Stargazing Live – Australia

Kenziko started working on the BBC’s annual astronomy show six years ago. Providing the iPad solution that Professor Brian Cox (and very occasionally Dara Ô Briain) use to illustrate the science talk via an iPad has been an occasionally tricky undertaking, and we thought we’d share more insight into how it works.

The iPad system has two fundamental elements which you can see in the image below: a control panel, visible only to the presenter using it (unless the camera happens to catch sight of it), and a real-time video feed of the graphics engine.

The operator view from the OB Truck of Stargazing Live

The control panel shows the media available at any given time (images and video are supported) and is updated during the show remotely by our operator in the truck. In the image you can see the operator interface running on a laptop.

Before the show goes live, all the media for the relevant portions of the show is prepared so that during the production itself only the relevant images and video are offered for use at any given time. The media selection is the set of thumbnails along the top row of the control panel. The operator interface automatically creates these when the media is added to the system.

The bottom row of icons are telestration controls available to the presenter. Selecting one of these, it’s possible to draw using your finger directly into the live video feed. There are options to draw arrows, lines, circles, place location markers, draw out rectangle areas and using the newest element added for 2017, a kind of ‘space dust’ drawing tool, which proved to be very useful.

All this technology is a real requirement for Stargazing – a lot of the show consists of chat between the presenters and guests, and ensuring the presenters can illustrate this accurately is key. As it stands there’s simply no-one capable of driving the graphics better during these segments than the presenters.

The system was given a further workout this year when we used it on an Australian series of Stargazing Live, shown on ABC Australia the week after the BBC series finished. As well as the main show, ABC ran a further half hour chat-based show, ‘Stargazing Live – Back to Earth’ (previously shown on the BBC as well) and the iPad system was used to feed questions to Brian during the show.

Below you can see a video of the system in action on Stargazing Live Australia.