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Applied Technology: Moviola's Journeyman

Merv Griffin Productions (MGP) needed a virtual studio technically capable and rugged enough to survive a month-long road trip for its MTV Campus Invasion tour this past March. The company wanted a portable television studio solution in a box.

The tour stopped at universities all over the country to promote MTV’s show lineup. One of the tour displays was a virtual stage where students were interviewed by an MTV personality live from Times Square. On campus, the students stepped up to the virtual “stage” area in front of a DV camera and answered questions while standing in front of a monitor with a microphone. Behind the scenes, a Beta VTR provided the looped footage of the host in Times Square, which was inserted behind the students using a chroma-key process. The students could see themselves with the MTV personality as if they were engaged in face-to-face conversation.

A virtual studio

To perform these virtual interviews, Merv Griffin Productions had to find a portable tool to perform live chroma key in the field. The company chose GlobalStreams’ Globecaster as a production/compositing tool because of the system’s technical versatility, which includes multicamera switching, real-time 3-D digital video special effects, titling, graphics, keying and animation capabilities. Unfortunately, keeping the sensitive system in one piece and operational on the road was a trial.

A way was needed to protect the system on the road. A solution was developed and a trial run showed exactly what the optimal specifications would be for a practical portable unit.

The issues were twofold: how to transport the system without damaging it and how to make it easy for the operator to use. The system had to be simple enough to be set up and run by an operator with limited knowledge of the components and configuration. This was a budget concern because the tour traveled with two complete systems, and operators with specialized training and experience would have been expensive to employ. MGP needed a solution without a steep technical learning curve.

The Journeyman

About two months before MTV was to depart on their collegiate tour, Moviola conceptualized what was to become the Journeyman as a solution to the issues at hand. Rather than transport the system in standard anvil cases, constantly being packed and unpacked and subsequently banged around, Moviola decided to build the Globecaster into its own special transport case. This case would double as the durable transport solution and as the production console. Moviola called on Amalgamated Video International (AVI) in Sacramento, CA, to design and manufacture the mobile solution. AVI came back with a unit complete with a 17” flat-panel LCD control monitor; eight individually assignable, 5.6” LCD monitors; and a control PC, keyboard and mouse all built into a sturdy metal container. At the heart of the unit was the Globecaster, snug and secure.

Field setup for these units was a simple and quick process. Once they were off-loaded from the transport trucks, the operators simply had to roll the units up to the stages, open the lids, plug them in and go. This eliminated the need to have expensive technical engineers present. The designers at Moviola also made some improvements in their approach to the compositing. Rather than use the green screen, they felt it would be better to shoot against a beaded glass surface and use a Holoset Ring that attaches to the front of the lens. The product works like a typical chroma key, but in reverse. The ring, outfitted with numerous blue LEDs, emits a blue light in front of the lens, allowing the Globecaster to add the looped video to the background.

Ron Mencer is a business-development executive at Moviola in Hollywood, CA.