Virtual sets have been around for more than a decade, but in an era of runaway productions and cutthroat tax incentives, they’ve never looked so good—both economically and aesthetically—thanks to lower costs and vastly improved technology. For a while, Hollywood once ruled supreme when it came to stages and back lots, and while the town may still be the de facto creative and business center of the film universe, the landscape has dramatically changed over the past few years. Now, when it comes down to the hard financial decisions about where to shoot a film or TV series, Hollywood is no longer the automatic first choice. And the town’s studios and stages have to compete with growing production capabilities and aggressive tax incentives and subsidies—not only in the rest of the country, but throughout the world.
“It’s been very frustrating to watch so many productions leave town, and I’m convinced that Hollywood remains the world’s best production environment, despite the lure of tax incentives elsewhere,” says Hollywood Center Studios’ Director of Virtual Studio Productions Ivan Gulas. “L.A.’s concentration of creative talent, highly skilled crews, stages and production resources, in combination with its unparalleled access to leading-edge production technologies and support services, offers Hollywood-based productions significant competitive advantages found nowhere else. So that was the motivation behind doing this series.”
The first event in the series was held at Hollywood Center Studios in June and showcased virtual production methodologies and included samples of actual projects produced at the studio. Participants included NewTek, creators of the TriCaster HD/SD portable live production systems; Virtualsetworks, a leading provider of stock and custom virtual sets; and B2 Networks, market leaders in live event broadcasting and broadcast-quality and HD 1081p satellite-replacement technologies; as well as the creators of a TV series being produced exclusively with virtual technology.
All this motivated Gulas to build out a stage based on “cost-effective yet broadcast quality” tools, and to become one of the first customers for NewTek’s TCXD300 HD system. “We have two systems—an SD and the HD. And we’ve been able to create full TV shows that have the look and feel of American Idol on a very small budget,” he says.
The TriCaster line was initially developed because NewTek saw the need for portable live production in a turnkey system. “And we always had three key features in mind,” says Jarrod Davis, content development supervisor. “It had to be affordable, portable and easy to use.” The original model was released in 2005, and the company quickly added new features into the line, including the virtual sets that debuted with the TriCaster PRO model.