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The Beijing Times reported that part of the elaborate Olympic opening ceremonies display broadcast to the world were actually done digitally in 3-D computer graphics.
msnbc.com
updated 8/11/2008 1:16:20 PM ET 2008-08-11T17:16:20

Part of the elaborate Olympics fireworks show broadcast to the world in the opening ceremony was altered, done digitally in 3-D computer graphics, according to several news reports.

While the dramatic display actually happened as portrayed on television, members of the Beijing Olympic Committee said it was necessary to replace live video with computer-generated imagery because the city’s hazy, smoggy skies made it too difficult to see, according to The Beijing Times, which first reported the story.

Committee members also said they were concerned that the helicopter pilot who would have flown overhead to film the fireworks would have been “at risk by making him try to follow the firework route,” according to a quote from a committee member reported in a Daily Telegraph story.

NBC broadcasters Matt Lauer and Bob Costas made mention of the alteration as it aired.

"You’re looking at a cinematic device employed by Zhang Yimou here," Lauer said. "This is actually almost animation. A footstep a second, 29 in all, to signify the 29 Olympiads."

Costas responded, "We said earlier that aspects of this Opening Ceremony are almost like cinema in real time. Well this is quite literally cinematic."

It took planners almost a year to create the 55-second sequence which appeared to be more than two dozen footprints amidst fireworks in the sky, said Gao Xiaolong, head of the visual effects team for the ceremony, in the Daily Telegraph story.

Slideshow: Emotional moments Even those at the city’s new Bird’s Nest National Stadium, where the Olympics are being held, viewed the computer-generated footage from their seats as they watched on the stadium’s giant television screens, said Britain’s Sky News in a story.

“Stunned viewers thought they were watching the string of fireworks filmed from above by a helicopter,” said SkyNews.com. “But in reality they were watching a 3-D graphics sequence that took almost a year to produce.”

There were some real fireworks going on outside the stadium. But the footprint display was “inserted into the coverage electronically at exactly the right moment,” the Daily Telegraph said.

“Meticulous efforts were made to ensure the sequence was as unnoticeable as possible,” the newspaper reported Xiaolong as saying. “They sought advice from the Beijing meteorological office as to how to recreate the hazy effects of Beijing’s smog at night, and inserted a slight camera shake effect to simulate the idea that it was filmed from a helicopter.”

“Seeing how it worked out, it was still a bit too bright compared to the actual fireworks,” Xiaolong said in comments that appeared in the Daily Telegraph. “But most of the audience thought it was filmed live — so that was mission accomplished.”

Because the only organization in control of all Olympics footage is Beijing Olympic Broadcasting, the feed went out to everyone broadcasting the event, including NBC, which has exclusive rights in the United States to show the games. NBC's online coverage is being delivered by the MSN Network, NBCOlympics.com on MSN. (Msnbc.com is a joint venture of Microsoft and NBC Universal.)

During Friday night’s opening ceremony, the network averaged 34.2 million viewers, making it the biggest television event since the Super Bowl, according to the Associated Press.

The network has been criticized itself for the 12-hour tape delay in showing the opening ceremonies, which it did because of the time difference between China and the United States, driving some viewers to other Web sites around the world to see the event live.

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