MLB Fans But Photoshopped

Baseball is back, but it will look a little different due to COVID. Empty stadiums and cardboard cutouts instead of fans. Though if you watch on Fox Sports you’ll see digitally rendered fans filling the entire stadium. Starting with this Saturday’s Yankee’s-National’s game. They’ll even be piping in fake fan audio, much like the Premier League and Sky, BT and the BBC did!

CGI Fans

All 30 MLB teams are relying on fake fan noise in the stadiums themselves. The audio is sourced from Sony’s MLB The Show games. The usual in stadium announcers, walk up music and other aspects of MLB games will be on show. While it is only Fox Sports who have announced virtual fans.

“We believe the crowd and seeing people in seats is part of a broadcast, is part of broadcasting high level sports in the major leagues. So we wanted to come up with a solution for that,” 

“We’re not looking to fool anybody, it’s still about the game. But shot-to-shot, when you’re watching a broadcast, it’s not more noticeable that you’re watching what is normally a broadcast with fans in just an empty stadium and having it feel weird — we want to give people a sense of normalcy,” Zager says. “And we felt like going down this path and trying to use a virtual crowd will hopefully make it so that blends in, and you can focus on the game more because you’re not thinking about the emptiness of a Major League Baseball stadium during the game.” Brad Zager, executive producer and head of production and operations at Fox Sports.

MLB Fake Fans – How It’s Done

The effect is a great combination of augmented reality software. Which is used to insert the crowds, this is called Pixotope. This has been used for AR graphics for the Super Bowl for example.

The way it works is by leveraging graphics which are created by Silver Spoon animation agency. Which is built in Epic’s Unreal Engine. Unreal Engine is used here in the same way that it would for video games or for crafting on-set backgrounds for shows like The Mandalorian. What makes Unreal Engine better from the rest is that it can render in real time, making it suitable for live tv.

While SportsMedia Technology, they are the ones who portray sports centric computer overlays for things such as the screen clock and sportsboard. They will handle the camera tracking to insert graphics on to the live camera feeds. Four cameras located at the following points on a baseball field. High home, centerfield, high first, and high third cameras. This will show the fans.

Producer Control

The producers at Fox Sports will be able to control how the crowds are dressed. Based on the weather for example, they can also account for the percentage of home and away fans. Though they’re currently working out how to make these decisions.

 “We’re figuring this out right now, and we’ll continue to evolve that process as we go through this weekend and from game-to-game, week-to-week,” Brad Zager.

The broadcasts will also integrate fake fan audio being played in the stadium in the background of microphone clips from players, such as when they pitch. It’ll augment the live audio on it’s own end, similar to how the MLS games are being shown.

It’s rather basic now, such as boos and cheers. Though the company are hoping to integrate the two as it gets more practice over the season.

 “It’s something that we hope becomes even more collaborative and more on the same page as we do this more and more, being able to combine the audio and the crowd together.”

Currently it’s only available on MLB games on Fox, though it is possible that the digital fans could appear elsewhere. Zager says that they’re working with all of it’s sponsors “as we get closer to the fall for football and other sports, if we feel like it’s going in the right direction yet we will launch it and roll it out on other sports,” too.


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