December 31, 2008

ArtWorks At Work: Designs that never made it on air

This is part two in our exclusive interview with Sam Mandragona, the outgoing creative director at NBC (miss part one? Read it here; miss part two? Read it here).

Mandragona has spent the last two decades with NBC working on numerous projects, including designing the graphics for MSNBC’s launch, Decision 2008 and the network’s flagship programs “NBC Nightly News” and “Today” and garnering numerous awards, including multiple Emmys and BDA honors.

Today’s installment provides a look at some designs that didn’t make it on the air election night.

NewscastStudio: Were there any ideas for graphical presentation of election data that didn’t make it on air? If so, describe them.
Sam Mandragona: The actual Chuck Todd VR set had many different capabilities built into it for him to use. He could do voting scenarios, projections, manual map displays, historical vote results, county level analysis and even write on a “Whiteboard.” There also a second area built into the VR environment that would allow for Senate race analysis, current and projected Senate and House results and display the balance of power.

Original design of mapping set:

The original design was to present the maps and graphics in front of the talent. The states would be triggered by actually “touching” a specific state. The data displays would be near the talent so they could better interact to the graphic information. This was similar to how the VR polling set would function. This was changed a few days before election night. The maps and graphics were then positioned behind the talent and driven by a tablet only.

The talent would be able to write on any of the VR displays to make a specific point. Each state was also able to move forward, highlight vote results and display county level results by party.

There was also an electoral vote ring that would animate around the talent to display the current results.

There was also a second area of the VR set that would rotate to display the senate and house results. There are 100 seats displayed that would highlight to indicate a specific race. The talent would be able to talk about key races and even display live data of specific races once vote results were available.

To display the Senate balance of power, the chamber and floor would actually drop down to highlight the shift in Republican or Democratic winners as the chairs were colored by party designation. A tally board in the back of the chamber would animate on to display the numerical results.

For the House of Representatives, which has over 400 seats, we needed to expand the field of view. To accomplish this, the chamber would open up and slide out of position while the additional seats would move up from under the floor. The seats would then be color coded by party and the tally board in the back would display the projected House results.

The camera would be able to track through this scene which would have been a large and impressive set. The vote results were all data driven so there were animations that would be triggered on command. The set could also move back into its original position with a seamless transition.

NS: How did the graphics and 3D environments NBC used help enhance storytelling?
SM: We wanted the on-air talent to connect “physically” to the graphics and talk to the viewer at home as opposed to talking to the graphic and face way from the camera. We wanted that connection to be accessible visually for the audience.

The ability for the on-air talent to actually control the information displayed, such as Chuck Todd’s map, was a pre-requisite to making the VR displays work successfully. We also wanted to avoid building something that was too futuristic or unfamiliar to the audience. At the same time we wanted to take advantage of the fact that we were in a virtual set and could do much more visually because there were no physical limitations.

This is the final part of our three part series on NBC ArtWorks. Miss part one? Read it here. Miss part two? Read it here.

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