Any sports network knows that redesigning a graphics package is no small undertaking. From inserts to animations to sponsorship elements, it is a massive project fraught with potential perils and the understanding that the network will likely have to live with the package for years. Factor in the added pressure that the package will debut during the most-watched single-day sports event on the planet, and the prodigious task of CBS Sports Graphics Director Marla Schmettau and her team comes into focus.
“It’s obviously a massive project, but we were very happy with the final product,” Schmettau said during a case study on CBS Sports’ redesigned Super Bowl XLVII graphics at SVG’s SportsPost:NY event on Wednesday. “Because sports are so masculine and testosterone-driven, there is this belief that [graphics] have to be very in-your-face and bulky. But we tried to steer away from that. While some of that is very visible in the open, we were trying to get away from that in the quicker elements.”
As is typically the case when a network is set to broadcast the Super Bowl, CBS elected to completely redo its insert and animation packages in time for the big game. Schmettau and company worked months to create a bigger, bolder look while imparting an austere, clean feel to the overall on-air product.
Big Studios in Toronto and Click 3X Entertainment in New York worked on the animation packages; Reality Check and Cake Studios worked together on the insert elements. Vizrt, Adobe Aftereffects, and Maxon Cinema 4D are among the tools that played a big part in the rebranding.
For the animations, specifically, CBS worked with Big Studios to update the classic blue CBS Sports package with an edgier look.
“We were going for a more monochromatic glass-and-steel direction and steered clear of the old tinted blue,” said Gareth Hughes, creative content producer, CBS Sports. “We wanted to get less blue and have a more silver, reflective environment. At the same time, we wanted to have the badass feel that you look for in football rather than green grass [in golf].”
Among the most important elements of a show — especially one on the scale of the Super Bowl — is the show opener. The first thing the viewer sees, it needs to draw in the audience with a sense of flair and drama. Anyone who caught CBS’s opener on Super Bowl Sunday can safely say, mission accomplished.
“The idea [for the opener] was, the CBS eye was the energy source that is transmitting energy into the environment and then the players’ breaking through causes more and more chain reactions,” says Jocelyne Meinert, owner/director, Big Studios. “It was a lot more physical and muscly and dramatic environment.”
Although the opener was about as in-your-face as it gets, the rest of the graphics revamp emphasized minimalism, focusing on a few key elements, rather than a litany of animations and inserts.
“We use the word austere a lot, which is not something you would think of in football, where there is a lot of action and big hits,” said Meinert. “But there is a lot to be said for confident minimalism. I think people underestimate the value of white space sometimes. When you embrace simplicity every once in a while, it creates a great overall vibe.”
Schmettau added, “Going into it, we thought we needed a huge number of elements, but we ended up with a less-is-more type of approach. Usually, we would want to give the production crew as many options as possible, but sometimes they would rather just have those few elements. That ended up driving home what this package was: something with a very condensed core that focused on a few great, key elements. I think we will take that approach in further packages.”
CBS will carry its overhauled inserts package to its golf coverage (with the exception of the Masters) and continue to evolve the entire package for its NFL coverage next season. Schmettau also said she hopes to continue to move past the boundaries of a 4×3 aspect ratio in future packages.
“We feel like 4×3 has passed everyone by,” said Hughes. “We felt that, especially on the insert-graphics side, that would have given us more opportunity to get additional elements to the side of the screen. We didn’t really win that battle, but maybe we will in three years for Super Bowl L.”