Lights, Camera, Action
Imagine you’re standing inside a shiny new motion picture soundstage while Disney is producing the prequel to “The Wizard of Oz.” You glance around and see Academy Award-nominated actor James Franco – who stars as the young Wizard – actors Rachel Weisz and Mila Kunis, and director Sam Raimi.
Now, imagine that this new studio is located in Michigan, not Hollywood, Calif. That’s because Walbridge constructed America’s newest full-service motion picture studio on the site of a former General Motors truck plant in Pontiac. It brings an exciting new industry to Michigan and makes the state a worldwide movie production destination.
Staying on Target With Pinpoint Accuracy
Delivering a major studio on time and to the exacting specifications of movie-makers requires precision. At Michigan Motion Picture Studios (MMPS), the push for precision started with production of 65-foot-tall concrete wall panels in Grand Rapids, Mich., and their timely transportation to Pontiac. The project team had to keep moving panels in and setting them up under a tight schedule that required placement of 12 to 18 panels per day. The panels, by the way, each weigh 85,000 pounds. Since movie studio interiors need to be column-free, heavy steel trusses and joists were required to support the massive walls and ceilings. Getting such sizeable pieces off the ground and set into place required pinpoint orchestration.
Michigan’s First Full-Service, Built-for-Production Studio
MMPS is a full-service studio built for the production of motion pictures, television shows and commercials. A group of southeast Michigan-based investors, convinced that the state’s capable workforce and natural beauty would appeal to studios and production companies, teamed with an established Los Angeles-based studio enterprise to create this state-of-the-art facility.
Walbridge served as construction manager for the $80 million complex, which was built in 10 months. It is comprised of 175,000 square feet of production space and 360,000 square feet of office space. MMPS’s two production buildings offer seven column-free sound stages with ceiling heights of 45 feet. Each has a full lighting grid and massive amounts of available electricity. The latest sound-suppression technology and materials were used to muffle even the slightest noise coming from equipment.
MMPS brings a new industry and economic opportunity to the state of Michigan. The studio’s first customer, Disney, wrapped up production of “Oz, The Great and Powerful” in 2012. The film is scheduled for release in spring 2013. One benefit analysis pegged the positive economic bump from “Oz” at nearly $105 million.
We’re not in Hollywood Anymore
How do you build a major motion picture studio in a state that isn’t necessarily top-of-mind among movie-makers? It had to be built according to exacting specifications, which included very large and open interior spaces enveloped by intricate lighting grids and catwalks suspended from the ceilings.
On top of that, with multi-ton concrete wall panels and extra-long beams of steel being moved about at a brisk pace, ensuring operational safety had to remain top of mind among the 150-plus trades people working on site every day.
The Reel McCoy
Precision is Good
Walbridge project leaders started on this design-build adventure by spending time inside a Hollywood studio in order to fully comprehend movie industry requirements. Two key must-haves: no columns and no noise.
The studio’s design, created by Harley Ellis Deveraux, called for the use of 65-foot tall, precast concrete wall panels. These mammoth units were trucked in one at a time over 145 miles to the construction site. The Walbridge project team closely monitored production and worked around delivery delays to maintain a rapid installation schedule.
Since columns couldn’t be used inside the sound stages, crews utilized three super-deep and long steel trusses (11 feet deep by 110 feet long) and 243 steel joists to support the walls and ceilings. The joists weighed a combined 1,800 tons. Walbridge and its construction partners choreographed delivery from the manufacturer in St. Louis through on-time placement in Pontiac.
To minimize unwanted noise, Walbridge used custom-fabricated floor joist seats with neoprene pads in the spaces where mechanical and electrical equipment are housed. Special vapor barrier/sound-proofing insulation was installed on all exposed walls in the sound stages from floor to roof deck.
With more than 95 miles of electrical wiring running throughout the new soundstages., the studio has access to more electrical power than a nearby 990-bed hospital. And the amount of lumber used to build the massive lighting grids and catwalk systems, if laid end to end, would stretch for 75 miles.
To maintain the necessary focus on safety, Walbridge instituted its own on-site safety program. It features a full-time safety engineer, mandatory substance abuse testing, use of certified crane operators and signal person, and safety huddles conducted on site three times a day. More than 120,000 work hours were logged without a serious injury.
There’s no Place Like Michigan
One of the largest and most technologically advanced motion picture studios in America now stands in Pontiac, Mich. With it, the state has the potential to become a popular destination for motion picture, television and commercial production.