Season Two of Sport Science To Tap Panasonic, Entity FX

By John Rice

According to football great Jerry Rice, the key to successfully catching a pass is to use your fingertips and never let the ball hit the palms of your hands. That theory was proven to be true in a segment of last year’s Fox Sports Network series, “Sport Science.” The graphic analysis of Rice catching passes confirmed that it was all in the fingertips. Trent Smith, Senior Producer for EntityFX, creator of the graphics for the series, reports that Rice “was amazed that the information came back to him that that was precisely what he was doing.” And with one Emmy under their belt EntityFX is ready to begin season two, and maybe land another Emmy.

The Jerry Rice segment was one of many in the premier season of the series that helped EntityFX, based in Santa Monica CA and Vancouver BC, garner a 2008 Sports Emmy Award for Outstanding Graphic Design. More than 20 athletes were part of the first season of the show including NFL, NHL, and MLB players as well as NASCAR drivers, Soccer players and Horse Racing Jockeys.

The series is produced by BASE Productions which operates in Los Angeles and Washington DC. Scott Bramble, director of Post for BASE’s West Coast facilities, explains that the athletes were shot in studio using a variety of cameras including Panasonic HDX-900 Varicams. Super Slow Motion footage was captured using the Vision Research Phantom Camera, which shoots up to 10,000 frames per second says Bramble. Additional footage was captured on a variety of HDV camcorders and “we even grabbed some behind the scenes stuff off mini-DV.”

EntityFX was charged with creating computer-generated versions of the athletes to allow to “help analyze and showcase the athletes precise performance,” says EntityFX’s Trent Smith. Using a ring of cameras provided by Vicon/House of Moves, tracking marks on the athletes are captured and that data is the basis for EntityFX’s graphics. “It matches every single move the althete makes,” says Smith. “We can control every frame, every second of it so we can precisely see what they are doing with their movements and reactions to stuff. We can break it down and analyze the science of it.”

Director John Benkus and his team were analyzing individual data on location, while simultaneously getting motion capture data for EntityFX’s work. Smith explains “from there we would take that motion capture and apply their correct height and dimensions and weight and apply that to the motion capture data. Then we would draw a character and set it up for that athlete, and throw them into an environment we created for the different sporting events.”

Using MAYA software “manipulated via our proprietary software, we analyze the motion capture and are able to put that into key frame animation points. From there we are able to render it out and animate cameras and desired positions to see the event.” The final material is transferred over to 2D packages using After Effects for delivery to BASE.

While EntityFX does similar work for the National Geographic Channel series, Fight Science, also produced by BASE Productions, a large part of their work is in special effects for TV series including “Smallville” and “Pushing Daisies” and feature films such as “Spiderman 2,” “Into the Wild” and this summer’s X-Files feature, “I Want to Believe.” Smith says work on Sport Science “takes a little more patience.” For a feature film, “there might be a moment where you would change a character around a little bit so it would look good for the camera. For Sport Science, we never wanted to do that. We wanted to keep true to what the athlete was doing.”

Additionally, he says “dealing with motion capture takes more patience as well. It has to run through a heavy cache system we built to deal with MoCap that analyses into frame sequences. Every single frame has a point of animation. Normally, we would skip every 24 frames and let the computer interpolate.”

The first season of Sport Science employed a crew of 10 3D and 2D artists from EntityFX along a producer, coordinator and staff supervisor.

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