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Behind the scenes of the ‘Big City Greens Classic’

Behind the scenes of the 'Big City Greens Classic'

It was less than a week before the Washington Capitals‘ game at the New York Rangers on Tuesday night, and the ESPN production team still wasn’t sure how it would handle a video goal review during the game.

Normally, this wouldn’t be a concern. But normally, the referee isn’t a 3D animated chicken.

“When the ref skates out to make the announcement, we’ll just track the ref’s mic,” director Jeff Nelson of ESPN said. “But wait … this is interesting. I need to find out if the chicken would actually head out on the ice for something like that.”

These were the questions being asked and answered behind the scenes for several months as ESPN, Disney and the NHL partnered for a first-of-its-kind broadcast: an entire hockey game recreated in real time inside a virtual environment, featuring 3D animated players whose movements synced with what was happening on the ice at Madison Square Garden, thanks to puck and player tracking data.

The “NHL Big City Greens Classic” features live, real-time volumetric animations of players and teams modeled after characters on the Emmy Award-winning show “Big City Greens.” It’s scheduled to air Tuesday at 7 p.m. ET on ESPN+, Disney Channel, Disney XD and Disney+. The traditional game telecast between the Rangers and Capitals will be available on ESPN and ESPN+.

The virtual game will take place in Big City’s “Times Circle,” and will feature animated avatars of actual players in the NHL game. When Alex Ovechkin takes a slap shot at MSG, the NHL Edge technology on his jersey and in the puck will register that and the player wearing his jersey in the Big City Greens Classic will do the same.

But along with the actual players, there will be characters from the show participating in the game. Gramma Alice and her son Bill will replace the starting goaltenders for the Capitals and Rangers. Cricket Green will replace a player on the Rangers while Tilly Green will replace one on the Capitals. Other characters might be involved later in the game and during intermissions.

The announcers for the game — Drew Carter and Kevin Weekes — will broadcast from ESPN’s Bristol studio wearing motion capture suits. Their animated avatars will appear on the broadcast.

“We were blown away. It’s an incredible accomplishment and such a cool way to watch hockey,” said Chris Houghton, who co-created the animated show with his brother Shane. “This all came together so quickly, and it’s all being rendered live as the actual players skate…

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