The redesign of Studio A by Fox Sports in Los Angeles represents an evolution of the network’s design and technology integration, bringing in eye-catching new elements that help create its standout look.
“It was something that had never been done before at this scale on a live broadcast,” said Zac Fields, senior vice president of graphics technology and integration division. “For this reason, a large part of the workflow is personalized. We spent a lot of time doing demos and tests proving various features.
In many ways, this project embodies the way Fox Sports creates bold looks that take risks – all in the name of bringing an unparalleled experience to viewers’ television sets.
The project required collaboration between in-house engineers, in-house software engineers, artists, and vendors, including Girraphic’s design team, who handled the virtual set extensions, video walls, and volume graphics and extended mixed reality features.
Fox Sports Creative Services created some of these assets, and Girraphic was tasked with using their expertise to integrate the designs into Vizrt and Unreal, while designing assets from scratch.
This process began with design meetings that covered all of Fox’s goals and vision for the space.
“Our team explored how these segments were already performed and what they look like now, and what kind of fun tools we could create to help bring the segments to life. We wanted to make sure these segments were still familiar and usable not only for Fox’s control room and on-air talent, but also for Fox NFL fans,” explained Girapphic CEO Nathan Marsh.
A Fox executive vice president, Gary Hartley, contacted Girraphic in January 2022 and the team headed to Los Angeles to see what scale the Fox team had in mind.
For the new Studio A, Fox chose to implement all of these technologies and design elements at scale – drawing on many of the lessons and confidence it had gained from implementing earlier applications of extended reality for its NASCAR coverage in a broadcast facility in North Carolina that came online a few years ago, which is mostly based on green screens.
For his signature studio in LA, green screen was quickly eliminated as an option knowing he was reaching the point where innovation had flattened out. Instead, the network opted for an LED volume.
Typically massive expanses of seamless video panels arranged in wrap-around walls that can also cover the floor and ceiling, LED volumes are becoming increasingly popular in film and television production as a means of placing talent inside a space that could have been shot on green screen before. This technique has the added benefit of requiring less post-production, having more realistic perspective shifts as the camera moves, and also making the talent feel like they’re in the depicted environment.
One application of LED volumes is in scenes involving characters driving in a vehicle. Previously, this was often done with a vehicle chassis placed in front of a green screen. Post-production would add elements such as traffic passing through the rear window of the vehicle, as well as different views for the character one-shots with the side windows in the background. Some would even edit subtle reflections on the windshield or other glass to increase realism.
Now even a relatively small LED volume can be used to film these types of scenes, with video loops displayed in the wraparound LED video wall highlighting background elements. Some setups even include a ceiling-mounted grating that provides true glass reflections.
There have also been other types of film and TV scenes shot on volumes, often combined with harsh scenes when a character has to interact with the setting – such as hiding behind a rock or wall or using a prop. .
Once the decision was made to use a volume, the Fox team didn’t just stop there.
It has integrated GhostFrame technology which separates the images displayed on the wall into four refresh rates. Each camera is set to a specific rate and is thus able to ignore other backgrounds.
The human eye, meanwhile, usually can’t distinguish between refresh rates, which is why we see the weird, layered look. For the talent and anyone standing in the studio, the image is a bit unusual – often with repeated versions of the same graphics in different positions. In this case, it is still visible enough that the talent can be guided to point to the correct volume area, for example, giving it a head start on traditional chroma key contours.
“The technological advancements made by Fox this year will influence sports broadcasting for years to come,” Marsh said. “Live streaming is starting to have the ability to match cinematic-quality productions in a fraction of the time, and it’s only going to get better.”
Combined with Stype Spyder camera tracking monitoring camera positions and the ability to direct the cameras to only relay frames displayed at a given frame rate, this gives Fox the ability to show different backgrounds behind different cameras.
While this could, in theory, be used to present entirely different environments on each camera, Fox has primarily tied GhostFrame together with the camera tracking and rendering engines to allow each camera angle to capture a different version of the scene. sample environment, but with some subtle shifts to perspective. This makes the end result look realistic while not limiting it to look like it’s just shot against three video walls like a theater set might be.
Feeding perspective distorted backgrounds onto different parts of the LED volumes to account for different camera angles has been a common technique, although these usually involve the volume showing a segment of the background adjusted to the viewer’s perspective while other parts remain in their default view. For this reason, there can be no overlap between where each camera is pointed, as this would create an odd look.
However, with GhostFrame technology as part of the secret sauce, each camera only sees its assigned refresh rate – meaning the director and other crew members in the control room can see exactly what it will look like. this shot when punched – not the multi-layer version seen in the studio.
Fox Sports already has several options for using volume, which are usually built around a 3D model of the virtual space that is rendered and then GhostFrame slices as needed. It can be used to create an infield of sources, allowing talent to demonstrate plays as well as showcase virtual set extensions with a variety of thematic graphics inserted.
Additionally, the plans call for more innovation, which is possible thanks to the dynamic and flexible system designed by Fox and Girraphic.
“I feel like we’re only scratching the surface with the LED volume. As we grow, these environments will evolve from talent spaces to more functional interactive environments,” Field said. .
In addition to volume, Fox can also bring extended reality elements throughout the space, including both volume and hard set (or shots that include both at the same time). These are generally more in line with those that have been widely used in the past, such as floating panels or giant freestanding cutouts featuring player photos and stats.
These digital effects have their own dedicated Unreal engines.
Fox controls the obvious things like player photos and videos, but they also control some unique pieces. For example, in the “On the Pitch” segment, their operators can change things like the time of day or even the color of the crowd’s jerseys.
“We check the obvious things like player photos and videos, but we also check some unique pieces. For example…operators can change things like the time of day or even the color of the jerseys the crowd is wearing,” Marsh explained.
This is accomplished with the help of Erizos control integration.
Girraphic reviewed Fox’s current workflows from their other shows and scenes and worked with Erizos to recreate some of them on their platform, allowing operators to get to grips with the new controls with minimal fuss. effort.
This required finding a way to allow operators to effectively control 36 motors in real time.
Inevitably, broadcasters have to plan for the unexpected, which could include the failure of one or more components of the systems that run the volume and rendering of the LEDs. There are spare renderers available that can be brought online if a primary renderer fails.
It is also possible to circle around a faulty part of the volume, be it rendering software or hardware failure. The system may also remove GhostFrame to simplify processes and continue shooting on other backgrounds, depending on the segment.
Finally, the network can finally fall back on its hard practice set at the other end of the studio.