Panthers brought their mixed reality mascot back vs. the Saints. Here’s how it works

SEP 19, 2021

Carolina Panthers wide receiver Robby Anderson and the team kickoff the season with a home game against the New York Jets at Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte, NC on Sunday, September 12, 2021. JEFF SINER JSINER@CHARLOTTEOBSERVER.COM

When Sam Darnold faked a handoff and rolled to his right and found Brandon Zylstra for a 20-yard touchdown, punctuating a picture-perfect opening drive on Sunday against the Saints, the fans got a little gift.

Well, they got the same gift they got last week.

The fans on Sunday watching the game on TV or on Bank of America Stadium’s video board saw the return of the Carolina Panthers’ mixed reality mascot bounding across the field and climbing on top of one of the scoreboards for a second straight week.

For those who are wondering how it works: Jon Slusser told Yahoo! Finance that it is “a video game that we’re superimposing into a live broadcast.”

Looks great, but sounds complicated.

And, as it turns out, it is.

Slusser, the owner of virtual reality live audience company The Famous Group, explained to Yahoo! earlier this week how this cool experience works. Without getting too much in the weeds: A mixed reality graphic (which can’t actually be seen on the field with the naked eye) moves around the stadium, and camerapeople follow its “path” in real time. The result? A motion graphic able to manipulate its environment to the point where “you don’t know what’s real and what’s not.”

To simplify it, it’s not that different than playing Pokemon GO on your smartphone. The game activates your phone’s camera so that when you look at the screen, there appears to a wild Pokemon right in front of you. Point your camera away from where the Pokemon is standing, and it just looks like a normal picture; point it back, and there’s the pocket monster.

But now try that with a high-end broadcast camera that has to track a very specific path otherwise fans won’t see anything on screen out of the ordinary.

“So it’s a really, really complex, but really cool effect and it wasn’t easy, but you’ve got to give credit to the Panthers,” Slusser said in the interview. “I mean, they’re the ones who’ve taken the risk. They’re the ones who believed in this technology and believed in us. And it paid off.”

The experience went viral last week, notching 5.7 million views in a video the Carolina Panthers tweeted out last Sunday before their game against the Jets.

This is an effort by the Panthers to engage and enhance the live audience experience.

It’s been done before. Remember the mixed-reality Raven that was debuted in 2019 in Baltimore?

But it’s still cutting-edge technology — the latest investment to deliver can’t-miss entertainment on Sundays.