RT wins gold and bronze awards in Mediabrand 2014 contest in Moscow

On May 29th, 2014, RT (Russia Today)  received gold and bronze awards in the Mediabrand competition for their real-time Vizrt graphics.

Mediabrand is a Moscow-based international conference and contest for TV and radio specialists in branding, marketing, design and promotion. The awards are judged by a jury of several dozen well-known experts from the former USSR, Europe and America. The “Best Real-Time Graphics Design” nomination was introduced into the contest by an initiative from the Vizrt office in Moscow. Leading broadcasters from Russia and Kazakhstan were competing for the awards this year, but two of the three prizes went to RT.

Olympic Gold: Sochi 2014 package

First place was awarded to the comprehensive real-time graphics package for the SOCHI 2014 Winter Olympics. The package included many types of on-screen graphics, as well as immersive graphics in the real studio set, for all three language versions produced by RT – English, Arabic and Spanish. During the games, this package was aired more than 400 times.

The RT design department, led by Dmitry Panov, developed this solution using Viz Artist (with imported 3D models from Autodesk’s 3Ds Max and Maxon’s Cinema 4D), Viz World, Viz Pilot and Viz Virtual Studio in a physical set. Mr.Panov explained: “Vizrt real-time technology, which doesn’t require rendering to files, allows us to put large volumes of multi-format graphics on air very fast, in all kinds of environment or types of shows. In this way, we can react immediately, even to unpredictable events, which is extremely important in modern world, and, specifically, in the world of big sports like the Olympics.”

Ilya Zatrov, head of the real-time graphics team, commented: “We are not a sports channel, but it was obvious that the Olympics will be one of the primary topics for our newscasts. We had to come up with the most useful tools for our presenters and producers – and make them look their best. Especially with full understanding that RT works for foreign viewers who are quite selective and sophisticated in their tastes and on-screen experiences.”

To live up to the promise, the RT team made a special effort to not only create impressive graphics, but to make it easy to use for everyone involved. Using Template Wizard, Viz Pilot’s template creation system, they built a single template, in which the Viz Pilot operators and show producers could easily manage all incoming data. Menus and clickable buttons allowed for fast and easy choice of the type of graphics, the screen positioning (three different views – right, left or full screen), and automated selection to populate some info fields. This could be done by a show director, editorial staff or a journalist from any workplace outside the graphics department. The template was made available to everyone through Viz Pilot’s ActiveX component, which allows journalists in the newsroom to access templates, not only from Viz Pilot in the control rooms. And it worked in all three languages.

“Olympic graphics design, from sketching the final output, was developed fully in Viz Artist,” says Olga Borisova, the project’s lead designer. Proprietary sports icons (symbols) were created inside Viz Artist, Vizrt’s design application. The 3D models of the stadiums and medals were created in a third-party 3D package, then imported and textured inside Viz Artist. Glass and metal were effectively imitated with the help of RTT Shaders. Icons, stadiums models and names were changed on-screen automatically, depending on the selection of the specific sport or competition. This solution prevented a lot of potential mistakes and language errors.

Immersive graphics took quite a lot of airtime and viewers’ attention. The Russia Today team had used virtual objects (immersive graphics) before in a live studio, but mostly as flying or hovering dynamic objects in the foreground. “This time we went an extra mile,” explains Alexander Yuferev, the virtual set designer and animator. “We inserted a full-scale virtual object – a medals podium – into the hard set, precisely placed on the floor, in a live shot with a moving camera and presenter. Other enhancing elements in the studio set included flags, medals, result tables, maps, weather reports, plus special video wall backgrounds.” This was done with the tracking data from Shotoku pedestal fed directly into a Viz Engine with controls from Viz Virtual Studio.

This whole structure, embracing more than 20 different Vizrt scenes and their variations, was linked into one cohesive scene using Vizrt’s Transition Logic algorithm. It meant that show producers could operate a single template with full access to all elements and options, and at the same time be completely sure that all graphics will be put on air in a seamless succession.

Mediabrand Bronze: RT Maps

Russia Today is very unique in their approach to maps in general and Viz World in particular. Their philosophy for the day-to-day operations is total optimization: one template for all options. And there are a lot of options, and very few templates. Looking behind the scenes, it is not so simple – a lot of highly specialized work is being done every day, and some of it you don’t see on any other channel.

The main automated map system of Russia Today is based on Vizrt platform - the software set is Viz Artist, Viz World and Viz Pilot (with Template Wizard). It is used on all RT channels. The system is multi-language – a map created for one channel can be automatically translated into a different language version, from any workplace.

The system allows for interactivity elements or 3D objects to be included in the maps, independently of the existing design scheme of a particular channel. If necessary, maps can become a part of a virtual set or immersive graphics, also running on Vizrt platform.

The Viz Pilot templates allow work to be done from any machine which has all necessary components installed throughout the company. It also allows multiple users to work on the same map from different workplaces. The end users can change quite a lot of vital parameters:

  • Map projection
  • Number and timing of “hops” between different points in a place-to-place flight scenario
  • Scaling of the map from outerspace view to home point
  • Geographical names, in 4 different languages
  • Selectable design of all types of objects – regions, points, lines; linking of graphic objects, including 3D, to georeferenced points, and more.

“Of course, we could build templates separately for each type of map,” explains Olga Borisova, who has painstakingly designed and built the generic template. “But in our situation, where we have to create a lot of very different maps every day, the number of those templates would be immense. This would lead to confusion, and too many crucial mistakes. However hard it is to build a unified template, it pays off later, in the day-to-day operations with several dozen people on several channels.”

A proprietary office system allows producers to place orders for custom maps or animations when necessary. The primary person behind this impressive work is Dmitry Markov, a professional cartographer by education and experience – which is a rare, or even non-existent type of expert at any other broadcast channel in this part of the world.

“Russia Today has given me a very rare opportunity in this line of work,” says Dmitry. “Maybe some other media companies will want to follow their example. I am quite aware that some of our solutions are unique, maybe unprecedented. Working in very close contact with Vizrt specialists and developers, including remote and on-site support, consulting, fine-tuning, training abroad, we have achieved a lot, and built a very cool system. In return, I hope that some of the things we’ve done together help the Vizrt team improve and expand Viz World. There’s no end to it.”

The inventory of highly professional tools that Dmitry uses daily to work on maps is impressive. Anything that is a professional standard in cartography, plus specialized Vizrt software modules, allow him to deal with all the data formats from all available sources, tweaking and adapting them to meet the versatile needs of three channels. The RT map database and toolset has gone a long way from the initial base installation.

RT maps often become interactive for the show hosts and presenters. Ability to draw on the map or pick and place objects where necessary, live on air, is a popular trend with the producers and anchors. “We’ve been working on it for a period of time, without putting anything on the air,” says Lisandro Tapia, an expert Vizrt specialist who came to work at Russia Today from Argentina. “Interactive is still new to presenters who had no such previous experience, and we had to move slowly, from a very limited toolset to more sophisticated options. But now there’s no more fear, and quite a lot of curiosity and fascination. So the interactive tools are taking their place in broadcasts, and we are happy to have made it happen.”

Where Next?

“Winning awards is, of course, very pleasing, and it’s great to see that your work is highly regarded by peer professionals and international experts,” says Dmitry Panov. “But it is also a challenge, to keep up with that kind of high standard and always be a few steps ahead of yourself, not only ahead of competition. I hope that - with a little help from our friends at Vizrt - we’ll make those steps.”

Ilya Zatrov adds, “Even champions have to defend their titles. No one says it’s going to be easy. But we are game.”

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About Vizrt

Vizrt provides real-time 3D graphics, studio automation, sports analysis and asset management tools for the media and entertainment industry. This includes interactive and virtual solutions, animations, maps, weather, video editing, compositing, and playout tools. Vizrt has customers in more than 100 countries worldwide including CNN, CBS, Fox, BBC, BSkyB, Al Jazeera, NDR, ITN, ZDF, Star TV, Network 18, TV Today, CCTV, NHK and the list keeps growing. Vizrt has nearly 600 employees and operates in 40 offices worldwide. Vizrt is a privately owned company by Nordic Capital Fund VIII.

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