April 8, 2009

Behind the storm: Getting to know Brainstorm

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This image, from MSNBC, NBC Nightly News and Brainstorm America, show NBC anchor Ann Curry in the 3D environment created by Brainstorm.

This is the first of an exclusive three-part series on Brainstorm America, the company behind NBC News’ 3D election graphics. Part two, coming Friday, will focus on how Brainstorm’s team developed the NBC News look and feel. Part three, coming next Wednesday, will cover Brainstorm’s vision for using its technology in local news.

With one of the hottest election contests in recent memory taking center stage last November, television news outlets scrambled to outdo each other with the biggest and best technological enhancements to covering the news.

More photos and our exclusive interview after the jump.

At NBC News, this meant implementing a virtual reality solution equipped with real-time tracking and data integration.

The company behind the technology, Brainstorm America, has had a close relationship with the NBC family since it began working with business channel CNBC on real-time graphics.

Brainstorm Multimedia currently employs three dozen people with offices worldwide. The main product, eStudio, is a comprehensive real-time graphics product and is currently in its 11th version.

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Brainstorm also worked to integrate huge amounts of real-time data into NBC's graphics.

Brainstorm Multimeda, the brain child of Ricardo Montesa, was created in Spain and is the manufacturer of the eStudio software commonly known as Brainstorm. Brainstorm America is an independent reseller, systems integrator and solution provider which used the Brainstorm software as the core of its offerings and headed up by Paul Lacombe, who has worked with real-time graphics technology since its inception. His film and television credits include A.I., Stealth and Disney’s One Saturday Morning.

eStudio renders and manages the real-time graphical elements used on air. eStudio is designed to run on standard workstations and is OS agnostic, says Brainstorm’s J. David Hoffman. The graphics can be outputted using most industry-standard graphics cards. NBC opted to use an nVidia Quadro FX5600 graphics card. Video input is handled by an AJA 2ke card.

Likewise, the studio set up needed for eStudio is fairly basic, with no specific requirements outside of the typical virtual reality needs. Instead, Brainstorm Multimedia recommends a “chain of technology” that includes:

  • Render system: Workstation class PC with appropriate graphics and video cards
  • Compositing system: Typically Ultimatte SD/HD version 11
  • Camera tracking system: This can be accomplished using a variety of tracking and encoding technologies
  • Green or blue screen (optional): This is only needed if talent will be composited in front of virtual objects

The Brainstorm system runs in the neighborhood of $125,000 to $150,000 per camera chain, but that figure varies based on many factors, said Hoffman.

Hoffman joined Brainstorm America in 2007 after working with the product at CNBC for three years. His background includes working with Discreet Logic, now owned by Autodesk, since 1995. At CNBC, Hoffman headed up an effort to select and implement a real-time graphics offering to be used in conjunction with the network’s plethora of data.

“I was amazed at the level of functionality and flexibility the Brainstorm eStudio product had,” said Hoffman. “Brainstorm America was taking a lead in the resurgence of real-time graphics and I wanted to be a member of that team.”

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One Response to “Behind the storm: Getting to know Brainstorm”

  1. sounds like they don't have the largest staff.. I hope you don't need support Anonymous

    Reply