NFL Films working to perfect presence experiences with docuseries ‘NFL Immersed’

[This story from Sport Techie is an update on what NFL Films is learning as its team works to create presence experiences of (American) football games (the fact that the new season of NFL Immersed features the Philadelphia Eagles, my hometown team, is purely coincidence!). –Matthew]

Virtual Reality Production Enhanced For Docuseries ‘NFL Immersed’

December 20, 2017
Mitch Reames

Since its inception in 1964, NFL Films has won more than 100 Emmys for its work documenting the NFL’s stories and gameplay. NFL Films has also extended its work into virtual reality with the show “NFL Immersed.”

The first three episodes of the second season are now available, and they follow Philadelphia Eagles defensive end Chris Long and his work both on and off the field.

“I love telling stories in VR,” NFL Films producer Jason Weber said. “We have been making football stories for a long time, but this is a new area and we have been learning a lot.”

Filming in VR has both benefits and drawbacks. One of the main benefits is the automated and discreet camera. “You don’t have to have a person sitting with the camera,” Weber said. “We can put that camera in an inconspicuous spot on the sidelines to get a sense of what it is like to be on the bench with the players.”

As fans of NFL Films have likely seen in the past, players aren’t always welcoming to the cameramen. For a typical video, there will be the cameraman and also a boom operator with a mic hanging over the players. This can distract from the sideline banter and put the players on guard.

“Players will say ‘Hey, NFL Films, go somewhere else,’” Weber said. “With this camera, it is really cool that it blends in. As a viewer you feel like you are a part of the scene and the players don’t feel intruded upon.”

But the camera has fixed lenses, so zooming is impossible. That isn’t a big deal when the play ends on the sideline, but action in the middle of the field can be hard to discern.

“It is like having your own eyes from the sideline, we don’t have the benefit of being able to zoom on the action,” Weber said. “Over time that can probably change, but the current reality is that the tech is not there yet.”

Both seasons of “NFL Immersed” were shot with help from Google’s Jump platform. The second season was shot with the newest Jump camera — the YI HALO. The HALO is lighter weight, has an internal battery and an “up” camera that provides the overhead angle.

“That ‘up’ camera, you wouldn’t necessarily think it mattered that much in a football setting but it is awesome to see the ball fly above you, to see the jets from the pregame flyover,” Weber said. “Having that angle just lends to the authenticity of the 360° experience.”

Previously when looking up through a VR headset, viewers would likely see a blurred area as the camera’s field of view reaches its limit. Now viewers can spin any way they want and stay fully immersed in the scene.

Editing in VR poses its own set of unique challenges. To start, the file sizes are much larger than traditional video. This makes working with the video “clunkier,” according to Weber. In addition, Weber focuses on how to create a compelling storyline while not detracting from the full visual experience.

“If I am in a 360° space, I want to live in that scene a little longer. I want to give the viewer time to look around,” Weber said. “From an editorial, story-telling perspective, you aren’t just watching someone on a screen.”

NFL Films produces a wide range of content. The “Turning Point” series released this video, the same day “NFL Immersed” Season 2 came out, that shows how the Pittsburgh Steelers rebounded from star linebacker Ryan Shazier’s injury. It also focused on the final Steelers drive and the coverage of Antonio Brown on the outside. When compared with “NFL Immersed,” it can show how different editing creates distinctly different types of videos.

“People are used to an extended format of editing, they expect and enjoy the faster paced edits,” Weber said. “(In VR) some people might get a little jarred from too much quick editing. We want to stay in a scene long enough, but not let the story lag because of it.”

Weber took a lot of lessons from the first season into this year, focusing on camera placement and how to get the best possible shot to work in VR.

“We want to make sure we can get as close to the subjects as possible,” Weber said. “We want to be close, but also have the play move past the camera to force the viewer to turn.”

He also focused on the length of the videos. Virtual reality headsets can be intense. Having the episodes be shorter allows for better comprehension. In the first season most of the videos were in the 7-8 minute range. The second season brought that down to 3-4 minutes and spread out the storyline over three different episodes.

In the future, Weber is excited about the combination of VR and augmented reality, which would allow for further editing of the world presented by virtual reality goggles. It would also further blend the line between the reality and the virtual world.

As more virtual reality experiences are nominated for Emmy’s, Weber and NFL Films will continue to bring viewers a unique way to experience the NFL, and possibly add to its trophy case in the process.


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