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Capturing a moment: Alum to capture interactive photo at Friday hockey game

Jim Blakeway's panoramic photos of the Ralph Engelstad Arena's hockey rink are on display in the Sioux Shop at the arena. The UND alumnus will return Friday, Oct. 20, 2017, to the arena to make a 360-degree interactive photo of the rink before the UND-Minnesota men's hockey game. (April Baumgarten/Grand Forks Herald)

In about a minute, UND alumnus Jim Blakeway will take hundreds of photos of fans as they wait for the Fighting Hawks men's hockey team to play the Minnesota Golden Gophers.

Then the real work begins. After Friday's game, the Fargo native will spend the next 24 hours stitching the images together to make a perfect 360-degree panoramic photo showing every space, person and thing in Ralph Engelstad Arena—from the rafters in the ceiling down to the cellphones fans are holding.

"This is the fan photo," he said. "This is what the players see, which is kind of fun because fans don't get to go on the ice."

When the photo goes live Saturday night, anyone will be able to pan over and zoom in on the thousands of faces in the crowd. If fans find a familiar face, they can tag themselves or a friend. They also can share the image on social media.

"In athletics terms, it's described as a fan engagement tool, and it is a really neat fan engagement tool," Blakeway said. "It lets fans play around. It is just a real fun toy."

The image is known as a gigapixel or, in Blakeway's words, "an online, interactive, 360-degree group selfie." Each image is 25 billion pixels in size, or 25 gigapixels.

Blakeway will capture a moment in time as the Gophers take on UND for the first time in six years. He will take the pictures during the national anthem, which will happen minutes before the puck drops at 7:37 p.m. Friday.

The lights will be turned on for the event, and he advised fans to get in their seats early so they can be part of the experience.

Fans who are in the photo will be able to point to the gigapixel and say, "I was there."

'Perfect alignment'

Blakeway takes photos under the name Blakeway Worldwide Panoramas, based in Minnetonka, Minn. He graduated from UND in 1983 and started creating panoramas through his company in 1989.

He's created gigapixels for college games, NASCAR, the NHL and NFL, including several Super Bowl shots. He's also created gigapixels for North Dakota State University, including the football team's championship games in 2014, 2015 and 2016.

The hard work is in seamlessly stitching the photos together, especially when people are moving. At one point, it could take days to put the photos together accurately without missing arms or heads, he said.

"It used to take us 10 minutes to shoot," he said of the gigapixel. "We're down to the point where we will shoot this hockey game in one minute."

This will be the first gigapixel Blakeway has done for UND, but he's no stranger to the Grand Forks sports scene. He's done several panorama photos for men's hockey, some that hang in the Sioux Shop at the Ralph.

"The first time we ever had one in the store, it was kind of a cool reaction for customers," Sioux Shop manager Jason Carlson said. "They would walk up to it and get really close to the picture and try to find themselves in it."

Carlson and Blakeway have coordinated the shoots capturing UND hockey history, including the last game the team played as the Fighting Sioux. They wanted the gigapixel shoot to be a special event.

"We felt this weekend was it," Carlson said of UND's game against Minnesota.

Blakeway said he doesn't know how many photos he'll need to weave together for the Ralph, but it likely will be hundreds. For perspective, a hockey arena is smaller than a football stadium, which needs 1,100 single shots to make up his 360-degree image, he said.

UND is not paying Blakeway for his services but will help him sell his panoramic photos of the game, he said. The university is near and dear to Blakeway's heart, and shooting the Fighting Hawks-Gophers game will be special, he said.

"It's been top of mind but not quite ready for the past couple of years," he said. "This is the perfect alignment to capture everything in a gigapixel."

If you go:

Be in your seats before the national anthem Friday night for the Fighting Hawks-Gophers men's hockey game so you can be in Jim Blakeway's 360-degree gigapixel image. The game starts at 7:37 p.m., with the national anthem starting minutes before the puck drops.

You can find the interactive photo and others at The UND photo likely will be posted Saturday night.

April Baumgarten

April Baumgarten joined the Grand Forks Herald May 19, 2015, and covers crime and education. She grew up on a ranch 10 miles southeast of Belfield, where her family raises registered Hereford cattle. She double majored in communications and history/political science at Jamestown (N.D.) College, now known as University of Jamestown. During her time at the college, she worked as a reporter and editor-in-chief for the university's newspaper, The Collegian. Baumgarten previously worked for The Dickinson Press as a city government and energy reporter in 2011 before becoming the editor of the Hazen Star and Center Republican. She then returned to The Press as a news editor, where she helped lead an award-winning newsroom in recording the historical oil boom.

Have a story idea? Contact Baumgarten at 701-780-1248.

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