SVG Sit-Down: Fred Gerling on the Launch of VR-Specific NextVR Mobile Units, Evolution of Live Sports Production

Custom-mobile-facilities manufacturer Gerling & Associates is as busy as ever this year, delivering an average of two projects per week. Although its trailers represent 90% of the large mobile systems on the road in North America (according to President Fred Gerling), the company continues to develop innovative facilities that rethink the footprint and capabilities of a traditional production truck.

Last month at NAB 2016, G&A rolled out a quartet of its latest innovations to display in the outdoor exhibits area: the first of NextVR’s fleet of virtual-reality production trucks, NEP Supershooters’ B unit (which houses offline editing suites, extended graphics areas, and equipment hauling), Clark Media Productions’ Super Stallion Series mobile unit, and Harb Productions’ uplink trailer featuring two expanding-side systems.

SVG sat down with Gerling during NAB 2016 to discuss the new trailers on display, the promise of virtual reality for his business, and how the industry as a whole is evolving.

Fred Gerling at NAB 2016, showing off the unit Gerling & Associates built for NextVR

Fred Gerling at NAB 2016, showing off the unit Gerling & Associates built for NextVR

There has been plenty of buzz surrounding live virtual-reality production. Please tell us a bit about the new 40-ft. NextVR production truck on display and the fleet of VR trucks to come.
[The NextVR] trailer is incredible. They are going to go really big, and they’ve already got some big agreements in place, so they’re going to build a number of these. I really wanted my brand to be associated with that. I sold this truck on Feb. 1, so we didn’t get the box body done until three weeks [before NAB 2016], which is an extremely fast [timeline]. The interior will blow you away; it’s totally different than anything we’ve ever done. It has an off-the-wall starship-type environment that I think people are going to love.

When we took this order, NextVR told me that they might go as high as 18 projects. Now, the others will be smaller than this one, which is going to be their flagship truck. They’re doing the integration now. There is a lot of space for huge servers, which means there was a power concern. This Super Stallion has amazing power capacity because they have some servers that are going to take a great deal of power, and how we routed the air-conditioner was important to deal with the heat coming from those servers.

We’ve seen that before. We had a client that we built a huge trailer for, and it started out with eight EVS servers. By the time they got done, [the number of servers] had more than doubled. And that immediately gave us a hot spot in that trailer, so we had to go back and rework it. The client was very happy in the end, but those are things that you do to keep clients coming back. My greatest statistic right now is that we have a 96% client-return rate. That’s pretty amazing.

NextVR is not out to compete [directly] with [the television-production] industry. They will work with this industry, but I’ll tell you one thing that’s going to happen, and that is that they are going to take people out of seats in stadiums. I think, I really think that will happen. If I can put my headset on and I’m behind home plate, I think that’s going to be very big.

What else is on display at Gerling’s NAB 2016 booth?
We have the Harb Productions’ trailer here, which is quite unique because it has a 2.4-meter dish on the back and we tucked it in in such a way that the audio guy is the only guy that doesn’t have a lot of headroom because he’s in the back. To help him out, we lowered the floor. It has a huge, incredible amount of ceiling space through the rest of the trailer. The trailer’s only 42 ft. long, [but], when you go inside, you think, Oh my gosh, this is like a mini Game Creek huge trailer. It just blows you away.

Clark Media’s truck is also here. They are a big service and rental place, and this is the first of a rental fleet that they’re putting together. [There’s] some of the best engineering I’ve seen in the Super Stallion, the way they tucked in so much equipment. They worked with our engineering team and put together a really nice package with a 31-ft. body on a truck with an expanding side.

We also have a 53-ft. B unit that we just finished for NEP. We had very good support from NEP from the engineering standpoint to put together what is probably the most [advanced] B unit we’ve ever done. It’s going to [serve] everything from inventory and microphones to edit suites. It will operate in the field open or closed as far as the expanding side. It has a 5,500-lb. lift gate to accommodate all the cranes and all the things that they want to put on it. So it’s really [versatile].

How is business for G&A in 2016? Are there any major growth areas of note?
We have been very blessed. We’re delivering an average two projects every week. When you’re doing that high volume and you’re working with the greatest engineers in the world, they come in with these great ideas, and they challenge you. The gift of having that quality of people affiliate with your company is priceless. They come in and say, You know, if we did this, it would be a little bit better. It’s really remarkable. We challenge each other, and that makes everyone better.

As for specific markets, the international clientele is up this year, especially in Korea, which is all because of [the growth of] 4K there.

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