ESPN’s Hero Graphic Brings Players Into the Studio

By Carolyn Braff

When the Western Conference Finals tipped off this week on ESPN, the network brought the heroes of the court into the studio, using a new virtual graphic dubbed “the hero.” The in-studio informational graphic places a player — the hero — virtually in the studio, next to the anchor.

“Instead of doing your traditional full-screen graphic, where you have your talent talking over a graphic that’s on-screen and you don’t see the talent, we’re going to immerse the talent into the graphic,” explains Anthony Bailey, VP of emerging technology for ESPN. “Putting the talent out on the studio floor, we actually put the player in as part of the graphic, so now the talent can interact with all the different areas of the graphic.”

That moving graphic package shows the player in motion and can incorporate text, video, Web content, computer animation, still shots, green-screen content — “the choices for the middle disc are endless,” Bailey says.

The graphic was created using the Brainstorm virtual-engine machine, which ESPN’s creative services department and emerging technologies department put together collectively. The graphic does not have to be prefabricated; operators can build it on the fly, using images of NBA or NFL players thanks to ESPN’s rights agreement with EA sports.

“We can take assets from NBA and the NFL and use those players in the graphic, but, for other leagues, we have to go with whatever is in our database,” Bailey says. “We have a lot of shots of players, but we want the three-dimensional type, so we’re going to try to get as much video of a player standing in front of a green screen as we can.”

The hero graphic took about six weeks to create and was designed to debut during the Western Conference Finals. ESPN plans to eventually incorporate it into all of its studio shows.

“Right now, we’re looking at mostly our pre-game–type shows,” Bailey says. “It will go into all of our NBA and NFL shows, and pretty much anything that wraps around a live event. Eventually, we’ll bring it into SportsCenter as well.”

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