Live From X Games L.A.: ESPN Emerging Technology Creates New Efficiencies for Scoring, VFX Platforms

Few aspects of ESPN’s X Games production workflows have evolved as dramatically as the role of its Emerging Technology division. In just two years, its has brought the entire X Games scoring system in-house and developed ESPN’s Neartime Virtual Effects (VFX) technology into a standard element in the coverage of all six X Games events. In addition, Emerging Technology – like nearly X Games departments – continues to move a large chunk of its operations back to ESPN’s Bristol Digital Center in an effort to increase efficiency and cut down on costs.

The Emerging Technology team at LA Live (L to R): Will Hogg, Marina Escobar, and Director, Advanced and Emerging Technology at ESPN

The Emerging Technology team at LA Live (L to R): Content Integration Specialist Will Hogg, Senior Director of Creative Technology Marina Escobar, and Director of Emerging Technology David Casamona.

“[The X Games workflow has developed] a lot quicker than we expected,” says Marina Escobar, senior director, creative technology, ESPN Emerging Technology. “We have run into some new challenges, but all the events have been very successful. It’s been interesting to see the cultural differences between all the X events and how we can play towards that visually and graphically. In terms of the technical aspects, we have certainly found efficiencies as we’ve moved forward through each event.”

VFX Comes of Age
The VFX system allows ESPN to insert life-like 3D virtual graphics that naturally blend in with the Los Angeles environment, such as a 3D sponsor logo spray-painted onto a wall or an X Games billboard at LA Live. The platform is now operated almost entirely out of Bristol, allowing ESPN to customize international feeds (especially to other X Games host nations Spain, Germany, France, and Brazil) with specific VFX elements that cater to the respective cultures and markets.

“A year ago we had three VFX people here in L.A. and now we sometimes have just one person on site for VFX and the rest in Bristol,” says Escobar. “VFX has been a big success for us and I think we get better and better at each event. The workflow of VFX now includes different types of software that make its delivery a lot more efficient.”

In-House Scoring System Completes Year Two
ESPN brought the X Games competition scoring system and the graphics that go along with it in-house beginning with the 2012 Winter X Games in Aspen. In the year and half since, the Emerging Technology has developed an ultra-modular system that is utilized at all X Games events.

The Emerging Technology Scoring system in action at LA Live.

The Emerging Technology Scoring system in action at LA Live.

“When the schedule came out, our plan was to try to keep the exact same system as much as possible,” says Emerging Technology Content Integration Specialist William Hogg. “So no matter where we were, we were ready to go – be it Madison Square Garden or Timbuktu.”

In addition – much like VFX – a large chunk of the scoring operation are now conducted back in Bristol, including the insertion of all timing and scoring lower-third graphics (graphics engines still remain on-site).

“Now that we have proven we can do things like that back in Bristol, we are now looking to find more things we can leave back there,” says Hogg. “It’s not crazy to think that we could do all our timing and scoring graphics back in Bristol in the future, which would further reduce the people on site. We would still need to send a few people to be with the judges and things like that, but we could literally have all the scoring based in Connecticut.”