80six Powers Virtual Notting Hill Carnival

Following the cancellation of this year’s event, Notting Hill Carnival organisers enlist 80six to provide production and a state-of-the-art xR stage for a reimagined version of the annual festivities. 80six Director, Jack James speaks to TPi about the project...

One of the highlights of London’s summer events calendar, Notting Hill Carnival is a chance to showcase and celebrate the diversity of the country’s capital, attracting millions of people each year throughout the August bank holiday. Despite the inevitable cancelation of this year’s event, organisers still wanted to give loyal attendees a chance to enjoy the festivities with a streamed digital-only event.

Key to the project was an elaborate xR video stage that was used throughout the weekend. Steve Jelley, MD of Dimension Studio – producers of this digital version of Carnival – approached Jack James of 80six to provide all the technical crew and hardware required to broadcast three days of content from Malcolm Ryan Studios in South London. A week after the show, James spoke to TPi about his experience on the project.

“The creative brief was to create a virtual set to be reminiscent of Notting Hill street without it being so realistic that people would decide to attempt to go looking for the location of the broadcast,” explained James.

Throughout the show, the main xR stage displayed the ‘London street’ with a full camera tracking system along with another green screen stage for other performances. There was also a roaming camera to capture footage of the cooks who had set up in the car park to showcase cuisines from across the globe. One of the biggest challenges presented to the 80six team was the sheer amount of content that was to be streamed during the show. “There were two streams that were broadcast over three days for up to 15 hours a day, showcasing content from around the world delivered from the xR studio in London,” James explained.

“A cause for a concern was the tracking system and the high likelihood of it losing calibration. However, the Stype RedSpy system proved to be rock solid throughout the two days of install and three days of live show, meaning we never needed to revert to the static backup camera.”

For the LED screen, 80six deployed ROE Visual Diamond 2.6mm for the rear wall and Black Marble 4.6mm for the floor. “We chose the ROE DM2 and BM4 due to their exceptional performance on camera,” said James. “This was reinforced by a fully redundant Brompton SX40 processing system to ensure there were no issues with the signal being sent to the LED.”

A pair of disguise gx2c media servers running Notch provided the backbone of the project. To capture the content live, 80six utilised Blackmagic Design URSA broadcast cameras, with the video director cutting the show on a Blackmagic 2 M/E PPU. VT Playback was handled by Jeremy Langley of Bullfrog Limited with his VMIX servers and streaming and on site editing services were provided by Zest4TV. For the creative direction and content used during the show, the team called on Lewis Kyle White of Pixels & Noise. “We brought in Lewis with very short notice,” James explained. “He and his team created all the Notch set design, animation and also a stylised graphics package to blend with existing assets from the carnival.”

Also aiding the 80six team with the project was Andy Coates who was contracted by the company to be the xR consultant for the entire Notting Hill Carnival project.

With little to no time for changes, White managed to nail the design requirements immediately, impressing the clients all round, which enabled the project to move forward. “That, coupled with his team’s tireless efforts working nights and weekends, meant the deadline was achieved and everything was ready to go for the first day of install on site,” stated James.

As well as providing the video technology to make this project a reality, 80six was also responsible for bringing in all the other departments to make this event a success. “Both Dan [Hamill, Director] and I both came from a production background before starting 80six, so we are quite comfortable looking after the wider ranging elements of technical production if need be,” explained James.

James explained how the project expanded quickly, which meant it was important to bring in more crew. “In total, we had over 20 technical crew working on the show, which was great as some of the guys hadn’t worked a day since March.”

To provide lighting for the show, the team enlisted Light Fantastic and contracted Sound Engineer, Andy Carrington to provide a small audio package. Jib services were provided by Lammo.

Although xR has been a part of 80six’s offering for some time now, the demand for this solution has been exponential since March. “We had already been involved in xR before COVID-19, having supplied Scott Millar on the HP Omen Challenge tournament,” concluded James, while musing about the current upsurge of interest in the field. “Since then, we have continued to work in xR and now have a small studio space in our new warehouse in Slough to demo the technology to clients.”

With further restrictions enforced during the past few weeks, it is likely that more event organisers are going to be exploring how extended reality might be the solution to keep audiences engaged during this difficult time.

This article originally appeared in issue #254 of TPi, which you can read here.

Photos: 80six, Ryan Dinham