CG sports fans CG sports fans

Fox Sports has become the first U.S. broadcaster to air professional sporting events with animated fans, a solution to the coronavirus-emptied stadiums from which games are being played. A lot of media outlets are referring to these characters as “virtual” fans, but let’s just call them what they are: animated characters.

The real-time rendered characters are produced using Unreal Engine by Brooklyn-based performance capture studio Silver Spoon, and the “fans” are fully customizable from their clothing to their movements.

Even the amount of fans can be manipulated, according to Fox Sports executive Brad Zager, who told Variety that, “If it’s an 8-to-1 game, the crowd can be thinned out [late in the game].” A sales exec at Fox suggested to Variety that they may try using the fake fans for “unique ad formats and innovations” for post-season games.

To complete the effect, Major League Baseball has provided broadcasters with dozens of audio sound effects from a MLB-approved Sony Playstation video game. These include all the typical sounds one might hear at a ballgame, like cheering, disappointment, and crowd buzz.

Zager adds that the goal is “to make sure that the view looks normal,” but getting a normal feel might take a bit more time as this clip from a recent game suggests:

The wave needs some work too:

What are your thoughts? Would you prefer to see games populated with animated fans or to see the stadium au naturel? Is the effect convincing or creepy?

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