Late last year, as was widely reported, the investment firm Arts Alliance opened Garden Studios, a 62,000-square-foot facility located in Park Royal, West London. Arts Alliance founder and CEO Thomas Hoegh said at the time, “This will be an owner-operated business, spearheaded by people who have long and deep experience across many aspects of the film industry with success stories like Picturehouse Cinemas, Love Film, Arts Alliance Media, Met Film School and Park Circus under our belts. Like all Arts Alliance companies, we seek to demonstrate an innovative and passionate drive for inclusive community building, learning, and opportunities for all.” In all his businesses Hoegh says, “My principal task is not to be in the way.” I recently spoke via email with Hoegh and Garden Studios CTO Rich Phillips to learn more about this latest venture.
Digital Cinema Report: What was the impetus for developing Garden Studios?
Thomas Hoegh: For the past thirteen years, we have been growing Met Film School at Ealing Studios. Our existence there is wonderful but cramped. For the past few years, we have leased additional spaces outside the studio gates and the spaces are less than optimal. About 18 months ago we started to look for a location close to Ealing that could meet our further growth ambitions and desire to step up the production environment quality we could offer to our students. As we embarked on this journey our kit room partners ProCam came onboard to help. As we started to look, we also realized that there was a significant commercial opportunity to provide high quality sound stages in central London. One thing led to another and, voila, Garden Studios became a realizable dream. A lot of twists and turns in many possible spaces, but at the end we landed on the two cornerstone buildings owned by Aviva. They shared our vision of sustainable structures and we landed our long-term deal.
We like to think of ourselves as owner-operator types with a talent centric outlook on how we integrate with the community, embrace access and diversity and integrate learning and talent development in everything we do. Art Alliance has always had a very hands-on approach to building businesses and at a core we operate as a family. Many of the talent involved in this project have worked together on multiple projects from Love Film, Picturehouse Cinemas to Arts Alliance Media. To some degree this is a culmination project, but we still have a child’s curiosity and the drive for innovation is everywhere. When clients arrive, offload and start preparing to make great works of art, everyone is there to make that happen from the CEO down to the recently recruited apprentice.
DCR: I understand that the buildings where the studios are located are older. Is that true and how much renovation was necessary?
TH: The main buildings are brand new and are of the highest environmental spec and are naturally sound proofed. We are improving this further and will deliver NR25 Db levels in the sound stages. The other buildings are older, some recently upgraded and some not. The latter are suitable for workshops, production offices and added COVID spreading out of crews and support resources.
DCR: When will you open?
TH: We are in it now. Offices are done, virtual production rig has been in testing by Rich Phillips at Ealing for the past two months and will be remounted ready for production in early February, workshops in late February and sound stages in May.
DCR: Some basic housekeeping. How big are each of the four soundstages and do they all have the same height to the grid?
TH: Stage 1 is 24,000 square feet; Stage 2 is 12,000 square feet and Stage 3 is 6,000 square feet. They are all 10.5 meters under the steel grid we have put in place.
DCR: When did the virtual studio open and what kind of productions have taken place there so far?
TH: Nothing so far. The virtual production we have done was at Rebellion. First projects are in prep now, but we cannot talk about them yet.
DCR: Describe the virtual studio.
TH: We expect to have multiple VP rigs on the lot and encourage anyone who are interested to learn about or work within this exciting new paradigm to make contact and join the effort. We plan to retrain VFX talent, upskill DOP, designer and directors to develop and make projects.
DCR: What technology is included there?
Rich Phillips: Our first virtual production stage offers a 12-meter wide and 4-meter high curved LED wall, supplemented by an LED ceiling and two 1.2 meter by 1.2 meter LED totems for realistic environment lighting.The system is driven by a cluster of high-performance computers with state of the art GPUs, and leverages Epic’s Unreal game engine for real-time rendering of photo-realistic VFX environments. A Mo-Sys StarTracker motion tracking system senses the camera position, feeding data to the rendering system to update virtual environments in real time. The system also includes further equipment to import, edit and export assets and live 4K video, and includes VR headsets and virtual cameras to allow clients to step into the environment virtually to plan shots and make live adjustments to assets and lighting. The studio and full rig are offered as a turnkey package for a simple and cost-effective day rate, complete with Arri Alexa Mini LF camera/lens package and experienced virtual production technicians able to work hand in hand with client crews to realize their vision.
DCR: One of your stated goals for Garden Studios is to create a sustainable environment by offsetting its carbon footprint through reduced travel. What other measures will you take to achieve your green goals?
TH: We embrace the Albert standards and training but want to push beyond that considerably. Having BREAM excellent building as starting point helps, but it is what happen inside those building that really moves the needle. All our power comes from renewable sources, we encourage low power lighting solutions and would claim that we VP will bring down carbon footprints from less travel and reuse of assets.
DCR: When will all of Garden Studios be open for business?
TH: We are open for business now and have projects slated, but unfortunately with nondisclosure agreements up to our eyeballs.