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XR and graphics with Ross Video

Posted on Jul 22, 2021 by FEED Staff

From election pie charts to extended-reality landscapes, here’s how to make your broadcast stand out with next-gen  xr graphics

These days, there’s no excuse for less-than-stellar graphics. In a world of VOD, social media and hundreds of national and regional channels, broadcasters have to work hard to stand out from the competition. Producing more visually engaging content is key.

So, what do broadcasters need to know about gaining a competitive edge with graphics? We caught up with Ross Video’s Patrick Twomey and Gideon Ferber about their work on everything from the US election, to LED display extended reality shows.

Don’t just display real-time data. Analyse it

“I’m old enough to remember when people used to literally put white letters into a velvet board on a wall in the background,” begins Twomey.

“Now, things have changed. Audiences expect key data, fast – it’s common to see real time information flowing straight across the bottom of the screen.”

While impressive, for Twomey, simply showcasing data is no longer enough. To truly stand out, broadcasters need to analyse that data in real-time, too.

“Everyone is using the same feeds. It doesn’t matter if you are CNN or the BBC, every broadcaster is getting the same databases and using the same polling services,” he continues. “So, how do you differentiate the story you’re telling? You need to analyse the data, find patterns, and then illustrate these creatively using the best graphics. These bring more value to your audience by helping them visualise the stats in a different way.”

Chicago-based news station NBC is the perfect example of how analysing data in a more dynamic way can boost growth.

“The station used our real-time 3D motion graphics platform, XPression, to create better graphics and analyse stats around the US elections last year,” Twomey reveals. “We also helped with our Rocket Surgery team – Ross Video’s in-house creative and professional services division. It was a true measure of efficiency. By the end, we accelerated the analytical graphics process from almost 29 minutes to 18 seconds.”

Leap into extended reality

For those moving into next-generation graphics, extended reality (XR) sets based on Unreal

Engine visuals feeding into LED displays can make results even more eye-popping. For example, during an election, you could display anything from legislative chambers that pop up out of the floor, to completely virtualised candidates for both live and broadcast audiences during debates.

“These XR stages have been used on Hollywood productions like The Mandalorian,” begins Ferber, who worked with the Ross Video team on an XR workflow for the CCTV (Chinese Central Television) New Year’s Gala – certified by the Guinness World Records as the world’s most-watched TV show.

“It’s easier on the actors as they can actually see what’s going on in real time on the LED display. It gives them something to work with, rather than just being in an empty green screen environment. It’s also easier on the directors, as they can tweak things live on set with LEDs. If they don’t like the mountain in the background, they can just move it, saving loads of time and money on reshoots or extensive post.”

However, adapting this Hollywood workflow for a broadcaster was a challenge. “The Mandalorian had a massive set, acquired with a Hollywood budget. For CCTV, we constructed a smaller 3x3m LED wall and floor for set pieces where they had singers and actors performing.

We used XPression and Voyager, Ross Video’s graphics rendering solution based on the Unreal Engine from Epic Games, to feed graphics to the LEDs in real time,” Ferber explains.

“The results were astounding, and they were all done with a single engine controlled by our own interface software, Lucid Studio – which acted as a centralised hub for everything virtual, from tracking devices and lens calibration to the data connection between engines.”

For those still unsure about the investment – especially when the alternative is simply to paint a wall green – Ferber advises trialling a more flexible, cost-effective solution like CCTV’s.

“We are currently building Voyager as one engine that can do graphics. That’s your branding. It’s one of the things that customers identify with as they start flipping channels. They see two things: a colour palette and graphical information formatted in a way that appeals to them. When you upgrade, always remember to maintain a strong brand style.”

Ferber concludes: “Also, always remember that at the heart of it, great graphics are about telling the story in a more engaging and digestible way. You can have the best story in the world, but if you’re just showing a presenter standing against a blank wall, very few people will look at it. If you make your content engaging, you get attention.

“That’s the power of graphics – when used effectively, it’s amazing what a difference they make anything, whether it’s AR, virtual production with a green screen or XR with an LED wall – or any combo of the three. That means broadcasters can reuse the same engine and have the exact same set-up, no matter what they produce. We believe this flexible pipeline is key for the future.”

Power of branding

While real-time analytical graphics and virtual or XR graphics are effective for standing out as a modern broadcaster, both Twomey and Ferber conclude that it’s important to modernise in a smart way, so brand identities remain intact, and graphics always serve the story.

“It’s important to remember that it doesn’t matter what news channel you watch, every hour or two, the faces change. Oftentimes, the set piece and studio has changed, too,” Twomey points out.

“The one thing that’s always the same are the on-screen logos and graphics. That’s your branding. It’s one of the things that customers identify with as they start flipping channels.

They see two things: a colour palette and graphical information formatted in a way that appeals to them. When you upgrade, always remember to maintain a strong brand style.”

Ferber concludes: “Also, always remember that at the heart of it, great graphics are about telling the story in a more engaging and digestible way. You can have the best story in the world, but if you’re just showing a presenter standing against a blank wall, very few people will look at it. If you make your content engaging, you get attention. That’s the power of graphics – when used effectively, it’s amazing what a difference they make.”

This article first featured in the Summer 2021 issue of FEED magaine.

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