Some very massive digital backdrops designed for Bloomberg Go

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My latest designs, for a set of digital backdrops for Bloomberg TV’s new, New York studios went live yesterday. The architectural scene in the backdrops is based upon Bloomberg’s own headquarters building in New York and is displayed in a set of massive LED screens. Often, with such large screens I tend to find that the pitch of the LED’s is coarse, but these have a luxurious 1.9mm pitch – by way of comparison, the screen we prepared at Lightwell, for TV4 News in Sweden is of a similar size, but has a 12mm pitch.

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The finer pitch resolution has meant that we’ve had to adjust our approach in a number of ways. Previously, we would avoid fine detail and focus on lighting across large areas, and establishing strong contrast within the imagery to counteract the effect of the diffusion screens that would be required in front of the LED’s. The superior resolution of the Bloomberg installation means that no diffusion screen is required, and so we now need to focus on finer details, particularly within the mid-shots, in a way that would have been a wasted effort on previous projects. The absence of a diffusion screen also means that we get better colour fidelity. LED screens tend to be excellent at re-producing colour anyway, but by removing the diffusion layer in the project, we have been able to achieve better blacks, and can be confident that what the viewer will see upon their screens, is the closest to what we see here in the studio that we have experienced.

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Another factor that we have had to adapt to on this project, like no other, is that extra pixels mean much larger file sizes. We’ve had to adapt to working with 12k composites, and the logistics of delivering and playing 8k video. This is a challenge that will be ongoing for the foreseeable future, but is one that I welcome, not least because it makes my work look infinitely better with each new technological advance.

This is a bold investment in technology by Bloomberg, one that I applaud. They have been a fantastic client.

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ITV News General Election 2015 Promo

One of the bigger projects that I have been working on so far this year, the ITV News General Election virtual set, in collaboration with the wonderful team at ITN. The design is an ambitious adaptation of the current ITV News set, originally launched in 2013. You don’t really get a sense of the extended spaces from this short promo, but we should expect to see plenty of revelaing shots from the Jib and Steadicam on Election Night, May 7.

I prepared the model and texture assets for the outer studio, which are imported into VizRT by ITN.

Tricaster Virtual Set Designs for PWC

Appearing in the background of these UK Budget reviews from PWC, is a very small part, of a much larger overhaul of their set designs and virtual sets that I have been working on.

The full and official re-launch is scheduled to take place in the coming weeks and features multi-zone, digital sets for use with the Tricaster, along with physical table and desk designs being built by Scott Fleary.

Sanchez Law – “It’s easier to do it right, than it is to do it wrong”

When I first started out in architecture, CAD was a thing, but when it came to drawings, manual draughting ruled. The first time I encountered CAD, was whilst working in Hong Kong, for a company called ArcPac. There, they had four workstations running AutoCAD 11. Recognising the potential, I quickly made myself useful on these machines and began to learn the dark art of computer aided drawing within a multinational team. We had a big group of Filipinos working in the office at the time, among them, one Jocelyn Sanchez (Jos). Jos, was brilliant; dedicated in her work, she never suffered fools, but was always patient and helpful toward those prepared to work hard, and give things a go. The CAD skills that I learned in Hong Kong, proved the foundation for the 3D skills I would later use in my TV work. To this day, I still repeat the mantra that I learned from Jos, namely that when using computers, “It’s easier to do it right, than it is to do it wrong”. We came to refer to this as Sanchez Law.

Jos was referring to the ability of a package like AutoCAD to produce drawings of previously unparalleled accuracy. If you wanted to draw a line exactly 1200mm long, then you drew a line 1200mm long. What used to wind Jos up, would be working on someone elses drawings, and finding lines that were 1200.3mm long, instead of 1200mm. Not only did that .3mm mess up the dimensions, but like the pea beneath the mattress in the fairy tale, it’s inaccuracy would infect every other part of the drawing. What made this worse, was that the inaccuracy would inevitably be the result of sloppiness. Indeed, it really was harder to make a line 1200.3mm long, than it was to make one 1200mm long.

I don’t use CAD much these days, but I do of course make plenty of use of 3D software, namely 3DS Max. I still work accurately, and to the mm as far as practically possible, but when you have the ability to input using parametric modelling, why wouldn’t you? If you need an object to be a specific size, then you create it at that specific size. Buildings and sets are, for the most part, pretty rectangular and ordered affairs. Curves might be a bit trickier, but it’s still easy enough to create them with sufficient precision. If a rectangular, or even a circular element is meant to be 1200mm across, create it 1200mm across…unless of course, you don’t know that it’s meant to be 1200mm across. Maybe that’s the problem? Are people producing inaccurate work, because they don’t fully understand what they are describing in their models and drawings?

I do sometimes get sent other people’s models, but have learnt to refuse to use them, except for reference. When you take care with your own work, it’s infuriating to find yourself within someone elses model, where the ground plane should be at zero, but is in fact at 104.128mm. Life (and work) is so much simpler if we do things properly, when we are provided the tools to do so. Because the ground plane is at 104.128, nothing else will be in the correct place, and every derivative part of the model will be equally inaccurate. I don’t understand how 0.00 ended up as 104.128, because my experience (and Sanchez Law) tells me that it would have been easier to do it right, than it was to do it wrong.

Jocelyn Sanchez, you were a genius, ahead of your time, and I’m glad that my 23 year old self listened to you back then!

Virtual set designs for The Sun FC

The Sun FC virtual set

I have just added a set of images from one of my latest projects to the company website. These showcase the design and preparation of a virtual studio for The Sun FC that utilises the RT Software tOG-VR system.

The show is presented by Samantha Johnson and Ian Wright and is hosted by Sun+.

I am working on a behind-the-scenes breakdown of some of the design and process that I will post here within the next couple of days.

BBC Ten O’Clock News studio backdrops – A quick review before they’re gone.

BBC News output underwent a comprehensive re-brand by Lambie Nairn in the spring of 2008. My contributions to this were the animated studio backdrops that played out in the Barco screens along three sides of the two studios. Working on the designs through my company, Lightwell and in collaboration with Jago Design (now BDA Set Design), we developed a digital environment comprising a newsroom backed by offices, galleries, control rooms and various ancillary spaces. The scene, along with animated characters, lifts and monitors was delivered in kit form and assembled by BBC News Graphics who applied the final blur effect along with the etched glass graphic effect.

BBC Ten O'Clock News - The left side corner of Studio N6
BBC Ten O’Clock News – The left side corner of Studio N6

The space depicted in the backdrops is almost entirely self-enclosed apart from views through to small exterior courtyard and atrium spaces on each of the three sides. We had planned to use similar lighting for both the day and night-time versions of the scene. Different times of day would be indicated by changes to the lighting in those exterior zones and by switching off lighting in parts of the interior. Studio tests immediately revealed that this only produced dark patches from certain camera angles within the studio. We also soon realised (though it seems blatantly obvious with hindsight) that our scene could never go darker than the material surface of the screens, which in turn were being hit by quantities of diffuse spill light from the ceiling light boxes and lighting grid that resulted in a grey tone in place of blacks. I was stuck for ideas and with the re-launch fast approaching, set about experimenting with different lighting levels and different coloured lighting. Nothing was working as we had planned.

By late February 2008, we were short of time and in need of inspiration when, one morning during the school half term holiday my son started watching Lord of The Rings: The Two Towers. I walked into the room just as the scenes of the night battle were beginning. There on the screen was the solution I had been searching for.

The Two Towers Battle of Helms Deep Scene
The Two Towers scene featuring the night-time Battle of Helms Deep.

Studying this particular scene revealed a tightly controlled, silver-blue monochrome palette. The only exceptions to this came from the yellow/gold accents of the flaming torches. Borrowing this idea, I applied a similar lighting palette to the newsroom backdrops – it worked. We achieved a sufficiently well-lit interior, maintained similar levels of detail and texture to the daytime scene, but described a night-time condition throughout. Studio tests resulted in a sequence of refinements to the hue and contrast levels, but ultimately we had arrived at the final solution for our lighting design through a chance viewing of a scene from a movie being watched by a kid on his school holidays. I am a huge fan of serendipity.

The final night-time version of this digital set is below. The blue hue acquired a shade more red, whilst being slightly more saturated. The yellow/gold accents are similarly more saturated and bold.

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BBC Ten O’clock News – Centre Panel

The designs I prepared were only ever expected to last a couple of years and were to be superseded, not by an updated design, but by a whole new building, studios and headquarters at Broadcasting House in central London. In the event, this stop-gap design has, in various incarnations been in use for five years. Reports on the web suggest that on Monday 18th March,  all BBC News will come from the new studios at Broadcasting House.

Lucky for me that it has lasted this long, it meant that I got a design on-screen in a James Bond film as some BBC news footage appears in a scene from Skyfall! I wrote a little more on this in an earlier post, BBC News makes an appearance in a Bond film

BBC TenO'clock News backdrops appear in Skyfall
BBC Ten O’clock News backdrops as they appear in a scene from Skyfall

For more information, visit my company’s website – lightwell