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Creating A Ghost Train: A Visual Display for Preston Hall

COW Library : Lightwave : Tom Sefton : Creating A Ghost Train: A Visual Display for Preston Hall
CreativeCOW presents Creating A Ghost Train: A Visual Display for Preston Hall -- Lightwave Feature All rights reserved.

Preston Hall is a 19th century mansion with a rich history dating back to England's early 1500s. Suffering loss of ownership during the English Civil War, these gorgeous grounds have cantered through years of building additions, decay and refurbishment, to finally having found her glory in 1953 as a museum for eventually holding remembrances of nearly 90,000 antiquities -- ranging from historic weapons, toys, and costumes to one of the three, and only three, Georges de la Tour paintings in Britain today, The Dice Players.

Close to the industrial city of Middlesbrough, this Victorian beauty has seen centuries of change, but it was shipping magnate and Member of Parliament Robert Ropner who created the home befitting of his rising status in 1880s society. Just imagine the ghosts that must walk there, and the memories that echo through the hallways -- emanate from the relics.

We were approached earlier this year by a regular client, RS Displays, to create the audio visual displays for this new museum development in the North East of England.

The project had seven AV exhibits, but one in particular was more challenging and ambitious than the others. We were asked to create a ghost train that would smash out of a bookshelf within a room! The train had to be a replica of the first passenger carrying train in the world, one that had passed through the grounds on its maiden journey -- George Stephenson's Locomotion No.1.

The room was being dressed to re-create its original use; a library, and the books would have to be modelled in 3D space. The train also had to carry passengers, all of which would be dressed in period costume and makeup. The client also asked us to recommend appropriate hardware for playback.

After looking at some of the drawings that RS Displays design team had created, we set to work; travelling to a nearby railway museum to photograph a rebuilt model of the train. Using these photographs, we then started to construct the model in 3D space using LightWave 3D. Luckily, we also had some footage from 1925 that showed the (nearly wrecked) train and how it moved.

Original Locomotion No.1 at Darlington Railway Museum
Photo of original Locomotion No.1 at Darlington Railway Museum. Click image for larger view.

Original concept design for Library room. Click image for larger view.

Screen grabs from LightWave 3D showing the train model. Click individual images for larger views.

Pollen Technical Train Loop. First stage animation prepared for client to show motion of train and its layering.

Once the modelling was well underway, we started filming the passengers. Rather than using actors, the client team wanted to use museum staff so that they could be seen in the exhibit whilst guiding visitors. The staff came to our studio, with costumes hired from a nearby theatre supplies company. We tried to position them in the appropriate angle and perspective for them to be composited into the moving train. For the shoot, a Sony PMW-EX3 was used and was captured directly via HD-SDI into our main Blackmagic Design edit suite.

Museum attendants, rather than actors stage the play in period costume in front of greenscreen. Image right, capturing the driver at a believable angle was a tricky prospect. Click images to zoom.

Once we had the footage for the passengers, we had the tricky job of capturing the driver at the correct angle and perspective, whilst making it appear he was sitting on the driver's seat. The shoot again took place in our studio, using the PMW-EX3 with the same capture into our Blackmagic Design suite. The footage was captured to a networked G-Tech RAID device, and then backed up to another machine's HDD.

Keying and compositing then took place using The Foundry's KEYLIGHT plugin within After Effects CS6. Masking was used for each character to ensure the key remained as clean as possible.

Screen grabs from AE of the images after keying. Lighting and colouring effects were added to the characters once they were composited and tracked within the train's motion. Click image for larger view. Click images to zoom.

The first shots of the train after the material skins had been added. These were sent at regular intervals to the client team to ensure that we didn't waste valuable production time. Click image for larger view.

Once the client team had signed off the train and its motion, we started to compose the passengers and drivers. The train's motion was rendered from LightWave, taking around 36 hours. This was then imported to AE CS6, and the characters were tracked into the train's motion. After this portion of our work had been approved, we began colouring and adding lighting to the scene. The clients requested a cloudy, dark sky for the background, which we created in AE using Trapcode Particular.

The cloudy, dark sky was created in AE using Trapcode Particular. Click image for larger view.

Next we started to design the books. Unfortunately, we couldn't use skins from authentic books; we had to design them to look exactly the same as the printed themes for the Library.

Click image for larger view.

Three different sizes of book were created, and then once the designs were sent to us for the skins for the books, we added them within LightWave.

Click image for larger view.

Next, we gathered together sounds created from a train that was very similar in design and technology to Locomotion No.1 and used these to create the sound mix for the video.

Click image for larger view.

After previous experiences with video walls on conference work, and the small space available for rear projection, we knew that a four-screen video wall was the best solution. The video wall would take up less space, would not need bulbs replacing every year, and would have no light drop off in a very bright environment. We recommended that RS Displays purchase the Samsung SM460UT-2. These are HD displays that come with inbuilt software that allows each screen to understand its position within a wall up to 4x4 in size.

RS Displays then purchased the brackets for the screens and built the supporting frame themselves; this was an impressive feat as the screens had to line up perfectly, with an access hatch underneath and have adequate strength. For playback, we decided to use a Frame Jazz media player which was capable of outputting 1080p images via HDMI, with a separate sound output via a stereo phono plug. The media player is programmed to play on a 3 minute loop, meaning that visitors sometimes don't get to see the motion.

The video on the four screen displays within RS Displays workshops before installation.
The video on the four screen displays within RS Displays workshops before installation. Click image for larger view.

After installation, with the themed graphics for the library installed in the room.
After installation, with the themed graphics for the library installed in the room. Click image for larger view.

After colour balancing had taken place on the video wall, the display fit in perfectly within the room.
After colour balancing had taken place on the video wall, the display fit in perfectly within the room. Click image for larger view.

After completion, the client was very impressed. Our workflow was quick and allowed us to send updates and still frames to the client team at regular intervals. Graphics and images were often sent to us in Mac format (our edit suites are all custom-build PC's) without any problems at all. Capturing was really easy using the Blackmagic HD Extreme 3D, and allowed us to review footage and make a quick keying pass before moving on to the next shot. The Adobe CS6 software was fantastic. We had used FCP and Avid before, but have gradually moved all of our suites to Adobe -- and the latest CS6 release has been great. The Dynamic Link tool is fantastic for use within post, allowing us to shuttle between Premiere, After Effects and Photoshop with a single file.

Pollen Studio's Ghost Train A shorter loop of the full version, which runs at 3 minutes -- 2m40 of which is the static shot of books on the shelf, to fit in with the themic background.

Pollen Studio was started in 1973 as a sound recording studio. Since then, they have moved into moving image, hardware supply and consultancy, interactive production, app design and production, live event management and much more.


Re: Creating A Ghost Train: A Visual Display for Preston Hall
by Tom Sefton
Preston Park Museum has recently been nominated for the UK's prestigious Art Fund Prize for Museum of the Year.

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