ESPN and Disney make another technological breakthrough in kid-friendly broadcasting with ‘NHL Big City Greens Classic’ direct animation

The puck drops tonight on the next chapter of a sports broadcast aimed at kids. The Big City Greens NHL Classic on ESPN, featuring the New York Rangers and Washington Capitals, will be the first fully animated television broadcast of the game.
In addition to the live 3D animation of the players on the ice in real time, ESPN Creative Studio and Silver Spoon also produced motion-captured versions of ESPN commentators Kevin Wicks and Drew Carter, as well as live interviews with Emmy-winning Disney characters. won with the help of real-time face capture technology animated series.
ESPN, Disney Channel, and the NHL Team Up to Bring NHL Fans Big City Greens Classic, the First-Ever Live-Streamed Animated NHL Game, March 14 at 7:00 pm ET between Washington Capitals vs. New York Rangers “.
Weeks and Carter will wear motion-capture suits, allowing their full-body animations in the big city to mimic their movements during a call from their studio in Bristol, Connecticut. Episodic talents Chris Houghton (Big City Greens co-creator/executive producer and voice of Cricket) and Maeve Herington (voice of Tilly) will use facial recognition technology to remotely impersonate their game from Disney Television Animation Studios in Los Angeles Reply to Los Angeles. In addition, ESPN Creative Studio created a full graphics package focused on Big City Greens and a broadcast scoring bug.
The first-of-its-kind alternate demo uses SMT’s NHL Edge puck and player tracking data and AI-powered Sony Beyond Sports data visualization platform to recreate real-time on-ice action featuring Big City Greens characters and NHL player animations. together. ESPN Creative Studio designed and modeled the stylized 3D players to be used as avatars to represent and animate players with Beyond Sports using real-time tracking data.
“Alternative broadcasts like this one are about expanding your audience,” says Michael “Spike” Shikovny, senior director of motion graphics and production planning at ESPN Creative Studios. “This is more for casual young fans than for our regular superfans who already watch ESPN. We’ve been working hard to find opportunities to do something like this, so this is a great opportunity for all involved.”
Cricket Green will replace Vincent Trochek at the Rangers and Tilly Green will replace Evgeny Kuznetsov at the Capitals. Meanwhile, Grandma Alice and Bill Green would be targeted by the Rangers and Caps, respectively. Plessy joked that throughout the game, viewers could see amazing characters.
“Beyond Sports Group has done a great job of showing us how they manage this data and make something like this very human,” Placey said. “Often [new technologies] can look cool, but they’re not as flexible and immediate as you need for live gaming. But when we saw the speed and convenience of the technology, we said, ‘Why don’t we just keep playing the whole damn game?’
The broadcast will take place in a control room in Bristol, with only NHL Edge tracking data and natural audio (no cameras) sent from the arena to create an animated TV broadcast. Director Jeff Nelson, seated front row with producer Pete Dellaria, will move the camera to two TD-controlled switches, one to cycle through 49 virtual angles and the other 49 virtual angles. The other one will handle the rest of the animation improvements.
“We have more cameras on this show than in the NFL Draft, which is fantastic,” Nelson said. “On top of all the other cameras, we can click on each character and look at each player’s angle if you want to talk about a specific person.
“We create our own wall of monitors with still images on all sides,” he continued. “We put them on paper and printed them out, and I stuck them in front of me. Turn on the camera. It has a lot to do with feeling and awareness.”
Nelson said that the game’s actual broadcast would be about 10 seconds ahead of the animation to alert him when a critical moment was about to arrive. He added that he would have to get creative with fan cuts and other transitions due to the lack of crowds during the broadcast.
“When we started testing it, my biggest concern was: what can we cut?” – he said. “Fortunately, we figured that out and cooked up a bunch of fun cut corners. When we started rehearsing we were giggling every 10 minutes and that’s what we did. But it’s going to be fun and we’re really excited about it.”
Using full-body motion capture technology and custom avatars, ESPN will transform announcers Carter and Weeks into characters straight out of the Big City Greens. The announcers will play in full-length motion capture suits as their Big City Greens avatars, with a standoff and a display of goalkeepers.
“When this project first came to us,” says Shikovny, “our plan was for the announcers to call the game their own game. But we thought: “We are here in the world of cartoons. Stay in this world. This is cool? Therefore, we decided to use our talents and create full-length motion capture characters in order to fully maintain the illusion in the cartoon world.”
For surround capture, Silver Spoons used 43 Vicon motion capture cameras at ESPN’s green screen studio at Studio Z in Bristol. About half of the cameras were mounted on a grid above the stage, while the rest were scattered at floor level on tripods.
Joe Franklin (right) and Jack Ciccone stand in for announcers Drew Carter and Kevin Wicks during rehearsal.
“We got a lot of coverage,” says Silver Spoon executive producer Laura Herzing. “We film in real time their entire body, their faces, their fingers, the way they move around in the volume, and some of the tracking props. When they call the game, they also hold a tracking pen in their hand. In addition, we have two different demo setups – a dead end demo and a goaltender demo – where they will track a hockey stick and [their avatars] will change wardrobes. put the entertainment aspect into the educational aspect.”
Silver Spoon uses Epic Games’ Unreal Engine, Autodesk MotionBuilder animation software, and Erizos Studio graphics management platform to create the announcer animation. The face capture technology combines off-the-shelf technology using the iPhone and its face-tracking software with a custom tool built by Silver Spoon on top of it. The system can capture a wide range of expressions and combine full body capture data to create complete avatars.
“It’s an unparalleled experience,” said Charlie Collin, motion graphics design manager at ESPN Creative Studio, “and it’s a natural extension of the rendering competition, which is really exciting. We only had about eight weeks to get it set up with the help of a small team, so the timeline is very short. But Silver Spoon has been a great partner and we can’t wait [Tuesday night].”
The facial capture software will allow voice actors from the Big City Greens cast to bring the characters Cricket and Tilly to life by conducting live interviews on the ice and on the players’ benches during games. Horton and Herrington will be interviewed from Los Angeles and will join the show remotely via video link. ESPN Creative Studios senior creative director of animation, graphic innovation and production design David “Sparky” Spargrove, who led much of the broadcast’s design, will work alongside voice acting in Los Angeles.
ESPN and the Silver Spoon motion capture team: (from top left) Matthew Hustle, Ed Placey, Jeremy Allen, Joe Myersky, Shane Norton, Hyley Manard, Amy Nelson, Laura Herzing, Charlie Collin, Melissa Canavan, Pete Collazo, Sean Conover, Michael” Spike” Shikovny, Izzy Heron, Jake Shikovy and Joe Franklin
In December, Silver Spoon partnered with CBS Sports and Nickelodeon to host a live interview with SpongeBob SquarePants’ Patrick Star using real-time face capture technology. Tonight they’re bringing back facial and shoulder motion capture for Big City Greens, Houghton and Herington interviews.
“The show’s creators are very supportive because they are hockey fans themselves,” said Amy Nelson, graphic innovation manager at ESPN Creative Studio. “With motion technology, we can interview them and they can speak directly to the talent from Los Angeles and the characters will respond – similar to our MLB [broadcast] layouts.”
ESPN Creative Studio also took the existing ESPN NHL Hockey branding insert and brought it into the world of Big City Greens with custom-designed elements, colors, graphics and characters to create a cohesive look.
“It became a labor of love,” Placey said. “People have always been willing to push themselves and be part of something new and different. We see it from people in the room with tape recorders running replays, to TD creating new effects, to the graphics team creating new packages and evaluating bugs. Everyone is interested. Take the time to give a little more because they love being part of such a cool project.”
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Post time: Mar-15-2023