BBC World News / Citi 200 documentary commercial

Another of the Citi 200 commercials, Cities Reborn, a 60 second documentary about the Marshall Plan to rebuild post WII Europe, is now on air on BBC World News. It has some never before seen augmented reality visual effects.

We had a lot of fun making the graphical rebuilds of Berlin. I’ll explain how it was done…

Making the augmented reality visual effects in the video

The type of augmented reality, blending archive film with new footage, featured in the film has never been done before. It’s been seen in stills but it’s much much harder in moving pictures – find the exact same location, angle, shot size, focal length and match the camera movement.

With two fantastic colleagues in Berlin, Gavin and Manuel, I found some fascinating archive footage of Berlin in 1945, just after the war. We had to identify clips that were shot in the British, French and American Sectors (using  old maps, identifying roads, train and tram routes that no longer exist and so on), and then find the exact spot today. That was no easy task, as locations were not labelled, and so much has changed since 1945.

Multiple site visits were required to understand which shots could be captured today, and to make sure we had the found right places. As well as finding the right locations, difficulties included how leafy Berlin is (lots of trees means reduced visibility), reconstruction making the new buildings look unrecognisably changed, current roadworks and scaffolding, subsidence of buildings, roads and train lines, making shot alignment impossible.  And of course archive rights clearance.

All this meant that after considerable work, from many hours of original archive we were left with just a few workable shots from which to choose. We went back to those sites, found the exact spot the camera was placed at in 1945, chose similar lenses and focal lengths to those used in the original material, and matched the shots.

Back in the edit I worked with my graphics colleagues to develop with “rebuilding” visual effects to represent the West German economic miracle that was started with the Marshall Plan and in a sense, continues to this day.

New Berlin Film Project

Gavin, Manuel and I are now working on a new Berlin film project based in part on the techniques we developed in this collaboration.  I’ll post more as the project develops next year.