SmartStage – The Story So Far

Two weeks ago we were creating quite the buzz at IBC 2019 with SmartStage. With so many of you asking how this technology came to be, we thought we’d take you through the story so far…

Where did it all start?

In 2017, during the build-up to the 2018 Olympic Winter Games, we developed the innovative Eurosport Cube concept which went on to win the IBC Innovation Award that year. This mixed reality immersive studio proved a hit for detailed analysis for sporting events by allowing athletes to see and interact with the content around them. During this process the WL team was inspired by seeing the natural and emotional connection users made with their environment. By being more relaxed and by creating a true connection with their surroundings, more engaging content could be captured without any rehearsal. The WL team went on to build on this idea and develop a solution to overcome the growing challenges of creating true engagement in virtual studios.
SmartStage was born as a replacement for the traditional green screen environments used in virtual studio production, allowing anyone to create engaging content with ‘zero training and zero rehearsal’.

©Discovery Eurosport

Ross School of Business – World’s First Mixed Reality Online Learning Environment

A team from the University of Michigan Ross School of Business attended IBC 2018 and were quick to spot the benefits of using SmartStage in their Digital Education Studio. The solution immediately resonated with them as a way to maintain a natural teaching environment for academics and thought leaders when using a virtual studio for online learning applications.

The output from SmartStage places the faculty member in a dynamic, 360-degree virtual studio environment, which is visible in real-time to learners online. In reality, the faculty member is teaching within an LED environment that they can see and interact with. Students log in to enter the virtual classroom created by the SmartStage, and are connected with the faculty member and their peers in the class. As a result, online learning students and on-campus instructors cohabit in the same space for natural engagement. Real-time debates, discussion and, fundamentally, knowledge transfer can take place as would happen in a traditional teaching environment. 

Real Lighting

As lighting experts, lighting design and proper integration with broadcast lighting systems are at the heart of our projects. A frustration we’ve always had with green screen environments is the difficulty of lighting them properly. Lighting the green screen background has always taken priority and often sacrificed proper lighting of the people and the set, in the studio. SmartStage has allowed us to regain control of the studio lighting because the background doesn’t need to be lit – you can actually light properly with key, fill and backlighting. We have also introduced tracking so that, no matter where you stand, the lighting follows and is reactive to the environment around you.

The studio lighting operator has full control of the lighting in the real and virtual worlds from their existing lighting desk and infrastructure.

The background is real so even helps to light the environment naturally.

Real Shadows

IBC 2019 saw the premier of our ground-breaking proof of concept with virtual shadows which are now fully integrated as part of the environment. Another step closer to making virtual environments even more believable. Whether it’s real-time shadows of the presenter being shown in the virtual world, or shadows from augmented reality elements reacting to real-world lighting changes – SmartStage now brings them both to life.

Real Reflections

So, real lighting, real shadows. How about real reflections? Well that’s easy! Because the background of SmartStage is real, the reflections are naturally there. This helps to light any people and set in the space more naturally and means there’s no issues with reflective surfaces or people wearing glasses, jewellery or getting slightly sweaty!

Real Engagement

A real highlight at IBC were the looks and gasps on people’s faces when we showed a seemingly empty table top, placed an AR statue on top, rotated the table with the statue stuck to it before shining a torch from all angles to generate real shadows of it on the surrounding walls. To say people stopped and scratched their heads would be an understatement. Just imagine walking around a museum or an interactive space and see content like this being lit before your very eyes. Try doing that in green screen with a non trained presenter. By adding all the elements together we have created a truly immersive and naturally engaging space for all to use.

We even demonstrated how prompts, facts and live data can be shown to the presenter inside SmartStage and be perfectly covered by augmented reality elements to the viewers at home – helping presenters maintain natural eye lines to content.

And…no keying!

We lost track of how many times people asked us how we were keying in SmartStage and simple answer is, we’re not!

The camera captures the live environment, including the content on the LED walls and extends the environment with augmented reality where the LED walls finish.

We specify the LED video environment to look good on camera at the necessary broadcast resolution, or when necessary to give the clarity of content required for the presenter if they need to look at detailed graphs.

The fact we’re not doing any keying means there are no wardrobe or lighting limitations and no complicated keying systems to maintain!

Where next?

White Light are pioneers of mixed reality technology. We were the first to use perspective tracking to create dynamic “windows to the world” at the 2018 Olympic Winter Games – perfectly matching real window views in Eurosport’s rooftop studios with a live camera feed applied to LED walls either side. 

We designed and delivered the ground-breaking true mixed-reality studio for ITV Sports coverage of the 2018 FIFA World Cup in Russia, which saw a virtual dome ceiling being added to expand the studio’s real view of Red Square along with perspective tracked screens. 

We’ve developed SmartStage to further push the boundaries of technology and create truly immersive virtual studio productions.

And now we want to see how our innovative technology and people can help you.

We would love to understand more about the projects you are looking at and how SmartStage and our pioneering team of innovators here at White Light can help you embrace the latest technologies.

We would be thrilled to host you for a demo at our offices in London or invite you to an exclusive SmartStage event in London’s Science Museum in November – email us to express your interest.

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