The theme at Volkswagen's press event at the 2013 LA Auto Show was "Think Blue," and it was all that blue on stage and on screen that posed a challenge for WorldStage in creating a live augmented reality experience for the automaker.
WorldStage marked its third year servicing the VW press event at the auto show, but it was the first time that event producers, George P. Johnson, and creative content agency, Spinifex Group, asked WorldStage to tap its deep technical knowledge to help create an augmented reality element where live images were enhanced with pre-programmed CG effects. What complicated the technique was the fact that portions of the augmented reality presentation showcased a blue vehicle shot against a bluescreen background and the presenter, VW USA president and CEO Jonathan Browning, wore a blue suit. The many blue-toned elements made live keying a challenge, and WorldStage performed a lot of tests to ensure that it could key out the blue background while retaining the blue of the car and Browning's wardrobe. The resulting presentation was a unique and enchanting look at the VW lineup for 2014.
VW's "Think Blue" philosophy of sustainable mobility and environmental leadership was presented to a cadre of press eager to see three new vehicles: e-Golf, the company's first fully-electric model in the US, which will soon be available in showrooms, and two concept cars, the sporty Design Vision GTI and Cross Blue Coupe. Browning addressed the audience from a drive-in blue set with a large LED wall mounted high behind him on the back wall.
"Normally, this kind of live action and graphics compositing would be done in a studio where you could really finesse things," says WorldStage account manager Richard Bevan. "Then the pre-produced video would play back on the video display. Done in a studio, augmented reality would not have been that complicated. But all the playback and keying had to be done live at the auto show for all three of the car models. And one of the car models was a bright metallic blue."
Preproduction at WorldStage's Tustin office was "intense" he reports. Mock ups were constructed and different tones of blue for the set were tested to see which worked best with the complex keying. Although the exact conditions of the stage at the auto show couldn't be duplicated off site, the R&D done by WorldStage in prepro was instrumental to pulling off a successful augmented reality presentation.
At the press event WorldStage provided three Hitachi HD1000 cameras. Two at the front of the stage captured tight shots of Browning and wide shots of him and the vehicles; a third was mounted on a Steadicam to cover the reveal of the cars driving on stage.
The motion graphics, with various levels of transparency, were designed to appear both in front of and behind the live vehicles. The shiny car could not reflect the blue stage or it would ruin the effect. At the same time the "countryside" background had to appear through the windows of each vehicle. During one segment the wheels of the car appeared to be turning and kicking up leaves as it traveled.
The compositing was performed in a Ross Vision 3.5 production switcher and complex custom masking in the shape of the vehicles was created using WorldStage Media Hubs. All of the graphics and video playback was sourced from two 4-channel Dataton WATCHOUT media servers for primary and back up. WorldStage used WATCHOUT's alpha channel capabilities to guide the placement of content created by Spinifex Group.
WorldStage also filled the audio needs for VW integrating JBL VRX speakers with the public audio system on site. WorldStage supplied Shure Axient wireless mic system, which offered the most robust wireless system available, using dynamic spectrum management. "At a venue like the auto show there's so much competing RF activity," Bevan points out. "Axient is a relatively new, high-end system that constantly scans the airwaves looking for interference. It alerts you to any issues so the system can switch to a back up transmitter and change to a better frequency."
At WorldStage Gary Kajikawa was the project manager, Carl McMillan did much of the testing and consulting, Mike Alboher the EIC, Alex Bright the WATCHOUT operator, Paul D'Amour the Ross programmer & operator and Gabe Benso the A1. The TD was Steve Oliker and the producer Robert Walker
WorldStage Inc., the company created by the merger of Scharff Weisberg Inc and Video Applications Inc, continues a thirty-year legacy of providing clients the widest variety of entertainment technology coupled with conscientious and imaginative engineering services. WorldStage provides audio, video and lighting equipment and services to the event, theatrical, broadcast and brand experience markets nationally and internationally.