In ESPN’s latest 30 or 30 documentary, filmmaker Ken Rodgers utilized deep fake technology to create holograms of Raiders founder Al Davis and longtime NFL commissioner Pete Rozelle. The practice was done as part innovation and part necessity as the COVID-19 pandemic restricted the ability to do a more traditional style documentary.

Amid the circumstances of producing a documentary during a pandemic, it was worth the effort to experiment but viewers may not have been ready for seeing virtual versions of Davis and Rozelle mixed in with archival footage.

First impressions of the deep fake technology seemed to have one commonality. The vast majority of the early reactions used the word “creepy” or a variation of that. There was the occasional compliment but searching #30For30 yielded bad reviews for the deep fakes, despite an enthusiasm for the story being told.

The reaction has mostly been a bit critical of the decision to use the deep fakes, but again ESPN was somewhat backed into a corner here with the pandemic. The most obvious thing I noticed was it was very jarring to hear the actor speaking as Davis or Rozelle, immediately go to archival footage with Davis’ or Rozelle’s actual voice, and then go back to deep fake Davis or Rozelle. It’s tough to suspend your disbelief when you immediately hear similar but different accents.

Even so, it was a noble attempt to experiment with deep fake technology and may be something we’ll get more used to in the future.

About Phillip Bupp

News editor for The Comeback and Awful Announcing, highlight consultant for Major League Soccer as well as a freelance writer for hire. Opinions are my own but feel free to agree with them.

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