The 2020 rendition of Oxford University’s Vice-Chancellor’s Innovation Awards was due to take place at the Sultan Nazrin Shah Centre at Worcester College, Oxford, however, like most in-person events last year. COVID-19 pandemic rendered this impossible. Undeterred, and supported by events organiser Michelle Miles of Fusion Events and Weddings, the university opted to stage a virtual event. The Innovation Awards of 2020 were to remain true to their name when Oxford-based event production specialist, THAT Event Company (TEC) came onboard.
TEC’s brief was to create a fully virtual and interactive replacement for the live event. Following a pre-filmed introduction from the Vice Chancellor, the event would be placed into the hands of a moderator who would manage the guest speakers, panel discussion and question and answer session with the live audience. Following detailed consultation between the stakeholders to clarify and explain the possibilities in detail, TEC began to create a bespoke virtual package.
While the event was filmed live at the King’s Centre, the aim was to faithfully recreate the Sultan Nazrin Shah Centre and its surrounding grounds as a virtual space, in order to remain as close to the ‘real’ event as possible. The King’s Centre is Oxford’s largest event space; an area within the building could be deployed for the filming under strict COVID-19 guidelines.
Once the details were agreed and proposals accepted, TEC began constructing the event. The Sultan Nazrin Shah Centre was rendered in 3D using the dimensions of the building and available interior and exterior photographs. TEC’s team has wide experience of creating such virtual representations – painstaking attention to detail achieving stunning results.
Having prepared meticulously, TEC’s team arrived at the King’s Centre to set up the necessary equipment. Five experienced technicians assisted with the setup and supported the running of the event. The equipment comprised a single static camera, green screen and flooring, a high end graphics computer and lighting for the main presenter. This was supplemented by an LED monitor as a reference for the presenter, another LED monitor for the presenter’s interaction with the panellists calling in, and four show laptops to feed the four screens for the guest panellists calling in live. A simple audio setup consisting of mixing desk, lapel microphones and a monitor completed the picture with all AV distribution running over CAT5.
With plenty of time to spare before the event commenced, the team ran through a test with the presenter to make sure he was happy with the positioning and comfortable within the virtual space. The external panellists on Zoom were also checked while waiting to be introduced.
The show began with the Vice Chancellor’s pre-recorded video intro running smoothly into the event presenter. A range of camera angles built into the virtual scene enabled the team to have wide and close-up shots of presenter and panellists, enabling seamless transition between each section of the event.
“The process of moving to a virtual event was much simpler than I’d imagined. The TEC team was able to give us an excellent impression of what things would be like well in advance. This was valuable in enabling us to get buy-in from the client at a very early stage, inspiring confidence and removing any doubts. On the day, the virtual event worked brilliantly – the client admin team and presenter were able to manage the sessions very effectively, and the green screen technology elevated the whole thing far above the usual virtual meeting. Most importantly, the event was very well-received by the client and audience. The closing scene with a camera travelling through the virtual venue to show the building from the outside was a fantastic end to the proceedings!” Fusion Events and Weddings’ Michelle Miles commented.
“At Fusion, we maintain a strong focus on sustainability, and are determined to reduce the environmental impact of every event we’re involved with. The Innovation Awards was a real eye-opener in terms of just what can be achieved in terms of presentation and quality without any real compromise. There are many events in the corporate, education and entertainment spheres that could deploy this approach and reduce carbon footprint, not to mention significant costs. It’s an area we are keen to keep exploring in the future.”
TEC’s James Walton added: “The feedback we received from the organisers, guests and venue was all extremely positive and has led to a number of enquiries from the university about how we can utilise our virtual offering going forward. Whilst the Coronavirus pandemic was undoubtedly the primary reason for the choice of a virtual event on this occasion, it’s clear that the attraction of virtual or hybrid events is growing. At TEC we believe strongly that the economic and environmental sustainability offered by virtual events adds an important layer of choice for events organisers. That’s not to say that the virtual worlds we create will take the place of physical events, but rather that they will genuinely widen the scope of what is possible for our clients.”