Cleaner, livelier 3D stills and animations: That's what Fox Sports is promising to deliver for the 2010-2011 NFL season, starting during the New England Patriots/Atlanta Falcons preseason game last month.
"Viewers can expect to see a much more colorful 3D look overall," says Zac Fields, Fox Sports' manager of remote graphics. "Yet at the same time, our production process will be much more streamlined; making life simpler for the artists and operators who create and play our graphics." (Note: Offering 3D graphics is not the same as providing 3D video. "Currently there are no plans for Fox to broadcast 3D NFL games this season," says Fox Sports spokesman Eddie Motl.)
Danny Tello, with Fox Sports' Graphics in Los Angeles. To make this change, Fox Sports has migrated its 3D production system to Vizrt's 3D graphics platform; consisting of Viz Artist, Viz Engine, and Viz Trio. Combined, these elements have allowed Fox Sports to eliminate a stage of its 3D production process.
FASTER FOR FOX
Under its previous production workflow, Fox Sports' artists created their designs in Cinema 4D, 3D Studio Max and Adobe Suite. The designs then had to be reconstructed and animated on the Chyron Duet character generator system, before they could be stored and then played out on air.
Thanks to the latest version of Vizrt Artist, the conversion step is no longer necessary.
"Today, our artists can render 3D and 2D work directly on Viz Artist 3.2," Fields tells TV Technology. "This means that they are working in a format that is native to the Vizrt platform; making conversion unnecessary."
In its 3.2 version, Viz Artist can support real-time creation of complex 3D graphics and animations, with the added ability to incorporate video and maps. Best yet, Viz Artist's content works seamlessly with the company's Viz Engine 2D/3D rendering engine and Viz Trio character generator.
Moving to the current Vizrt platform "has made our workflow very efficient," Fields said. "The integration of the Viz Artist-Viz Engine-Viz Trio provides an end-to-end system that is effective and economical, from a time perspective. Another benefit is that the actual number of functions our operators have to work with have been reduced. So our 3D graphics system is simpler as well."
"We are excited that Fox Sports has chosen Vizrt for coverage of NFL events, both in studio and in remote production vehicles," said Isaac Hersly, President of Vizrt Americas. "Fox Sports will take advantage of Vizrt's streamlined and efficient workflow, from graphics creation to real time play out."
Moving from one graphics platform to another is always demanding, but when it has to be done on a tight schedule, the challenge is increased. "In this case, our biggest headache has been working within a very short time frame," Fields said. "We've only had a few months to get the equipment installed and to get our artists familiar with using the Viz Artist system."
That's not all: "Writing directly to a character generator is something quite new for graphic artists," he adds. "Still, once they got a handle on the new process, our artists have been pleased with the results. So have our operators and producers: It's just a better way to do things."
At press time, Fox Sports had installed two pairs of Viz Trio character generators in two of the four Game Creek 'FX Production System' trailers it uses for NFL production. "One of the Trios is used for our 'FOX BOX' scoring banner, which is our trademark feature for keeping viewers informed during the game," said Fields. "The second Viz Trio is used for our 3D graphics. Although much of its content is preproduced, it is possible for us to create new 3D animations on the fly."
The "NFL on Fox" marks the premiere of the Vizrt 3D graphics system, and the network plans to deploy this system to other sports in the months ahead. "Our current plan is to roll it out with the NFL this fall, and then extend it to our NASCAR coverage in February 2011," Fields said. "We also want to see about using this system for our regional sports broadcasts."
Still, Fox Sports is waiting to see how well the new Vizrt 3D system works in practice, before committing the network to a full-scale rollout. "We're like a guy who is test-driving a hot new car," Fields quips. "Right now, we're just kicking the tires before we hit the road and open her up!"