The Future of Cinema is Video Games, Just Not the Way You Think

Up close with a new technology at the National Association of Broadcasters Convention

Jamie Cohen
6 min readApr 29, 2022

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The Batman — filmed with responsive LED monitor walls instead of green screen to produce a realistic Gotham City (source: WarnerBros)

“In the next decade, the future of cinema will incorporate video game technology,” said Paul Graff, visual effects supervisor of Boardwalk Empire, Stranger Things and The Wolf of Wall Street. Graff said this to my 2011 cohort at the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences Faculty Seminar. Graff had just shown us the VFX he used in season 1 of Boardwalk Empire and had explained the advances in computer graphic design. His hybrid computer effects incorporated much of what we’d see in the Marvel Cinematic Universe: huge green screens, motion tracking, camera mapping, and a crew of talented CG artists. Graff said that it was only a matter of time before video game engines worked with CG teams, directors, and cinematographers.

A decade later, at the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) Convention, the convention’s product of focus was the technology used in The Mandalorian Disney+ series, Rogue One, and The Batman: virtual sets combined with game engines to create responsive, immersive worlds for the viewer.

For almost a century, computers had very little do with with filmmaking. From the Emerald City in The Wizard of Oz to the the massive landscapes and space scenes in Star Wars, backgrounds were created using matte painting. Matte painting in an art that creates huge perspective paintings on large pieces of glass. The painted glass is backlit and on screen talent would be filmed in front of the background using perspective filming techniques.

Matte painting with compositing cut out for filming in perspective from Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back

In the 1980s and 90s, the technique of compositing (meaning merging multiple layers) introduced optical effects. Optical effects would later update to computer graphic imagery (CGI) enabling directors to build any world they could imagine. Unlike matte painting, CGI backgrounds could move. The downside is that actors had to work with huge green screens and their imagination, placing a lot of work on the director to envision perspective, angles and action. Unfortunately for the filming process…

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Jamie Cohen

Digital culture expert and meme scholar. Cultural and Media Studies PhD. Internet studies educator: social good, civic engagement and digital literacies