Virtual graphics from Vizrt transform Fox Sports Australia

Fox Sports Australia turned to Vizrt for live augmented reality 3D graphics to provide audiences with something they had never seen before.

Fox Sports Australia has worked with Vizrt over the years for a range of digital production tools, including master control presentation graphics. In 2013, Senior Director Paul Slater decided it was time to offer Australian audiences something completely new. Inspired by what he had first seen on American television, Slater looked to upgrade the network’s studio and the look and feel of its live programming and magazine shows with live 3D augmented reality graphics.

To get realism and desired ‘wow factor,’ as well as real-time video, graphics and editing functionality, Fox Sports Australia selected Vizrt’s Viz Virtual Studio product in combination with mechanical tracking hardware from StypeGrip. The system provides augmented reality graphics and a virtual set that enables storytelling in a new, dramatically more compelling and very visual way.

Bringing sports coverage to life

Viz Virtual Studio enhances all broadcasts through augmented reality graphics and 3D virtual sets. At Fox Sports Australia, designers used toolset to bring new life to sports coverage of all kinds.

The Fox Sports team uses Viz Virtual Studio’s intuitive interface for the freedom to bring in any object and place it in a real-world environment. A single Fox Sports operator or designer can handle complex productions that would normally require several operators, freeing up valuable time to be creative and concentrate on overall efficiency.

As Paul Slater says, “If we can picture it and have it made in a 3D world, we can display it, in and amongst our set and presenters. The only limit is our imagination, as the system has proven time and time again to be able to display extremely complex graphics and animations. The Vizrt tools combined with the Stype Kit have really changed the way we are able to tell a story and display information to our viewers.  We’ve had nothing but positive feedback.”

Using an easy drag-and-drop interface, the Fox artists and designers can easily set up and create graphics using tools such as the new Defocus Shader that emulates the focus effects of optical lenses to create a virtual set nearly indistinguishable from a real-world studio. Fox Sports coupled their realistic set with overlaid graphics to create an enhanced yet completely realistic presentation.

Viz Virtual Studio integrates with other Vizrt real-time tools including Viz Artist for animation and modelling and Viz Engine for real-time compositing and rendering, enabling the Fox Sports team to have complete graphics capabilities and an entire studio and production workflow at their fingertips.

Designing a virtual environment

When it comes to actually building the virtual sets and 3D animations, Fox Sports graphics designers turn to Viz Artist to build, animate, and compose their virtual environment. In addition to enhancing their existing sets with virtual objects that in-studio talent can interact with, they can now easily merge social media feeds into the virtual environment. Viz Artist also helps make their everyday tasks such as building geometry and creating fonts for lower third graphics more efficient.

“You’re only as good as your designers”, says Mr Slater.  “At Fox Sports, we’re fortunate to have some of the best Viz artists going around.  Our Viz team, lead by Andrew Moss, constantly push the limits of what’s possible – these tools enables them to do that.”

Viz Artist also provides full video support. The Fox Sports team can use video within scenes or as textures mapped onto geometry using UVW coordinates.

Freedom of movement

When it was time to select a camera crane system, Slater went beyond the traditional system operated from a standard mini crane, and turned to StypeGrip, a young company that provides virtual reality crane systems for the film and television industries. Their Stype Kit add-on turns the industry-standard Stanton Jimmy crane into an encoded crane capable of data tracking and output to rendering engines such as Viz Engine.

For Slater, a key feature of the Stype Kit was its ability to automatically aim and focus to a fixed point in 3D space, particularly important when working with virtual graphics as it enables the crane operator to lock in on an object not physically present in the studio. The kit provides the full range of pan, tilt, arm, zoom and positional data.

“The completely free range of movement of this tracking system is really what enabled us to take the virtual studio and give our studio and graphics completely real-word motion and realism,” explains Slater. “It takes what we’re able to accomplish with Vizrt tools to a whole new level.”

In the Fox Sports studio, precise coordinates of the camera head in 3D space are tracked to Viz Engine, Vizrt’s real-time 3D compositing engine. Using this positional data, any computer-generated objects or animations can be seamlessly added to a real-life set to create an augmented-reality set. Moving the camera in 3D space without limitations and with full realism provided never-before-seen production value and realism.

After initial calibration, the StypeGrip system continually feeds Viz Engine, giving viewers completely realistic graphics with the sense that they’re locked to the floor.

Vizrt, StypeGrip and Fox Sports worked in concert to ensure that all system components integrated seamlessly. Fortunately, there weren’t any snags and the system worked perfectly. For Vizrt, a few calibration tweaks in the initial setup process was all it took to ensure the highest quality data.

To StypeGrip CEO Stjepan Cajic, it was not only a good experience but also proof positive of what their system can do when coupled with advanced virtual studio production tools.

“This project was positive feedback for us at StypeGrip, once again showing we’re going the right way,” he says. “Fox Sports Australia has high standards for their programming and we were glad that we could provide them with a solution they were looking for, and even surprise them with a few additional perks!”

 A versatile system for varied applications

A large part of Fox Sports’ Viz Virtual Studio system’s value lies in its versatility. It can work with any crane/tracking system and its functionality makes it ideal for many applications, not just inside the studio. “You can take it outside and do an award ceremony for example - any live virtual graphics,” says Slater. Its flexibility also contributes to value and ultimately to ROI. 

As for how the new virtual set and augmented reality graphics are being received he only needs to look within his own organization. “Sometimes huge efforts get lost on viewers. In TV, we’re our own worst critics. We’re now incorporating the technology into every show and receiving a ton of praise internally. In fact, we’re seeing some competitiveness now as everyone wants to be part of what’s new and better. New ideas are pushing everyone and that can only mean great things to come.”

Download the Fox Sports Australia Viz Virtual Studio Case Study