Posted by Andrew Gibb, Florian Schweiger on , last updated

BBC R&D have built the Blue Peter Garden Explorer, an interactive 360° video experience that allows everybody across the UK to experience the Blue Peter Garden, delve into the 60-year-long history of the programme and create a customised Blue Peter trailer from archive clips. The Blue Peter Garden Explorer is another example of object-based media delivering a personalised, interactive experience to our audience.

Screenshot of the Blue Peter Garden Explorer

Blue Peter is the world’s longest-running children’s TV programme and has touched the lives of generations of young BBC viewers. First broadcast in 1958 and with more than 5000 episodes to date, there is hardly anybody in the UK without a childhood memory of their favourite Blue Peter presenter, pet or make, and many will even have earned a highly coveted Blue Peter Badge.

For various outdoor segments, the Blue Peter Garden has always been an integral part of the programme. When BBC Childrens moved north to MediaCityUK in Salford, the Garden moved too. The Garden is open to the public and offers visitors a glimpse behind the scenes of a landmark BBC programme.

The Virtual Blue Peter Garden

The Blue Peter Garden Explorer makes the Garden accessible to even more people, in an interactive and fun way. Through a series of 360° videos, users at home can take an interactive tour through the Garden, explore, and hunt for hidden items that have appeared on Blue Peter over the years. They can move forwards and backwards on a series of interconnected paths that lead up to the Garden, enter it and walk around the Blue Peter pond. Choosing the turns they want to take, users can navigate through the environment and look at everything around them. When they spot a recognisable object, archive footage relating to that object can be played in a 2-D video overlay. As a bonus, these clips can be collected to create a custom trailer with memorable Blue Peter moments, which can then be shared with friends online.

If you are too excited to read on and must try it for yourself now, follow this link to the Blue Peter Garden Explorer!

Behind the Scenes

360° video has become a common format and, although the production and post-production quality varies quite a lot across content found online, the main technical challenges of 360° video, such as stitching individual camera images into one equirectangular panorama, or controlling exposure and dynamic range, have been mostly solved. The majority of 360° videos out there fall into one of two categories, using either a stationary, locked-off camera, or a moving point-of-view camera mounted, for example, on a helmet or a vehicle. It is the latter category that induces nausea in many people when watching with a VR headset. The reason for this is the obvious mismatch between the senses of vision and balance. This sensory conflict can be alleviated to some degree by giving the user control over the motion they see. This is easy to achieve in computer generated environments, such as 3D games, but practically impossible in recorded 360° video. And although the Blue Peter Garden Explorer targets regular web browsers on computers, tablets and smart phones rather than head-mounted displays, being able to control the motion of the camera still makes for a much more interactive experience. Instead of following a pre-defined path, we wanted to give users at least some freedom of where they are going inside the 360° environment.

To that end, we brought the 360° specialists from Motion Impossible on board and they brought their latest robotic camera platform, the Agito, with them. This remote-controlled dolly system, equipped with four-wheel steering and an actively balancing camera head, allowed us to go around the tight corners and over the bumpy terrain in and around the Garden, and film from a child’s perspective without having a camera operator in shot. To additionally avoid passers-by walking into shot, not only did we cordon off half of the MediaCityUK plaza, but we also filmed at an unearthly hour. Read on to find out why that was important!

The remote-controlled Agito platform equipped with an Obsidian R and active camera stabilisation

The remote-controlled Agito platform equipped with an Obsidian R and active camera stabilisation

Using a Kandao Obsidian R, we captured just under 1TB of high-dynamic range, 8k video. In the object-based media data model, the individual clips recorded in the Garden are narrative objects which are arranged in a story graph that corresponds to the geographical layout of the paths in the Garden. The “story” unfolds as a user navigates around the Garden.

Drawn map of the Blue Peter Garden

Map of the Blue Peter Garden and its story graph representation

The Blue Peter Garden's story graph representation

Conceptually, the clips filmed with the moving Agito form the edges in the story graph, the nodes are decision points where the user gets to choose the direction in which they would like to travel next. To give the illusion of walking a path in the opposite direction that it was filmed, we simply reverse the video, which technically, turns the directed graph into an undirected one, or simply put, it lets you walk everywhere, from anywhere you like. For this trick to work, of course, the motion in the scene must look very similar forwards and backwards. Foliage waving in the wind works well; pedestrians and cyclists not so much, which is why we tried to avoid the latter while filming. Pedestrians doing the moonwalk fall somewhere in between, but we did not encounter any on the day of filming, unfortunately.

To interactively navigate through the story graph, we use our Branching 360° Video Player which has been trialled before in connection with the Edinburgh Festival 2017. Depending on user input, the player seamlessly, without delay, transitions between adjacent 360° clips. An easy-to-use interface displays simple navigation controls and can highlight the hidden Blue Peter objects once the user finds and selects them with the mouse or on a touch screen.  And, what is more, the player naturally supports the 2-D video overlays that are associated with those objects.

The Blue Peter Garden Explorer is the first demonstrator in the collaborative Innovate UK funded project EIST that develops a framework and the tools necessary to author interactive experiences with branching story lines similar to this one, taking into account all kinds of media and various target platforms.

If you haven’t already, try the Blue Peter Garden Explorer here. With thanks and a happy 60th birthday to our friends at Blue Peter!

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BBC Connected Studio - Watch 20 minute talks from our experts on Virtual Reality and 360 Video from #BBCVR day

BBC R&D - 8 Tips for Producing VR Projects

BBC R&D - Factual Storytelling Tips for 360 Video

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More on Virtual Reality and 360 Video from the BBC Academy including:

Virtual reality production: Where do I start?

The making of 'Damming the Nile' in 360

Factual storytelling in virtual reality

How do I make 360 videos?

Progress in VR: when the content is more interesting than the technology

This post is part of the Immersive and Interactive Content section