Even before the recession, production budgets were tight and everyone sought more bang for their buck. Today, budgets are being slashed further, and every stage of a production is looking to get more out of less.

Prelite aims to satisfy tightened budgets and allow designers to still deliver a top-notch rig design, offering previsualization and virtual 3D preprogramming services to designers and programmers before they get onsite. Founded by Tom Thompson and Norm Schwab, Prelite has offices in San Francisco and New York. Thompson manages the West Coast facility, while Rodd McLaughlin and Kim Grethen run the New York studio. The idea is to save time that’s usually needed to rent a venue with a full rig, optimize budgets, and maybe even minimize some stress. The studio also offers on-site services for those who prefer to get a head start at the venue.

Although it’s difficult to quantify the dollars and cents saved by using previz services, anecdotal evidence from those in the trenches counts for something. “It’s a tremendously underappreciated technology,” says Michael T. Goodwin, project manager for Art Fag, LLC, a production environment design company. “There’s almost no way to calculate the savings Prelite gives its end users.”

Goodwin began in the music business in the mid-70s when video and TV productions were routinely preceded by setup and tech days, rehearsals, programming through the night, a full band rehearsal, and more programming. “Only a fraction of acts can afford to do that now,” he notes. “Instead, we go to Prelite and work straight-time for five or six days and avoid premium time; I figure an hour of union overtime in a high-profile venue runs $8,000 to 12,000, so Prelite can be extremely valuable.”

Goodwin has used the studios in San Francisco and New York and portable systems on location. Last summer, he tapped the San Francisco studio to previsualize the video for the Foo Fighters’ concert at Wembley Stadium in England. He visited the New York studio to previz the holiday Jingle Ball for Live Nation at Madison Square Garden and the NFL kick off at Columbus Circle. He plans to return for a week of previsualization before the star-studded David Lynch Foundation Benefit at Radio City Music Hall is televised live on April 4. The portable systems were for use in Indianapolis for a previous NFL kick off and in Tampa for the Pepsi Smash live TV show.

Goodwin particularly likes the way previsualization lets him test looks and make changes before getting onsite, where any revision is likely to be costly. He points out, “It’s great to make corrections in the virtual world and not in realtime. If you see an error in previz, you can change it in your paperwork before you put it on the air.”

He also enjoys “the ability to work to your own time schedule. You can be relaxed, sip your cappuccino, and think about things before it gets hot and heavy at the venue. I’ve known (Prelite partners) Tom Thompson and Rodd McLaughlin for a million years, and they make it easy to do what I need to do.”

Corey Burton, senior producer for InVision Communications in Walnut Creek, California and New York City, also finds “massive added value” in the Prelite approach. Live events predominate for InVision, a full-service corporate communications company.

For the last seven or eight years, Burton has teamed with Prelite partner Norm Schwab in the San Francisco studio where Schwab has previsualized the lighting design for the annual Oracle Open World conference. And Burton has returned for the Oracle Summer Sales Kick Off which “has a different focus but the same kind of scaling as Open World. It’s fast-moving—100 moving lights in the air. Last year, we had 36 hours to create the program and move into the Mandalay Bay arena (in Las Vegas) where an audience of 8,000 was waiting.”

The arena was “an expensive and highly-utilized space” that precluded InVision spending extra time there even if the show’s complexities might have justified it. “We had large flying cubes with video [Element Labs] Stealth screens, pyro, and lighting worthy of a rock concert,” Burton recalls. “We were able to move into the arena and the moment the lights came up, we could see things take shape that we had pre-formulated in Prelite. It was breathtaking.”

Burton likes the fact that working at Prelite “is a fixed cost you can capture during budgeting. You’re not estimating overtime. I take great comfort in seeing that cost up front, rather than using a five-digit place holder for overtime or over-budgeting and cheating on some other element where you could have put the money.”

As Burton discovered with the Oracle Summer Sales Kick Off, previz is especially valuable for “programs with spectacular elements—large moving pieces timed with pyro and music or high-energy animation. You have to do this kind of thing before you move onsite; there’s very little time to sync up things onsite, it’s just not practical to do.”

Visit Prelite online here.