When “Shark Tank” producers were getting ready to record the show’s current 10th season earlier this year, they were dealing with a dilemma: There simply wasn’t enough sound stage space on the Sony Pictures lot in Culver City, Calif, available to record all of the show’s scenes.
“We’ve had some very busy times here,” said Sony Pictures Television alternative & syndication programming executive vice president Holly Jacobs, who oversees unscripted programming for the studio. “Shark Tank” needed 2 sound stages in close proximity, and there simply wasn’t enough capacity left on the lot. That’s when the team started to talk to Sony’s newly-lauched Innovation Studios arm to see if there would be a high-tech fix.
“They came to us with a real-world issue,” recalled Innovation Studios president Glenn Gainor. “Content creation is up, and it is very taxing on sound stages.”
Innovation Studios, which was founded in summer as a state-of-the-art digital technology facility in service of creators across Sony and beyond, proposed the use of a virtual set instead of a real one for some of the show’s scenes. “At first, I have to be honest, I was a little bit worried,” recalled Jacobs.
But then, Gainor’s team did a 3D scan of the actual “Shark Tank” set. “We got it done in a day,” he said. Innovation Studios started to turn the raw imagery into a virtual set, shared some early results with the “Shark Tank” team, and blew everyone away. “It was really amazing,” said Jacobs. “It looked completely authentic and real.”
The real “Shark Tank” set, as seen on the December 2 episode.
Come September, the “Shark Tank” team began to record the show on its regular stage. And when it was time for contestants to film their exit interviews, some of them simply walked across the lot to the Innovation Studios stage, sat down in front of a green screen, and filmed their take with a virtual set in real-time, complete with a crew lighting them and the set based on their needs. “They were lighting as if they were lighting a physical set,” Gainor said.
All in all, Innovation Studios recorded exit interviews with around 100 contestants. The results have not only been convincing to TV audiences, who got to see some first interviews filmed on the virtual set during the show’s December 2 episode. They even fooled the crew during the filming, with crew members in the production truck forgetting that they weren’t actually monitoring a real set.
“When we were watching interviews on monitors remotely, a producer asked to move a plant next to the couch, but it wasn’t really there because it was the virtual set,” recalled “Shark Tank” production manager Alex Halatchev.
“That means that we succeeded,” quipped Gainor. He added that “Shark Tank” was a perfect fit for this kind of project. “The show is celebrating innovation,” he said.
Going forward, Sony is looking to use this kind of technology for other projects as well. Gainor wasn’t able to share any details about future projects, but made it clear that building virtual environments won’t necessarily be constrained to sets on sound stages. “We’re capable of capturing larger environments,” he said.
Jacobs said that she was already thinking about future applications as well. “It’s going to have a really big impact on what we can do in production,” she said.