CNN election night 'hologram' breaks newsgathering ground

CNN’s Election Night coverage Tuesday introduced an advanced graphics and compositing effect that brought a 3-D reproduction of political correspondent Jessica Yellin from Chicago into the network’s Election Center in New York for an interview with anchor Wolf Blitzer.

Dubbed a “hologram” by CNN, the technology responsible for the feat actually was more akin to a weather set with chroma key effects on steroids. At the center of the setup was a special circular green-screen set inside a tent erected in Chicago’s Grant Park for coverage of Sen. Barack Obama’s victory gathering. Ringing the set were 35 equidistantly spaced miniature HD video cameras positioned at eye level in a 220 degree arc.

To maintain the correct perspective on Yellin, the remote HD cameras received tracking data via Vizrt software from the studio cameras in the CNN Election Center in New York City. When a studio camera moved, changing the angle at which the Election Center was shot, the system recording and processing video on-site received the telemetry data from the studio camera so it culd select image data from the appropriate miniature HD cameras and assemble it into frames matching the perspective of the studio shot.

In essence, the system — from Israel-based SportVU — collected the appropriate geometry data from the shot of the correspondent, drew her silhouette and textured it with the pixels that were appropriate for the correct piont of view. The SportVU system acted as a plug-in to the Vizrt graphics system, which constantly output an SDI stream that was transmitted from Chicago to CNN's New York facility where it was composited through an Ultimatte keyer within the CNN Election Center.

The 3-D representation of Yellin “beamed” into the CNN Election Center (à la “Star Trek”) and emanated a blue glow reminiscent of the hologram projection of Princess Leia from “Star Wars”). The glow was added to help viewers distinguish between what was real and the effect.

The idea to incorporate the hologram into CNN’s election night coverage belonged to CNN senior VP and Washington bureau chief David Bohrman. In discussing the technology with Blitzer Nov. 5 during CNN’s “The Situation Room,” Bohrman explained that he has been trying to get this done for a dozen years.

While Bohrman called the effect “a little ornament on the tree” of the network’s much larger effort to deliver a timely, accurate picture of Tuesday’s political races, he forecasted that in coming years there will be a place for this type of technology in regular news coverage, because “it allows for a much more intimate possibility for a remote interview.”

Later in the evening, CNN used the technology to bring a 3-D representation of musical talent into the CNN Election Center from Grant Park. A similar setup was on-site in Phoenix, AZ, to cover Sen. John McCain’s election night gathering; however, it was not used.

To see the effect, visit