Pink race: Graphics gold for EMG Italy with a peloton’s-worth of innovations for the 2024 Giro d’Italia

For the 2024 Giro d’Italia, EMG Italy’s graphics department, Boost Graphics, has been racing against the clock to not only refresh the look of the graphics for this year’s race, but to also implement a peloton’s-worth of new graphical innovations.

Speaking to SVG Europe, Alessandro Curti, EMG Italy’s head of graphics, says on the annual graphics development cycle for race organiser, RCS: “During all the year we are working on innovations because it’s something required by our customers, but it’s also our policy to focus on new elements and new ideas, new tools to improve the quality of the final product.

“[For us, preparation for] every season is started in September or October, focusing on the following May. We are working with RCS on their spring races so it’s always a good opportunity to test [innovations] during the February and March races. We use the Abu Dhabi Tour, Milano-San Remo, and other classical events to test the innovations we discuss with RCS that we created and generated that quarter [beforehand].

“The Giro, of course, is RCS’ main event, and so for us it’s the moment where everything should be fine. The pressure is very high and then it’s also a tough month [during the Giro] because [the race is] more than 3,500 kilometres, going around up and down Italy.”

Boost Graphics was tasked with completely refreshing the graphics for Giro d’Italia 2024. The process began in September 2023, with Curti’s team creating around 25 new templates for the race.

“It’s something really complex and we’ve been working, of course, with the client to improve the graphics,” says Curti. “We took their references from the linear behind the line (BTL) and above the line (ATL) graphics they were using, and with our team we implemented their preferred layout in our system so the innovation is made on multiple levels.

“I think that the final design we are using this year, it’s very nice. I hope that – considering all the work we have been doing on the graphics – that we can keep it for a while because it’s always tricky, and complex, and complicated to change a layout! But I think we made a good step forwards from the last look we were using. As always, it’s still improvable, but I think we have a really complete palette of templates and functionalities and a good mix of colours and integration and readiness of the text.”

Auto camera synchronisation

There is a plethora of innovations within the graphics that Curti and his team have bought into play for this Giro. The first notable one is graphics that are automatically synchronised with the cameras on the five motorbikes and two helicopters that are covering the race, explains Curti: “From a technological point of view, we have synchronisation with the selected on-air camera. So for example, if they [are focused on] the lead of the race with moto one [the lead motorbike camera], we have developed software and an interface that’s connected with the OB van that is automatically highlighting the group which is on air in graphics. If they switch camera and follow other groups, then the graphic notes the switch in focus, helping the people [viewing] understand which group they are watching at that specific moment of the race.”

He continues: “This is something that’s completely automated and it’s working with the five motos [motorbikes] plus the two that they use as a backup moto in case of any failure, and the two helicopters. So it’s something that requires a lot of integration in our software and with the technological supplier we have. If you compare the size of the graphic that is underlining this element, it’s small, but it’s fundamental because it’s automating a way of storytelling the event.”

The only sections of the route not linked with this new automated graphical software are the arrival areas on each stage of the race, as there are other cameras focused on the last kilometre.

Significant alerts

Another first for 2024 is an alert, which literally alerts the team to something significant happening within the race and shows viewers at home via a pop-up graphic what is happening. Says Curti: “We implemented what we call the alert. So in case something strange is happening, like by a crash, or a tyre failure, or some events like this, we have this pop-up, which is underlining a specific moment.”

Additionally, this year RCS with one of the race sponsors, Visit Italy, is trying to showcase the Italian countryside, towns and villages that the race passes through to promote the country for tourism. The graphics team therefore created a further series of templates that can be used to notes points of interest and beauty in the Giro.

Comments Curti: “In terms of innovations, we worked with RCS because their idea and their need was to communicate and to share a wide message and images from Italy as a touristic destination. So we implemented a new portal, which is used by our graphics team and also by the editorial team. It’s used to fill up the point of interest information, so automatically [users] can add some information about churches, villages, and other points of interest along the course. Immediately, our graphics operator has the text and information and they can prepare a live graphic to illustrate that.”

Tracking with AI

A further live graphics innovation comes from EMG’s graphics specialist, Boost Graphics. The Boost Pixel Tracking system has been used extensively in Belgium and France on other projects, but Giro d’Italia 2024 marks the first time it has been used in Italy. The Boost Pixel Tracking tool utilises artificial intelligence (AI) to automatically track a rider or riders with a graphic, which then enables the commentators to describe in more detail what is happening within the race, or to that person or team, whether live or in replay.

Curti goes into more detail: “This kind of activity has already been used in other cycling races in other countries, and for this year we have this implementation in Italy for the first time. We have a dedicated operator who is following daily editorial needs; the storytelling, and what’s going on during the race. They’re underlining with graphics riders, a specific rider or a group of them. We just have to define which rider to follow, typing just the bib number, and then the system using the specific layout graphics of the Giro, will follow the rider they are discussing for the time needed by the director.

“This tool also allows us also to make replays. So for example, the last sprint. During the live production we might say, “OK, this is the strongest and the best sprinter of the group,” [so we follow them] but we don’t know what’s going to happen so it might be that another rider wins the race.

“With replay system mode, which is embedded in the same graphic server, the operator can select a specific video sequence so for example, the last kilometre. Then, knowing who has won the race, we can follow him along the last kilometre saying, “oh look at this, he was at the back, then he made a nice sprint”. Then we can say, “there was the top rider that was supposed to win, that didn’t win,” so we can then highlight them [in replay] for the same sort tactical analysis as we make for football. So it is something which is really appreciated and we use in each final part of the transmission of each day about the stage or a specific moment. This is another tool which is very useful for them to increase their quality and content of their storytelling about the stages,” Curti says.

Whole lot more…

A tool that has been developed but is not being used this year is a jersey change graphic. Before the start of the race all riders are photographed in their team jersey. However, during the race when riders win points on stages, they may be given a different coloured jersey to wear. The new tool allows viewers at home to see how the jersey has changed so they can identify riders more easily.

Other incremental changes to the Giro d’Italia graphics from EMG Italy this year are:

    • Updates to the graphical interface used by on site operators so they can react more quickly to events
    • Integration with GPS data to automatically highlight provinces and cities the riders cross during the race, with an automatic graphic appearing on screen
    • Improvements to the connectivity between EMG Italy’s ancillary services on site. For example, Radio Corsa – the course radio system that provides live race updates and timing details for those working behind the scenes – is now better connected to the graphics operators using EMG’s proprietary software, so the operator can retrieve useful graphic templates faster
    • A stage profile with animations showing what percentage of the stage the riders have completed
    • GPS data providing the speed of the motorbikes, and therefore the speed of the riders on screen
    • Data on the altimetry of the terrain to give viewers more perspective

On site EMG Italy has four graphic operators, plus 10 people working on the timing side of things. In addition, in auxiliary services there are crew working on Boost Pixel Tracking, Radio Corsa, data collection, GPS management, plus the photo finish, all of whom are key to the graphical output on a daily basis.

Giro d’Italia 2024 began on 3 May and finishes in Rome on 26 May

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