CRAFT SECRETS: BBC IDENTS - How 3D equipment gave the BBC balloon a facelift/SVC used the latest visualisation software to get once-in-a-lifetime shots for the BBC

How do you get a giant hot air balloon to float past Blackpool Tower at the right time or hover over St Michael’s Mount at the right speed?

How do you get a giant hot air balloon to float past Blackpool

Tower at the right time or hover over St Michael’s Mount at the right


Simple. Create the entire scene using the most advanced computer

visualisation equipment available.

This is how the post-production house, SVC, produced the latest BBC


The balloon itself was not an original concept - it was used for earlier

idents that were developed through Lambie-Nairn. However, the fact that

the balloon would now be computer-generated marked a breakthrough.

The balloon and the location shots needed to be filmed separately. And

as the balloon was not going to be on location, it was necessary to work

out before the shoot exactly which footage the camera crew would need to


Once a location had been chosen, the first step was to scan a copy of an

Ordinance Survey map of the area on to a computer. This was done in 3D

and exactly to scale, enabling SVC to plan and execute the ideal camera

shot without leaving the office.

Lambie-Nairn provided a still of the balloon in situ which was also

scanned on to the system.

With the map and balloon on screen, SVC could try out different camera

angles, simulate windspeed and weather conditions as well as input the

dimensions of any obstacles like rocks or buildings. This was done so

that the picture on screen was an exact replica of the geography of the

location site and scale of the balloon.

The crew then used this scan to pin-point where the camera should be

filming, what path it should follow and at what speed it should


If the camera was placed too far in the distance, for example, the

foreground would swing past too rapidly.

The director, Jason Keeley, and the animation director, Phil Hurrell,

planned the camera moves in 3D using a program called Softimage Android,

and all the data was saved to a floppy disk. This stage was completed in

just one day in the comfort of SVC’s animation suite.

The data was then transferred to a motion-control camera. The software

would not accept any moves that the camera would not physically be able

to reproduce later on location.

The same processes had to be applied to birds and the reflection of the

balloon on a lake in one of the executions.

As a mark of how seamless the finished work was, the BBC was unable to

pick out the one computer-generated ident from a selection of five that

it was shown.

One of the biggest problems facing the crew was getting the lighting of

the balloon to match that of the location sites. It had to consider not

just the effect of sunlight shining through the balloon but also the

strength of it bouncing off the balloon.

Tom Horton, the head of visual effects at SVC, said: ’The biggest

problem with using computer generation is that you have to be very

specific about everything. If something doesn’t look exact, people will

pick up on it very quickly.’

The obvious advantage, on the other hand, was that the crew had complete

control over the composition of the shots and were able to guarantee

that the work would be finished to deadline.


Become a member of Campaign from just £51 a quarter

Get the very latest news and insight from Campaign with unrestricted access to ,plus get exclusive discounts to Campaign events

Become a member

Looking for a new job?

Get the latest creative jobs in advertising, media, marketing and digital delivered directly to your inbox each day.

Create an alert now

Partner content