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NFL Playoffs 2022: Nickelodeon, CBS Sports Are Back With Slime-Filled Wild Card Game, Real-Time AR Graphics


NFL Playoffs 2022: Nickelodeon, CBS Sports Are Back With Slime-Filled Wild Card Game, Real-Time AR Graphics Unreal Engine-powered graphics will be available live and on first replays By Jason Dachman, Chief Editor

Friday, January 14, 2022 - 1:34 pm

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After taking home a pair of Sports Emmys for last year's NFL Wild Card Game coverage, CBS Sports and Nickelodeon are back with another innovative simulcast for Sunday's 49ers-Cowboys matchup. The alternative presentation (the traditional broadcast will air on CBS) will once again be driven by a surfeit of enhanced graphics and augmented-reality elements featuring Nickelodeon characters and the network's signature green slime. This year, however, these elements will be available in real time and on first replays for the first time.

Everything has been enhanced this year, especially on the animation side, says CBS Sports producer Shawn Robbins, who is coordinating producer for the game and Nick's weekly NFL Slimetime studio show. What the graphics team brought to the table last year was super fun and innovative, and they're taking it to the next level this year. We'll have higher-end animations and will be able to turn them around much quicker, which will really make a difference.

Slime and googly eyes

We re running it back this Super Wild Card Weekend when the @49ers take on the @dallascowboys on @nickelodeon.

CBS Sports (@CBSSports) January 10, 2022

Nickifed' Broadcast Version 2.0: Enhanced AR Graphics Offer Player-Tracking This year's NFL Wild Card Game on Nickelodeon will feature enhanced original on-field graphics created by Nick's in-house graphics team, upgraded AR elements (a blimp flying throughout the stadium, the return of the Slime Zone cannons on scoring plays, SpongeBob and Patrick graphics between the uprights reacting to field goals), and player-tracking graphics that use slime trails to show the routes of receivers on first replays.

Most important, many of the graphics can be integrated into the broadcast live or in near real time. Last year, the onsite production truck sent clips to Nickelodeon HQ in New York City, where the graphics team applied elements as fast as possible using Adobe After Effects, and then sent graphic back to the truck to be aired. This year, CBS Sports and Nickelodeon have partnered with The Famous Group to create a real-time/quick-turnaround AR graphics workflow based on Epic Games' Unreal Engine.

An AR blimp graphic will be flying throughout the stadium during Nickelodeon's broadcast.

One of the goals that came down from our senior leadership for this year was to have the graphics be as close to real time as possible - or even live - for the viewer, says Kurt Hartman, VP, animation/motion graphics, Nickelodeon. What we did last year worked great, and we will continue to use [that workflow] this year for some things, but we wanted to allow [viewers] to see these graphics live rather than in just replays or bumpers.

Everything is running in Unreal Engine now, he continues, allowing us to do things in real time rather than with pre-renders, which we had to deal with last year. We feel like that is going to make this year's game a version 2.0.

Real-Time AR: Blimp Overhead, Upgraded Slime Zone, Return of SpongeBob The most visible new element in this year's Nick broadcast will be an AR-powered blimp (based on the iconic Kids Choice Awards blimp trophy) flying throughout the stadium during the game. Although there was briefly a pre-rendered blimp graphic in last year's telecast, this year's AR version running in Unreal Engine will cast lifelike shadows on the field, adjust to time of day, and allow cameras to zoom in and out while it's in frame. In addition to dumping slime on the field and lighting up when teams enter the red zone, the blimp can open up its side and display video, such as replays, crowd shots, or graphics.

Nickelodeon and CBS Sports aim to have graphics integrated into the broadcast live and near-live more often than they did last year.

Viewers will also see a big upgrade to the popular Slime Zone graphics featuring four cannons in each corner of the end zone shooting out slime when a team scores.

We had such a huge response to that last year that we felt like we needed to make it even bigger and better, says Hartman. We've rebuilt and redesigned the cannons, and, since everything is running in Unreal Engine, a camera can actually zoom in on one of the slime cannons and see detail because the slime that's coming out of it is a real-time liquid simulation. The cannons also respond to the lighting and time of day, so they're going to look incredibly real.

Slime Zone will also be used on field goals instead of solely on touchdowns. The SpongeBob SquarePants graphic between the goalposts on field-goal attempts will also be back, but it will more dynamic and react to the result of the kick in real time. Hartman also promises plenty of other eye-catching new slime graphics and characters will debut during Sunday's game.

First Replays and Half-Time Highlights: Slime Trails and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles The Nickelodeon graphics team has partnered with Second Spectrum and the NFL Next Gen Stats player-tracking system to create slime trails that visually show receiver routes on the field. These elements can be turned around quickly enough to be shown on first replays within the broadcast.

The blimp can open up its side and display video, such as replays, crowd shots, or graphics.

We have some other things up our sleeve as far as telestration and slime trails on the field, says Robbins. Our main goal this year is to get those fun [elements] into the broadcast faster in firs
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