1066 – A year to conquer England

Most of our touchscreen work is on live television. So we were thrilled when an opportunity arose to do something a bit different for the BBC, in a pre-recorded show revisiting the great battles of 1066.

We were commissioned to provide a solution which would allow three historians to illustrate their views on the conflict using a touch-table. The core concept was one of a ‘war room’, with the experts discussing tactics and the actual outcomes of each skirmish. In addition, a series of wide-scale maps would illustrate the broader picture of the conflict between the nation states.

Design work first began on the wide map. We were asked to investigate different visual styles for the war room where we went through a series of different possible visual identities for the map and there was some investigation and prototyping. In the below screen you can see two original ideas for the map (in embryonic form) as well as our initial work on one of the battle maps (in this case Fulford) which were constructed in 3D using Modo.

Early design work for wide scale and battle maps.

Once the style of the wide maps had been approved, we were able to look in more detail at the battle maps themselves. Our original plan was to create and render all the battle maps in our favoured modelling application, Modo, with additional work in Adobe Photoshop. This initially proved fruitful, and we were able to create believable environments with the level of terrain detailing required to tell the story properly. As time went on and we had to cope with script changes (always an inevitability) we found this process was a little too time consuming, and began using Photoshop as a starting point to achieve results a bit quicker.

For this project, we used our own Touchscreen software technology, which allowed us to put together each of the sequences for the programme. We had originally planned for presenters manipulating individual elements on the battlefield (moving troops for example) but in the end this was limited to controlling the flow of pre-built animation sequences. However the interactive tools turned out to be useful to us to build the sequences in the first place, allowing many elements to be hand-animated, and then refined.

Final Fulford battle map. The representation of the armies went through many iterations. Part of the design had to reflect the lack of knowledge about the actual number of men on each side.

The shoot itself happened over two days in the crypt of a church in Clerkenwell, London. Moodily lit, the historians assumed the roles of Harald, Harold and Willam the Conqueror. Each of the touchscreen sequences was shot several times, allowing the director to get maximum coverage and the most flexibility in the edit. Our system allowed the screen to be reset and controlled remotely so we could operate it out of vision and keep the momentum of the recording going.


On location with the final system in use

Programme page on the BBC website