Small-screen domain

F/x outfit takes on 'Invisible' series project

NEW YORK — Digital Domain, the special-effects house that did post-production work on “Titanic,” has taken on its first TV series. “The Invisible Man” — a Dick Wolf-Bob Crais series creation based on the H.G. Wells novel — is being produced by Universal TV and Wolf for the Fox Network, with Kyle MacLachlan playing the title character.

Production began on the pilot late last week in the 10th floor of the spacious building that was once a Nabisco cookie factory at 15th Street and 10th Avenue. If the pilot leads to a series order, it will be the most ambitious series ever set in New York, and Gotham’s first special-effects-heavy series.

Digital Domain, which will be competing for an Oscar this evening in the best visual effects category for its “Titanic” work, was hatched in 1993 by “Titanic” helmer James Cameron and four-time Oscar-winning special-effects whiz Stan Winston with funding from IBM and Cox Enterprises.

They set it up partly to pioneer effects for their own movies, but Amy Wixson, Domain’s visual-effects supervisor, said the company was eager to branch into television, where the challenge is to create effects on a moment’s notice that don’t put a show over its tight budget.

“The key is to have the effects help tell the story, but not overwhelm it,” Wixson said. “We’ve already turned Kyle into a full-scale CG character, scanned his head and put a full model in the computer.”

Wolf once again had to do a major lobbying job to get the series located in Gotham, as the former Manhattanite has done several times over the years. While filming 3,000 miles from where the effects will be processed will be awkward, Wolf was confident the show will push the envelope on effects but not destroy his margins.

“The idea of having a glass held by the invisible man moving across the room was done in the original movie, and is not acceptable today,” Wolf said. “The studio and Peter Roth said we must do state-of-the-art stuff, but the secret will be to concentrate the budget on a limited number of big effects you haven’t seen before. The rest of it is up to the writers and producers. You’ll see Kyle quite often, even though he’s invisible. You don’t hire Kyle MacLachlan just to make him invisible. He’s got to be on the screen.”

Surrounding MacLachlan is Dylan Baker, a veteran of “Murder One” and “Feds,” who, Wolf said, plays the “equivalent of the one-armed man in ‘The Fugitive.’ ” The other primary star is newcomer Elizabeth Rohm, who aids MacLachlan in his quest to become visible.

That such a complicated show could wind up in New York is a testament to the concessions made by the unions several years ago after a crippling studio boycott of Gotham. Wolf said there is a genuine feel that his short-lived “Crime and Punishment” missed by relocating, and that has kept “Law & Order” going strong.

“Those shows wouldn’t be the same in L.A. and neither would this one,” Wolf said. The price is a bit higher, he said, but the series benefits by using faces not seen over and over on series shot in L.A. “We don’t fly anybody in, we just don’t have the money,” Wolf said.

Gotham film commissioner Pat Scott said that over the past TV season, six series shot in New York and that all but “Dellaventura” seem likely to be renewed. That number is likely to grow because, counting “The Invisible Man,” 11 shows competing for network slots shot pilots in Manhattan.

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