BT Sport leverages virtual set tech for remote Ashes coverage

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BT Sport created a virtual set for its coverage of the annual Ashes Test cricket series between England and Australia that’s designed to transport viewers, at least in spirit, to the opposite side of the globe.

Due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, BT Sport opted not to mount a full presence in Australia, so a 3D virtual set was created by Moov under the direction of Creative Director Adam Lawrence and Chief Engineer Daniel Morgan.

Using Brainstorm’s InfinitySet and Epic Games Unreal Engine for rendering, the network was able to create the feel of a large, circular studio with views of Australian skylines.

In reality, the studio coverage, hosted by Matt Smith and cricketers turned commentators Sir Alastair Cook and Steve Harmison is shot in the U.K. on a green cyc studio.

The green is removed by Blackmagic Design’s Ultimatte system so that, to viewers, the trio appears to be sitting on a curved sofa atop a 3D rendition of the continent of Australia with radial lines on the “floor.”

Bright greens and teals tie in with the summertime season in Australia, while sleek metallic surfaces and curved internally lit structures add structural elements to the space, which often appear in wide shots with movement made possible by Mo-Sys Engineering’s StarTracker camera tracking system. 

The virtual set includes the ability to insert “virtual windows” that allow the studio talent to interact with remote footage from Australia and the map on the floor can also be used as a storytelling element to spotlight specific locales.

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In addition, the space can also feature overlay graphics that appear to be floating in front of the skyline.

BT does have a smaller presence, including presenter Alison Mitchell, on the ground in Australia to cover the games.

The Ashes are a traditional series of cricket matches conducted using the “Test” status, a level defined by the International Cricket Council. In this case, “test” does not refer to it being a “dry run” or a school test, but rather to how “testing” the match is due to its extended gameplay format, which can stretch for days.

The name “ashes” has its origins in an 1882 satirical obituary run in a British newspaper describing how English crick had “died” and its “body” would be cremated — with the ashes being sent to Australia. 

Only Britain and Australia play in the Ashes and the “host” country alternates between the two every other year.

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