Socially Distanced Filming That Looks Normal? How a Google Exec Is Making It Happen

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Paul Debevec, a senior staff engineer at Google VR and one of THR's Top Hollywood Innovators, uses a 360-degree light stage and controllable LED lighting whereby actors could be filmed separately and composited together later: "You could even simulate the shadows that one actor would cast on the other."

The latest lighting techniques from Google senior scientist Paul Debevec — also an adjunct professor at USC and a past co-chair of the Motion Picture Academy's Science and Technology Council — uses a 360-degree Google light stage and controllable LED lighting.

"This could be used to record actors in 3D," he says of the type of system he initially used at USC for the making of Gravity. "You can put them into any scene, in any lighting, from any angle, even after you've filmed their performance. You just focus on getting the performance right and worry about where the camera goes and how to light it later."

In this time of social distancing, actors could be filmed separately and composited together later.

"We have the ability to record actors at different times and then light them the same way, put them in the positions relative to each other in 3D and create the shot that way," he says. "You could even simulate the shadows that one actor would cast on the other."

Adds Debevec, whose techniques are seen in Avatar, The Matrix and Blade Runner 2049, "It's like having the whole power of the Star Trek holodeck at your disposal for the purpose of making your movie." 

This story first appeared in the May 6 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. Click here to subscribe.