Brian Murray, who in a previous life carried 16mm cameras for NFL Films, lowers the equipment onto my right shoulder. “This is the same size, weight and balance of a camera I would be shooting if I were on the sideline again,” says Murray, Madden NFL 23of creative director for presentation. However, it looks nothing like a camera.
Metal tubes approach the skeleton of one, and a few dials on the front control things like focus and zoom, but it’s mostly an open space connected to a pretty chunky platform. The viewfinder is an iPad, so at least I’m not squinting. But on that screen are coach Sean McVay and four or five Los Angeles Rams, leaving the field after the end of a game, rendered in Madden. And as I move the camera, I’m filming in VR, approaching Jalen Ramsey or Sebastian Joseph-Day and staring into their faces, like I have a photographer’s vest and a field pass.
“You may have heard of a very small movie called avatar,” Murray jokes. “James Cameron patented a technology where he was able to take a small type of wired block and walk into his digital scenes in that film, to get authentic shots, to frame the digital scenes in that film.”
Murray joined EA Sports from NFL Films, the league’s Emmy-winning documentary arm, to begin work in 2014. Madden NFL 25. Murray was brought on board specifically to tweak Madden’s in-game broadcasts to more closely resemble the kind of rich cinematography football fans have come to expect from the league’s biggest games and moments – and the even more cinematic NFL movies. Shortly after moving to Florida, Murray began implementing the VR filming system that Cameron had patented. Since then, Madden broadcasts have been able to shoot what is essentially the same sequence from a variety of camera angles – in a number of different styles, each true to life – to inject some variety into the game’s presentation.
The big difference? “My last room I had to do this in was the size of this piece of carpet,” Murray says, pointing to a rug marked with grid lines and an EA Sports logo, at best the size of a closet floor. Today, he’s working on a much larger and much newer motion capture studio at EA’s downtown Orlando studio, where EA Tiburon moved in 2019, just before the pandemic. The capture room was actually completed just a day before our interview, Murray said.
The extra space means that “thousands” of new shots have already been shot for Madden NFL 23 – 700 in the week before a studio tour in late May, Murray says – adding to more than 12,000 filmed over the seven years this technology has been in use. Murray is right that past Maddens have served up varied animations, after the whistle or the halftime gun, to keep their cinematics from becoming routine and predictable. But looking at the new space he has to work with, I can’t help but think he can more properly frame a shot from a side camera now that he can literally step away from that sideline, in VR.
“For us, we always want to start with reality and then start pushing the buttons from there,” says Murray. “Otherwise, we would only have 1,000 drones flying all over the place. And then we have a very unique responsibility where our fans are professionals in watching this game on a Sunday, Thursday, Monday from the couch. So if we don’t represent from day one, and if we don’t simulate our game the way you’re a pro at watching, we’ve failed you at that point.”
D-Cam, or Director Cam, is just one component of a focus on visuals and presentation that isn’t necessarily a review, but an emphasis on ensuring that everything in the game is rendered with meticulous authenticity. Typically, esports developers back up this claim with a number referring to how many 360-degree athlete head scans have been added to the game each year, and Madden NFL 23 in fact there are many more of them.
But the “Mobile Scan Truck” that EA Sports parked outside Kansas City’s Arrowhead Stadium last year, and during events like NFL league meetings and scouting match, speaks to the persistence behind the effort led by Terrance Newell, Madden’s art director, and Juan Chavez, its character director. The truck wasn’t just there to take pictures. Newell chose five Kansas City Chiefs of various heights and widths to best represent the spectrum of NFL players’ bodies. Until this year, Madden used a single base model, or “silhouette,” which was altered to represent bulkier or thinner archetypes.
“Admittedly, if you look closely enough, all these different players have some of the same traits, right?” says Newell. “Because they were built on the same foundation. So we were like, OK, let’s make accurate bases, which will make the whole player list more accurate.”
The five Chiefs they scanned also wore their gear on the truck, which included 6-foot, 344-kilogram forward Orlando Brown Jr., who Newell says represents the “top case” player – guys who are in the league, but in small numbers. . (The other four represented “speed guys” like quarterback, receiver, and defensive back; “impact players” like running back, linebacker, and defensive end; “monsters” who play the offensive line and inside defense; and “tweeners,” who are an unbalanced combination of size or speed, typically at quarterbacks or special teams.)
Newell recalls that Brown had to squat down and hold a pose to get his upper body into the sweep area. “He was a trouper,” says Newell. “I held that pose the entire time.”
The result isn’t just that more players’ bodies are of believable proportions in Madden – their gear is also much more authentic. “The details and the nuances, how tight the shirts are, how thin the pads are now, even [on offensive linemen]which seems dangerous, to be honest – all these things come right into the game now,” says Mike Mahar, Madden NFL 23senior producer of.
EA Tiburon has also used scanning technology on the equipment itself, in some cases to capture the actual color of a shirt in direct light (especially important in the case of retro uniforms, whose colors may have a more subtle or slightly different tone). For modern gear, that means a lot of Nike stuff has been brought into the office under armed guard, literally, because the designs haven’t been shown to the public yet. But to complete John Madden’s retro look, in the All-Madden game that starts a new installation of Madden NFL 23Chávez went to a vintage clothing dealer and found the same kind of double-ended belt and short-sleeved button-down shirt that the coach made famous, and digitized them in-game.
“Did you hear us talk about Coach [Madden] a lot, and how he inspired our team; he was super passionate about authenticity,” says Newell. “You know, if you’re in the game, you need to be in the game.”
[Disclosure: EA Sports invited Polygon and paid for its flight and accommodations at the one-day preview event at EA Tiburon’s studio.]