Thunder Studios in Long Beach produces iconic content for celebrities, influencers and gamers

Thunder Studios in Long Beach produces iconic content for celebrities, influencers and gamers

Thunder Studios CEO Rodric David holds a Los Angeles Area Emmy Award for live broadcasting that the studio received for coverage of the 2017 Rose Bowl Parade on Aug. 20, 2021. (Richard H. Grant | Signal Tribune)

Tucked away between warehouses in the west side of Long Beach is Thunder Studios, a production mecca for the entertainment and gaming industries.

“No one knows that on any given day I’ve got Ariana Grande or Rihanna or Daft Punk or the Goo Goo Dolls or Katy Perry […],” CEO Rodric David said. “We’re not a direct-to-consumer business. We provide services to the entertainment industry.”

During an average workday at Thunder Studios, a music video, brand commercial, and video game tournament can be in production simultaneously—destined for television, YouTube, Twitch and a multitude of other streaming services.

Among the most recent projects shot at Thunder Studios are the music videos for Lizzo and Cardi B’s new song “Rumors,” Ariana Grande’s song “God Is A Woman,” and SZA and Maroon 5’s “What Lovers Do.”

Studio space was former General Motors advertising lot

The lot for Thunder Studios was originally bought by David in 2013 from General Motors after the automotive company went bankrupt during the global financial crisis of 2008.

The property was developed by General Motors 35 years ago as a site to create all the company’s North American advertising. Cars would be brought to the site and disassembled so professional photographers could capture the vehicle’s interior for instruction manuals.

To achieve this goal, General Motors created special stages for its vehicles.

Its previous purpose and pre-existing stages made the location perfectly suited for conversion into a production studio.

“This is just a legacy from the former company,“ David said.

Thunder Studios CEO Rodric David talks to a reporter inside of one of the larger studios often used for car commericals on Aug. 20, 2021. (Richard H. Grant | Signal Tribune)

The largest stage at Thunder Studios is 16,000 square feet. It was recently used to shoot a soon-to-be-released advertising campaign by Katy Perry for the GAP brand.

The gaping white space is devoid of any right angles, with the monochromatic floor gently curving up until it becomes a surrounding wall.

In the center of the stage, barely perceivable when not in use, is a turntable 28 feet in diameter that can rise up and spin.

“When you see automotive commercials on television, of a car in a void […] that’s turning around with the leasing deals on the side— they’re all done here,” David said.

Above the stage hangs the biggest lightbox in the world, made specially for Thunder Studios. Affectionately known as “Big Bertha,” the massive structure is too large to be taken through the wide stage doors that can even accommodate tanks.

Thunder Studios brings together gamers from around the world

David had a long-standing respect for all branches of the entertainment industry before founding Thunder, having graduated from the University of Southern California as a theater major.

His appreciation for creatives casts a wide net across genres and industries.

This includes the relatively new field of esports, or professional video gaming, that has experienced a renaissance in the past decade.

“I really appreciate the art form […],” David said. “And the art form is broad— whether it’s someone who plays video games or someone who does comedy or someone who sings, you know? It’s very easy for me to respect their work and how hard it is to perform to the level that they do.”

Esports athletes and their teams prep for a Call of Duty tournament that will be played later in the day inside a studio at Thunder Studios on Aug. 20, 2021. (Richard H. Grant | Signal Tribune)

Thunder Studios boasts a fully-equipped esports arena, which hosted a Call of Duty tournament sponsored by Fireball Whiskey on Friday, Aug. 20.

“Thunder Studios has been remarkable in the service that they provided, the insight into the gaming industry, the creative output,” said Khari Streeter, creative director for the tournament. “The collaboration, the cooperation, has been as top-notch as I’ve ever experienced in the business— 30 years as a creative director.”

Thunder Studios has a strategic alliance with Riot Games, and will be hosting a competition for its video game Valorant in October.

Screens are shown inside of the mobile broadcast unit control room on Aug. 20, 2021. That day, the studio hosted an online Call of Duty esports tournament that players can be seen preparing for. (Richard H. Grant | Signal Tribune)

Prior to the pandemic, video game influencers from across the globe would travel to Thunder Studios’s esports arena to compete.

While Thunder Studios is usually closed to the public, it occasionally sells tickets and opens its doors so niche video game fans can watch their favorite players compete.

“We’ve had a thousand people in here,” David said. “Chanting and cheering for people you’ve never heard of, but for their gaming communities they’re the most popular people in the world.”

Throughout the studio, there are signs at every door and walkway that encourage safe COVID-19 sanitization standards. (Richard H. Grant | Signal Tribune)

Even after travel and in-person events were canceled, Thunder Studios was still positioned to be a major player in esports, with its ability to pull from gamers’ camera feeds or gameplay feeds remotely and edit them together to be professionally rebroadcasted, mostly on Twitch.

“We do a massive amount of online gaming tournaments where we don’t do anything in the studio,” David said. “Everyone’s playing online.”

Thunder Studios is now slowly welcoming more players and performers onto the lot for in-person productions.

“We’ve worked really hard to make it a more remote workflow,” David said. “Now that people have vaccinations, it’s a little easier to get more talent to come closer together and allows us to do a different style of programming.”

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