The Famous Group Ups the Ante on Mixed-Reality Tech at Super Bowl LVI, NBA All-Star
Productions celebrate iconic L.A. Coliseum, NBA’s diamond anniversary
Whether for sports broadcasts or in-venue shows, The Famous Group has become known as one of the predominant players in the world of augmented reality (AR) and mixed reality (MR) for live sports. Last month, TFG amped up its mixed-reality game even further with back-to-back trailblazing efforts at Super Bowl LVI and the NBA All-Star Game.
“We’re incredibly grateful to be a part of two of the biggest sporting events of the year, let alone on back-to-back weekends,” says The Famous Group Executive Producer Andrew Isaacson. “The stakes are high, but so is the reward.”
Working its 17th consecutive Super Bowl during last month’s game at SoFi Stadium, TFG was tasked by the NFL to create a cutting-edge mixed-reality pregame segment that would honor L.A.’s long Super Bowl history. Then, just one week later, TFG was on hand at Rocket Mortgage Fieldhouse in Cleveland for the NBA All-Star Game, creating eye-popping mixed-reality experiences for the pregame player introductions and 75th Anniversary Team ceremony at halftime.
“Our team are all sports fans at heart,” says Isaacson, “and we’ve been blown away and humbled by the impact and reach these projects have. These productions that combine live performance with real-time effects are not easy to pull off, but we’re proud to be at the forefront of bringing cutting-edge technology to the sports industry to enhance the fan experience and create more-immersive events.”
Super Bowl LVI: MR Makes the Biggest Event in Sports Even Bigger
When TFG began working with the NFL on creative development for the Super Bowl LVI pregame show last summer, they identified three key storylines: the Super Bowl’s being in Los Angeles, the historical significance of the Super Bowl’s returning to L.A. (the first Super Bowl took place at the L.A. Memorial Coliseum in 1967), and the unparalleled sports and entertainment destination offered by the newly built SoFi Stadium.
“We wanted the creative to lean into SoFi as a canvas and focus on the incredible [Infinity Screen],” says Lauren Fisher, chief creative officer, The Famous Group.
The result was a double–tracked-camera mixed-reality production featuring a nod to the Los Angeles Coliseum: pulling back a virtual curtain to reveal a 3D re-creation of the iconic venue. In addition, TFG paid homage to Super Bowl I by referencing the jet packs featured in the first-ever Super Bowl Halftime Show. TFG created futuristic, drone-like versions of the originals to deliver the trophy into the stadium to serve as an “easter egg” and nod to Super Bowl history.
“Mixed reality has the unique ability to enhance and deepen storytelling and the fan experience,” says Tim Tubito, director, event presentation and content, NFL. “The Famous Group continues to bring a creative and innovative approach to the in-stadium and broadcast environments, and Super Bowl LIV was no different. The mixed-reality production with nods to the L.A. Coliseum and original jet packs was a unique way to pay tribute to Super Bowl I in L.A. and create an impactful opening moment.”
NBC Sports play-by-play caller Al Michaels introduced the opener moments before kickoff, and the Lombardi Trophy descended from the Infinity Screen, with the massive videoboard acting as a portal.
“We brought the Coliseum into SoFi, bridging past with present with a special nod to history,” says Fisher. “Tim Tubito and his team at the NFL were amazing creative partners in developing these ideas; it was a true collaborative effort. They brought a heartbeat to the production by bringing in legends to round everything out.”
On game day, TFG worked with SMT to ensure that camera tracking was calibrated and working properly, and NBC’s production team, led by director Drew Esocoff and producer Fred Gaudelli, called the show cue-to-cue from the A-truck front bench.
The NFL and Van Wagner Sports & Entertainment (which produced the in-venue show) also made it possible for the moment to be shown to fans in-house on the Infinity Screen. TFG’s team was based in a separate mobile unit with NBC communications and had its own operator running the various elements on cues from Esocoff and Gaudelli.
The opening mixed-reality experience also featured two live video feeds (Super Bowl 1 legends on the field waving to the crowd) integrated into “virtual jumbotrons” of the 3D L.A. Coliseum. This marked the first time a live feed was integrated into AR/3D elements at the Super Bowl.
“This was The Famous Group’s 17th consecutive Super Bowl,” notes Fisher. “Every year, we look to evolve and enhance the production and fan experience. This year, we worked to create hyper-realistic simulations (specifically on the fabric of the [virtual] curtains) and MR elements and focused on enhancing the live video streams.”
Among TFG’s key technology partners for Super Bowl LVI were Epic Games/Unreal Engine, Quince Imaging, SMT, Pixotope, The LiveYard, Firebird Sound, TruePoint Laser Scanning, and NEP (which provided the mobile unit onsite). Van Wagner worked with TFG from a stadium-infrastructure perspective, and Madison Square Garden organist Ray Castoldi oversaw music selection.
“This was a carefully coordinated event,” says Isaacson. “We had to meticulously time all production elements to align for both the in-stadium fans and the fans at home watching the broadcast. The response was overwhelmingly positive. I think it was the perfect moment to kick off the game, and you could feel the fan excitement. When [PA announcer] Alan Roach said, ‘Welcome to the Super Bowl,’ it gave fans their first real signal to cheer and the opportunity to soak in the significance of where they all were.”
Adds Fisher, “Although we’ve been doing these MR activations for several years, to have the opportunity to do it on the biggest stage, in our backyard and hometown, was particularly special. It’s the biggest sporting event of the year, and this project was all about celebrating the Super Bowl being in our hometown of L.A.”
NBA All-Star: ‘Diamonds’ for the League’s 75th Anniversary
Just one week later, TFG was at it again — this time at the NBA All-Star festivities in Cleveland. The NBA enlisted TFG to use mixed-reality technology to provide an additional layer of excitement for the already highly produced player introductions and halftime presentation.
For the All-Star introductions, TFG created three-dimensional elements designed to complement what was happening on stage as players were introduced.
At halftime, TFG infused the entire arena with diamonds in celebration of the “diamond anniversary” of the league. At any given time, 750-1,000 diamonds floated throughout the venue.
“This was our first arena MR activation,” says Fisher. “Lighting was particularly important and had to be dramatic. The NBA wanted the halftime presentation to feel elevated and ceremonial so we also created special banners, typography, and different elements that were woven together to enhance the presentation and transcend the stage on the court.”
TFG brought its proprietary technology, Vixi Live, to NBA All-Star for the first time ever, enhancing the in-arena fan experience for all three nights of festivities. Vixi Live is powered by TFG’s Virtual Seat software and allows in-arena fans to engage with the game live by scanning a QR code on the main videoboards in Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse and Wolstein Center to see themselves on the big screens.
Vixi Live was launched at the beginning of the NBA season and is currently used by the Portland Trail Blazers and the Golden State Warriors. Isaacson calls it “the ultimate in-venue video selfie cam” and says it provides in-arena producers with thousands of additional looks at fans to put on the display boards.
“We were very happy with the final product [at NBA All-Star],” says Isaacson. “It looked amazing, and it elevated and enhanced a historical moment for the NBA. I think it resonated and connected with both in-arena fans and fans at home watching the broadcast.”