The Daytona 500 is the inaugural race of the annual NASCAR season and arguably one of the most famous sporting events in America. This year’s Daytona 500 coverage, exclusive to Fox Sports, has a special twist this year: utilization of the Synthetic Interview technology created by Carnegie Mellon researchers Michael Christel and ETC faculty member Scott Stevens, and adapted for NASCAR use by an ETC Student Project Team.
Fox Sports had expressed interest in using the Synthetic Interview technology for Daytona 500 coverage, but sought additional capabilities from the technology that did not exist. This initiative fell perfectly within the purview of an Entertainment Technology Center project and discussions commenced with Fox Sports about becoming a sponsor of the ETC. The interest of Fox Sports in the Synthetic Interview technology helped justify creating an ETC student project team devoted to the Synthetic Interview technology. Unique to this endeavor would be the ability to access one of three renowned NASCAR personalities – Studio Analyst, Jeff Hammond; Race Analyst, Larry McReynolds; or Race Analyst, Darrell Waltrip - appearing on the same web page, as well as utilization of NASCAR B-Roll as a way of illustrating and illuminating many of the answers.
The Synthetic Interview Project team, comprised of ETC students Howard Kim, Kelsey Livingston, Laura Lantz, Tsung-han Lee, and Krishna Pandravada, and ETC faculty supervisors Shirley Saldamarco and Scott Stevens, commenced a whirlwind effort to create the test site for Fox Sports in time for the February 17 Daytona 500 race. Fox Sports took care of interviewing, filming, and editing the raw footage, but the ETC team was responsible for integrating these video assets into the Synthetic Interview technology. Fox Sports then delighted the ETC team by announcing that Home Depot would serve as the site sponsor and would go under the name of “Ask the Pros.” The website URL is www.foxsports.com/askthepros and the expectation is that the site will not only remain live but be updated continually. Scroll down on the Home Depot “Ask the Pros” website and you will see the Carnegie Mellon and ETC logo.
“This might be the quickest that any ETC project team has seen its hard work translate into national exposure,” said ETC Executive Producer Don Marinelli. “We are barely passed quarter presentations and here on national television we have Fox Sports asking its millions of viewers in 150 countries to access a website created by ETC students. That is rather amazing.”
According to Jim Peltz of the Los Angeles Times, “After moving far beyond its Southern roots years ago, NASCAR continues to soar in nationwide popularity and is on the verge of spreading to an even broader, international audience.” Peltz goes on to say, “NASCAR, once derided as a passion mostly for "rednecks," is now a sophisticated, multibillion-dollar enterprise that claims about 75 million fans including many of pop culture's glitterati and ranks among the nation's most popular sports in attendance and television viewership.”
One thing for sure is that NASCAR has won over five ETC students and two faculty members whose hard work and dedication have made the 2008 Daytona 500 an international event enhanced by technology developed and refined right here at Carnegie Mellon.