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FOX Sports Takes Virtual Production to New Heights With Groundbreaking Basilica of Soccer' Set for EURO 24, Copa America Coverage

14/06/2024

FOX Sports Takes Virtual Production to New Heights With Groundbreaking Basilica of Soccer' Set for EURO 24, Copa America Coverage Virtual environment merges LED and AR to create immersive production environment By Jason Dachman, Editorial Director, U.S.

Friday, June 14, 2024 - 1:35 pm

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After launching groundbreaking studio projects in recent years with its NASCAR virtual studio in Charlotte, NC; LED-fueled FOX NFL Sunday studio in L.A.; and AR-powered 2022 FIFA World Cup set in Doha, FOX Sports is changing the game once again with a new 360-degree immersive XR studio environment for its coverage of the Euro 24 and Copa America.

With every project, we get better, and this project provides a genuine blank canvas for us to work with, says Gary Hartley, EVP/creative director, FOX Sports. Between the power of the technology and the creativity of the design, I think the sky's the limit in terms of what we can do now.

The two-story virtual studio based at FOX's cutting-edge Stage A in L.A. boasts 5,130 sq. ft. of LED space and is anchored by extended-realty (XR) multicam technology driven by Unreal Engine, Vizrt, and Stype. Working with New Zealand-based architecture firm Architecture van Brandenburg, FOX Sports designed a virtual set for its coverage of the two tournaments; the set features a full 360-degree immersive environment live from Stage A.

Whenever we are [evaluating new technologies], we often talk about UVD - unique visual difference - and this is the epitome of that, says Zac Fields, SVP, graphic tech and innovation, FOX Sports. Our studio here in L.A. is LED-based. Typically, we use AR and XR only as a set extension above the LED, but, with this 360-degree environment, we have the best of both worlds: we can leverage all the LED firepower from our state-of-the-art stage and facility here in L.A. but also extend the volume via AR in all directions.

Match Made in Creative Heaven: Integrating the Set and the Animations With EURO 24 and Copa America taking place across two continents, FOX opted to host its studio coverage for both tournaments from this central set on the FOX Studio Lot in Los Angeles. Inspired by beautiful palaces around the world, the set's new technology allows the production to move through various areas with eye-catching imagery and graphics showcasing team colors, matchups, player stats, and more. The dynamic backgrounds will feature the cities where the matches are played, fully immersing audiences into the cities across Germany and the U.S. for the two tournaments.

This project - more than any other that we've done so far with AR, VR, and XR - tightly integrates our animation and our set, says Michael Dolan, SVP, Design, FOX Sports. We're literally painting the set with country colors and matchups and player graphics. The architecture is essentially the carrier for all the graphic design. As opposed to just floating [graphics] up in space, which is what we would typically do, we can now take over an entire room and drape it with [graphics] related to the topic.

Inside the Tech: Sprawling Virtual World Driven by Unreal Engine The floor area of interior volume is 56,840 sq. ft. (290 x 196 ft.); the central hall of the environment is 165 ft. long x 125 ft. wide x 65 ft. high.

The [aspect] that takes this to another level is the enormous scale of it, says Fields. We built this out with specific segments in mind for the production team to use. We will have an area for formations, an area to come back for the halftime score, an area for a sit-down interviews - those were presented to the architect early on. It's probably one of the reasons the location ended up being so enormous: they were essentially building rooms that were designated for specific [show segments].

A whopping 23 Unreal Engines provide the stunning AR and XR visuals, and the show is controlled via Erizos Studio software. With 5,130 sq ft of LED wall and floor panels, the full LED size is 19 ft. 8 in. high x 46 ft. wide x 24 ft. 7 in. deep.

Stage A is outfitted with a 24-ft. Technocrane, and FOX deploys Stype camera-tracking systems and the StypeLand plugin for Unreal Engine to enable VR creation with its own chroma-keyer software.

Using Ghost Frame technology, FOX has provided the director up to six virtual cameras to produce the show within the 360 environment (the system is capable of up to six virtual cameras). FOX marries the tracking data from the camera with the data from the Unreal scene to allow the director to fly around from one set location to the next.

The question became how we could get from one space to another so it feels like we're truly utilizing the entire 56,000-sq.-ft. environment, says Fields. That's where we started having conversations about using virtual cameras to merge what's real and what's [virtual]. The virtual cameras allow us to fly in and out of sets.

There are multiple exterior shots that reflect time of day - daytime, dusk, nighttime, etc. - in this environment, representing Miami and Germany, he continues. This will allow us to go outside the set and show a logo bump while going to break or an interesting cityscape coming back from commercial. You can do that only with a virtual camera because you're traveling a great distance within that [virtual space].

Inside the control room, the production resembles a traditional operation with a standard front bench running the show. In addition, two set-content operators drive all the content, including environmental, data, and animations. In addition, two set-content producers work closely with these operators to create elements during the show.

That choreography comes from all the experience we have doing it in Charlotte, says Hartley. I can't emphasize enough the value of th
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