Empty stadium? No problem, Baseball is back! Fox has a way out!
Image credit: The Verge
So what if the real fans are not here to cheer their favorite teams during MLB, fake virtual fans are all ready to fill in space.
Sports are returning to stadiums, but unfortunately, fans haven't! In the Covid-19 world, there would be empty chairs, silent stands, no cardboard cutouts, drinks or snacks rather than loud cheering fans in an attempt to halt the virus spread. Though, these visuals are not for Fox viewers!
The sports network is planning to kick off the live broadcast of MLB this weekend, and they are not only planning to use fake fan audios but to also fill in the empty stands with AR fans created in Unreal Engine. You will see the weekend's Yankees-Nationals game with unreal fans shouting and cheering at the stands.
The fake fans deception is not only for the viewers, sitting on their couches streaming the game in their living rooms, but it's also for the teams playing in the actual stadiums. According to a source from Sony's MBL: The Show Games, all 30 MLB teams will be reckoning on fake fan screams, including in-stadium announcers, walk-up music, and other elements of the ceremonial display that include in a Major League Baseball match.
Image credit: theverge
However, Fox Sports decided to go a mile extra and has become the only network who would be broadcasting matches with virtual fans on TV.
Brad Zager, executive producer and operations at Fox Sports says that crowd and people sitting on seats have always been the part of broadcasting, it is nothing but high level sports in all the major leagues. Therefore, we have now come up with a remarkable solution for this.
He continues, it is not to fool everyone, it is indeed about the quality game; however, shot-to-shot, when anybody watches a broadcast, it is not much noticeable. We don't want people to feel weird watching a broadcast with an empty stadium. It's time to give people again, the sense of normalcy.
He believes that providing a virtual crowd will hopefully help viewers focus on the major game even more as your mind won't focus the emptiness there is in a Major League Baseball stadium.
The technology they are using is nothing new, and you must have seen before in different AR games. Pixotype is the augmented reality software used to create deception of crowds, which also has been used in AR graphics for the events like Super Bowl and the Weather Channel's storm warning illustrations.
The software works by taking visual aid from graphics built in an unreal engine produced by a creative agency called Silver spoon animation.
Unreal engine is widely used for creating video games or for designing virtual on-set backgrounds for events and shows like The Mandalorian.
Film graphics use visual effects that are usually rendered in post-production, but Unreal can create the same effect in real time, which is why it's more suitable for the live broadcast.
Fox Sports producers will curate "crowds" for a specific baseball game, controlling things like what they would be wearing, and what would be the percentage of the crowd present in the stadium and so on.. "We are figuring this out right now, and we will continue to evolve that process as we go through this weekend and from game-to-game, week-to-week," explains Zager.