THE MENTALIST aired its final 151st episode earlier this year after a historic seven seasons and Engine Room was an integral part of the series success from day one. Besides steady high ratings in the US, the procedural police drama set in California, forged unprecedented international audiences with nearly 59 million weekly viewers worldwide.

Hit shows like THE MENTALIST only happen when there is a perfect balance between all aspects of production, from the creative visionaries behind the show, to the cast, the performances, and the writing. Equally important, but often less recognized is the approach to technical execution. Since the beginning of its seven season run, this was very much the case with the working relationship between VFX Supervisor Michael Caplan and THE MENTALIST Executive Producer Chris Long and series Creator Bruno Heller.

Few if any viewers could ever detect the consistent contribution from Engine Room to the weekly airings of THE MENTALIST, but the VFX element was always present behind the scenes. “We’ve done our job properly when no one notices what we were ever involved”, says Caplan. Needless to say, this was consistently the case.

Many of the show’s location based scenes, written to take place all across the state of California, were actually shot in Burbank at Warner Bros. Studios or in and around the Los Angeles area. It was not uncommon for 100ft green or blue screens to be raised on the studio backlot under Caplan’s direction, where foreground set pieces needed to be enhanced with post-inserted background elements. Whether it was the Sacramento State Capitol Building, San Francisco city vistas, desert locations, or any other scene settings called for in the scripts; post production visual effects techniques were regularly relied upon to enhance the visuals of the series while also helping to set the story locales. In addition, Engine Room also designed the iconic main title for THE MENTALIST.

From Engine Room’s point of view, few if any shows, or film productions used digital effects in a smarter or more efficient way than THE MENTALIST Producers did. They understood that visual effects can save resources by reducing actual location filming days, while at the same time increasing the overall look and production value of what’s up on the screen.

By the time the final episode of this historic series aired, Engine Room had delivered close to 1,600 VFX shots. The show established that there is truly no limit to where they can travel; with the help of VFX Supervisor Michael Caplan and the Engine Room post production team, the characters of THE MENTALIST could literally go anywhere, solve the show’s toughest cases, and break international ratings records in the process.

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HOLLYWOOD—June 7, 2013—Hollywood Center Studios (www.HollywoodCenter.com), the iconic studio in the heart of Hollywood, has forged a new alliance with shooting and visual effects company Engine Room (www.EngineRoomHollywood.com), headquartered on the HCS Lot. The strategic relationship provides Engine Room live action clients with exclusive rates on lot services for in-studio stage rental, production offices, and grip and lighting services.

Engine Room offers a unique production partnership to clients. With a turnkey shooting unit that’s ready-to-roll, it provides an extensive menu of production services including cinematography, casting, talent, crew, art, equipment and large scale stages.  Creative directors and producers of all types love the simplicity and fluid collaborative experience of working with ER.

Hollywood Center Studios,  located in Hollywood’s Media District, hosts a dozen sound stages and more than 200,000 square feet of production office and other ancillary production space. The studio has a cinematic history spanning nearly a century, but has kept pace with technological changes.  The studio has three dedicated, coved, green-screen stages with enhanced virtual technology, as well as two large, dedicated, coved, white-cyc stages primarily servicing the commercial production industry.  From this exceptional location, Engine Room has crafted high-end production, visual effects and post solutions for feature films, episodic television, network promotion and commercial clients over the last seven years.

“We love being part of the HCS family,” says cinematographer Dan Schmit, owner of Engine Room.  “The studio lot is an inspiring mix of classic Hollywood and modern technology. We share a passion for shooting talent and bringing stories to life, and we have also contributed to the development of the HCS permanent green screen stages. This new alliance takes our relationship deeper, matching our creative and execution capabilities with Hollywood Center Studios’ premiere offerings, all for the benefit of our clients.”

“Having Engine Room at Hollywood Center Studios has been a perfect fit,” according to Jerry Cole, Director of Virtual and Broadcast Services at HCS. “As the industry forges new roads into digital storytelling, we’ve expanded and developed the palette of resources and facilities while maintaining the magic of the classic Hollywood production studio. We see the alliance with Engine Room as an opportunity to welcome even more of the industry into this one of a kind environment.”

HCS has added motion capture to its largest green screen facility, Stage 12, which, according to Schmit, “provides the hardware front-end required for the some of the more serious VFX production we specialize in.”  But not all Engine Room/Hollywood Center Studio shoots are focused on technology, many productions are straight talent and/or product shoots that involve interior studio sets.

With all these elements in place an Engine Room/Hollywood Center Studios shoot can be ramped up within hours.  “Our location at Hollywood Center Studios gives our clients a powerful homefield advantage making smooth running productions and, of course spectacular on-camera results,” Schmit says.

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Engine Room’s latest NASCAR project for Fox Sports revved into high gear during the Daytona 500 broadcast. The expansive, high-energy package will air throughout the NASCAR ON FOX fourteen-week season and involved the creative development, design and production of the Show Open (Daytime and Night versions) as well as two new NASCAR ON FOX branding icons to be rolled out in the coming weeks.

For the last two seasons, Fox Sports has tapped Engine Room for custom animation pieces involving intensive and rapidly produced, animated comic-style CG recaps of each weekly NASCAR race. This year the collaboration went into overdrive, with Engine Room delivering an entire broadcast sports package that showcases the thrills, spills and upsets intrinsic to NASCAR, all with a beautiful new hyper-real look. As part of the Open’s signature design, are animated race cars that reflect the evolution of new 2013 custom body styles from the big three automakers in a wild race to the finish line. Engine Room was also tasked with designing two new branding icons for FOX SPORTS to be used throughout the racing season. The new chrome, energy infused Fox X-Car and its high-tech robot driver Speedus, a powerful 3D animated cousin to FOX Football robot Cleatus, is a lightning-fast racing mascot on wheels.

VFX Supervisor Dave Piedra, Creative Director Dan Schmit and EP Michael Caplan led the Engine Room design and animation team throughout the intensive process that spanned nine months, from the design phase to the execution of each deliverable in the campaign, which included two complete packages, the first for day races and a second to air during the season’s night competitions.

“Our work with Fox Sports is always incredibly rewarding thanks to the vision and passion of EVP Gary Hartley and his team,” says Engine Room’s Dan Schmit. “We are proud of how our ongoing collaboration with Fox Sports has evolved for more than a decade from a relationship based on our live action skills, to now providing large scale creative branding projects where we have been invited to do it all, from developing original concept, through feature-level visual effects CG execution. Gary saw our potential early on and we look forward to many more years of exciting collaboration and visionary work in support of FOX SPORTS.”


Engine Room recently completed production of the second season of innovative 3D and Live Action race graphics with Gary Hartley and his Fox Sports Graphics team for this season’s NASCAR on FOX. Each week this Spring ER produced a series of custom animation CG sequences utilizing photo-real race footage in support of a weekly pre-race tease that recaps the thrills, spills and upsets from the previous week’s NASCAR race. These teases were script-to-air on a five-day schedule and included a full package of driver bumps and additional supporting graphics for the FOX On-Air team to utilize during their weekly broadcasts.

Creative talent was the key in both designing and executing this high profile project, and for that ER leaned on its own Dave Piedra to spearhead the creative effort. Joined this year by CG artist Zeth Dubois, Engine Room utilized Mach Studio animation software for the first time. The 3D software package was a very good match due to the level of CG finishing required on a very tight schedule. At the season’s start ER creative director, Dan Schmit once again joined Hartley traveling to the legendary Daytona Raceway to shoot the competing NASCAR drivers for integration into the package. With these key assets in place, the ER home team, headed by EP Michael Caplan, began production and within a week the first tease was complete and airing ahead of the Daytona 500 broadcast. The season continued from there on a weekly basis for the run of the FOX Sports 14 week NASCAR broadcasting season.