Racing TV – AR Project
The original brief given to us from Racing TV was to design a new studio space. This new Studio needed to take inspiration from the physical set they had previously but give it a futureproof look. We worked closely with the team at Racing TV suppling designs and concepts to ensure the studio space ticked all the boxes.
MOOV implemented a realistic 3D Virtual set using Unreal Engine 4 and Brainstorm Infinity Set in January 2020 using Mo-sys star trackers for camera tracking which gave us robust tracking all over the studio allowing free movement within the space.
There are 3 main areas in the studio, so each show look and feel different and make use of the smaller studio footprint.
We worked closely with production to allow the studio to be controlled like a real set using virtual video walls so content and video feeds can be used to support the on-screen talent.
Proposal for AR
In July 2022 we begun to put together an AR proposal for Racing TV which would allow them to use data driven bespoke AR graphics that were built within the current VR Set.
We reviewed programming at Racing TV and decided on several data driven templates which we felt could help enhance their programming.
We then submitted a proposal document to Racing TV outlining what we wanted to do for them, how this would be achieved and when we could carry out the project.
“The ability to share our vision of interpreting data in a creative way through expert design and experience that creates a visual spectacle for the viewer the feeling that the MOOV team are very much on board with us and are very helpful in every way.”
Martyn Richards, RTV Director
Design / Sign Off Process
The Design process was a Challenge from the start, due to the amount of information that was needed within each Graphic, though the Design team love a Challenge.
Step one, we started off by looking at the Virtual space and making sure the Graphics worked within there, creating sketches and block models with animated sequences, we wanted the design to be Elegant and Stylish, but most of all simple in its approach, we never forgot that the data needed to be the most important part of this project.
Step two, was all about working with the client, listening to their ideas and knowledge of what was needed, occasionally rethinking how a graphic was going to work, this only led to a better working relationship and a better understanding of what was needed.
Step three, once all the graphics had been finished, we took the client through our vinal vision, and they were happy and excited as they could now use their studio even more in the future.
Creating Racing TV’s first AR graphics package proved an exciting challenge with many things to consider from a technical real-time perspective. We wanted to create graphics that were flexible in their presentation of data and would utilise as much of the studio space as possible.
The designs are located next to the desk which allows both sit down and stand-up positions so the talent can walk around and interact with the AR graphics, adding another level of visual interest for the viewers.
“The presenter can engage with new graphics as they will feel that they are a physical part of the set and with the odd hand gestures (pointing at them when they animated and ‘watching’s the graphics reveal from the floor) and even a walk and talk in front of the new graphics it can bring the data to life and engage the viewer”
Martyn Richards, RTV Director
The graphics contain a lot of data, and we had to find a solution for updating text fields, images & graphic positions effectively. The data being inputted into the graphics is controlled via our bespoke in-house software, which talks directly to the Racing Client database.
Control Software Build
The custom software required on this project requires bringing in racing data from the clients existing systems used for on screen graphics and serve that to AR graphics built natively in Unreal Engine 4. The operational requirement was to have a single control system for all the AR graphics, whether they were driven fully by data or manually prepared content. This required us to build our control software to bring together data and allow operators to supplement that data with additional editorial content, as well as allowing for fully manual content to be available all from the same control software.
The new AR specific graphics control system had to work alongside the existing virtual studio implementation, which uses 3rd party systems to run.
Working closely with our real-time creative team, we designed a workflow using native Unreal Engine features that allows us to control elements built in-engine, without using additional 3rd party tools. This workflow included a number of additions to our MOOV Constellation software development libraries and toolchain.
The most significant challenges came from either ends of the overall workflow. On the one hand, we had to integrate with an existing data pipeline and infrastructure, without being able to make wholesale changes to any infrastructure. On the other, anything that was required by operators when controlling AR graphics had to be built into our custom control software. This included everything from populating data, playing in and out, right up to configurable per graphic positional information.
Key features of the control software:
– Ingest of racing data exports from a widely used racing data system
– Configurable render engine endpoints and playout profiles, supporting simultaneous control of multiple Unreal Engine instances
– Setup for multiple per graphic positional information
– Per graphic playout control, easily allowing multiple different graphics to be used simultaneously
– Works alongside existing virtual studio products
Challenges / Learnings
A key challenge in the process of developing the control software was to make sure that we generalised the implementation of controlling Unreal Engine enough that it would be both quickly scalable, so we can add new features and setup new graphics quickly going forward on this project, but also allowing us to use these Unreal Engine features on future projects.
It’s an imperative process to get to an implementation that is generalised enough to be included in the MOOV Constellation toolset. We used our experience of interfacing with a wide range of other graphics systems to design our Unreal Engine implementation to make it stable, scalable and reusable to where we can now very quickly add new graphics and features to this project in the future and add Unreal Engine as a viable render option for future projects.
The biggest challenge for the real-time team was finding a solution to create 2D graphics that can be projected onto curved 3D surfaces, with animation designed from the creative team. Not only was the graphic to animate out of the ground, but the individual data rows also had animated wipes. This meant we needed 2 technical solutions that worked well together. Understanding this process was a big challenge however an effective workflow was created meaning the whole build process was completed faster and stable.
Testing / Training
We needed to demonstrate the bespoke software can send data directly to unreal engine and trigger animations the real-time team had made.
Due to the client’s regular daily use of their infrastructure, we had to ensure that our testing was as close in setup to the production environment as possible. We used example data from the client’s system, multiple Unreal Engine instances and our new playout software, hosted in a similar network environment. We needed to demonstrate the bespoke software can send data directly to unreal engine and trigger animations the real-time team had made.
With a new control system, the key was for us to not only systematically test control of each graphic, but also test workflows for using graphics in sequences as would be expected in production.
The most important aspect of testing was to have experienced operators test the system. Our operators were able to give us valuable insight into how they would use the system, which allowed us to iterate rapidly on updating features before signing off the project.
We have a pool of operators who work across the Racing TV programming for us. Our Head of Software development ran internal training courses at our office to fully teach them how the new AR Control software works. Alongside this there has a compressive guide which has been created and sent around to the operational team, which will form the base when it comes to training new staff members.
For us, it is very important when launching a new project, we conduct a comprehensive QC process both internally and externally with our client.
Our project team of, David Cain (Project Manager), Paul Seaman (Head of Software Development), Adam Lawrence (Creative Director) and Rhys Rose & Dan Hackman (Real-time creative team), arrived on site 2 weeks prior to the launch to fully integrate and test the work that had been completed. Once we were happy internally, we invited Martyn Richards Director at Racing TV, to run through each graphic on all 3 cameras to sign off design, workflow and positioning of each template.
“We would be hopeful of expanding our use of AR and using new ideas across all of our sets and different shows the possibility of using some extra movement in our cameras via use of a small studio jib or likewise and eventually maybe a rejig of our virtual studio as and when the current set up gets a bit ‘tired’”
Martyn Richards, RTV Director
We see several opportunities to push this project forward in the coming years, if this is with a new VR Studio, additional data driven graphics or 3D mapped courses in AR, we are very excited to put our heads together and see how far we can continue to push the project forward.