MIRAGE is addressing all issues of television virtual production for use in broadcast, multimedia, interactivity and telepresencing with the following objectives:
To develop virtual production tools and techniques at affordable cost
To demonstrate hardware and software systems for use by traditional programme makers
To integrate production techniques, define working practices and address standardisation
Virtual Production has produced two virtual studio systems in different price ranges. The first of these is MIRAGE VSS which uses laser disc for recording, storage and playout of real video or computer generated sequences for the highest broadcast quality. It uses the projects own motion camera with software support for a hundred different camera positions containing pan, tilt and zoom information with up to twenty eight user defined moves between them. During the last year it has been used to make a science series for Anglia Television, 3-D video sequences and a virtual news bulletin all about MIRAGE.
Frame of Virtual news bulletin production
Touch-screen control of MIRAGE VSS
The second system, MIRAGE SOFTV, is a very low cost system based on Pentium PCs and hard disc storage. Cameras are not under full motion control and pre-rendered backgrounds corresponding to different viewing angles are played out before a shot is taken to air. Company logos and commercial slogans can be played out in real-time and a video wall can be played into the picture. The system, with four cameras and fluorescent lighting in a blue studio, has been installed in a Mobile Virtual Studio.
Development continues on a new high performance digital motion control system to be ready later in the project.
Virtual Edit Suite is a system for the creation, control and editing of virtual programming at all stages of production and the first prototype has now been demonstrated. A virtual environment was created as a development platform and a video sequence shows changes of lighting level and colour temperature, camera moves and interactions between an animated character and the set. Software interfaces are now being converted into hardware for use in TV post production editing suites.
Virtual Host started its work by looking at the problem of how animations are located in the set by real actors during production. This included experiments with laser projection, holography, surround sound and multi-channel sound and all were found to be successful in different circumstances. Early virtual character development concentrated on a two-part model with head and body running in synchronism off two PCs. This showed that simple animations can be controlled on machines with less power than super computers. The main development of programme hosts using data obtained in the project's motion capture studio is now progressing.
Stereo Images produced a twenty five minutes 3-D (stereoscopic) TV programme, Eye to Eye, with studio presentation, interview and drama and an exciting rally car location insert. The studio shots were obtained using the RACE DISTIMA camera and the location sequences using the prototype telepresence camera developed in MIRAGE. Post production was carried out in a conventional digital editing suite and experience of adjusting depth using a digital video effects unit was gained. Eye to Eye has been successfully shown at a number of venues using all available display technologies, from a domestic receiver with shuttered glasses to theatrical presentation using video projection.
Virtual Arena is now planning for a TV programme which uses the developed technology and techniques for international competition in a cyberspace games arena.
MIRAGE expects to demonstrate a number of hardware and software systems which address present shortcomings in virtual production. It will lay down working practices and contribute to emerging standards.
In reaching its objectives, the project hopes to bring virtual production to the areas where it will be most economically beneficial.
Main contributions to the programme objectives:
Developed and demonstrated low-cost, high-quality "blue studio" technology
Contribution to the programme
Low-cost virtual studio technology is now available to small TV stations
Virtual Production is exploring and developing the technology and techniques for virtual reality programme production. It is concerned with hardware and software systems for the creation, manipulation and playout of virtual environments which are acquired by motion controlled cameras or generated by computer. Applications range from simple news production to light entertainment and drama using multiple cameras.
Virtual Edit Suite is developing a real-time software/hardware system for the control, adjustment and editing of virtual environments used as virtual sets. Control is being provided so it can be used as a pre-production tool, as an on-line, live editing system and as a post production tool. The facilities will be integrated into a classical editing suite.
Virtual Host is addressing the issue of virtual characters or presenters that work in the foreground of a television image. It is developing a real-time performance animation system for the creation and operation of 3-D characters which mimic human behaviour and emotions using gesture, movement and speech recognition.
Stereo Images is looking at the issues of 3-D (stereoscopic) television production and its integration with virtual environments. It is developing the methodologies and grammars for 3-D programme production, editing, delivery and display. It is also developing a lightweight 3-D telepresence camera and range finding techniques for accurate positioning of objects and hosts in virtual environments.
Virtual Reality Games Arena will bring the different aspects together for trials and the creation of a pan-European VR games system. This will be designed for leisure attraction / theme park applications and later home use using ISDN and/or compression technology.
Summary of Trial
The first type of trial in MIRAGE is continuous testing of software and hardware developments which usually results in some form of programme being made in the studio. Some of these programmes are planned project deliverables or exhibition and training material. They may show failures as well as successes and will be used by the TAPESTRIES project for subjective and psychological evaluations. Results obtained will be extremely useful as virtual reality must appear to be real to the audience else it is not worth pursuing.
The second type of trial will be in the Virtual Games Arena and work with other project groups in testing various networks for the transfer of virtual environments and characters between studio sites.
Virtual Reality should be accessible to all programme production facilities that can benefit from it. Key issues include the need for systems in addition to those using high performance graphics engines, the need for new production methods and grammars and the need for programme makers to be able to use the new technology themselves. Economic aspects including costs of operation as well as those of equipment are being considered.
Funding SchemeCSC - Cost-sharing contracts
OX11 0RA Didcot