Sportvision Helps Track Celebs on the Red Carpet

By Carolyn Braff

The Oscars preview show is not a place where one might expect sports to find a niche, but, for the
81st Annual Academy Awards Show on Feb. 22, Sportvision’s player-tracking software found a new application: tracking stars. During E!’s coverage of the red-carpet show leading up to the Oscars, Sportvision’s Star Tracker image-based system allowed viewers to see identification tags that graphically tracked the location of celebrities as they made their way down the red carpet.

“Our business is tracking objects for live events,” explains Ryan Zander, VP of business development for Sportvision. “We can’t instrument celebrities with any sort of device to track them, so we came up with a hybrid product that takes the optical-recognition tracking that we do for sports like baseball and NASCAR, created a presentation to add in graphical identifiers, and created a workflow that enables us to do this very fast.”

E! production contacted Sportvision in January to discuss using the technology behind football’s first-and-10 line to enhance its red-carpet coverage.

“They wanted to start integrating technology to differentiate their show from other broadcasters doing coverage of the red carpet, and we came up with the ability to track celebrities,” Zander says. “As they came down the red carpet, we could not only identify who was where but find any storylines that were interesting: Aniston getting close to Jolie, or something like that.”

A camera high above the carpet provided a bird’s-eye view of the action, and an E! producer sat alongside a Sportvision operator to create the graphical tags. The producer identified the appropriate celebrity and associated a graphical tag with him or her, and that graphic then automatically tracked the celebrity until the operator decided to move on.

“The good thing about this is, it happens in near real time,” Zander explains. “When we’re on-site doing this, it takes seconds to do this effect, while it would take up to an hour to be able to do this in postproduction.”

Sportvision brought an operator, a computer, and a monitor to the production truck parked outside the red carpet and applied the effects while implementing the E! graphical look. It was important that the graphics had a bit of a Hollywood look, to distinguish them from the sports graphics for which Sportvision is known.

With several storylines already in mind before the show began, Sportvision pre-built several graphics packages, so, once Aniston appeared on the red carpet, for example, her graphic could be chosen from a dropdown menu, rather than having to create it on the fly.

E! did a test run of the Sportvision technology during last month’s Golden Globe awards ceremony, and both companies had plenty of takeaways from that experience.

“For us, it was more workflow stuff,” Zander says. “E! took away storylines and, what is more compelling, whether it is better to track someone as they’re walking through the carpet or just identify them. They really got a feel for how this thing can be compelling.”

Although Sportvision as a company is primarily focused on sports, Zander finds it exciting to reach into other industries by doing what the company does best: pointing out things that are not necessarily apparent to the viewer.

“This goes along with that theme of highlighting things within the game,” he says. “Here, we’re really helping the viewer identify what’s going on down the red carpet. It’s what we do for sports, but now we can apply it to any live event.”