The studio show was hosted from Tennis Channel’s 5,500sq ft studio inside their HD broadcast facility in Los Angeles. The show provided several locations inside the set that would give various segments a unique look. Requirements included a central “anchor desk” area, a “lounge” or sitting area, an area for tennis technique demonstrations, and an area for a news reporter. Elements in the set needed to be sponsor-able and include the ability to be “re-skinned” with different looks for the late night and breakfast shows.
This was a very ambitious project for both the Tennis Channel and IDS. The U.S. Open is the highest profile tennis tournament in the United States and it was important for both companies to execute at the highest level possible. The scope of creative work was handled from start to finish by IDS internal agency, Cause nFX, with data acquisition and scripting assists coming from IDS experienced programmers. Our timeframe for design, development and implementation was roughly three months.
Brainstorm was the first choice for the platform to deliver the virtual set. Cause nFX has a successful track record deploying Brainstorm across multiple platforms including SD/HD broadcast graphics, live production on LED video walls, and closed circuit television networks. Creation of the virtual set enabled Cause nFX to expand existing skills and broaden the scope of Brainstorm functionality.
The virtual set was designed to fill a majority of the physical studio. Three distinct areas were created to allow the director a wide variety of setups to shoot the talent. In addition to the locations, the flexibility of Brainstorm allowed Cause nFX to create multiple content areas within the set to showcase highlight clips, “over the shoulder” style graphics, client and sponsor branding, and tournament information. Eight different virtual video monitors built into the set, providing areas for still graphics and as an input for live and stored video playback as well as informational graphics generated in the control room. Scores, results and messages integrated into the set via a scrolling ticker built into the set.
Physically, the shoot involved two pedestal cameras and one jib camera. Three cameras required the use of three Brainstorm systems running copies of the virtual set project. All cameras were encoded and their tracking data integrated into Brainstorm. The camera signals were passed through Ultimatte keyers and the results were integrated with the Brainstorm output to create the illusion.
The 24/7 “bottom line” ticker ran on a Brainstorm system integrated into the master control suite at the Tennis Channel studio. The ticker ran over all programming on the channel throughout the U.S. Open fortnight. Data from the IDS scoring computers at the event in New York City streamed in real-time to the studio in Los Angeles. IDS created an interface to allow the Tennis Channel producer to show live scoring and results, embargo results for display later, display match statistics, and to provide tournament and channel updates.
The virtual set provided total freedom to design elements that would have been impossible to achieve physically in a studio. Transparent walls, a balcony with a hall of champions, a full size tennis court, and scaffolding with a hanging “jumbotron” were all made possible in a virtual world where things like ceiling height, floor space, and physics don’t necessarily apply.
More than anything, employing a virtual set solution allowed supreme flexibility that could not have been achieved using a physical set.
Offering efficiency to requests from the director and producer, the set design included a balcony that was designed to be ornamental. A week into the shoot, the director asked if the talent could be shot walking in the balcony. With some minor changes to the virtual set, that became a reality.
Overall, the response from the IDS, the Tennis Channel, the director, producer, and talent was incredibly positive. Everyone adapted quickly to the technology and developed a very solid workflow
Larry Meyers, SVP, production, and executive producer for Tennis Channel: “We wanted to do something really striking and different for the technical presentation, so we built this brand-new stage from scratch.”
“It would be impractical to build a set on the grandeur of this set just for one event,” Meyers explains. “It would have to be a smaller, more traditional kind of a sports set because it would just cost too much. What you see with the interactive, multi-screen experience, integrated tickers, a highly rich, luxurious visual presentation – that would just be impossible with a traditional hard set. Because it’s virtual, electronic, and computer-based, it can change on a dime.”
“The talent was very nervous in preproduction,” Meyers says. “But, two or three days into rehearsals, they were pretty comfortable with their surroundings. You have to be smart about it; we put monitors in strategic places so they can get a sense of where they are in the space. It was not a hard learning curve.”
“This extremely successful virtual set sports application was made possible thanks to the power and flexibility of our flagship product, eStudio, and thanks also to the strong relationships and hard work of our North-America distributor, Brainstorm America,” commented Ricardo Montesa, Brainstorm CEO.