From Pitch to Screen, Graphics Creators Keep Storytelling in the Forefront

From the initial pitch to the playout onscreen, motion-graphics designers and creative directors face a litany of challenges in creating sizzling show opens, bumpers, promos, and other content for sports clients. Whether it’s a sports network’s in-house graphics department or an outside design house brought in for a specific job, designing an on-air graphics package has become a painstaking creative process that relies more than ever on technological tools to transform idea into reality.

“In the old days, when you were dealing directly with a creative director from a network, sometimes a napkin sketch would be enough to get an idea across and work up a pitch,” said Beirne Lowry, creative director at design house Mr. Wonderful, during a graphics-focused panel at SVG’s recent SportsPost:NY event. “But nowadays, we are creating massive amounts of 3D-rendered [elements] just for the pitch process. So that is a big change, and expectations are very high these days [for the initial pitch].”

Surviving the Approval Process
It isn’t just the pitch process that requires more heavy lifting these days, however. Even after the design process is under way, many design houses find themselves having to create high-end elements that are often altered through the client’s approval process.

“We are seeing a much bigger need for really polished materials up front as we are moving through the approval process,” said John LePore, creative director, Perception. “It’s not unusual for us to present a finished 30-second promo for, say, The Masters where we touch on a few different key players. But, once it makes it up to the top management, we get requests to have different players incorporated into the spot, creating new elements and generating new animations with a relatively quick turnaround. Usually, by the time it makes it to the top of the food chain, we are very close to our final deadline, so it is important for us to stay very agile and be able to anticipate our clients’ needs and tendencies.”

The Social-Media Effect
As social-media platforms continue to play an increasingly important role in live sports coverage, sports networks increasingly look to integrate graphics from linear telecasts with the look and design of their digital products.

From left: BigStar's Josh Norton, CBS Sports' Tara Kafer, and Perception's John LePore

From left: BigStar’s Josh Norton, CBS Sports’ Tara Kafer, and Perception’s John LePore

“I think most networks still don’t know what to do with that category of [social-media] communication and how to really connect it to on-air branding and storytelling,” said Josh Norton, president/executive creative director, BigStar. “I see a lot of people still grasping for that connection. Design companies will continue to make an effort to fill that gap between social-network communications and on-air communications. But, for me, great storytelling and great design will continue to be the most important thing.”

CBS Pumps Up With Social Media
CBS Sports has launched Super Social Saturday, a social-media initiative incorporating fan tweets, pictures, and interactions throughout its coverage of college basketball on CBS, CBS Sports Network, and, as well as Golf on CBS. CBS Sports encourages fans to use the hashtag #CBSSuperSocial for all social-media activity relating to CBS Sports programming on Saturday and promotes the event from its various CBS Sports Twitter accounts.

At its debut on Feb. 22, the best fan pictures, tweets, and posts were featured on-air during studio and event programming, which included coverage of the PGA TOUR’s WGC Accenture Match Play Championship and six college basketball games across the two networks. Fans also could vote for the nation’s Top Freshman on Facebook and Twitter using the hashtag #TopFrosh along with their vote and could interact with CBS Sports announcers and writers, alumni from competing schools.

“We want to reach our viewers and get them interacting with the broadcast, so we are always trying to look for more ways to introduce social media to the broadcast,” said Tara Kafer, associate producer of graphics, CBS Sports. “It’s definitely [adding to our workload]; Super Social Saturday took up about half my week. We have a whole social-media toolkit and look on our [Vizrt] insert package. We try to keep it unique to that, a little lighter.”

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