For ESPN’s McEnroe vs Mcenroe, Unit9 approached All of it Now with a very special project. In essence, the project was a virtual tennis tournament between tennis legend John McEnroe, playing against younger virtual versions of himself.
Unit9, FCB and Michelob Ultra’s unique project involved a real tennis court constructed on a soundstage in Los Angeles, and combined 3 camera Augmented Reality, nDisplay projection output onto a fog screen, as well as robot arms with tennis ball cannons, all controlled in real-time using Unreal Engine.
AOIN created the technical Unreal infrastructure, building and designing the AR system, managing the Stype camera tracking team, and delivering AR composite feeds to the director in real-time. AOIN also rendered several fully virtual camera angles, animated within UE, and using recorded gameplay elements.
This approach gave Director James Medcraft the freedom to use a combination of clean camera feeds, AR composite feeds and shots of the projected McEnroe Avatar to give the audience a variety of shots that have the authentic look and feel of a professional tennis match.
Because the virtual McEnroe needed to serve and return tennis balls back out at real McEnroe, a standard projection screen or LED wall was not an option.
Instead, a transparent “fog screen” was used, and positioned just beyond the net, so that real McEnroe could see the virtual McEnroe, while still allowing the ball to be returned without compromising the ball’s trajectory or speed.
Behind the smoke and mist sat 4 robot arms from the Motorized Precision team, equipped with solenoids which would shoot the balls in different areas of the court to keep McEnroe on his toes. These robots were controlled via the Unreal project, and all 4 arms would work together with the ball machines to simulate a tennis match. On a given point there would be anywhere from eight to 32 return options to spit a ball back out at the real McEnroe.
This project was a truly unique and dynamic take on virtual humans, and effectively bridged the gap between the physical and virtual worlds with every piece of cutting edge technology available.
With over 10 million views across ESPN’s channels, McEnroe vs McEnroe attracted more eyeballs than the 2021 NBA finals – making this one of the most-watched sports events of the year, winning 5 Cannes Lion Gold awards in 2022.
Unreal Engine Technical Infrastructure
AR System Design
AR Playback via nDisplay
Camera Tracking & Data Recording
Robot Arm Integration
AOIN Team Credits
Executive Producer - Danny Firpo
VP Supervisor - Anthony Vasquez
Cinematic Renders - Izzy Medina
System Tech - Preston Altree
System Tech - Neil Carman