Behind The Scenes

Inside EA SPORTS GameView

As a star ballcarrier at Michigan and in the NFL, Desmond Howard dazzled audiences with his ability to reverse field – if necessary – to reach his goal.

Maybe it’s little wonder that Howard, now an ESPN college football analyst, seems a natural working with EA SPORTS GameView technology, as seen in the video above.

“This is our next level of Virtual Playbook,” said Marina Escobar, ESPN’s Senior Director, Creative Technology.

“This is different from feeling like you’re in a virtual game like Howard did with Virtual Playbook. The talent can now fully control the play, breaking down the play further with real-time telestration.”

Using a toolbar of controls at his fingertips, Howard plays game controller.

The virtual 3D players appear to be on the grass which is displayed on the tabletop. Howard sees the control disks which represent each player on the 70-inch multitouch monitor. He then controls each player by moving the control discs and interacting with the toolbar.

Howard has complete control. He’s triggering and rewinding plays, spotlighting players, scaling and rotating the field, telestrating, and triggering interaction between miniaturized, virtual teams representing LSU and Alabama.

They’re dueling in the Allstate BCS Championship Game airing Monday on ESPN, ESPN 3D and ESPN3 beginning at 8:30 p.m.

EA SPORTS GameView represents somewhat of a “reversal “of ESPN’s use of analysts interacting with life-sized “virtual players” to explain sports concepts.

Previously, analysts like Howard might be seen on actual stadium fields or large indoor sets reacting to the movements of super-imposed players in a Virtual Playbook setting.

Weather, lighting, and venue access were some of the complexities associated with Virtual Playbook remote shoots that raised the stakes with that concept.

In that version of Virtual Playbook, the analyst was not the catalyst.

“As much as that was successful, it was very complex,” Escobar said.

Last summer, ESPN began to rethink the concept.

“What if we bring the virtual field to the talent? What if we reversed the situation, thinking more like a chess game, except the talent is really driving what is happening?” Escobar said.

ESPN’s Emerging Technology team worked in concert with the college football production team, Creative Services and EA SPORTS to produce this new look.

The concept still incorporates an element of Virtual Playbook: See the life-sized version of LSU defender Tyrann (Honey Badger) Mathieu whom Howard “talks to” at the end of the segment.

“We are using four, top-of-the-line graphics workstations to render all the virtual elements,” Escobar said.

“These elements include EA SPORTS NCAA Football game, the Brainstorm realtime graphics system and the touchscreen. We used a jib camera which allowed for different angles showing off the 3D players even further.”

This is one of four EA SPORTS GameView segments you’ll see in ESPN’s coverage leading up to the BCS Championship Game, Escobar said.

The segments were shot at Full Sail University Sports Lab Powered by ESPN in Orlando, Fla. after Howard learned the concepts in the network’s Bristol, Conn. Innovation Lab.

“He’s virtually savvy,” Escobar said, chuckling, adding that her team was impressed with the feedback Howard gave it on developing the technology.

“He did a magnificent job. He was quite the trouper with us, staying to all hours to make sure it’s exactly what he wanted.”

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