At the beginning of 2019 ITV, the leading commercial broadcaster in the UK, took the bold decision that its on-screen idents should change regularly. A project called ITV Creates would allow artists to work with the established ITV logo to make new visual imagery, giving the channel a continuously refreshing look and feel while still being reassuringly familiar.
For Mental Health Awareness Week 2021, ITV Creates invited the artist June Mineyama-Smithson, who works under the name of Mamimu, to reflect on the subject of happiness and optimism. She collaborated on the project with Dr Tara Swart, a neuroscientist who has written books on the subject of good mental health.
“Our mission was to bring happiness and optimism to the nation through the TV screen,” Swart said.
Their idea was to make the ITV logo a physical, highly reflective object, which would interact with other images. Mamimu was keen to use augmented reality as a way to create these sequences.
She, in turn, spoke to Pod Bluman of production company Bluman Associates. The company specialises in imaginative visual experiences for everything from guerrilla marketing to live music. Many people will be familiar with the 2020 Brit Awards and virtual images mapped onto Dave’s piano, live in real time.
The challenge with this project, as for Dave at the Brits, was to allow freedom of movement of the camera around the physical objects while ensuring that the computer-generated images remained perfectly in place. This calls for very precise camera tracking.
StarTracker from Mo-Sys Engineering is the leader in the camera tracking field. It uses a random pattern of reflective dots on the ceiling – ‘stars’ – which are tracked by a spotter camera mounted onto the production camera. Mapping the stars takes just a few moments, and because they on the ceiling they are never seen and pose no restrictions on camera movement.
Once calibrated, StarTracker can locate the camera with absolute precision in three dimensional space. It also tracks camera pan, tilt and roll. With associated data on focal length and aperture from the lens, it means the augmented reality processor is fed with a constant stream of location information.
The result of this is that the augmented reality is continually modified in response to the movement of the camera, ensuring that virtual objects remain precisely in position. Mamimu’s idea was that her abstract, colourful augmented reality should be reflected in her very shiny ITV logo, creating a harmonious whole that looks completely convincing with no hand-off between real and virtual.
“This was the first time we had used camera tracking in a project like this,” said Pod Burman. “It performed admirably, giving the precision we needed in the shoot, reliably and without fuss or problems.”
The shoot was at MilkIt Studio in north London. This has a permanently installed LED volume – floor and walls – with the augmented reality created in disguise gx software. The 2.5mm LED pitch, driven by Novastart 4k processors means that producers can shoot live, using imagery on the LED walls and floor, rather than having to composite in post.
The sequences were shot with a Sony FS7 camera shooting in 10 bit colour, with a Sony 18–100mm zoom lens. The rig was on a jib giving extended freedom of movement, with the small StarTracker camera continually interpreting the movement. Graphics artists in the MilkIt team interpreted and developed Mamimu’s concepts: together they developed the final work.
The results, seen on ITV in May 2021, achieve what artist and neuroscientist set out to achieve, functioning as a happiness and resilience top-up for the viewer, The way that reflections of the graphics interact with the logo mimics the way the mind processes external influences. One sequence, for example, sees raindrops turning into ripples of sunshine, representing the brain’s ability to turn negative thoughts into positive.
“We set out to combine art and science to create ultimate optimism, inducing happy hormones in your brain,” said Mamimu. Dr Swart added “Mamimu and I had conversations about how the brain works, and about neurotransmitters that are related to happiness and optimism.
“I was just blown away by what she created – it literally made me happy to see it.”
Artist: Mamimu (June Mineyama-Smithson)
Neuroscientist: Dr Tara Swart
Studio: MilkIt xR Lab
Production: Bluman Associates
Wall LED: 2.6mm Unilumen with Novastar 4k processor
Floor LED: 2.5mm Aluvision with Novastart 4k processor
Graphics: 2 x disguise gx2c
Lighting rig: GPL
Camera: Sony FS7 with Sony 18-100mm lens
Motion tracking: Mo-Sys StarTracker
For ITV Creates: curator Charlie Levine, producers Cresside Ranfield, Director Kevin Batchelor, cinematographer Conor O’Grady
This article was first published by Global Broadcast Industry News.