Everyone’s hiding something in Max’s twisted thriller Full Circle — right down to the scene outside the Manhattan apartment of parents Sam (Claire Danes) and Derek (Timothy Olyphant).
“Full Circle” is the first production to promote Rosco’s RDX Laboratory System for interactive digital backdrops on an LED wall inside the show’s crucial apartment building. This is where Sam and Derek reside near Washington Square Park, their secrets unraveling after the botched kidnapping of their son, Jared (Ethan Stoddard).
After first using LED wall technology in Chemistry, director and cinematographer Steven Soderbergh returned to it for this crime thriller limited series loosely inspired by Akira Kurosawa’s High and Low. But this was a new software system and a different situation than the more elaborate 3D volume requirements of “Chemistry”.
RDX, with software from FuseFX, allowed Soderbergh and gaffer Derek Gross to use an iPad app to project and change high-resolution background images in real time on an LED screen (180 feet wide by 20 feet high) behind apartment windows on a New York soundstage. Rosco teamed up with Carstage and Visual Alchemy to create a workflow that allowed RDX to run seamlessly through Unreal Engine. The 2D images were submitted to the production and then adjusted as needed by Soderbergh to a series of windows in the kitchen, living room and bedrooms.
“It became clear after a certain amount of research, when we found an apartment that I felt was a good model for the Browne family’s apartment in the neighborhood, that there was no way anyone in that building would sign on to shoot 20 to 25 days there,” Soderbergh told IndieWire. “So very soon it was created, we have to build that apartment. And we have to use this technology because we can’t afford to spend so much time there. There’s no way, if we just use trans lights, flat two-dimensional pictures, that we’re going to cast light on them, it’s going to look good.
“But I like what you get from it [RDX] and the ability to switch from one look to another in a matter of seconds,” Soderbergh continued. “Literally, I can move the image around, I can adjust the contrast, I can adjust the brightness, I can blow things up, I can shrink them. There’s no other way to get this interactive, refracting light bouncing around the room from surfaces with that kind of technology.”
Rosco, which has amassed an extensive library of digital backgrounds, expanded with RDX after securing the Chicago L train assets for “The Batman.” Phil Greenstreet, Rosco’s head of development, Backdrops & Imaging, shot the Chicago L images and gained valuable insight into the volume from cinematographer Greig Fraser. After helping develop ILM’s game-changing StageCraft volume for “The Mandalorian,” he recommended a pop-up version for the film’s Gotham skyline. He showed Greenstreet how it worked and encouraged him to provide his own cost-effective LED wall system.
For “Full Circle,” Greenstreet went on location scouting around the apartments near Washington Square Park and shot hundreds of images with the Fuji 100 GFX camera. The apartment set was modified with long corridors for Soderbergh’s roving camera.
“They didn’t want to mess with the movement,” Greenstreet told IndieWire. “They didn’t even want motion in the background, so the flags didn’t move, the cars didn’t move, you just see little bits of cars in the distance anyway.”
Soderbergh’s gaffer, Gross, was impressed with the RDX when it was first shown at the Cine Gear Expo in LA in 2022. “Steven shoots extremely fast,” he told IndieWire. “We can do 10 pages and three company moves in a nine-hour day, and to keep up with the speed Steven likes to shoot, we needed something that was really fast and adjustable. I took it to him to see if it was something he was interested in. And he wanted to implement it. We were lucky to be the first show to use it.
“And, from an artistic point of view, it did everything a volume would do as a multilayered still and moving image,” Gross continued. “After Phil took all of our shots from the apartment, the team at Rosco was able to put together a seven-layer image for us that we could edit immediately. So that definitely helped us. He was able to present everything outside that window that Steven wanted to see, hide everything he didn’t, and move on at his own pace.”
Soderbergh was also able to insert images into pre-existing scenes during reshoots that required over-the-shoulder shots and close-ups. This was to accommodate a line or two to seamlessly adjust the narrative or performance. “This is something that’s really hard to do without this kind of technology… and all you have to do is call it up on the iPad,” Soderbergh said in a prepared statement.
Additional reporting by Jim Hemphill.