When the chance of a lifetime comes knocking, in four steady beats, then there is no choice but to turn the key in the lock, open the door and shout “Geronimo” or “Allons-y” or something!?!
After building a reputation for devising custom branding focussed Photo Booths, Red Robot was approached in July 2014 to build a custom TARDIS Photo Booth for BBC Worldwide. What we delivered was Australia’s first officially licensed and mobile TARDIS Photo Booth. What made the project a significant technical achievement was the need to stay true to the TARDIS details for the fans while delivering a portable structure that was easy for staff to manage, high quality imagery and the power of social media within a seamless user experience. In addition custom surveys, reporting and green screen imagery were also key features. Luckily for us the TARDIS multidimensional ability made it bigger on the inside (we wish).
Not only was the project technically challenging and one of a kind – there was also a looming deadline to contend with. The launch of Doctor Who series 8 coinciding with Peter Capaldi and Jenna Coleman’s Australian tour was the goal. With such a high profile deadline and technical challenges here’s how we did it:
Making an authentic TARDIS
The solution here was to team up with the professionals. The amazing team at Iconic Studio Creations are fully licensed prop builders for the BBC and they already had a working solution for an authentic TARDIS structure that was also portable. Working closely with the team we devised a customised version of our PhotoStation head unit to fit the specific dimensions and portability requirements of the TARDIS. The structure is a unique and clever design that is safe and heavy duty enough to support humans while sporting a bunch of electronic gear to meet the electrical code of Australia. The whole structure dissembles to be flat packed for transport while the Photo Booth gear fits into custom road cases to be shipped around the country. The structure is then pieced together onsite while all of the Photo Booth equipment is cleanly installed in one all-inclusive custom built head unit.
Taking high quality images in a small space
The other significant challenge was ensuring high quality images with limited space. Because the Photo Booth TARDIS was built at a smaller size than the original TARDIS props used in the TV show, we had smaller internal dimensions to deal with. Using a high quality DSLR for high resolution images was a necessity and having people stand very close to the camera made this much harder to achieve. We needed to accurately account for the depth and carefully select the right angle lens that would capture enough image without distorting. To account for different heights we also integrated a self-tilt adjustment for the camera angle. Because of the small space we also opted for high colour temperature LED lighting over studio strobes allowing us to shave down the depth. The head unit featured four banks of high brightness LED strip lights to evenly light faces. The lights are under our own microprocessor control units so that the lights could be dimmed while using the touch screen and raised just at the right time when taking photos. A bank of lights mounted in the ceiling also provided even coverage over the greenscreen backdrop to complete the experience of being in the Doctor Who world.
Making it Social
What’s the point of riding in a TARDIS if your friends don’t see it? Our next challenge was to integrate software that would allow social media sharing in a very simple touch screen user interface. The goal was to expand the Doctor Who brand on social media and bring more fans into the fold and encourage more engagement. Our solution included the ability to post images to Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and Email while gaining likes and followers. This was also a very valuable opportunity to learn more about the TARDIS visitors. To achieve this we used a mix of off the shelf software and custom developed applications to survey and provide feedback on demographics.
Making it all work together
It wasn’t just a case of building a box and adding a camera, PC, touch screen and printer. The TARDIS required a mix of CAD design, custom metal fabrication, photographic system design, electronics, automation and custom software development. This was a project that demanded attention to detail to create an authentic experience for fans. It required a clever use of software and development to provide the demographic insight and social media exposure needed for the campaign. Just as importantly, the project required a solution that was easy for BBC staff to manage that was high quality yet portable.