Super Bowl 52 was slam-packed with record-breaking performances culminating in a one-for-the-ages outcome. But anyone with a copy of Madden NFL more recent than the George W. Bush administration had to wonder what the hell was going on with NBC’s computer-animated models of players from the New England Patriots and Philadelphia Eagles.
Ahead of the Super Bowl, NBC touted “volumetric augmented reality” technology that meant lifelike 3D animations of players could jump into the broadcast instead of packaged full-motion video. NBC and its tech partner, Ross Video, scanned in six players during the week before the big game.
The resulting graphics were so butt-ugly that even my 68-year-old father turned to ask me what was going on.
“Wait a minute — doesn’t the NFL already have a video game that can do this?” he asked.
Why yes, was my reply, and much better. Here is Patriots quarterback Tom Brady in the most recent Madden game, Madden NFL 18:
And here is Eagles backup quarterback Nick Foles leading the team onto the field:
Since 2014, Madden NFL’s broadcast package has been directed by Brian Murray, an Emmy-winning filmmaker for NFL Films. We asked an EA Sports representative today about the developers’ motion capture and head-scanning operation, and while EA was careful not to singe the league or impugn its broadcast partners, the spokesperson did say that developer EA Tiburon probably has 80 percent of the NFL’s starting players scanned into Madden — not just six guys from two teams.
“At this point we’ve got most of the veterans, so we mainly go to the NFL Combine and the Draft to get as many of the rookies as we can,” the rep said.
Here’s Brady — who on Sunday became the fourth quarterback to lose the Super Bowl three or more times — alongside Foles, who led the Eagles to their first NFL championship and took home MVP honors:
And then here is how they looked in NBC’s high-tech Super Bowl package last night.
Still none of this answers why either of these players, or anyone last night, required third-party CGI instead of the usual footage that accompanies a player introduction in other televised games.
The bottom line, NFL broadcasters, is this: Leave this stuff to the real pros.