Girraphic Serves Up Super Graphics for Supercars
Australian broadcast design company Girraphic specialises in producing innovative and attractive additions to sports coverage. The team is comprised of multiple experienced users of Vizrt products and the company has developed a strong reputation in augmented reality within the broadcast industry.
The company’s owners Craig Hamel and Nathan Marsh had their first experiments with virtual graphics at the Australian Swimming Championships before the 2008 Beijing Olympics. They were asked to put results, and sponsor branding, onto the pool. While the graphics were effective, the need to use encoded heads meant that the stability was poor and camera movement was limited.
Over the past eight years, the team’s virtual experience has spanned from sport to news to entertainment at both outside broadcasts and studio productions. Girraphic has a long established grounding in the creative effectiveness of virtual graphics. However, they were still waiting for a precise and flexible camera tracking system to really unleash their ideas.
Girraphic had seen the results of the Ncam camera tracking system on the 2014 SuperBowl and arranged to see the system and meet the team at NAB 2015. They took delivery of its Ncam camera tracking system shortly afterwards.
What makes Ncam different to other camera tracking systems on the market is that it needs no markers: it derives its own reference points from the scene itself. This in turn means it is virtually instantaneous in operation. You switch it on and it builds its reference map within seconds.
It detects the geometry of the scene by means of a multi-sensor bar which is mounted to the camera. It is light and unobtrusive, and can be connected to any camera. It sits below the lens, so does not interfere with handheld and Steadicam shoots, nor is it in the way of the operator reaching any controls.
The multi-sensor array means that Ncam can calculate, in real time, the six degrees of freedom of the camera: X, Y and Z position; pan, tilt and roll. It works as precisely when handheld as it does on a pedestal. Lens information (focus, zoom and aperture) is added to the 6 DOF data and streamed continuously to the graphics processor.
The data stream is in an open format which can be interpreted by any of the leading graphics systems. However, Ncam has a long and close working relationship with Vizrt, which made it doubly attractive to Girraphic.
Hamel and Marsh have worked with the V8 Supercar competition for over eight years and they know the production inside and out. During this time the duo has had the opportunity to push forward ideas around making the coverage more engaging for viewers. Ultimately, though, they wanted to make the augmented reality a much bigger part of the production.
At the same time that Girraphic was investigating the use of Ncam camera tracking, it was asked to oversee the whole graphics production for V8 Supercars. This involved integrating data and timing information in a clear and engaging way, as well as preparing versions of the broadcast graphics for the domestic and world feeds, and the big screens at the venues.
The freedom that Ncam offered meant that augmented reality could be used in any location. The competition moves around a circuit of venues over the course of a season, and each one is very different. The advantage of Ncam’s technology is that producers could decide on location where they were going to use augmented reality, then simply tailor the designs to fit without worrying about the technicalities of integrating it into the live pictures.
The result was that the producers could provide more information and interest for viewers, even to the extent of creating a virtual car. The presenters can invite viewers to sit in the virtual driving seat and show them the controls and the mass of data that drivers have to deal with.
“We use Ncam Live 7D all around the race track, on the grid, in the garages or next to the team transporters,” said Nathan Marsh, managing director of Girraphic. “Our producers are looking at interesting and different places, where a portable camera is the only option.
“Ncam has given us the ability to use AR technology where we previously could not because of time pressures,” he added. “Setting up traditional camera tracking technology would not be practical as you need to line up the equipment prior to shooting. With Ncam we can arrive, shoot the segment and walk away in a matter of minutes, without getting in the way of everything that is going on around us.
“Being able to walk around a graphic 360˚ is pretty cool,” Marsh added. “We really want to push the limits of Ncam. We have seen a lot of people using it ‘safely’: walking it along the edge of an empty grass pitch, for example.
“We want to be the company that really experiments with the system and are prepared to take some risks with it – pushing it into situations where other technologies simply cannot go. Ncam allows us to come up with bigger and better concepts for our customers, allowing us to invest more in the quality of the end product.”
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