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Even before the first snap of Super Bowl LV, over 100 million fans around the world were treated to a memorable surprise: the digital return of NFL legend Vince Lombardi, with a message of hope and unity. To bring the digi-double version of the coach to life, the NFL and global creative agency 72andSunny turned to Oscar-winning VFX giant and digital human pioneer, Digital Domain.

The project began with an idea from the NFL and 72andSunny to feature a unifying figure from the past who could potentially remind us that we are stronger together than apart. With the blessing of Lombardi’s estate, the NFL worked alongside Digital Domain to build an adaptive, high-fidelity digital Lombardi that could be used in a broadcast spot, and in the stadium as a life-size hologram. They utilized hours of historical and practical footage and audio provided by NFL Films, directed by Max Malkin of Prettybird to resurrect Coach Lombardi.

After receiving live-action plates of an actor cast for his physical similarities to the coach, Digital Domain turned to the difficult task of recreating a legendary face that not only looked right but would articulate believable emotions. Working with decades-old 2D images and video reference material while working remotely under a five-week deadline, Digital Domain delivered a high-definition version of Lombardi in his prime. Adding every detail possible, from wrinkles to eyebrow hair, the team of artists then utilized its new proprietary face-swap technology “Charlatan” to complete the effect.

Charlatan was created internally to blend detailed facial behavior and movement with existing live-action footage, leveraging machine learning to seamlessly merge the two. For this project, Charlatan adapted the digital Lombardi’s face with the physical performance, blending the assets to help the CG face match the actor’s. The result was a realistic and immediately identifiable recreation of Lombardi, delivering an inspirational message for modern audiences.

To create Lombardi’s voice, the partners turned to digital voice cloning experts Respeecher, to create a realistic and adaptive version of Lombardi’s voice. Respeecher went through hours of existing audio footage, isolating Lombardi’s speech patterns and vocal tenor, creating a digital database. The old recordings were then combined with a voiceover from a speaker with a similar accent and cadence to Lombardi, resulting in a natural performance that feels like it came from the coach.