The man on the left in the image to the left is probably quite recognizable to NHL fans. Of course, that's NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman. The older gentleman in the NHL uniform, however, may not be as recognizable to some people. He is probably more iconic than Mr. Bettman in his own industry simply due to how many awesome people he has created in his life. That man is Stan Lee, creator of Spiderman, the X-Men, the Incredible Hulk, and Iron Man amongst his many superhero ideas. So with the handshake between Mr. Bettman and Mr. Lee, you had to assume that the NHL would eventually be rendered in a comic book at some point, right?
We'll start with what I do know to be a definitive fact. The major unveiling for this new collaboration between the NHL, Stan Lee, and Guardian Media Entertainment will happen on January 30 at the 2011 NHL All-Star Game this season in Raleigh, North Carolina, and it is officially being touted as "The Guardian Project". Each NHL team will have a superhero designed with respect to each team's logo, strengths, and weaknesses, and all 30 NHL teams' heroes will work together in most cases, but natural rivalries will still be prevalent in some interactions. The overall story is actually about a high school kid who discovers the ability to turn his superhero ideas into "the Guardians" who can battle evil.
The NHL and Guardian Media Entertainment were quick to point out at the unveiling of the project in October that none of the superheroes are being developed as NHL mascots. Rather, they will be completely original characters with five special powers each. For example, the Calgary Flames' superhero will be able to harness the power of fire while the Philadelphia Flyers' superhero should be able to go airborne.
"We worked really closely with all 30 teams over the last 10 months to really get the look and feel and personality of their team and incorporate it into the physical superhero," says Adam Baratta of Guardian Media Entertainment (GME), the partnership set up by the NHL and comic superhero legend Stan Lee's POW! Entertainment to launch and operate the franchise.
So that doesn't really give you a lot to work with, right? I'm aware. However, they have promised us a video, and I have your first glimpse of The Guardian Project!
"Most of the characters mimic their official mascots and incorporate the team uniform colors and reference the cities where they're based. Not surprisingly, the hero for the Philadelphia Flyers can fly; the Boston Bruins has a fierce bear; one for Anaheim's Ducks wears a wet suit and wields a spear while riding a surfboard; another for the St. Louis Blues is a Batman-like caped crusader who plays a saxophone; and another for Vancouver's Canucks is a walking version of its killer whale logo.Interesting. So the Maple Leafs' superhero is an ent? Needless to say, I really would like to see what some of these other superheroes look like with regards to their aesthetics. Ken Campbell of The Hockey News went in a slightly different direction as he tried to imagine what each team's superhero will look like, complete with heavy sarcasm and cynicism.
"Even teams without mascots get their own characters: The Toronto Maple Leafs are repped by a tree-like creature with tree limbs for arms and legs, The design process has been kept a secret from not only the public but also other teams, as well, in order to be able to lock down a final design and prevent others from demanding changes up through the launch.
I was lucky enough to receive this teaser image which has a large number of the Guardians silhouetted against the glowing blue eyes in the background, so it appears that the story for the Guardians has been developed enough to have all 30 NHL Guardians and some sort of ominous presence in place. I can't say much more than this as I don't have a lot of additional info, but I think this is a new direction for professional sports teams to take, and it could be a major windfall. However, it could also fail miserably, so it remains to be seen how much of an effect this venture will have on the overall business for the NHL.
What I found quite interesting was the use of technology in the building of these superheroes. VICON House of Moves, under contract with Guardian Media Entertainment, decided to render the animation for the superheroes using the motion-capture technology of the Unreal Games Engine, an animation program that has brought life to video games such as Unreal Tournament, Medal of Honor, and Gears of War. The video above gives you just a glimpse of what this technology allows, and the team at VICON HOM continue to develop additional animated videos for Guardian Media Entertainment as part of their contract on this project. Essentially, VICON will be the major driver behind any animated video you see in relation to this project!
While it's tough to judge exactly how popular and how beneficial these partnerships will be for each participant, it is interesting to see some of the technology being used to help create these new Stan Lee creations in the form of NHL properties. I'm not willing to write anything off until the final product has been released, but this venture does have me intrigued at this point. Only time will tell, but January 30 is the big day for The Guardian Project!
Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!