CBS News makes virtual a key piece of election coverage

CBS News harnessed the power of Unreal Engine with Vizrt to create a variety of effects for its 2022 election night coverage.

With the goal of creating something fresh for its coverage, CBS News opted to focus on new ways to showcase election data while connecting it to the broadcast’s unique Times Square location.

The effort was led by Gabriel Almanzar, creative director for CBS News, with Fadi Radi as creative consultant. Radi previously led creative and election coverage for an overseas news network. Girraphic was then selected to design and create the various virtual elements along with the real-time data integrations inside Vizrt.

“We aimed to keep the information clear and easy to digest while introducing high-end creative elements that make the set feel like an expansive election hub. Keeping the iconic CBS brand in mind, we created multiple spaces to transform their set as election night goes on,” said Emily Stone of Girraphic, who noted careful consideration was paid to ensure a cohesive look across inserts, virtual and studio elements. 

The most prominent element of the night was two virtual elements, one placed in Times Square with another inserted in the network’s Studio 1515.

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In studio, a virtual set extension of the United States Capitol rotunda was placed above the main anchor area with the broadcast’s “America Decides” logo often included.

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A smaller augmented reality element was also inserted into select shots in the studio. This featured a futuristic looking metallic element inserted on the floor that could open up and have various data and graphics float above it.

These elements, as well as the floor element itself, introduced another motif to the look — a sort of rectangular shape with one side curved, a nod to the CBS eye and other parts of the graphics.

In Times Square, a giant augmented reality element was placed on the front of 1515 Broadway to highlight key data – such as the “balance of power” – along with program logos, such as for the “CBS Evening News.” 

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To achieve the outdoor shots of Times Square, CBS has placed a jib at 1540 Broadway on a rooftop deck above a variety of flagship retail stores. This jib, like the jib in studio, includes Stype camera tracking technology to allow for the placement of the various virtual elements. The studio also includes a Stype RedSpy on the Steadicam for the augmented reality graphics included on the floor. 

The virtual environments were built in Unreal Engine 5 and controlled via a custom OSC from Girraphic, with Viz Engine 5 for the data-driven graphics.

The overall look closely matched the network’s redesigned election graphics package — which focuses heavily on shapes found in the CBS eye logo along with ring shapes, hashmarks and star accents.

“Working with the incredibly talented Data Integration team at CBS, we created graphics that are fully data-driven to ensure accurate and consistent information throughout election night. We have one operator focusing on data-driven Viz 5 graphics, and another operator focusing on the Unreal environments. These two pieces can operate in tandem and create an immersive environment for the graphics to exist in,” said Stone.

In 2020, CBS News opted to heavily edit video of Times Square to obscure the various signage. This time around, a virtual Times Square was created in Unreal with digital signage featuring CBS News branding, allowing for easy fly-throughs for commercial break bumpers.

In addition to these applications, CBS also used pre-produced footage from around the country along with AR-style graphics inserted into the scene to showcase key data.

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This image of the U.S. Capitol has been modified so that the left is tinted blue and the right tinted red, a reference to the political spectrum, with those curved rectangular elements serving as backgrounds behind 3D numbers and text. The elements appear to be sitting on platforms floating on the pool of water below.

For state-specific races, CBS could pull up additional backgrounds, such as the one shown above of the Biltmore Estate in North Carolina (the historic mansion that served as the exterior for the live action film “Richie Rich”). This background featured the nice touch of a rippling water.

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Some of the backgrounds were more recognizable than others, such as Independence Hall for Pennsylvania, but the Biltmore was a bit more obscure. Neither landmarks are located in the capital of the states in question, either.

Additional reporting by Michael P. Hill.

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