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ASU teaches tech used in 'The Mandalorian' to film school students

ASU is first film school to offer students the tech used in 'The Mandalorian'
March 14, 2023

Virtual production, using giant LED screens, is the future of the industry

Audiences who are streaming the current season of “The Mandalorian” have seen the main characters fly through space and probe the murky mines of Mandalore thanks to the ground-breaking virtual-production technology that was invented for the show.

Virtual production not only generates richly detailed sets that are displayed on gigantic LED screens rather than blank green screens, it also saves money by making production more efficient and accurate. Since “The Mandalorian” debuted in 2019, the technology has also been used in the movies “Dune” and “The Batman.”

Now, students at Arizona State University have access to this cutting-edge technology to tell their own stories. The Sidney Poitier New American Film School offers virtual-production technology with extremely high-resolution LED wall and floor screens made by Planar Studios at the ASU California Center in downtown Los Angeles.

The Media and Immersive eXperience Center in downtown Mesa will offer the technology starting in the fall semester, according to Jake Pinholster, founding director of the MIX Center and executive dean in the Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts.

“In a few short years this has become one of the most explosive and transformative trends in the movie production industry because it has huge positive ramifications,” he said.

“It cuts on post-production time. It makes it easier to pre-visualize and know what a shot will look like before you turn on the camera,” he said.

“Actors can see the environment and respond to it. You can shoot a dawn scene all day long.”

Industrial Light and Magic, the special-effects production company founded by George Lucas, released a video explaining how it created the technology for “The Mandalorian” so that the world-building can be adjusted in real time and saved. The method streamlines the work that was previously done in the pre-production, production and post-production timelines.

The environments are created digitally and loaded onto the giant screens, where the actors can interact with what the audience will see. Previously, actors would work in front of a blank green screen and the digital effects would be added during post-production.

Because ASU is the only film school offering the technology, Pinholster and Nonny de la Peña, founding director of ASU’s Narrative and Emerging Media program, are helping to set standards for teaching the method. They are on a working group of the Society of Motion Picture and Television Engineers.

“To a certain degree, there is no industry standard in how to do this because it’s still very much an experimental process,” Pinholster said.

“We are one of the first universities training people in what will become the major production technique.”

Coursework in virtual production will be included in both the Narrative and Emerging Media program in Los Angeles and the undergraduate program at the MIX Center in Mesa.

De la Peña’s grad students in Los Angeles have been working with the Planar screens to do both fiction and nonfiction storytelling.

“We’re using new technologies in all kinds of ways,” she said.

“We have students walking around carrying iPads scanning the building, and how do you tell the story with what you’ve scanned?”

The scans are run on game-engine technology and, once uploaded to the giant LED screens, the effect is immersive. Her students are working on stories involving Shakespeare, drug abuse, water issues and baseball.

De la Peña sees virtual production as the future not only for movies but for narrative journalism.

“You can have a reporter on the scene without being at the scene,” she said.

“If we want to make sure we have students prepared for the future of storytelling, we need to teach them that now.”

A crucial part of embracing new technology is determining how to use it ethically. She and Mary Matheson, director and a professor of practice in the film school, teach a class called “Diversity and Ethics in Emerging Media.”

“The students are learning now about how (artificial intelligence) is trained, which is, if nothing else, sexist and racist,” de la Peña said.

One of de la Peña’s students, Cameron Kostopoulos, debuted “Body of Mine VR,” an immersive virtual-reality experience, at the South By Southwest festival  March 12–14, which won a jury prize. The experience places the viewer into another body for an exploration of gender dysphoria and trans identity.

Kostopoulos used a combination of several technologies, including the Planar screens plus VIVE, to create “Body of Mine VR,” which combines body, face and eye tracking with audio interviews.

Kostopoulos, a cisgender gay man, grew up in Texas.

“Being in the closet for basically my entire K–12 experience, looking back, I know how having certain spaces could have helped me,” he said.

“So because of that, I’m passionate about creating those spaces and those experiences for other queer youth who could benefit from them. And for cisgender people to learn about the trans experience and gain empathy.”

“Body of Mine VR” uses full-body motion capture and eye tracking, so at one point, the viewer looks into a mirror and sees themselves blink.

“I put all that together for a more intimate VR experience than what you would normally get with controllers,” said Kostopoulos, who is a writer, director and developer based in Los Angeles.

Combining all the new technology at the ASU California Center was a challenge.

“It’s basically supergluing a lot of cutting-edge stuff into our own makeshift tracking system,” he said.

“Because all of the pieces of tech exist in isolated pockets, there aren’t many experiences that combine everything to do a fully immersive embodiment of a body in VR,” he said.

“There are not a lot of tutorials I could follow and not a lot of people who have worked with it.

“But getting it to finally work was totally worth it and it ended up super cool.”

Top image: ASU Local students Kara Smith and Bryan Daniels check out the new Planar Studio screens in the ASU California Center building in downtown Los Angeles. Photo by Deanna Dent/Arizona State University

Mary Beth Faller

Reporter , ASU News


ASU Gammage unveils 'Simply the Best' of Broadway

2023–24 Broadway season electrifies the stage with 'MJ,' 'Tina,' Hamilton' and more

March 14, 2023

ASU Gammage has unveiled its 2023–24 Desert Financial Broadway Across America Arizona season, which includes six Tempe premieres, a pre-Broadway tour of "The Wiz," the family-favorite "Peter Pan" and — back by popular demand — "Hamilton" and "Les Misérables."

“ASU Gammage is ready to bring ‘Simply the Best’ of Broadway for the upcoming season,” said Colleen Jennings-Roggensack, ASU's vice president for cultural affairs and executive director of ASU Gammage. “We’ve lined up an eight-show package that will keep you rocking in your seats and excited about coming to see live theater at ASU Gammage.”  Collage of posters promoting musicals in ASU Gammage's 2023–24 Desert Financial Broadway Across America Arizona season. ASU Gammage has unveiled its 2023–24 Desert Financial Broadway Across America Arizona season, which includes six Tempe premieres, a pre-Broadway tour of "The Wiz," the family-favorite "Peter Pan" and — back by popular demand — "Hamilton" and "Les Misérables." Download Full Image

Current season ticket holders can renew their subscription now at Sales for new season subscriptions will be announced later. You can also sign up for the ASU Gammage waitlist at

Kicking off the 2023–24 Broadway season is the story of the queen of rock and roll, "Tina: The Tina Turner Musical," which will make its Tempe premiere Oct. 10–15. One of the world’s best-selling artists of all time, Tina Turner has won 12 Grammy Awards, and her live shows have been seen by millions, with more concert tickets sold than any other solo performer in music history. Featuring her much loved songs, "Tina: The Tina Turner Musical" is written by Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Katori Hall and directed by the internationally acclaimed Phyllida Lloyd.

Next up, get ready, because here they come! "Ain't Too Proud" will make its way to the ASU Gammage stage Nov. 14–19. "Ain't Too Proud: The Life and Times of The Temptations" is the electrifying new smash-hit Broadway musical that follows The Temptations’ extraordinary journey from the streets of Detroit to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. With their signature dance moves and silky-smooth harmonies, they rose to the top of the charts, creating an amazing 42 Top-10 hits, with 14 reaching No. 1.

Nominated for 12 Tony Awards and the winner of the 2019 Tony Award for Best Choreography, "Ain't Too Proud" tells the thrilling story of brotherhood, family, loyalty and betrayal as the group's personal and political conflicts threatened to tear them apart during a decade of civil unrest in America. Written by three-time Obie Award-winner Dominique Morisseau, directed by two-time Tony Award-winner Des McAnuff ("Jersey Boys") and featuring the Tony-winning choreography of Sergio Trujillo ("Jersey Boys" and "On Your Feet!"), the unforgettable story of this legendary quintet is set to the beat of the group’s treasured hits, including “My Girl,” “Just My Imagination,” “Get Ready,” “Papa Was a Rolling Stone" and so many more.

You’re going to want to ease on down in 2024 with the pre-Broadway tour of "The Wiz," playing Jan. 2–7 at ASU Gammage. The highly anticipated Broadway revival of "The Wiz" returns “home” to stages across America in an all-new tour, the first one in 40 years. Director Schele Williams (“The Notebook,” revival of Disney’s AIDA), choreographer JaQuel Knight (Beyonce’s “Single Ladies”), William F. Brown (book), Charlie Smalls (music and lyrics), Amber Ruffin (additional material) and Joseph Joubert (music supervision, orchestrations and music arrangements) conjure up an Oz unlike anything ever seen before. This groundbreaking twist on "The Wizard of Oz" changed the face of Broadway — from its iconic score packed with soul, gospel, rock and finger-snapping 70s funk to its stirring tale of Dorothy’s journey to find her place in a contemporary world. Audiences get to enjoy the epic grooves of such beloved, timeless hits as “Ease on Down the Road,” which became the show’s breakout single, and the bona fide classic “Home” in this spectacular revival.

Then prepare for some joy, love, heartache, strength, wisdom, catharsis, life and everything we’ve been waiting to see in a Broadway show in "Jagged Little Pill." The exhilarating, fearless new musical based on Alanis Morissette’s world-changing music comes to ASU Gammage Jan. 30–Feb. 4. Directed by Tony Award-winner Diane Paulus ("Waitress," "Pippin" and "1776") with Diablo Cody (author of Tony-winning book "Juno”), this Grammy-winning score and electrifying production about a perfectly imperfect American family “vaults the audience to its collective feet” (The Guardian). “Redemptive, rousing and real, 'Jagged Little Pill' stands alongside the original musicals that have sustained the best hopes of Broadway" (The New York Times). You live, you learn, you remember what it’s like to feel truly human — at "Jagged Little Pill."

Now, hold on to your diamond-studded glove for the music, the icon, the moves and the story of the greatest entertainer of all time with "MJ: The Musical," coming March 12–17, 2024. "MJ," the Tony Award-winning new musical is centered around the making of the 1992 Dangerous World Tour. Created by Tony Award-winning director/choreographer Christopher Wheeldon and two-time Pulitzer Prize-winner Lynn Nottage, "MJ" goes beyond the singular moves and signature sound of the star, offering a rare look at the creative mind and collaborative spirit that catapulted Michael Jackson into legendary status.

Coming in spring 2024, "The Kite Runner" will make its Tempe premiere April 9–14, 2024. One of the best-loved and most highly acclaimed novels of our time, "The Kite Runner" is a powerful play of friendship that follows one man’s journey to confront his past and find redemption. Afghanistan is a divided country, and two childhood friends are about to be torn apart. It’s a beautiful afternoon in Kabul, and the skies are full of the excitement and joy of a kite-flying tournament. But neither of the boys can foresee the incident that will change their lives forever. Told across two decades and two continents, "The Kite Runner" is an unforgettable journey of redemption and forgiveness, and shows us all that we can be good again.

Keep looking up — for the second star on the right and straight on to "Peter Pan" at ASU Gammage June 11–16, 2024. Join the Darling family as Peter Pan and Tinkerbell take them on a soaring adventure all the way to Neverland. All you have to do is believe. Featuring a timeless score that includes “I’m Flying,” “I’ve Got To Crow,” “Never Never Land,” “I Won’t Grow Up” and so many more, "Peter Pan" is now updated for a new generation of thrill seekers — and more spectacular than ever. Come witness the new definitive version of a story that never grows old. Your whole family will be hooked!

Back by popular demand and to close out the 2023–24 Broadway season, "Hamilton" returns to Tempe June 25–July 28, 2024, with subscriber week being June 25–30. "Hamilton" is the story of America then, told by America now. Featuring a score that blends hip-hop, jazz, R&B and Broadway, "Hamilton" has taken the story of American founding father Alexander Hamilton and created a revolutionary moment in theater — a musical that has had a profound impact on culture, politics and education. With book, music and lyrics by Lin-Manuel Miranda, direction by Thomas Kail, choreography by Andy Blankenbuehler and musical supervision and orchestrations by Alex Lacamoire, "Hamilton" is based on Ron Chernow’s acclaimed biography. It has won Tony, Grammy and Olivier Awards, the Pulitzer Prize for Drama and an unprecedented special citation from the Kennedy Center Honors.

For more Broadway, there is a season option in the lineup. ASU Gammage is welcoming back an all-time favorite. "Les Misérables" is returning Dec. 5–10, 2024. Season subscribers will receive priority access to this show before the general public. This brilliant staging has taken the world by storm and has been hailed as “Les Mis for the 21st Century” (Huffington Post), “a reborn dream of a production” (Daily Telegraph) and “one of the greatest musicals ever created” (Chicago Tribune). Cameron Mackintosh presents the acclaimed production of Alain Boublil and Claude-Michel Schönberg’s Tony Award-winning musical phenomenon "Les Misérables." Set against the backdrop of 19th century France, "Les Misérables" tells an enthralling story of broken dreams and unrequited love, passion, sacrifice and redemption — a timeless testament to the survival of the human spirit. This epic and uplifting story has become one of the most celebrated musicals in theatrical history. Its magnificent score includes the songs “I Dreamed a Dream,” “On My Own,” “Bring Him Home,” “One Day More,” “Master of the House” and many more. Seen by over 130 million people worldwide in 53 countries and 22 languages, "Les Misérables" is undisputedly one of the world’s most popular musicals. 

Emily Mai

Marketing and Communications Assistant, ASU Gammage