The 2020 MTV VMAs Takes XR to the Next Level

The 2020 MTV Video Music Awards was originally scheduled to host a live audience at the Barclays Center on August 30 before COVID-19 forced it to explore virtual possibilities. In mid-July, just six weeks before the event, creative director Paul Caslin tapped extended reality specialists XR Studios to facilitate the two-hour show’s XR segments, including house presenter looks and several performances. Take an in-depth look at Caslin's vision.

XR Studios set up a 70'x40' infrastructure in a warehouse in Santa Clarita, CA. LED lined the floors and walls, and a lighting rig hung above the XR stage to provide key lighting and effects. This west coast stage hosted various artists, including Miley Cyrus, Da Baby, Lady Gaga and Ariana Grande, and Black Eyes Peas, and their respective creative teams. XR Studios also facilitated Doja Cat’s performance at the PRG XR Stage in Glendale, CA. Silent Partners Studio developed the house looks and virtual doors as well as content for Miley Cyrus, Da Baby, and Black Eyed Peas’ xR performances. Learn more about SPS's content creation.

Doja Cat at the 2020 MTV VMAs

“Due to COVID-19 restrictions, we worked with EIR to map out the site for where people could go and established the guidelines for the artists and crew to work through the different zones while keeping them safe,” explains XR producer Cory FitzGerald of XR Studios. “It is a new world trying to work in production these days.”

Using such cutting-edge technology at such a large scale and volume presented various challenges. “No one has ever done anything this big with this technology before, so it was definitely a new challenge for us to work with the vendors and the development teams to push the technology forward,” notes FitzGerald. “We were able to create a workflow that allowed us to film a TV show in an entirely new medium, but still used the tools everyone could relate to, and in a format that was familiar. The VMAs is always an amazing experience but this year we were able to update that experience by incorporating an entirely new and a great use of this emerging technology.”

Miley Cyrus at the 2020 MTV VMAs

XR Studios selected the disguise xR workflow, powered by the disguise gx 2c media server, for the production. “disguise’s xR workflow allows for a traditional workflow of media server and content creation while adding on the layers of Augmented and Mixed Reality,” explains Scott Millar, technical director at XR Studios. “disguise’s camera calibration workflow also enables virtual set extension and the ability to blend LED with virtual environments to create whole new worlds.”

Notch VFX was the real-time rendering engine for the awards stage and performances from Miley Cyrus, Black Eyed Peas, and Doja Cat. Unreal Engine, utilizing disguise’s RenderStream video-over-IP protocol, provided real-time rendering for Lady Gaga and Arianna Grande as well as Da Baby.

“A huge part of this experience for us was to prove not only that XR can work at this scale, but that it is an economical and valuable tool,” concludes FitzGerald, “not only during COVID-19-restricted times but also as an incredible tool in our production arsenal moving forward.”


  • VMAs Creative Director: Paul Caslin
  • Extended Reality Producers: XR Studios
  • Content Creation Studio for Awards Stage, Miley Cyrus, Da Baby, and Black Eyed Peas: Silent Partners Studio
  • Lady Gaga Content Creation: Possible Productions
  • Doja Cat Content Creation: Blink INC
  • Technical Equipment Partner: Fuse
  • Camera Tracking: stYpe
  • Realtime Rendering for Awards Stage, Miley Cyrus, Black Eyed Peas, and Doja Cat: Notch VFX
  • Realtime Rendering for Lady Gaga and Da Baby: Unreal Engine
  • XR Studios Technical Director: Scott Millar
  • XR Studios Technical Integrator: Smasher Desmedt
  • Disguise programmer: Ben Ryle
  • VMA Screen Producer: Trevor Burk, Visual Noise Creative
  • VMA Screens disguise Programmer: Kirk Miller