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The technology behind the NFL’s star-studded Super Bowl LVI commercial

How Swaybox and the NFL blended the conventional with the groundbreaking to create an innovative video celebrating football.

This advertising content was produced in collaboration between Vox Creative and our sponsor, without involvement from Vox Media editorial staff.

Since the NFL’s very first televised broadcast in 1939, the league has promised to bring the world’s greatest gridiron stars straight into viewer’s living rooms. The advent of live games beamed straight into American homes transformed the sporting world: Fans didn’t have to trek to stadiums anymore to see their favorite team take the field against rivals, and the modern National Football League was born. (It helped that the league’s Rules Committee finally allowed forward passes from anywhere behind the line of scrimmage in that same year.)

More than 80 years later, the groundbreaking commercial “Bring Down the House” that aired during halftime of Super Bowl LVI pays homage to that blockbuster moment — except this time some of the sport’s biggest stars really do crash into an unsuspecting living room. The NFL created the two-minute film with the help of New Orleans-based production studio Swaybox. By combining the old school and the innovative, Swaybox is creating the future of animation, blending real world puppetry and human physicality with proprietary compositing technology that allows its characters to move, emote and behave in ways the world has never seen before.

A screengrab of Marshawn Lynch from the NFL’s Super Bowl commercial.
Marshawn Lynch in the NFL’s Super Bowl LVI commercial.
Courtesy of the NFL

“Bring Down the House” finds an unsuspecting brother and sister in the middle of a pint-sized skirmish featuring NFL luminaries like Marshawn Lynch, Deoin Sanders, Michael Irvin, and Walter Payton. And just like in 1939, the players go from the gridiron into a living room — and kitchen and dining room and bedroom. But instead of relying solely on CGI to create this playful world, Swaybox used their expert puppeteers and 3D-mapping technology to blend the real with the virtual.

Each puppet used in “Bring Down the House” is as unique as the NFL personalities that inspired them, and the puppets capture each player’s signature look and personality. The Swaybox team starts with a clay bust before using 3D modeling to refine the puppets’ singular traits; you can’t have Ray Lewis without his goatee or Marshawn without his braids. Perhaps most impressive, though, is that Swaybox captured all the action live before using their compositing technology to craft a fantasy world full of the NFL’s biggest stars.

The tech Swaybox uses differs from traditional motion capture filming, where actors don nylon suits and let post-production handle the rest. Instead, the studio maps details and expressions onto their puppets who are controlled by master puppeteers so that audiences don’t miss out on the physicality of the footage. They also map faces onto stunt actors, who take care of the acrobatics and tackles behind the scenes while post-production wizards meticulously attach familiar faces to the action.

The result is something simultaneously concrete and otherworldly, as if the Swaybox team had created a video game world inhabited by some of the NFL’s most notable figures. And just like that first televised game more than 80 years ago, “Bring Down the House” brings the blockbuster energy of the NFL to audiences in an innovative new way.

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