and the just-released Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania.

Marvel is already constantly under a magnifying glass for its use of a green screen and CG over the years. Especially once the pandemic hit, it felt like a free-for-all on what problems one can find and focus primarily on the few times it just wasn’t 100% right. So, the use of a technology that is already at a stage of heavy criticism during a time when filmmaking was at its most difficult was going to face some new challenges.

Thor: Love and Thunder was the first to release that technology and the criticism of flat backgrounds has returned. Many discussions online were questioning what was the cause: bad lighting or just generally if the technology is too early for the big screen given how limited it is in scope. Its use, however, was highly praised by those working on the projects in how they combined real set pieces with the technology giving them more flexibility.

It’s a strange fight, as there’s an expectation that “shot on set is always better,” which is definitely the case given its tangibility, but also downplays the value of this technology and its use. We want to move away from greenscreen but also push away any alternatives, especially for projects like Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania that explore a completely foreign world. Director Peyton Reed has experience working with the tech and likely was excited to return to its use.

The film also received similar criticism due to the technology and the usual CG comments that have dominated Marvel discourse for quite some time now. It starts blending together where it’s difficult to truly tell if it’s Stagecraft or the CG that makes it difficult as a topic overall. Though some have also praised the CG and Quantumania‘s very mixed reception creates a difficult point of discourse. Yahoo’s review of the film just called it “almost wholly on green screens” which just completely sidelines the tech while, for example, CNet‘s just generally praises the world created.

CG is a sour topic and Marvel became quite the focus given its size and popularity. Post-Endgame, there’s also a big “it’s not like it used to be” mentality that has just been pushed forward by the pandemic’s restrictions on the industry. A film like Quantumania also will rely more on CG given that it takes place fully in a non-realistic world and given its design choices, it wanted to be as wacky as possible; something praised and loathed from one review to the next.

We know that Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 was initially announced to use the technology; another franchise that makes a lot of use of greenscreens and sets given its space-focused storyline. Yet, James Gunn seemingly decided against its use due to it not being able to bring his vision to life for the final film in his trilogy. So, he would’ve used it if it were fitting for what he was trying to accomplish.

By all accounts, that would seemingly be the end of its use with this week’s release of Quantumania. Yet, there is one more hint that exists for use on The Marvels. Sadly, it’s just a very unreliable source in the form of IMDb. The upcoming Captain Marvel sequel includes credits for Stagecraft artists Robb Gardner, supervisor Christopher Django Johnston, and more. The only thing is, there’s no real official announcement about the use of the technology.

So far, we haven’t had any official announcements for future projects and it almost seems like they won’t be focusing their use on the technology moving forward. Select projects like Black Panther: Wakanda Forever did not make use of the tech. So, they aren’t forcing it into every project and there’s definitely a surprising silence on its future use after heavy promotion for Quantumania.

At this rate, it does seem like they aren’t going to rely too heavily on it anymore. It should also be noted that all productions released this year used the technology in 2021 while COVID was still at a high point. Thor: Love and Thunder was produced in 2020 when it was even unpredictable, which makes the expectation of its necessity higher. Yet, we’re about to enter a very different era for Marvel Studios’ productions.

It should be noted that non of the 2024 releases have even started filming just yet. In a way, we’re returning to some normalcy and their usual production schedule from before the pandemic moving forward. There hasn’t been a single production in 2022, which is curious and perhaps a showcase of rearranging pieces around the board. Quantumania was originally the ending of Phase 4 and the reception seems to hgihlight that.

Stagecraft might still get used but we shouldn’t expect any major promotions of its use for future titles. It probably will only be a sparing addition to production if there ever is truly a necessity given whatever the production is working on. Perhaps this year will signal the final “COVID era productions” from Marvel Studios with a potential new future going into the next year. Phase 5 may have not kicked off how some wanted, but it doesn’t mean Marvel is truly over, it may just be getting started once again.

Source: YouTube, GameRant, IndieWire, DisInsider, Movieweb, IndieWire, Total Film, IMDb, ILM

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