WRAL-TV Creates Virtual Reality Set for ‘The Olympic Zone’

WRAL-TV virtual reality set

WRAL-TV News Director Rick Gall works with WRAL-TV Anchors Gerald Owens & Debra Morgan on setting up a shot with the virtual reality set for ‘The Olympic Zone.’

WRAL-TV has achieved another first with the station’s 2018 Winter Olympics coverage.  The Big 5 built a virtual reality set in one of its studios for use during broadcasts of “The Olympic Zone,” a half-hour program airing most nights during the Olympics.

WRAL-TV Anchors on the program appear as if they are standing amidst snowing mountains, despite the fact they are standing on a curved green screen.

“In a nutshell, we are using a virtual reality set and two cameras,” explained WRAL-TV Broadcast Engineer Josh Knapp.  “The cameras shoot the talent on a green screen background and floor that encompasses most of the set.  We replace the green with a virtual set that WRAL-TV Lead Designer & Animation Specialist Shan Zhong built using 3D graphics software.”

The set up requires a large number of WRAL staffers behind the scenes.  And the new set also means a brand new experience for the on-air talent.

“This has been an incredible, a bit scary, and fun experience!” said WRAL-TV Anchor Debra Morgan.  “It gives me quite an appreciation for our meteorologists who point into the air at the Chroma key wall yet it looks as though the map is right next to them on TV.”

WRAL-TV virtual reality set

In WRAL-TV’s Master Control, operators can see what viewers will see with the virtual reality set for ‘The Olympic Zone.’

The smooth integration between the anchors and their on-screen surroundings set is created by careful coordination.

“The real trick is that we are able to move around in the virtual set at the same speed and orientation that we are moving the camera, so it looks like the real talent is actually interacting with the virtual set,” explained Knapp.  “We are able to this because the camera’s lens and robotic pedestal are always reporting the zoom, pan, tilt, elevation and floor position of the camera pedestal back to a robotics server.”

Kanpp explained the more about the technology behind the broadcast.

“The Robotics server tells the graphics renderer all of this information and the background moves the same amount as the camera, in real time,” he said. “We are also using Augmented Reality to anchor life-sized graphics (like athletes, mountains and virtual video monitors) inside the virtual set so that the talent can walk behind and around the AR elements to give the set more depth.”

This all looks seamless on air, but a mountain of preparation, work and practice goes into each production.

“We rehearse for a couple of hours a day to make sure we know where to stand and how the cameras and graphics interact with the set since all we see in person is a big green room,” said Morgan.  “What an honor for me to be able to work on yet another WRAL first.  We have the best crew and I’m just so proud of everyone who has put in so many hours to making the finished project flawless!”

Local athletes competing in the 2018 Winter Olympics are showcased, featuring highlights from performances in their perspective sports on WRAL’s The Olympic Zone.  The half-hour program airs live nightly at 7:30pm on WRAL-TV.  Watch the remaining episodes during the last week of the Winter Olympics, with the final episode on Saturday, Feb 24th.

Thanks to WRAL-TV’s John Renigar for these capcom photos.

SLIDESHOW:  Behind the Scene of WRAL-TV’s New Virtual Reality Set


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