What could be more exciting than a high-speed car race that starts in Florida and careens spectacularly across the country?

For the cost-conscious and cutting-edge producers of the new Fox TV series "Drive," filming that race without ever leaving a location set in Santa Clarita is every bit as thrilling.

Five-year-old Los Angeles-based visual effects house Zoic Studios is making that possible by creating every swamp, gas station and open road the competitors will fly past in Florida, Georgia and yet-to-be-revealed points beyond.

Zoic, which has done work for other TV shows including "24" and "CSI: Crime Scene Investigation," specializes in intricate effects created with a complex digital layering system. "Drive" was created by Ben Queen and Tim Minear, who worked with Zoic on two earlier series, "Angel" and "Firefly."

"If you're shooting on location, you'd have to put the cars up on a tow rig truck, and bring everything on the road with you," said Zoic co-founder and creative director Loni Peristere. "That's a lot of trucks and equipment and labor and creature comforts and craft services to mobilize and pay for."

The exterior driving sequences in "Drive," which bows with a two-hour special edition on April 15, were shot on a "green screen" stage at Santa Clarita Studios in northern Los Angeles County, a setup that allows for later effects integration. The cars have no windows, which allows for camera views that seem to move "through" the glass. Reflections and other realistic touches were added in the editing and post- production process. Later, that footage was combined and layered with exterior and aerial footage from Florida, Georgia and other locales shot by a second production unit or from stock footage.

Fox and Zoic even simulated a shuttle launch at Kennedy Space Center on Florida's Cape Canaveral. They shot footage of extras and the cast on a school campus in Pasadena and combined it with NASA footage from an actual launch.

"The issue in the past has been that to do this kind of work has taken months and weeks and now it can be done in days, and television as a medium needs things in days it's a shorter window," said Jeffrey Okun, chairman of the Visual Effects Society.

"There's been a creative explosion in TV, where you can do things that were cost-prohibitive before but are now cost effective through effects advances."

The entire production of the "Drive" green-screen work was done in about eight days. Achieving those same shots on location would have taken anywhere from 16 to 24 days. It took about five weeks to cobble together green screen and location shots in the editorial, effects and post-production process.

Composite effects shots generally cost an average of $1,000 each and with as many as 140 in one episode of "Drive," the effects are a big part of the budget. The expense, time and money saved by Zoic's efforts enable Fox to spend more money on edgy lens angles and camera shots like "Circlevision," nine cameras bound together to give viewers the swiveled perspective of a driver looking out every window of the car.

The use of heavy visual special effects in television is becoming more common, according to those in the industry. Zoic pulls in between $20 million and $25 million a year in revenue and Peristere and his partners are hoping that the growth in demand for TV visual effects will enable it to grow even more.

"There are so very many houses in L.A., it's a crowded field but a very healthy landscape," Okun said.

Not all of the work on "Drive" is ultra high-tech, however. Some of the initial blocking, to determine camera angles and the like for the driving sequences, was done with tiny toy cars.

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