The BBC’s Tokyo 2020 (yes, I know it’s 2021, but they kept the name) studio looked pretty real to casual observers watching the coverage of the recently-concluded Olympics. You’d turn on your TV and you’d think they were actually in a fancy rooftop studio in Tokyo providing their thoughts and commentary. But no.
The BBC Sport team was actually in a comfy green-screen studio in Salford near Manchester, England. The on-screen magic was brought to life thanks to Unreal Engine. Some very clever software mapped the positions of the cameras in the studio, keyed out the presenters from the green background and then composited it with the virtual set in real-time.
It’s a very cool technique and as the video above demonstrates, it’s quite different from the way ILM used Epic Games’ Unreal Engine to film scenes for The Mandalorian, but it was a necessary technique due to the travel restrictions still in place as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.
Virtual sets are nothing new, but using Unreal Engine to create them in real-time… Well, yeah, that’s still pretty new. Unreal Engine is capable of producing very complex and detailed environments that actually look extremely realistic, as illustrated in the aforementioned Mandalorian TV show. To combine that with real-time camera tracking is a fantastic showcase for both the BBC’s production capabilities as well as those of Unreal Engine itself.
The actual set was essentially just the floor beneath the chairs on which the presenters sat, the chairs and the metal desks in front of them. Everything else around them is all simulated. And they were able to simulate different times of day depending on what the time was in Tokyo during the time of the broadcast to add a little more realism and not look like a static set.
I still think the way ILM used Unreal Engine with great big screens as a physical background with everything captured in-camera does present a more realistic final result. The compositing here is quite obvious if you observe certain things (like the edges of hair) closely enough. But still, it’s very impressive, especially so when you consider that it’s all happening in real-time as it’s being broadcast. No do-overs!