Augmented reality is certainly the gimmick du jour these days. Case in point: ABC News is covering tomorrow’s U.S. midterms using a custom-made 360-degree stage and AR technology. The media organization posted a behind-the-scenes look at its glitzy and over-the-top “Election Headquarters” AR-powered stage on its Sunday political affairs program “This Week,” and today published a 360-degree video of the stage to Facebook.
The set itself took around six months to build and seven weeks to load into the studio, says ABC. That’s a lot of work considering that the set is temporary — it will be taken down around a week after the election.
It’s pretty massive, too. The set’s parts were being manufactured in Wilmington, North Carolina, which was impacted by the hurricane. The supplies for the stage’s large, ring boundaries were on some of the last trucks out of the city, but the rest of it was created piecemeal — filling eight tractor-trailers with more than 25,000 square feet of scenery, notes ABC.
Meanwhile, the augmented reality portion took a year of planning, designing and programming, including 700 to 1,000 hours of data testing. The graphics required approximately 36,000 lines of computer code and more than 1,000 AR tracking markers to be placed within the set, according to ABC News Director of Graphics Operations Tamar Gargle and Creative Director Hal Aronow-Theil.
“We have had consultants from three vendors: Astucemedia, who are our graphics and creative consultants; Vizrt, for the graphics engines and graphics tracking; and Mo-Sys, the camera-tracking system,” Gargle said, in a statement released by ABC News this afternoon.
ABC says the goal is to give viewers data without having to cut away to full-screen graphics.
Instead, the system will project AR images through the combination of an optical tracking system mounted to studio cameras that communicate with the real-time 3D graphics system.
“There is a web of tracking markers, essentially reflective stickers, that have been applied to the lighting grid and the set pieces that are in the ceiling. The tracking system uses those markers in conjunction with sensors attached to the cameras to calculate where the camera is in ‘space’,” explained Gargle. “This data is sent to our graphics system, which maps the graphics to the proper place in ‘real’ space so it appears that the graphic is in the room.”
Included in the augmented display is a 3D image of the U.S. Capital and the seats within the House and Senate, showing real-time election result data.
This is not the first time ABC has experimented with using AR for news coverage.
The company tried AR when covering the British royal wedding earlier this year, and did an AR medical story on “Good Morning America” to show a 3D view of a heart, to help people understand heart disease.
However, it’s not clear that using AR to show off election results actually helps people better understand the data — especially when compared with something like giving people a look inside a human heart, which can be harder to visualize.
In fact, the technology, glitz and glamour used here could end up being a distraction — a way to draw in viewers more attracted to a spectacle, at a time when politics itself is one. If anything is needed, it’s a reverse from over-the-top media showmanship to one where news is reported with a little more gravity and a little less pizzazz.