The creators of Netflix’s Dark, Jantje Friese and Baran bo Odar, describe themselves as “old school filmmakers.” They intended to film their next show, 1899, across multiple locations in Europe, including Spain, Poland and Scotland. Yet they ran into a major obstacle right off the bat: Covid-19.
The timing of the global pandemic and ensuing travel bans meant their original vision was off the table.
So did they green screen the whole thing?
Because of the constraints of Covid, these old school filmmakers had to use cutting edge technology. Neflix helped fund the building of a new virtual production studio from scratch. This virtual production stage, The DARK BAY, is now the largest and most advanced European virtual production studio. It is unique in the world of filming technology.
The production studio uses a technology known as “volume.” It’s a giant LED sound stage. Rather than using green screens or blue screens, on which the images are added later, the volume displays photo realistic images rendered in real time using a video game engine (Unreal Engine). It’s similar to the technology used in The Mandalorian. But even The Mandalorian shot half its scenes outside the volume — something that was more or less impossible for 1899 during the pandemic.
Apparently, the images on the LED screens were so realistic that the actors of 1899 were getting seasick from looking at the moving horizon.
The stage also includes rain and water atmospherics designed so that it wouldn’t damage the set.
Were there limitations? Philipp Klausing, the show’s producer and managing director of Dark Bay, emphasized that the capabilities of this technology come with some major limits that aren’t immediately apparent. “However you build a volume,” he said, “you try to achieve a full cylinder or circle around you so you can place your camera wherever you like. You soon realize you have all kinds of limitations on all sides, and you have issues with how to access the stage.”
Still, it was a very clever way for a show with a plot in multiple countries to overcome the limits of Covid-19. I think this technology also contributed much to the trippy, and dreamlike style of the show itself. And I think it will help influence the filming styles of many other shows to come.
Ten Wild Predictions for 1899 Season 2 [Spoilers!] (Stories From Tomorrow)
Watch the Making of 1899 (Netflix)
Behind the Scenes: 1899 (IBC)