Making time at NBC

Virtual-insertion technology creates 'Dateline' animation

For this Wednesday's scheduled edition of Dateline NBC, NBC turned to virtual-insertion firm Princeton Video Image (PVI) to liven up a report on biochronology.

PVI's "miniset" software enabled Dateline to create a graphical background that makes it appear as if correspondent John Hockenberry is sitting inside a pocket watch. The gears and body of the pocketwatch aren't real, but are animations inserted virtually with blue-screen technology and recorded on videotape.

"It will start out with a pocket watch with a clock face," says John LiBretto, senior director of NBC News and director of Dateline. "Then the glass and clock face will open like a door, and you'll see parts of the clock and some gears turning. In between the layers, John Hockenberry will appear and move into position. The pieces will fly away, and the gears will be turning in the foreground in front of him."

The animations were created by NBC's graphics department, and the blue-screen work was shot in a small studio at PVI's Lawrenceville, N.J., headquarters using still-store images for reference. The final segments were then composited together with the full animations.

LiBretto, who has worked with fully featured virtual sets before, says the PVI software offered similar functionality to a virtual set and was simply the easiest way to create the effect NBC wanted.