House of the Dragon is trying to find the balance between old-fashioned and cutting-edge. The latest trend in prestige TV, especially genre TV, is the use of Epic Games’ 360-degree LED display known as the Volume. Fans have debated the use of this technology since Episode 1, and now that the season is over we can do a post-mortem on how the screen was used and if it will be seen in Season 2.
Before the House of the Dragon premiere, a sneak peek in The Hollywood Reporter revealed that the Volume would mainly be used for scenes that would otherwise require a green screen. Take dragonriding scenes, or scenes set at dusk, since the Volume allows production to “freeze a sunset.”
The Volume was previously used for Star Wars and Marvel Cinematic Universe projects, which garnered criticism for using the technology to cut corners and avoid shooting on location. This decision was highlighted by the latest Star Wars series, Andor, which declined to use the technology altogether and has been praised for having landscapes and sets that are parsecs ahead of Star Wars’ other Disney+ shows.
It looked like the Volume was on its way out. Warner Bros. even converted the studio where they filmed House of the Dragon’s immersive scenes back into a traditional soundstage, though the company said the Volume technology would be available as needed. But then the season finale of House of the Dragon aired, culminating in the novelty of an intense dragon dogfight.
Behind-the-scenes footage confirmed what the THR feature suggested: These scenes were shot with the Volume, with the clouds of the stormy sky playing on the screen while water was blasted in the face of the actors to simulate rain. The Volume may be a much-maligned production technique, but it looked great here.
This scene proves the Volume is a valuable tool, but only in very specific circumstances. It’s much like the matte paintings of the Golden Age of Hollywood, which made for a lush background when a practical one wasn’t possible, but looked flat when used to simulate more intimate environments.
As the cast of House of the Dragon moves into open conflict, there’s bound to be more dragon battles, which means more scenes will need the Volume. It looks like the technology isn’t going anywhere, but HBO has learned to use it only when it’s the best option.
House of the Dragon Season 1 is now streaming on HBO Max.