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Surround Video Shoot in Blackpool

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Anthony Churnside Anthony Churnside | 13:00 UK time, Thursday, 1 April 2010

After successfully demonstrating a surround video set-up to an impressed public at Maker Faire in Newcastle the previous week, a contingent comprising of Max Leonard, Alice Whittle, Matt Shotton and me set off to Blackpool from the North Lab with the aim of filming a short piece in surround video with Ambisonics audio with Inside Out North West presenter Jacey Normand. In addition to collecting some additional footage for demonstration purposes, our aim was to highlight some of the potential issues a production crew might face when implementing the technology in a complex location shoot.

The concept of surround video is to enhance a normal television experience by adding extra contextual visual information all around the television in a typical living room. Graham Thomas explains more about it in his video here. The capturing rig consists of two cameras mounted next to each other, one with a fish-eye lens with a viewing angle of almost 180 degrees.


Max and me setting up the surround video rig at Blackpool Tower Ballroom

One of the biggest issues faced by this prototype system its lengthy and exacting calibration procedure required before playback. The throw, orientation, keystone, size and position of the projected image relative to the television must be set before viewing can begin. Currently, there is no layer in the software which can re-factor the surrounding projection based on centre image source which means that zoom for both cameras must remain fixed for the duration of the entire shoot. The vast available space in our first location - the magnificent Tower Ballroom, afforded us quite a luxury in side stepping the above problem by framing our shots by varying the proximity of the subject to the lens, rather than by zooming. This worked up to a point, but some of our ideas for more distant shots (especially those on the upper balconies) were curbed by the reach of the lenses which had already been set at a compromise for all the shots we intended to take.

The lavish decoration and marvellous acoustic of the ball room provided us with the perfect footage to demonstrate the merits of being immersed in combined surround video and ambisonics, and after being treated to the sound of master organist Phil Kelsall on the hundred year old Wurlitzer, we moved outdoors for some exterior shots to finish Jacey's pieces to camera. 

Bidding farewell to Jacey, we moved on down the front towards the Pleasure Beach to meet veteran NWT camera man, Andy Cooke. Surround video lends itself very well to point of view motion and it is for this reason that the initial test footage was shot on the Docklands Light Railway in London's east end. We decided to take this one step further: Standing at 72m above the water front, The Big One at Blackpool's Pleasure Beach dominates the southern facing skyline. Andy had previous experience in filming The Big One when it opened some 16 years ago, and between us, we hoped we could come up with a safe and practical way of mounting our camera system to the front of the roller-coaster and getting back some usable footage without it plummeting 200 feet to the ground below. I've never been nervous of roller-coasters but it would be fair to say the most nerve wracking roller-coaster experience was stood watching the cars go around the track hoping the surround video rig would stay attached to the front car. Thankfully Andy's experience of rigging cameras to Roller-coasters paid off; the equipment survived and we got enough footage include in the demonstration.

The nail-biting moment the surround video rig was sent off around The Big One for the first run

In its current state the prototype system needs the relative position of the two videos (the centre picture and surround projection) to remain constant. This means for the whole shoot the two cameras must remain aligned with no relative changes to tilt, pan or zoom. Due to the massive forces exerted by The Big One, one of the cameras moved part way through the ride. We were able to correct for this in post production by rotating and cropping the centre shots of the roller-coaster and digitally zooming the rest of the centre video. Thankfully we were careful not to frame any of the Ballroom sequence too tightly so that the digital zoom didn't loose anything important off the edges of the TV.

The day's shoot went really well. Not only did we collect some useful demonstration footage but, more importantly, we now have a greater understanding of the problems extra development of the system might solve, and the considerations required by a crew wanting to film something with this technology.

And: Many thanks to the staff at Blackpool Tower and The Pleasure Beach for all their help and generosity.


  • Comment number 1.

    Couldn't surround video be recorded using multiple normal (or stereoscopic) cameras instead (to give higher quality & resolution for the surround video, and to give more options for playback). Couldn't it take all these multiple cameras (eg. more like 5 - or more if possible - stationary cameras) and run all the footage through some software that would turn the whole video into full 3D (I don't mean stereoscopic). It could be output into whatever format and configurations the users TV/monitor(s) & projector(s) were set up for.

    And couldn't an entire TV programme be recorded in surround video too?

  • Comment number 2.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 3.

    But where are the final images - I'd love to see the surround videos of these famous Blackpool attractions.


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