SCAD introduces new backlot, XR stage at Savannah Film Studios; first of its kind in Southeast

Zach Dennis Savannah Morning News

A Saharan desert. A tropical rainforest. The bustling streets of early 20th century London. Maybe even an interstellar civilization on another planet.

Most of these would require expensive set design and months of construction to make possible. Now, they’re available at the click of a mouse — and they all could be found in a sound stage just outside downtown Savannah.

On Friday, the Savannah College of Art and Design announced their new XR stage and backlot expansion to the Savannah Film Studios, 2315 Louisville Road. The 10.9 acre project will include a Hollywood-style film backlot, an XR Stage for virtual productions, and indoor soundstages. The stage, which was created in partnership with MEPTIK Studios, will be state-of-the-art and will make Savannah Film Studios the most comprehensive university film studio complex in the country.

“It is an absolute game-changer,” Andra Reeve-Rabb, dean of entertainment arts at SCAD, said. “That’s because it’s what’s next.”

XR Stage will be first of its kind in South Georgia

The capstone of the Hollywood-style film backlot, the XR Stage will allow SCAD and Savannah to bring productions into the virtual age with the ability to provide any backdrop imaginable.

SCAD’s Savannah Film Studios located at 2315 Louisville Road. Photo courtesy of SCAD

“It’s very unique to have a university adopt this,” Nick Rivero, one of the founders of MEPTIK, said. “Nobody else is doing this. Nobody else is building a pipeline, and technology at this scale.”

XR, or extended reality, is, as Rivero describes, one of the three R’s of virtual. The first is VR or virtual reality, which has been available in the mainstream for awhile and allows users to put on a headset and engage with the software. The second is AR or augmented reality, which utilizes technology that allows users to use their device to project the content in front of them.

XR utilizes both technologies, but on the scale of a production set — similar to how a green screen would operate. Using a computer, the production can project a set backdrop from anything they can imagine. Rivero said the technology was utilized most notably in the production of the Star Wars/Disney Plus series “The Mandalorian.”

“So basically, you’re talking about a 50-foot-wide screen, a very high (resolution), very bright screen. And that is really the core, which is we’re doing away with the traditional green screen. In Hollywood before, you’d have these big green screens, then they take that into post-production, and they replace it. Same thing you see on the nightly news on the weather, you’re seeing (that) technology, that’s what we’ve always known,” Rivero said.

He added that the technology will allow post-production to be virtually done away with as actors and the filmmaking team would be able to see and interact with the digitally projected backgrounds at the same time as they’re shooting the scene.

Outside of the screen that is projecting the content, the stage will also be powered by Unreal Engine, which has become well-known in the video game industry with games such as “Fortnite” or “Borderlands.”

“It is literally a video game engine that has now been adapted to this world of XR and virtual production,” Rivero said. “So we build these worlds that are real, they have real depth (and) real scale. They also act just like video games, so we can make things interactive, and things don’t have to abide by reality so we can make the sun explode or something, you can do that.”

The last piece is the Disguise engine, which is built by a company based out of London that has been behind many of the virtual experiences that have populated the pre- and post-COVID entertainment landscape such as the Grammys, Emmys and Super Bowl halftime show.

“I think this is setting the precedent for what the future will become,” Rivero said.

SCAD Backlot is breaking new ground in university realm

With the capabilities set with the XR stage, the Savannah Film Studios will allow SCAD students of various practices and studies to engage with a production set that is up to par with anything seen in Hollywood.

Andra Reeve-Rabb said the ability to provide on-site training for the students is the “superpower” that SCAD holds with this new addition.

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West Construction Company Receives Two Build Georgia Awards for Local Projects

West Construction Company was recently recognized by the Associated General Contractors of Georgia (AGC Georgia) with two Build Georgia Awards for the construction of local projects, the Tybee Island Marine Science Center and the Scottish Rite Masonic Center. 

The Tybee Island Marine Center received a prestigious first-place honor from the AGC. A state of the art 10,000 square foot facility, the center was designed to “bring the outside in” with 270-degree panoramic views of the Atlantic Ocean. Built for the City of Tybee Island, the center features hands-on exhibits and galleries, an amphitheater, and a number of sustainable design features including a rainwater cistern, locally sourced sustainable building materials, and energy-efficient systems. The project team included West Construction, architect Sottile & Sottile, and engineer Kern & Co., LLC. 

The Scottish Rite Masonic Center received an award of merit from the AGC for the 2021 Build Georgia Awards. After being located on Bull Street for over 100 years, the new home for one of Savannah’s longest philanthropic organizations is now located off of Chatham Parkway. The new 24,000 square foot facility features a unique combination of old-world materials and craftsmanship with state-of-the-art energy-efficient components. The design includes multiple exterior ornamental columns, detailed brick, and cast stone exterior, and the largest hardscape mosaic of the Scottish Rite Double Eagle in North America. Inside, the building features a combination of detailed tile flooring, stained oak trim and casework, a full commercial kitchen, a library, and multiple gathering and ceremonial rooms. The project was designed by Peterson Gordon Architects and Coleman Company served as civil engineers. 

AGC Georgia is the leading, statewide trade association representing the commercial construction industry in Georgia. The organization holds an annual awards competition where projects are judged on their ability to demonstrate excellence in several categories including exceptional project safety performance, overcoming the challenges of a difficult project, innovation in construction techniques and materials, excellence in project management and scheduling, and dedication to client service and customer care. The selection panel includes industry professionals and hundreds of projects are submitted annually. 

Award recipients are recognized at the AGC’s annual convention and also featured in a special construction-focused supplement in the June issue of Atlanta Business Chronicle. 

OPINION: Look to skilled trades to find ‘essential’ work

Savannah Morning News, Matt West

Savannah Morning News

The COVID-19 crisis has dominated the news since March and has affected our lives in every way imaginable. How we work, worship, educate, shop and even play isn’t the same, and won’t be again. One day, we’ll talk about the days of “before COVID” similar to how we discuss flying prior to Sept 11, 2001. However, as with the 9/11 terrorist attacks, Y2K, the dot-com bubble and many other crises our nation has endured before, we’ll make it through this, and one day, we’ll be stronger because of this trial.

The current COVID crisis has introduced us to a new term that we weren’t familiar with just a few months ago: “essential worker.” We saw the COVID-19 quarantine and subsequent recession cripple many retailers, hoteliers, and other related industries. As I write this, there are 16 million people unemployed, and the unemployment rate in the hospitality industry is 25%. Many economists predict a large number of retail, hospitality, and restaurant jobs won’t return.

These are sobering statistics, and are even more impactful for our community, which depends on the 14 million tourists that visit us annually. However, in this economic winter there are some green shoots of opportunity if you look hard enough.

The current unemployment rate in the construction industry is 8%. If you look deeper, you’ll find that the unemployment rate for those with a skilled trade, such as electricians, plumbers, welders, and ironworkers, is even lower. On top of the low unemployment rate, current projections show that we’ll need almost 250,000 more skilled trade workers in Georgia by 2022.

These careers as “essential workers” also come with an average hourly wage of $27 per hour, plus benefits. Assuming a small amount of overtime work, one can easily earn $60,000 to $80,000 per year, without incurring any student debt.

So, what does all of this mean for us, now?

Thomas Edison once said, “Opportunity is missed by most people because it is dressed in overalls and looks like work.” We have a unique opportunity now to help develop those unemployed, under-employed, and soon-to-be-employed into skilled tradesmen and women with careers, not jobs. It just takes work.

Are you unemployed and wondering what to do next? Are you the parent of a high-schooler and wondering what’s next for your son or daughter? Maybe you’re looking for a career change? If you answered “yes” to any of these questions, consider a career in construction.

There are numerous avenues into the industry for whichever stage of life you’re in. If you need training first, visit the Construction Education Foundation of Georgia at, or contact Savannah Tech for options. If you’re ready to get to work, call your local plumbing, electrical, welding and HVAC companies and learn on the job. If you have a strong work ethic and a desire to learn, they’re hiring.

The construction industry is not a consolation prize. It offers a direct path to stable, long-term financial success. It teaches generations that success comes with hard work and that you can be in control of your own destiny. If you’re ready to create an opportunity for yourself in a rewarding career, come join us. Our industry needs you.

Matt West is the president of West Construction Co., a general contracting firm based in Savannah.

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Senior Citizens, Inc. opens new Center for Successful Aging

John Kern, Kern & Company; Mayor Van Johnson, City of Savannah; Lila Critz, Co-Chair of the  Capital Campaign; Susan Hancock, Board Chair for SCI; Jeff Kole, Co-Chair of the Capital Campaign; Matt West, West Construction Company; Patti Lyons, President, SCIANAGHA

January 11, 2021 – Senior Citizens, Inc. recently hosted a ribbon cutting for their new Center for Successful Aging.

On Jan. 8, 2021, SCI President Patti Lyons joined board leadership, local dignitaries and key donors to officially open their new center, featuring a state-of-the-art-facility and a total renovation of the nonprofit’s campus.

Serving Savannah and surrounding communities since 1959, SCI provides more than 10 major programs and services to address the changing needs of the aging population, including physical, intellectual, spiritual, and communal well-being. Over the next 15 years, the percentage of older adults (60+) in Savannah alone will increase from 28 percent to 48 percent of the population. To meet this growing need, SCI, a national leader in services for older adults, expanded and enhanced the services they offer.

To learn more about SCI, its services, and plans for expansion, please visit www.seniorcitizensinc.orgor call 912-236-0363. 

New Enmarket convenience store opens in Pooler, creates 20 jobs

Savannah Morning News

The new Pooler store becomes the 128th store in the growing Savannah-based chain of convenience stores.

Last week, Enmarket opened its latest new store in Pooler.

The new store at 1264 U.S. Highway 80 East, at its corner with Pine Barren Road, is a travel center, serving both regular travelers and heavy truck traffic.

The new Pooler store – Enmarket’s fourth in the west Chatham municipality – becomes the 128th store in the growing Savannah-based chain of convenience stores. Beginning in 2020, The chain’s expansion in Chatham County went from the eastern coastal municipality of Thunderbolt to the explosively growing west Chatham area, including Port Wentworth.

The basic “bones” of the newest building became the fourth store built to Enmarket’s new prototype store design. Like the store that opened earlier this year in Port Wentworth, this iteration is a travel center adapted to dual roles for truck traffic and consumer motorists.

Enmarket expansion:Enmarket opens new store in Thunderbolt

“Growth in the Pooler area called for an additional store, and it needed to be a travel center to serve the diverse demands in that area. You have the growing residential population in that area to serve, and that area of the county is also a pipeline into the Port of Savannah, calling for truck services,” said Brett Giesick, president of Enmarket.

The new Pooler store becomes the 128th store in the growing Savannah-based chain of convenience stores.

The new store offers The Eatery, Enmarket’s signature kitchen, which will offer hot food for all three meals as well as freshly made grab-and-go food options, bean-to-cup coffee and Mooz frozen yogurt. The fuel selection is unleaded, mid-grade, premium, non-ethanol, diesel and truck diesel. Customers looking to bypass the checkout line will have the option of using self-service registers or their mobile phone, utilizing mobile checkout technology with the Skip Checkout app.

New design:Enmarket opens newly rebuilt store

The opening of the store created about 20 jobs.

The four Enmarket stores that have opened in the past 10 months are strategically based around Chatham County – the growing commercial area developing around U.S. Highway 17 and Chatham Parkway, a Port Wentworth store whose clientele includes truck traffic serving the Port of Savannah, a Thunderbolt store in eastern Chatham serving as a gateway to the suburban islands, and the newly opened location serving the fast-growing Pooler area. All four are variations on the modern prototype.

West Construction was the general contractor on the new store.

West named to statewide construction association

By Savannah Morning News   

Matt West, president of Savannah-based West Construction Co., was recently selected to serve a three-year term on the Associated General Contractors of Georgia Board of Directors.

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West Construction Company Receives Two Build Georgia Awards for Local Projects

Staff Report From Savannah CEO

Wednesday, April 15th, 2020

West Construction Company was recently recognized by the Associated General Contractors of Georgia (AGC Georgia) with two Build Georgia Awards for the construction of local projects EnMarket Corporate Headquarters and the St. Francis Xavier Narthex.

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Senior Citizens Inc. plans to open new building in March

The new addition will help the group serve around 20,000 seniors across the Coastal Empire.

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Enmarket Opens New Corporate Headquarters on Chatham Parkway

Savannah Business Journal Staff Report

October 29, 2019 – Savannah’s largest convenience store retailer has a new home. Enmarket, locally owned and operated for over 55 years, has moved into its new corporate headquarters building at the corner of Chatham Parkway and Highway 17.

The 23,000-square-foot office building is the first completed phase of a larger complex on the site along one of Savannah’s fastest-growing commercial corridors. When complete, the complex will include a second building equal to the size of the headquarters structure. This will allow room for future expansion as well as a modernized and expanded version of the Enmarket store formerly on the site and an adjacent 70-foot tunnel car wash.

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Construction moving along on new Tybee Island Marine Science Center

By Zach Logan| July 9, 2019 at 10:40 AM EDT – Updated July 9 at 10:40 AM

TYBEE ISLAND, Ga. (WTOC) – Next summer, there could be a new attraction to visit on Tybee Island.

Construction continues on the new Tybee Island Marine Science Center. Right now, the center is located on the south end of the island near the pier. But soon, the staff will be moving to the north end of the island near North Beach Bar and Grill.

The Tybee Island Marine Science Center and the City of Tybee Island broke ground on the new building back in February. For several months now, crews have been working to get this building constructed.

Cathy Sakas, Board President for the Marine Science Center, says the center is continuing to educate more children and their families. At last check, the center’s “Sidewalk to the Sea” Program had reached more than 40,000 children.

With growing classroom sizes and the current building in need of major repairs, those with the Marine Science Center decided they needed a new facility.

With the new facilty moving to the north end of the island, that area will offer several educational attractions, and the island is hoping to make it the educational hub of Tybee.

Sakas says they have plans for several different exhibits inside the new building, but still need funds to do so. Those wishing to donate to the Tybee Island Marine Science Center are asked to contact the center directly.