Founded in 1917, the National Hockey League is an institution steeped in tradition and nostalgia. At the same time, though, it’s always seeking ways to attract new, younger fans. That combination of old and new provided much of the creative spark in a project recently completed for the NHL by New York-based Undefined Creative (http://www.undefinedcreative.com). Using Cinema 4D, the broadcast design and digital media firm created animated graphics packages for events broadcast by the NHL Network, including the Winter Classic, an annual outdoor game; and the Heritage Classic, an outdoor series that, this year, matched up Canadian teams.
Undefined Creative’s founder and creative director, Maria Rapetskaya, says her firm was pleased to be tapped for such high-visibility projects. “We’ve worked with the NHL for the past three years and, in 2013, we were awarded the package for the NHL Draft. That gave us the chance to show what we could bring to the table.”
The NHL liked what they saw and gave Undefined Creative a shot at more work. Undefined’s broad client list also includes other networks such as NBC Universal and Discovery Network, as well as universities, non-profits, publishers and brands. (Watch the NHL Network clip now: http://www.undefinedcreative.com/video/winter-classic-heritage-classic/)
Bringing All of the Pieces Together
Rapetskaya and Undefined 3D artist, Jesse Ross, began the project by focusing on design. Event art was provided by the NHL’s in-house team, but everything needed to be adapted to motion graphics. Hours were spent separating all the pieces and rebuilding the line art to work for extrusion. Photoshop was used for all of the textures. Using as much of the original art as possible helped ensure greater accuracy than would have been possible if they had needed to replicate everything through modeling and materials.
Undefined Creative also studied past work the NHL Network had done on similar projects and noticed right away that there was some repetition to the graphics, particularly when logos were brought in for the first time. That’s partly due to the challenges artists face when working with static logos.
“With sports logos, a lot of the time they try to mimic a 3D environment,” says Rapetskaya. “They try to mimic bevels or depth. That’s all great in print, but when you take that logo and try to make an actual object, all of the 3D qualities they put in end up getting in our way.” Making matters even more difficult was the fact that the logos could only be creatively interpreted so much because once they resolved, they needed to look precisely like the originals.To remedy this for both events, Undefined created two logos: the traditional one provided by the league and one with more actual dimension and physically authentic elements such as a leaf or a hockey stick, which they modeled using C4D. Then, the challenge became how to seamlessly transition between their version of the logo and the league’s.
In the end, they opted to render all of the elements and all the different layers before compositing the logo builds. Next, they figured out where the natural transition to the real logo began. “The creative process was similar for both, we storyboarded the concept but then really played around with compositing and timing,” Rapetskaya explains. “So, it was a combination of direction and experimentation.” Snow, flares, glows and other effects were added in After Effects. The end result was a series of animations that were lively and dynamic, yet true to both hockey tradition and the strict legal requirements.
Trademarks and In-Stadium Extras
And there were other complicating factors, too. Since the NHL is an international league, everything had to be done in both English and French. There were also trademark issues to worry about. “They’ve got a ton of trademarks, and a huge part of the process was making sure that every single TM and R is out there and visible,” says Rapetskaya, adding that the flexibility of C4D helped ease that burden. “With layer rendering, we always rendered all trademarks separately, so if they wanted to play with colors, backdrops, a glow effect or a shadow, we could make those changes easily.”In addition to the materials created for the NHL Network broadcasts, Undefined created a graphics package for in-stadium scoreboard use during live games, including 3D team logos, match-up animations, wipes, custom backgrounds and lower thirds.
The league’s response to the graphics packages has been great, Rapetskaya says, and she’s looking forward to working with the NHL in the future. “Because we’re a new vendor stepping in to do these, we have a bit of an advantage,” she says. “Every production house has its own style and what we delivered was fresh and different from the work they’ve gotten in the past few years.”
Next up for Undefined Creative is a series of marketing and promo videos for Iowa-based Meredith Publishing, as well as some pharmaceutical-related videos and motion graphics for Road Recovery, which helps young people overcome addiction and other issues. The project is just one of the many pro-bono jobs Undefined does for non-profit organizations each year.Other projects on the horizon include a series of medical animations and graphics for the NHL’s playoff season. If this sounds diverse, Rapetskaya explains that her company works in just about every industry sector and they enjoy the diversity of projects they get to work on. “I can move from hockey pucks to internal organs to high art in a single day and I love that,” she says.
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Article by Dan Heilman
Dan Heilman is a St. Paul, Minnesota-based writer and editor.
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