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DeSales Unveils Lehigh Valley’s First Virtual Production Studio

by Janelle Hill May 16, 2022

A green screen on steroids.

That’s how faculty members Karen Ruggles and Michael Wagner describe DeSales University’s new Virtual Production Studio—the first of its kind in the Lehigh Valley.

The studio boasts an AOTO high-performance LED screen comprised of two 13x10 feet sections, a control studio, and camera tracking technology—the same type of tech used by Walt Disney Studios and Netflix.  

“We’re at the forefront of this technology. As the camera moves, the background will shift making it a more immersive experience. It’s very normal to see our students’ jaws dropping when they come in here.”

 Karen Ruggles, associate professor of computer science

Ruggles’ Special Topics in Virtual Production class is the first to use the new studio. The class is comprised of computer science majors, game programming students, and even a dance major. For Emily Roberti ’22, a TV/film and computer science double major, the experience is already paying off. 

“For me, personally, it’s a perfect outlet,” Roberti says. “The studio has given me an awakening—it’s connecting my two career paths into one. Having access to this technology early on gives students that much more of a leg up when graduating.”

The screen takes the place of a backdrop or green screen while also providing light. It even allows for interaction between live actors and CG characters, which Ruggles and Wagner say creates a more authentic storytelling experience. 

“This technology is so new to the industry; it has caught fire really quickly and it will give us an edge,” says Wagner, chair of the TV/film department, whose cinematography students are also utilizing the studio. “The possibilities are really incredible.” 

The University has hired Stephen Furry, a 2001 alum, to oversee the studio as virtual production supervisor. Furry has worked on hit shows such as “Star Trek: Picard” and “The Mandalorian.” 

The studio is currently housed in a nearby space off Route 378 but it will be moved to the Labuda Center for the Performing Arts once the building undergoes a spacious addition.