Fans are still buzzing about the latest gameday feature at M&T Bank Stadium.
A huge, animated Raven swooped down from the night sky, resembling something from a sci-fi movie, shortly before Thursday's kickoff.
It appeared at various times throughout the game on the stadium's video boards, drawing wide-ranging reactions from fans who had never seen anything quite like it.
It's a new mixed reality feature that Ravens Productions has worked on for months, in collaboration with The Famous Group, a fan experience company based in Culver City, Calif.
On a night when the Ravens clinched the AFC North, the special effects were also championship caliber.
"Our goal is to make every game an event, something you can't miss," said Jay O'Brien, Ravens vice president of broadcasting. "You've got to come to the stadium because no two games are alike. We want to create 'wow' moments, when afterward fans say, 'Did you see that?' With this Raven, it was like that. Fans' responses were, 'What did we even see?'''
Greg Harvey, CEO and executive creative director of The Famous Group, explained some of the intricacies that were needed to create the bird's riveting appearance.
"The beauty of mixed reality is the ability of computer-generated objects to interact with the physical environment, this sells the realism," Harvey said. "To achieve this, parts of the stadium were captured with a laser-scanning technique. We scanned where the goal post was, where the field was, the vertical boards and brought that into a computer. When the bird is actually on the uprights, its claws wrap around the cross bar and its wings appear behind the uprights. We also captured all of the stadium lighting, this ensures the shadows cast by the Raven correctly interact with the physical stadium and that the Raven itself is lit by the actual stadium lights at night."
Andrew Isaacson, executive vice president of The Famous Group, was pleased that the Raven had the flexibility to be featured throughout night, in sync with the flow of the game.
"We are really excited about the in-game entertainment possibilities of mixed reality and using the Raven for more than just the summoning open that went viral," Isaacson said. "We created additional animations to play for defensive situations and celebratory plays and built different states and locations for the animations which can be looped and timed to fit within the breaks of the game. It allows for flexibility in the control room and the fans never know exactly where the Raven will appear next!"
Reaction to the mixed reality Raven went viral.
"I had a feeling it was going to do well socially," O'Brien said. "I certainly didn't think it was going to end up on PTI or Scott Van Pelt's show. Having Tony and Mike talk about what we do at the stadium was icing on the cake. But it was a special night. As soon as we revealed the Raven for the first time, all of our cameramen within the stadium bowl said everybody seated around them was talking about that bird. They all wanted to see it again. That's just awesome."
Getting the mixed-reality Raven ready for takeoff took months of preparation, but it was a memorable night of flight.
"In our control room on game day, there were 15 people to make that Raven fly," O'Brien said. "There were people working on it all over the world. We had animators in New Zealand, technical people in Norway and Germany, people working on it from Los Angeles. Even the night before, they were working on it well after midnight, just dialing in the perfect shadows, the perfect lighting.
"We're always thinking, `What can we do that's never been done before that would be awesome for the fan experience? What can we do that the next day, people are talking about our game-day experience?' Our team is trying to win the Super Bowl, but we want to be the best as well. We want our stadium to be the best place in all of sports to watch a sporting event."