NBC's move to show Nick Foles and Tom Brady in 3D was not well received.

Broadcasters are always trying to push the envelope with new innovations, and some, like SkyCam, PylonCam, Hawk-Eye and Inside The Glass, have gone on to become widely accepted, if not standard. For all of those, though, there are some that wind up taking a lot of criticism and are eventually “banished to the dustbin of history,” like the NHL on Fox glow puck, the MLB on Fox animated baseball “Scooter” (which features the wonderful Wikipedia line of “whereas Scooter has been met with little but derision”), and ESPN’s full-time 3D channel.

And the early reviews of NBC’s attempt to use 3D models of certain New England Patriots and Philadelphia Eagles players for statistical updates during Sunday’s Super Bowl LII came in closer to the latter, with many saying the graphics looked like old NFL video games:

AdWeek’s Jason Lynch spoke to NBC Super Bowl producer Fred Gaudelli about the plan last week, and Gaudelli said it was an idea brought over from Europe:

We do virtual graphics on every single Sunday game and Thursday game, but now, instead of having 2-D photos of the players, you’re going to have the players [in 3-D]. I would say maybe five or six times during the game, you’ll see these graphics pop up. It’s been done in Europe a little bit, but I have not seen it done here. The stuff I’ve seen done in Europe is pretty interesting, so I’m hoping that’s going to add a little flavor to our show.

As per Sports Video Group’s Jason Dachman, this involved quite a few vendors:

Developed by NBC Sports in conjunction with Ross Video and an army of tech vendors from the U.S. and Europe, the 3D virtual graphics will be available on the same three cameras as Ross Video’s standard AR system: both end-zone goalpost cameras (with encoded lenses) and the lower SkyCam cable-cam system.

In addition, an exterior beauty shot from an encoded camera also will feature these virtual 3D graphics and other AR elements.

The Ross Video Creative Services team is on-hand at NBC‘s compound to integrate the 3D graphics.

The system is driven by Ross Video’s Frontier gaming video-graphics–rendering engine (powered by The Future Group) and creates photorealistic scenery for AR environments for broadcasts.

Besides the NBC Sports team, many vendors are involved in the project: Rocket Surgery/Ross Creative Services (which creates NBC’s AR elements for Thursday Night Football and Sunday Night Football), Ross Virtual Solutions, SMT for virtual positioning data, The Future Group for Frontier development, Fanview and Repronauts for the player scans, and RealMedia to handle cleanup, rigging, and animation in the Unreal game engine.

That’s a whole lot of effort for something that drew these kinds of negative reviews. Of course, it should be mentioned that many of the innovations we now view as standard had growing pains at first, and that most of the criticism wasn’t about the idea of 3D modelling in general, but about the specific end product NBC displayed. People might have been more forgiving if these 3D images looked closer to modern-day Madden. Here’s a look at what those players look like in the Madden ’18 game engine.

Yeah, that at least looks more like them than these 3D models. So maybe if there’s a way to make the modelling efforts look more like recent video games, this could go over better with the public. At the moment, though, this debut doesn’t appear to have gone so well, and it’s unclear if there’s enough here to even bother trying further. The standard 2D photos of players do the job, take a lot less time and money to produce, and draw much less criticism as well.

[Sport Techie; photo from Kevin Herbst]

About Andrew Bucholtz

Andrew Bucholtz has been covering sports media for Awful Announcing since 2012. He is also a staff writer for The Comeback. His previous work includes time at Yahoo! Sports Canada and Black Press.