Creating award-winning spots for Fox Sports

Motion-design house Monkeyhead's founder, Josh Sahley, discusses its CINEMA 4D pipeline in creating award-winning TV spots for Fox Sports...

Motion-design house Monkeyhead's founder, Josh Sahley, discusses its CINEMA 4D pipeline in creating award-winning TV spots for Fox Sports...

It is said that when it comes to getting work, its not what you know but who you know that counts. But in the case of Monkeyheads two recent spots for Fox Sports 1, a little bit of both came in handy. Not only had Monkeyhead worked on numerous successful projects with Fox Sports in the past, but founder/creative director Josh Sahleys first job, years ago, was with Fox Sports. So when Fox Sports 1, the spinoff network owned by the TV giant, needed a couple of eye-catching broadcast stingers (network IDs), they knew where to turn.

Some of the guys I knew when I worked there are still with the company, so theyve sort of known our work and dedication to our clients all along, says Sahley, a 17-year veteran of 2D/3D motion design. After a brainstorming session on the phone, Monkeyhead got to work right away. Clients like Fox Sports are the best creative partners you can ask for, he continues. They knew what our capabilities were and they gave us the creative freedom to push it.

Relying primarily on CINEMA 4D for modeling and character animation, Monkeyhead was tasked with creating two 10-second stingers to identify the network between commercials. In the end, Monkeyheads whimsical combo of realism and silly characters earned both spots the distinction of being part of a package of spots that won the Gold at the BDA Awards for Best Sports Program Bumper, North America & Global, and also for being part of a General Image Campaign.

Character creation

After discussing initial ideas with Fox Sports 1, Monkeyheads five-person team spent six weeks creating the two spots, New Years Eve and The Victorious. Characters for each spot were based on rough, initial sketches around the theme of the numeral 1 and designed in Photoshop. Once they were approved, the files were imported into CINEMA 4D for modeling, rigging and animation.

New Year's Eve

The Victorious

"You have to be able to learn from others successes, take the time to appreciate their achievements and avoid the same failures artists have already made"

Much of the groundwork involved in preparing the spots was done by hand. That meant Sahley and his team spent time up front looking at successful faceless characters, as well as characters based on objects, to see what worked and what didnt. You have to be able to learn from others successes, take the time to appreciate their achievements and avoid the same failures artists have already made, Sahley says. Otherwise, whats the point of archiving all of this work to review?

Once the research was finished, they began the character design phase by drawing out the number 1 in different positions and sizes and with different limbs and treatments, including turning the 1 at the camera so the tip of the 1 looked like a nose. The crew even filmed reference footage of themselves to create an idea of the look and movements they wanted before starting the animation process. Weve all done our fair share of time on camera, but Blake Newton gets the award on this one for best moves, Sahley says. No one goes from a pole-vaulting number 1 to a hammered number 1 as well as he does.

Another important issue the team considered was character movement. We had to figure out the right level of stretch to make it look good because sometimes you naturally want to animate movement so it looks realistic, but that can look stiff and boring in certain instances, Sahley explains. "Alternately, if you make characters too bendy, they look ridiculous. Once we found the right parameters for each characters movement and personality, we were ready to move forward.

A combination of tools

Both Fox Sports 1 spots are packed with detail despite their short length. In addition to character creation and animation, Monkeyhead used CINEMA 4D for texturing and lighting. The teams attention to detail is especially evident in the look of the characters shoes and gloves in The Victorious spot.

We did a lot of research on different kinds of track shoes, Sahley explains. We pulled in all these shapes and ideas and combined elements to come up with the right look. After that we changed textures and came up with little side panels. We knew it would be the first image and we wanted it to be almost hyper-real.

The close-up shot of the characters hand grabbing the pole was equally as important to visually establish the intensity and mood. The team worked hard to ensure that the pole, the wrapping around it, and the characters gloves right down to the worn tape and perforated texture had the right look. The inside of the gloves have just as much detail as the outside because we always give our elements plenty of attention whether they are going to be seen or not, Sahley says.

To create the stadium for The Victorious, Monkeyhead researched how real stadiums look and bought a generic model of a stadium from TurboSquid to use as a jumping off point. Next, they dissected the model as they added and removed sections from reference images that they liked more. Once the basic model was finished, the team used CINEMA 4D to add elements and build out the stadiums big screens.

The background crowd was created in a similarly organic way. Using a Canon 7D, Sahley filmed a small group of Monkeyhead workers cheering against a green screen. Mograph was used to duplicate the group and positioned them around the stadium.

Attention to detail

The New Years Eve spot is also full of detail. Look closely at the air horn the partying number 1 is carrying, for example, and youll see that it displays the same small, yellow warning label that would be found on a real air horn.

We build in things like this for other artists as much as anybody, because we know theyll notice, Sahley says, adding that you can only see the warning symbol if you frame through the spot. But I hate framing through the work of someone I really like and seeing a mistake or a shortcut.

For the shower of confetti, Sahleys team used CINEMA 4Ds dynamics and Mograph tools to build a single piece of confetti that looked somewhere between real and fun and cartoony, Sahley says. CINEMA 4D is great for scenes that call for falling particles of any kind because dont have to think about the tools quite as much as you do with other programs, you just focus on how you want it to look.

On to the next challenge

Considering the complexity of the Fox Sports 1 spots, Sahley is happy that his team never hit any major technical obstacles and that feedback on the work has been very positive. These days, Monkeyhead is hard at work on a number of projects including further spots for TV and graphic toolkits for Disney.

When I stop to think about what I do, its hard not to feel blessed to have fallen into this career because I get to be creative daily and be challenged all the time, no matter how stressful or crazy it can be, Sahley says. I really love that I get to work on cool campaigns... and that I have the pleasure of working with our Monkeyhead crew. They are tremendous artists, producers and people. What else could I ask for?

Related links

Head over to Monkeyhead's site to see their latest work
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