John Brenkus has been fascinated for a long time with how athletes are able to perform elite physical feats. His Emmy-winning show Sport Science ran for years between Fox and ESPN, always finding compelling ways to explain the physiology and physics involved in our favorite games. His 2010 best-selling book, The Perfection Point, used data and research to explore the absolute limits of human performance in events like the heaviest bench press, highest dunk, longest golf drive, and fastest mile run.
Now, for his newest project, Brenkus is not only finding a new way to look at the science of athletics, but also working with Intel Studios to push the format of enjoying sports performance to its own limits.
Soul & Science is more than a new show, but an entire app created by Intel and Brenkus that blends augmented reality, traditional video, and more. Set to launch in early June, the new project is being produced at Intel Studios’ volumetric-capture stage in L.A., a four-story, 10,000-square-foot geodesic dome, outfitted with 100 high-resolution cameras.
The result is an eight-episode, short-form show with AR segments running five to eight minutes long, that will be available within its own mobile app. It focuses on the science behind athlete performance—featuring the likes of NBA star Aaron Gordon and Olympic champ Kerri Walsh Jennings—allowing viewers to experience it from just about every visual perspective imaginable. Brenkus will also give us a look at nontraditional sports, such as capoeira, pogo sticking, and BMX biking, and complement the 3D AR segments with athlete interviews and backstories.
“We did 1,800 episodes of Sport Science and were very fortunate to win six Emmys and make a dent in the way people looked at and thought about sport,” says Brenkus. “One of the reasons why Sport Science was so successful for so long was because I was never complacent. I always wanted to change it up and raise the bar. I was approached by Intel about some technology that could really change how I present sport-science-type content. So I did all the research I could to wrap my brain around, technologically, what Intel was doing.”
Brenkus worked with Intel Studios’ founder and general manager, Diego Prilusky, who became the Q to his James Bond when it came to figuring out how to use Intel’s tech to tell the best stories.
“We’re investing a lot in volumetric technology and volumetric video, in how to enhance the storytelling for the fans,” says Prilusky. “Working with someone like John, and having this huge studio to really push the boundaries, these are the steps forward that eventually will break through to mass audiences. You can do a lot of things with computers and animation, but when it comes to human performance, there is no better way to capture the uniqueness of that special moment when you have the right talent. With volumetric video you can capture that specific snap in time that’s magic. And then you can immerse yourself in that, walk around it, and really discover it.”
Over the past few years, Intel has been gradually integrating its volumetric cameras into sports stadiums around the world, capturing action from Major League Baseball, the NFL, and English Premier League, among others. Soul & Science is just the next step in using this tech to enhance and advance sports-related entertainment.
This is not regular TV or video. You can rotate the camera, change the size on the screen, and control the angles. While Brenkus is working with Gordon to measure the power of his jumping ability, by pointing your phone or tablet’s camera at an object—your coffee table, for example—you can turn it into a virtual basketball court. As Gordon is suspended in the air, you can zoom in and fly around both Brenkus and Gordon, even walk around the coffee table and see the action from different angles. Your coffee table is just an example, so you could actually scale the AR in size, taking it outside and allowing for a bigger scope of view.
“One thing that’s interesting is this is creating a new format,” says Brenkus. “It’s mixing all the different kinds of media, and putting it into an experience. It’s not just a show, but an experience that can be as involved as the user wants it to be. You have the opportunity to be passive, where the idea is just watching it unfold in front of you. Or you can immerse yourself and create your own experience. It’s not a one-size-fits-all. In TV, you have no choice. With this, you can determine how deep you want to go, or how passive or active you want to be.”
Look for the Soul & Science mobile app to launch in June.