TECHNOLOGY

How the Panthers’ Terrifying Mixed Reality Mascot Came to Life

The NFL team worked with LA-based The Famous Group to develop a mixed-reality panther that fans can find at Bank of America Stadium.

The Carolina Panthers may be struggling on the field, but the organization is leading the league in awe-inspiring and, admittedly, terrifying mixed reality content.

That’s thanks toThe Famous Group, which Jon Slusser and Greg Harvey founded in 1998. TFG leverages advanced technologies to produce virtual events and fan experiences. More recently, the company has dabbled with mixed reality content in large venues. Mixed reality combines augmented reality and virtual reality elements to make real-world and digital objects react.

“I think a big part of knowing how mixed reality works in this scenario is that you see mixed reality on the LED screens and jumbotrons in the stadiums or arenas,” Eric Burak, executive producer at TFG, told Boardroom. “You don’t need glasses or a mobile application, it’s all very visual, but things aren’t practically there.”

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One of TFG’s most notable projects is its creation of a mixed-reality panther that debuted at the Carolina Panthers’ first home game of the season on Sept. 12. Since then, the panther has accompanied the team at every home game. TFG put a group of creative leads on the ground at the stadium for the first few games to lead the experience. Since its debut, the company has developed new animations with the panther.

Burak said TFG was itching to land a season-long partnership with a sports team ahead of its deal with the Panthers. The company is creating a mixed reality experience for fans at the stadium, and people can see the experience from home.

Take a look at the cool (but kind of scary) mixed reality panther showcased at Carolina Panthers games this season. You can see the animal jump around the field and even tear up a New York Jets flag in the middle of the field.

The video has nearly 6 million views and shows that the world might be ready to tap into advanced technologies. The panther’s social content has reached more than 20 million views across Facebook and Twitter and was ESPN.com’s most viewed video clip the week of the Panthers’ first home game.

“It was a really strategic move on the Panthers’ part to share it socially as well as in-stadium,” Burak said. “That really made it go viral.”

TFG developed the panther with virtual effects company Zoic Studios and worked closely with Mike Bonner, Panthers’ executive producer of game presentation, to get feedback on the design. Once TFG finalized the design, the company went to Bank of America Stadium to scan the area and test the tracking cameras.

“Our team worked directly with Mike and his squad to make sure it feels right before going live,” Burak said.

It took about eight weeks for TFG to conceptualize and develop the panther creative. Powered by Unreal Engine in real-time, TFG uses stYpe’s camera tracking technology and Pixotope’s mixed reality solution for live media production to feature the virtual panther.

“The Panthers wanted to do something for kick-off and incorporate the panther when it’s a third-down or touchdown to really get the crowd fired up,” Burak said. “And there was such a huge positive fan feedback when the panther first pounced.”

The Carolina Panthers weren’t the first team to bring mixed reality to their home stadium; the Baltimore Ravens debuted a mixed-reality raven during the 2019 season. TFG created a giant raven to virtually fly across the screens at the team’s stadium in a seven-minute show. For this to work, a camera person followed the virtual raven throughout the stadium using a tracking camera so fans could see it on the big screens.

“The Baltimore Ravens wanted to do something special for an exclusive Thursday night game where it just so happen they clinched their division title,” Burak said. “We wanted to do something cool and new for the fans in-stadium only.”

Burak said he sees the partnership with the Panthers spanning far past this current season. TFG has talked with various NFL teams and other major sports leagues, including MLB, MLS, and the NBA, to create more mixed reality experiences. The company has also done some work with the Super Bowl, Nike, the NFL Draft, Pepsi, NCAA Final Four, and Live Nation.

“We’re starting to play in that metaverse space as well. We’re working with a handful of teams and leagues on some potential projects,” Burak said. “We really do feel that mixed reality is the tip of the iceberg when it comes to creative technology in live events. We’re proud to be a part of those conversations, and they’re really fun.”

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