The Fox Sports Graphics team talks about creating motion graphics for Super Bowl XLVIII with help from student artists from Savannah College of Art and Design
As real-world experience goes, being invited to help create motion graphics for FOX Sports' broadcast of Super Bowl XLVIII was an exceptional opportunity for 20 students from the Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD). Led by SCAD professor, Austin Shaw, the students spent 10 weeks working on creative elements for the game opener using assets provided by FOX Sports.
The collaboration was a first between SCAD's Collaborative Learning Center and FOX Sports University program, which partners with universities to provide students with on-the-job experience. Using CINEMA 4D
, FOX Sports Graphics teams in Los Angeles and Charlotte, North Carolina, which include many SCAD graduates, worked with the students to develop and design concepts for February 2 broadcast.
In addition to working with students, the in-house FOX Sports Graphics team created over 500 production elements for the Super Bowl, including the opening animation, rejoins, bumpers, transitions, interstitials, segment titles and wipe effects. The graphics package is centered around three main elements: Cleatus, FOX Sports' robot mascot; Times Square; and the Vince Lombardi Trophy.
Watch the game opening:
FOX Sports In-House Graphics Department Super Bowl XLVIII Open from Michael Dolan
Design & animation
Because SCAD and FOX Sports Graphics both rely on CINEMA 4D for 3D and visual effects, it was easy for the students and the in-house departments to collaborate on content creation. Students used CINEMA 4D to create style frames and boards, as well as motion tests to come up with looks and narrative ideas. They also relied on CINEMA 4D's animation tools when doing motion tests to animate Cleatus.
After finishing up work with the students on initial concepts, the Fox Sports team got to work creating the opening and other elements of the graphics package. They began by designing and building a CG version of Broadway, running from Times Square to Duffy Square and including a three-story monument for the Lombardi Trophy and FOX logo. Because of the tight timeline and volume of deliverables, the design process revolved heavily around the tight integration between CINEMA 4D and After Effects
. "By using XRef's, designers were able to work in parallel with 3D artists while the main Times Square model was being built,” explains Andrew Narayan, a FOX Sports Graphics senior designer.
The project was structured in a complex hierarchy composed of nested XRef files containing individual blocks of Times Square, roads and sidewalks, street-level props, the interior of the subway, low-poly background set extensions, buildings and the rigged model of Cleatus. Designers composited style frames directly within After Effects using multi-pass renders, as well as 3D light, object and camera position data.
Because they designed in After Effects, the time required to composite and finish a rendered sequence was greatly reduced. "The designers responsible for compositing would simply have to update 3D renders and camera position animations once the final CINEMA 4D renders were complete,” Narayan adds. Students created motion graphics for the advertisements featured on the monitors seen along Broadway. Once the open animation was finished, the in-house team used it as the basis for designing and animating all of the additional elements for the live broadcast.
In all, says FOX Sports Graphics Vice President of Design, Michael Dolan, 22 people at FOX Sports, including 12 in-house designers, put in over 7,000 hours over 16 weeks on the project. "We had the Los Angeles and Charlotte offices working simultaneously, so files were synced across fiber-attached SANs in both offices each night to allow the designers to have access to each other's progress,” Dolan recalls.
Though this project was challenging in many ways, Dolan says the biggest hurdle the team faced was the need to simultaneously create the CG version of Broadway from Times Square to Duffy Square during the design and approval process. At the same time, and throughout the project, everyone also had to make sure they structured everything in a way that could accommodate rapid changes in set design and, most notable, changes to the content on the billboard screens.
Here, too, Narayan credits XRefs for helping to streamline the process by making it possible for multiple artists to work on different aspects of the master set model at the same time. "By referencing a master set project into each shot of the opening sequence, we gained the ability to quickly update designs across every shot with a simple update command on the XRef object,” he explains.
As models became more detailed, the need to navigate within projects became increasingly important. So within each referenced model, a low-poly, proxy version was created using the layer manager. "Proxys were set to auto-switch to high-poly versions at render time,” explains designer Craig Chupinsky. "This allowed animators to navigate smoothly within projects while having the ability to temporally enable or disable elements important to a specific shot.”
Lighting & rendering
To streamline the rendering process, the FOX Sports Graphics team rendered elements in separate passes using the CINEMA 4D plug-in, Render Elements
. The plug-in allowed the department to break out renders into several passes, which particularly helped with scenes involving Cleatus and the Times Square set. All of the sequences were rendered using CINEMA 4D's NETRender without global illumination.
In total, hundreds of lights contributed to the illumination of the sets. "Lighting was controlled by utilizing falloff, excluding or including influence on specific objects and keeping shadow-casting lights to a minimum,” recalls designer Craig Chupinsky, adding that the strategy allowed a great deal of flexibility in art direction. In an attempt to reduce the amount of lights that had to be calculated, the team used the Auto Gel Projection plug-in
, which enabled artists to fake the illumination of multiple lights using a tag on a spotlight to cast illumination through a custom texture.
Beauty passes were rendered in the OpenEXR format
with multi-passes rendered as 16-bit PNGs. Composites used the OpenEXR format in a linear color space as a base with specific passes to accentuate reflections/specular, glow out ambient illumination and increase contrast and detail with shadow and ambient occlusion.
Finished elements were often completed in After Effects. But a large number of elements had to be converted to Vizrt
(VisualiZation Real Time) so that specific information, such as text, logos and team colors could be updated during the live broadcast. "CINEMA 4D offered all the tools necessary for simplifying and reducing models for optimization in Vizrt, including the UV and texture baking tools,” Dolan says.
Dolan says he's proud of the way the FOX Sports Graphics team worked with the students, and together as a team, to leverage the strengths of each individual designer while allowing the project to operate as efficiently as possible. And he welcomes the opportunity to work with SCAD students on a future project.
"It was incredibly rewarding to see young designers, animators and modelers attack a project without any preconceived notions as to what a Super Bowl opening on FOX should be,” he says. "Their ambition and incredible work ethic were an inspiration to our team at FOX Sports. We would absolutely bring another project to SCAD.”
FOX Sports Credits:
Gary Hartley, EVP of Graphics, Creative Director
Cathy Perow, Senior VP of Graphics Production
Michael Dolan, VP of Design
Rita Franklin, VP of Graphics Production
Zac Fields, VP of Graphics Technology
Eric Sherwood, Coordinating Producer
Anne Turner, Graphics Production Manager
Christine Sielaff, Graphics Producer
Joshua Perea, Graphics Producer
Bassell Elgharib, Viz Graphics Producer
Andrew Narayan, Senior Designer (Concept Design / Animation)
Jon Kaczmarski, Senior Designer (Compositing)
Chris Watson, Senior Designer (Character Animation)
Craig Chupinksy, Designer (Technical Director, Texturing, Animation)
Lauren Peterson, Designer (Texturing, Animation
Andrew Dicharry, Designer (Design and Animation)
Andy Blondin, Viz Artist
Greg Sanders, Viz Artist
James Reed, Viz Artist
John Martin, Viz Artist
Danielle Johnson, Viz Artist
Jeff Hall, Jeff Hall Design (Set Design, Set Prints)
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