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Inside the MultiVersus NHL Face-Off Live Animated Broadcast With the NHL's David Lehanski and Keith Horstman

12/04/2024

Inside the MultiVersus NHL Face-Off Live Animated Broadcast With the NHL's David Lehanski and Keith Horstman The league teams with TNT Sports, Warner Bros. Games for latest twist on alternative broadcasts By Jason Dachman, Editorial Director, U.S.

Friday, April 12, 2024 - 2:59 pm

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Bugs Bunny and the Tasmanian Devil; Batman, Superman, and Wonder Woman; Velma and Shaggy; Steven Universe; and Finn the Human will be among the Warner Bros. Discovery characters taking center ice on Sunday during the latest iteration of real-time animated NHL broadcasts. The league is teaming up with TNT Sports, Warner Bros. Games, and Beyond Sports to produce the first-ever MultiVersus NHL Face-Off, marking the fourth animated NHL broadcast to date.

Presented exclusively on truTV and Max's B/R Sports Add-On, the animated presentation of the Colorado Avalanche at the Golden Knights will use the league's NHL EDGE positional data (puck- and player-tracking powered by SMT) and Hawk-Eye Innovations optical tracking to generate realistic character and player- avatar movements to best represent the movements of the NHL players on the ice. Beyond Sports' AI-based data-visualization platform will leverage that data to re-create the action on the ice as it happens in real time, featuring the animated characters of WB Games' MultiVersus videogame alongside avatars of NHL players.

In addition, the ice rink for the alternative telecast will be dynamic and incorporate rotating elements based on environments from the MultiVersus game, such as the Space Jam Court and Adventure Time Tree Fort. Announcers Steve Mears and Colby Armstrong will call the action while interacting with WBD characters.

The MultiVersus NHL Face-Off marks the fourth chapter in the league's animated broadcast efforts, following the inaugural NHL Big City Greens Classic with ESPN in 2023, the second edition of the NHL BCG Classic last month, and NBC Sports Chicago's alternative presentation of last week's Chicago Blackhawks-Dallas Stars game.

SVG sat down with David Lehanski, EVP, business development innovation, and Keith Horstman, VP, technology, to discuss the production workflows and technology being used for Sunday's broadcast, how the production model has evolved over the past year, and what to expect in future NHL animated presentations.

How did the concept for these animated broadcasts come about in the first place?

Lehanski: This all started a couple years ago when we first met Beyond Sports and saw their capabilities firsthand. Originally, we were just looking to leverage the technology to help us validate the positional data of the puck- and player-tracking system that uses sensors on the jerseys and the puck. Beyond Sports took those data points and created a virtual rendering so you could visually see the players and puck on a virtual rink in real time. But, once we saw the rendering of that data, we realized this could be a pretty amazing viewing experience on its own.

That eventually led to our first initiative to do this live on-air, which was with ESPN and Disney and the Big City Greens property. It went well and helped us reach the audience we were going for: younger viewers, who didn't necessarily fall into the traditional NHL [demographic]. That opened up everyone's eyes. Although it was a very cool concept before that, [the NHL Big City Greens Classic] is when it became something that could have real value and viability.

And when did TNT Sports and Warner Bros. Discovery come into the equation?

Lehanski: TNT Sports and Warner Brothers Discovery are great partners of ours, so we had been talking to them about doing some kind of animated broadcast early on. They have so much incredible IP that it was hard to figure out what [properties] to leverage. But [the debut of] this MultiVersus game answered that question. It's a mashup title that brings together a lot of different characters from across all kinds of different IP into one game. That gives us the ability to leverage a multitude of [properties]. We worked with TNT Sports and WBD to see what was possible, and it developed quickly from there since we already had the technology to make this happen.

How are the WBD characters integrated into the Beyond Sports environment to create this animated broadcast?

Horstman: Since it's a [gaming-engine environment], the [onboarding] of the characters into our platform was streamlined. The rigs for the characters [have been developed], so the handoff to Beyond Sports to form out the skeletons was very smooth. That will be the case going forward when working with any other game platforms as well.

The primary movements of the characters are already in the rigs, so it's a lot less [work] at the outset. Obviously, for things like getting Batman's cape to move around while he's skating, it's a bit more complicated since that requires developing new movements. But, overall, the process of bringing the characters themselves into the Beyond Sports environment was a lot smoother than it was [for the previous animated broadcasts].

WB gave us the rigs exactly the way they wanted them to look, and Beyond Sports tinkered with them to ensure they will fit accurately into the environment. We stay as true to the characters as possible, but there has to be some calibration for gameplay and movement on the ice.

How will these WB characters be integrated into the game action from a storyline perspective?

Horstman: Just like Big City Greens [Classic], these characters will be playing in the game. Some characters will be representing particular players from both teams on the ice, and other characters will also be integrated into the environment around the game and in the arena.

Another added element for this one will be that th
LINK: https://www.sportsvideo.org/2024/04/12/inside-the-multiversus-nhl-face...
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