Match maker

The BBC is researching the use of engineering design tools such as 3D modelling and augmented- reality (AR) visualisation as aids to broadcast production.

BBC R&D, the corporation’s technical development arm, believes the technologies could help producers make better programmes at a lower cost. The corporation also hopes they will offer new opportunities for so-called ‘mixed-reality’ broad-casting, combining real and computer-generated elements.

The IBC conference last week was told how one project, called Origami, is aimed to use 3D modelling to solve a perennial problem for TV directors attempting to film scenes involving both human actors and animated characters.

Because all the animated elements are added after the shooting of live scenes the actors have no guide to the location and movements of their cartoon co-stars beyond crude markers dotted around the studio and gestures by the crew.

Dr. Oliver Grau, a senior research engineer for BBC R&D, said problems with the interaction between the two often only become apparent in the post-production phase. ‘In the worst cases the scenes have to be re-shot which is very expensive,’ said Grau.

Origami uses 3D modelling technology to allow directors to create rough full-sized versions of animated figures. These can be projected in the studio during live filming and their movements controlled by the director, allowing the actor to follow the exact position and movements of characters that will be added to the film in the post-production process.

The BBC also hopes to use AR visualisation to create more sophisticated effects in mixed- reality productions. AR visualisation overlays virtual elements on to real backgrounds. By using handheld markers, studio presenters can appear to manipulate the virtual scene.

A prototype ‘war table’ for use by Newsnight’s Peter Snow has already been designed using AR visualisation, with the markers representing tanks and aircraft moving around a battlefield.

BBC R&D engineer Dr. Vali Lalioti said the technologies are mature enough to be readily available and are increasingly common in industrial and medical applications.

The broadcasting industry had yet to exploit the full potential of the technologies, she said, ‘but they will be hitting our TV screens very soon.’

On the web