‘Towering’ Tribute: Major League Baseball Honors Jackie Robinson With Mixed-Reality Ceremony Before All-Star Game
The Famous Group, Fox Sports partner on eye-catching presentation at Dodger Stadium
The 2022 MLB All-Star Game in Los Angeles was filled with live-production innovation. In one of its standout moments, during a pregame ceremony, Major League Baseball and Fox Sports used mixed-reality graphics to celebrate the 75th anniversary of Jackie Robinson’s breaking the sport’s color barrier.
MLB entrusted The Famous Group with the creative vision of the tribute, in which massive baseball-card–inspired animations above the Dodger Stadium field told the story of Robinson’s athletic and cultural impact.
“We wanted to do a really special, sincere tribute to Jackie Robinson but do it in a very modern way,” says Andrew Isaacson, EVP, business development, The Famous Group. “I think that captures both fans who have followed baseball forever and that younger audience. I think that’s where baseball is going, and it was really great that [MLB] took the risk and had confidence in us to pull this off.”
The presentation lasted just over two minutes but had a visual impact both for fans at home watching on television and for those in the stadium, who were able to see the renderings on the Dodger Stadium videoboards.
— MLB (@MLB) July 20, 2022
There were many ways that Major League Baseball could have paid tribute to a figure as historically significant as Jackie Robinson. So why were mixed-reality graphics the brush the league chose to paint with?
“Every time I thought about Jackie Robinson, the word towering came to mind,” says Brian O’Gara, VP, events and game presentation, Major League Baseball. “A towering impact on the game. That’s where, creatively, this came into play. Those enlarged baseball-card images of different parts of his life towering above Dodger Stadium. That’s what clinched it for us.”
To pull it off, Fox Sports and The Famous Group deployed five cameras, two of them exclusive to the pregame ceremony and outfitted with tracking heads set up to render and display the MR graphics. Typically, in the design process, TFG uses an existing model of the venue or takes a LiDAR scan of the stadium to ensure that the graphics display properly in the space. Once the three-dimensional show is built and calibrated to the event’s surroundings, the producer and director decide how and when to cut cameras to tell the linear story.
“Usually, mixed reality is this big thing that takes over and wows everybody with the dynamics of it,” says Hemu Karadkar, creative director, The Famous Group. “The challenge for us was, how do we use mixed reality in a way that doesn’t take over this moment for Jackie? How do we tailor the creative to match the moment? I think that was the big challenge for us: how do you use mixed reality to tell a story but not in get in the way of it? We are using modern technology, but the storytelling element is really important. We have to walk the fine line of not having the technology take over what we want to say, and this was a great opportunity for us to make sure that the technology gets people interested in watching this.”
According to Eric Burak, executive producer, The Famous Group, his team worked with O’Gara and MLB’s photo department to obtain high-quality images from Robinson’s career to be used in the animations. Burak points out the challenge of using mixed-reality graphics at such a high resolution when working with older photography but adds that both sides worked together to use the best media available.
Additionally, Isaacson notes, there was the unique challenge of working with a live actor. Activations the company executed in the past were typically prebuilt and timed out with either a prerecorded voice or the in-venue PA announcer. “You basically press play and cut between cameras,” he says. Working with a guest star in legendary actor Denzel Washington added a timing layer that needed to be accounted for by the broadcaster.
Fox Sports producer Chuck McDonald and director Brian Lilly executed the live presentation onsite. Lilly has experience with The Famous Group, having directed the NFL 100 All-Time Team ceremony prior to Super Bowl LIV in February 2020. Game Creek Video, Fox Sports’ mobile-production-facilities provider at MLB All-Star, supplied an additional unit and front bench from which to call and switch the ceremony.
The final exclamation point on the ceremony was a switch to a camera at low first that framed up a MR animation recreating Robinson’s iconic steal of home. It required FOX (and SVP, Field Operations Michael Davies) and MLB (and SVP, Broadcasting Bernadette McDonald) dedicating a second camera at that position with augmenting capabilities. In the end, it was worth the resources.
“That was the closing shot we wanted for sure,” says O’Gara. “There was no way we were going to do it without making that special. That’s how we got Denzel. That’s how we got MLB leadership to buy in on the overall concept. That closing moment was pretty key to the whole thing.”
MLB was first inspired to use mixed reality for this ceremony by the Carolina Panther animation at Bank of America Stadium during Week 1 of the 2021 NFL season.
“We were very pleased with [the Robinson tribute],” says O’Gara. “[The Famous Group and Fox Sports] were great to work with. They were creative, and it all needed to work collectively. The music had to hit just as well as the imagery had to hit, and it certainly didn’t hurt that the guy delivering the script [Washington] is one of the all-time greats who could bring a lot of passion and energy and authenticity to what we had to say. We were really happy with it.”