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01/14/2011

ESPN's visit to Sundance Square in Fort Worth a 'virtual reality'

ESPN has a few tricks up its sleeve to unveil when it begins broadcasting from Sundance Square in Fort Worth during Super Bowl week. In addition to the main studio set that will be constructed in the parking lot with the Chisholm Trail mural as a backdrop, the preeminent sports network will construct an add-on "indoor" set that will enable it to use some of its virtual reality elements live from the Super Bowl for the first time.

Rick Paiva, vice president of creative services at ESPN, said that the main set will be 40 feet by 80 feet, with one end enclosed by walls and a roof, creating the indoor effect. "The other end will be wide open with a roof and the Chisholm trail relief behind the talent," Paiva said.

ESPN_Spbwl_2011_1

The enclosed end will have a roundtable  setup where ESPN Insiders such as Chris Mortensen and Adam Schefter will sit and give their take on the week's developments. It also will be the set for the Sports Reporters, which will be taped Saturday in Sundance Square and shown Sunday morning. The enclosed end gives ESPN a chance to provide adequate lighting for some of the virtual elements such as the IBM Player Card, statistics, telestrator and touchscreen technology.

The walls of the virtual set will be Texas-themed, although visitors to Sundance Square will have to look at the TV monitors that will be placed in the area in order to see the art work and graphics. If they look into the set, they will see bare walls and none of the other virtual elements at work.

"We didn't want to have to throw it back to Bristol (ESPN's home) for the virtual segments," Paiva said. "We have many different networks and can do different looks, more virtual graphics live, even a virtual Lombardi Trophy (that goes to the winner of the Super Bowl).

ESPN_Spbwl_2011_3

Paiva added that virtual technology makes it possible to project the trophy as one foot tall or part of the downtown Fort Worth skyline. He said that the virtual reality elements that can be used outdoors will be part of the network's demonstration field, that patch of AstroTurf on which ESPN analysts and commentators can walk through different plays.

ESPN arrives in Fort Worth on Jan. 24 to begin construction of the main set and ancillary sets and pods for its reporters and radio shows. Its first broadcast is on Monday, Jan. 31, at 5 a.m. CST with the radio and TV broadcast of Mike & Mike in the Morning. 

-- Pete Alfano 

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