advertisement
advertisement

How Hollywood is embracing the world’s blackest black paint

From immersive spaces to replacing green screens to covering theater walls, the future of entertainment is all about Vantablack.

How Hollywood is embracing the world’s blackest black paint
[Photo: courtesy of Levitation29/PRG/Surrey Nanosystems]
advertisement
advertisement
advertisement

No color—or, more accurately, lack thereof—has caused more of a media frenzy in recent years than “Vantablack.” The blacker-than-black paint absorbs so much light (99.96%) that when it’s applied to something, that thing appears to not exist, giving off the effect of a black hole. Originally developed for satellites by the U.K. company Surrey NanoSystems, Vantablack’s cool factor quickly won over artists and marketers alike, who found a use for it in $75,000 Swiss watches, a BMW campaign, and a stage set at Coachella. 

advertisement
advertisement
Benjamin Males, director of Levitation 29 [Photo: courtesy of Levitation29]

But until now, Vantablack’s nonscientific uses have been just that: buzzy, one-off projects that have generated short-lived bursts of noise and media fascination, but not much else. That’s largely because Vantablack has been too expensive and fragile a format to work with at scale, not to mention to transport around the world, meaning it’s been virtually impossible to translate the paint to everyday use. Dust particles accumulated during travel, after all, would ruin the effect of a Vantablack-coated surface. To avoid this, teams of engineers have been deployed to spray the paint on projects once they’ve already been assembled—a costly process in itself.

Hyundai Olympic Pavilion [Photo: courtesy of Levitation29/PRG/Surrey Nanosystems]
But thanks to the creation of a simple, Vantablack-coated tile, the paint is now poised to become much more accessible, particularly to creatives in the entertainment space. The use cases for Vantablack are endless, from creating special effects to even replacing green screens. The tiles, developed by creative agency Levitation 29 and Production Resources Group, an entertainment event production company, are a lot like very large Lego pieces. Measuring about 2 feet, 11 inches by 4 feet, 4 inches, they come coated in Vantablack and can be locked together to create a wall, a ceiling, or a cube. (The pricing of the tiles has not yet been determined, according to Levitation 29.)

“So if you say, look, I want to coat all the walls in Vantablack and have a hologram at the center of the room, now you can do that and it will be cost effective because you wouldn’t be spraying the walls,” says Benjamin Males, director of Levitation 29.

advertisement
[Photo: courtesy of Levitation29/PRG/Surrey Nanosystems]

Males says tiles are just the beginning. The idea is to start creating more products based on demand that would form a complex Vantablack construction system that people could order based on their needs—like ordering a la carte Lego pieces. Meanwhile, unique, one-off projects can still be pursued. “So if a music artist wants to spray the whole outside of a house, we can still do that,” Males says. “Now we can just do more.”

To help spread the word about Vantablack’s new, easy-to-use format, Levitation 29, Surrey NanoSystems, and PRG are launching a Vantablack demo space in Secaucus, New Jersey, at the end of the month. (You can sign up here.) The space will then travel around the country to areas where there is interest in the Vantablack format in entertainment, like Los Angeles and Nashville. 

“What we want to do is engage the creative community,” Males says. “That’s across live entertainment—including theater, people who are coming up with ideas for immersive experiences, all the way through to movies—where we know there is interest in using Vantablack or experimenting with Vantablack as a replacement for green screens.” 

advertisement

The ideas for how to apply Vantablack to the entertainment space, after all, are abundant, and Males is quick to tick them off. Need a floating effect for a film? Have an actor stand on a Vantablack-coated box or raised surface and shoot it against a Vantablack background. Special effects for a stage show? Rig up a 30-foot monolith covered in the stuff, as Levitation 29 and PRG did for French DJ Gesaffelstein at Coachella in 2019.

[Photo: courtesy of Levitation29/PRG/Surrey Nanosystems]

Theatrical productions also could benefit from a splash of Vantablack.

“If you think about Broadway or the West End, it’s an area that hasn’t changed for a long time,” Males says. “The Phantom of the Opera has special effects in it, the chandelier coming down, but it’s been the same for over 35 years. While there will always be space for old, traditional theater, I think creatives like theater directors are always looking to break down the fourth wall. And I think an important part of breaking down that fourth wall is really transporting an audience to somewhere else.”

advertisement

Activision Black Ops House [Photo: courtesy of Levitation29/PRG]
And what about the walls and ceilings of movie theaters? How better to immerse an audience in the action on the screen than making them feel like there is literally nothing else around them?

“We’re already painting walls in theaters black. We’re already using black curtains,” Males says. “If you can coat them in Vantablack, you completely remove any perception of them being there. You can focus an audience’s attention completely on the performance. That’s really special.”

About the author

Nicole LaPorte is an LA-based senior writer for Fast Company who writes about where technology and entertainment intersect. She previously was a columnist for The New York Times and a staff writer for Newsweek/The Daily Beast and Variety

More