Creating the magic behind Scotrail's Flatterbox


A couple of weeks ago, our agency Bright Signals was approached by Wire Media with an interesting project. Our two agencies already collaborate on a number of clients including Tennent’s Lager and Jura Whisky, so it was a no-brainer for us to help out on this project.

The concept was Flatterbox, a voice-controlled ticket booth which would give prizes to commuters in exchange for compliments. The stunt was a key piece of launch activity for their Great City Swap project, a campaign intended to encourage west-coasters to visit the east of the country and vice-versa.

Video: see the box in action here on Facebook

With Sal Carpentry already commissioned to build the physical cabinets, our role was to add the magic. We had around 10 days to plan the stunt, buy all the kit, then design and write all the software.

The centrepiece of the tech was a touchscreen laptop, running my custom software, which allowed the actor inside the box to control the external (public) screen and play sound effects. The laptop also routed all the internal and external sound channels, so that the public could hear the actor and sound effects, and so the actor could clearly hear the participants over the background noise of a busy train station.

We had three discrete sound cards powered through the laptop, controlling a total of 10 audio channels. My bespoke configuration routed each sound channel from the correct input (SFX boards, internal and external mics) to the right output (headphones, voice speakers, effects speakers and a subwoofer). Effectively, this gave us mixing desk levels of control from consumer-grade components — important when we had to build two identical systems in just a few days, and to have those systems run automatically each day without any configuration or training.

A custom Arduino-based system handled control of the flashing lights for the ticket slot. Another Raspberry Pi-based system with custom software and special, wide-angle camera provided a live view for the actor and HD recording. That HD recording, combined with cameras from our 360 video rig, provided most of the source material for Wire’s video edit.

I’m really pleased that the stunt went so well, that it was delivered bang on schedule, and that the machines needed zero maintenance over the full week of activity.

A big thanks to Des Clarke and Iain Stirling who did a fantastic job inside the boxes on launch day. It was great to seem them picking it all up so easily with just a couple of minutes of training.

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