Strictly Come Dancing takes flight with augmented reality

When the Broadcasters' Audience Research Board (BARB) announce UK viewing figures for the period beginning October 10, 2022, the show leading the ratings will almost certainly be BBC's primetime Saturday night extravaganza Strictly Come Dancing. The runaway television success story regularly reaches more than 8 million delighted viewers.

Alongside the outrageous costumes, diverse cast, uplifting music, crushing emotional journeys and general positive vibes, the show is of particular interest to me for the cutting-edge technology employed in a live broadcast situation. Most notably in the area of dancefloor projection mapping, and more recently, the introduction of in-camera tracking of augmented reality graphics.

This weekend Kym Marsh and Graziano Di Prima danced a dazzling samba down the central aisle of a business jet, because of course they did. Before the routine began the stage featured an (almost) life-size 3D aircraft model, with the two stars visible through the cabin windows, before the camera cuts to a closeup of the interior.

Kym Marsh sits within an augmented reality aircraft on Strictly.

Live graphics for the production are provided by Potion Pictures and the company have previously stated that they're leaning on Unreal Engine for the interactive AR parts of the show. The aircraft featured during the samba was created by Volodymyr Stepaniuk and you can actually purchase it from the Unreal Engine's Marketplace.

Amusingly the jet was somewhat modified to fit within the confines of the Elstree Studios. The nose cone appears to be compressed, while the rudder is completely absent. The cabin door has also swapped sides and no longer sits flush with the fuselage - for certain, this aircraft is not in a condition for safe operation.

I do think it was clever the way any superfluous windows were frosted over, and the cloud effect gave a nice sense of movement. Personally, I might've added a motion blurred texture to the engine fan blades to help sell the idea of high speed.

An AR business jet is placed within the studio in Elstree.

Although augmented reality is only in its third year of being deployed on the show, I cannot wait to see what's in store the rest of this season. Unreal Engine continues to prove itself as the go-to platform for real-time broadcasts, and the BBC are doing an incredible thing pushing this technology on a show transmitting live to millions of people every Saturday.

If you missed it, the entire dance can be seen on iPlayer. Kym's vibrant samba begins at the one hour, seven-minute mark.