3D Graphics in Sports, Part One

By John Rice

In today’s sports-production environment, graphics are telling as much of the story of an event as the commentators or even the actions on the field or court. And 3D graphics, once relegated to titles and bumpers, are an integral part of any event’s coverage. Sports Video Group spoke with 3D-system and -software providers about their NAB offerings and the changes they see in sports-production requirements.

In general, today’s marketplace and economy are demanding greater efficiencies and cost reductions. And graphics vendors are responding with systems and software that offer new economies in multiple ways. PC-based systems are benefiting from ever lowering hardware costs. Integration of popular creative software and animation packages are opening the marketplace to a wealth of trained creative and operational personnel. Workflows are becoming easier and are creating scenarios that are faster and require less manpower.

These economies are opening up the marketplace to a wider user base. Graphics once the domain of the national broadcasters and cable networks are now affordable to local productions, even college and high school facilities.

At the same time, the marketplace is asking for (and receiving) greater capabilities, increasing access to real-time statistics, new graphics tools and looks, and more-dynamic presentations.

“It seems like everything today has to be 3D,” says Michael Coleman, Adobe After Effects product manager. “You have to do it now to compete.”

According to Coleman, new capabilities in After Effects as well as PhotoShop and other components of Adobe’s Creative Suite 4 are bringing new efficiencies and cost savings to 3D-graphics creation. “You see tools like PhotoShop, which is on every creative person’s desk in the world, now integrating 3D work.”

Also helping drive efficiencies? Lower-cost CPUs and graphics cards are lowering the cost for 3D graphics in all applications. “A regular gaming card is fantastic for doing 3D-compositing in After Effects or throwing around a model in PhotoShop,” Coleman says.

With the release of Creative Suite 4 last fall, he adds, there are probably 50 different little enhancements for After Effects: “We call these ‘small things that add up to make a big difference.’” New features include a unified camera tool that allows easy manipulation of camera view using a three-button mouse. “This is going to make it a lot easier to move between applications if you are doing 3D authoring,” says Coleman. “We also have the ability to have separate keyframes on X, Y, and Z dimensions of your animation. Now you can have each one animating in its own space and time.”

While Creative Suite 4 is barely six months old, he adds, “we’re already thinking about new things for Creative Suite 5.”

In December, Avid released PostDeko for Editors, an AVX2 plug-in that gives editors the ability to make changes to Deko-created graphics in Avid’s Media Composer, NewsCutter, and Symphony systems. Avid Technology Technical Marketing Manager Teicia Joffe says that allows the editors to work directly with the graphics directory and insert them into a story package.

Such applications as PostDeko for Editors fit into what Avid sees as the current demands of production. “How can I address challenges in my environment more easily and efficiently with less people and less money?” says Joffe. “We’re seeing a shift in the market to workflows that are more efficient.”

Customers are also willing to open their space and experiment with new technology and tying systems from different vendors together. Joffe points to Avid’s ability to work with tools like Autodesk’s 3D Studio Max (3ds Max) as an example of meeting that need. Artists are able to render out 3D models and animations for import into the Deko graphics system. The models play back live and combine with editable Deko layers, so artists who are more comfortable working with familiar Autodesk software are not required to be retrained on Deko.

In the sports environment, Joffe says, Avid is seeing a lot of “niche applications,” such as a 3D Doppler-radar effect being used to measure distances in golf, and increasing use of virtual sets and holograms. She also says Avid is seeing its technology hit the college and even high school level.

“We are seeing an emphasis on higher production value and flashy animations,” says Joffe. “But we’re also seeing a shift to more-economical thinking. It’s a conundrum: we’re seeing more customers where they have to do more with less.”

Another example of economical thinking in action is helping customers enable networked workflows that allow multiple users to share content. At NAB, Chyron will unveil Cloud 9, a product that “puts the creation process in the cloud, on the Internet,” explains Aldo Campisi, Chyron product manager for Lyric PRO. “It facilitates not just the conventional broadcaster, but it opens up markets like online newspapers, mobile, and digital signage. The opportunities are bigger than ever.”

Campisi points to workflow as the key to Chyron’s offerings. “We provide the customer not just with the design tools and the playout tools, but, by making it come together, it becomes a very, very cost-effective workflow” one that’s optimized for speed, for investment and ease of use” without any compromise.

“In a sports environment,” he adds, “when you talk about 3D, it really has to be instantaneous.” Chyron’s Lyric PRO integrates data binding, allowing continuous, real-time updating of statistic and information. “Look at something like NASCAR,” he says, “where real-time telemetry data is available as they accelerate or the leader changes. Once the data is aggregated and is in the database, displaying it is instantaneous.”

Boasting an open-system capability, Lyric PRO can integrate with 3D Studio Max and Maya. Accessing XMP metadata “facilitates creating the highest level of graphics” to cross-reference multiple databases, spell-check” there are so many benefits.”

He calls Lyric PRO the fastest and most open system on the market. “Therefore, it becomes the one that’s the easiest to adopt and the easiest to create on,” he adds. “The wildcard is Cloud 9.”

Stay tuned for part two, featuring more NAB 3D-graphics news!

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