NFL Rush Zone: Season of the Guardians

Perception’s John LePore On Creating the Open for Nickelodeon’s Animated Hit

If pro football has a trademark, it’s intense, fast-paced action and Nickelodeon knows kids love those things too. That’s why the network launched its animated series, NFL Rush Zone: Season of the Guardians late last year. New York City-based VFX studio, Perception (http://perceptionnyc.com), was tapped by Nickelodeon, the National Football League and show producer, Rollman Entertainment to create the 30-second title sequence for the show, which centers around 10-year-old Ishmael (Ish) Taylor.

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Perception had six months to complete the 30-second opener for NFL Rush Zone, which just finished its second season.

Led by Creative Director John LePore, Perception’s team of animators used Maxon’s Cinema 4D, Adobe’s After Effects and Photoshop to bring Ish and his friends together with their NFL counterparts in the dazzling intro, which was nominated for a Daytime Emmy award. The fast-paced introduction features a succession of NFL team logos that flash on screen before forming a circle. Each logo pairs quickly to a stylized team mascot before introducing the show’s primary characters. (Watch the opener here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-5eVCgK_5lE.)

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NFL logos and mascots were designed separately, so they could be switched around at the client’s request.

“The final product is basically what we were imagining from the very start, which is unusual with these kinds of projects,” LePore recalls. “What stood out to all of us was something that was going to present the entire opening sequence in a very stylized manner—particularly something that would play off of the digital and holographic elements that appear throughout the show.”

Creating a Hyper-Real Feel

Perception’s history of working with Rollman Entertainment on past projects, including a previous sequence for NBC’s Super Bowl Sunday coverage, played a big role in getting the Nickelodeon project, LePore says. It also helped earn them more creative freedom. “We had done enough projects with them in the past that they came to us and said, ‘Whatever you guys think is cool, just make something awesome for us,”’ says LePore. “It’s a great brief to get, but it can also be a little paralyzing.”

So, LePore and a team of five colleagues got to work on some written treatments. When a front-runner emerged, they presented it to Rollman and, fortunately, they loved the idea, which included animations of a variety of characters, as well as the creation of a giant, digital football stadium environment. From there, they moved on to style frames.

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Perception used a spline wrap to trace out linework on the ground as characters run into a stadium tunnel.

“We had a few different artists here all working on various approaches to that idea,” says LePore. “We quickly came up with a look that we felt was crisp, clean and bold – it had a sleek feel to it. It was appropriately modern for both football and the hyper-real feel of the show.”

Once the style frames were approved by the client, LePore and his team boarded out the entire sequence in more detail, explaining which characters they would show in what amount of detail before moving on to animatics. “We refined that process more and more until all our timings were pretty much dialed in,” says LePore. “Then we got into some final renders and compositing.”

Guardians Of the Core

Perception had about six months to work on the opener, which moves quickly while briefly explaining the gist of the show, which tells the story of Ish and the other “Guardians of the Core” trying to protect shards of a power source known as “The Core.” The shards (or Megacores) are hidden in 32 NFL stadiums, and the Guardians must protect them every Sunday from evildoers.

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The safety of the world rests in the hands of Ish Taylor and his friends in Nickelodeon’s NFL Rush Zone.

A succession of spline wraps were used to create the sequence of logos and mascots. To achieve the spoke effect around the 32 logos, the team used Cinema 4D to create feathered lines that streaked out toward the outer radial elements of the scene. LePore explains: Radial cloners helped them create a ring of different football Megacores around the perimeter of the circle. Lens flares were composited in After Effects using Video CoPilot’s plug-in, Optical Flares (https://www.videocopilot.net/products/opticalflares/).

The show’s creators provided LePore with 2D artwork of the characters, and the creative team used “some simple tricks” to make them blend more seamlessly into the 3D space. To place the characters in the sequence, Perception used a combination of After Effects and C4D, particularly as the camera pushes around the circle and the viewer sees each character wiping upward. “That would have been much more time-consuming if we hadn’t had the ability to finish those elements within AfterEffects using Cinema 4D’s 3D space,” LePore says.

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Radial cloners were used to create a ring of different football Megacores around the perimeter of a circle in the sequence’s opening seconds.
(click on image for full-size)

Though Perception has been using Cinema 4D for over a decade, they don’t normally use it to create style frames at the beginning of a project. But, in this case it made sense, LePore says. “It was a natural fit because we knew it was going to be perfect for depicting the bold graphic elements we would need for the title sequence, and we knew a lot of the tools within the program would be effective and efficient.” All of the scenes were intentionally built so that logos and character art could be swapped easily as all three of their “bosses” on the project weighed in with changes.

Firing Up the Audience

Feedback on the opener has been positive and LePore feels good about his team’s work on the fun project and achieving the goal of firing up the show’s intended audience—kids. “This gave us a chance to create something that was really energetic and intense and a little bit over the top,” he says. “It allowed us to make a momentum piece more than anything, which was a lot of fun.”

Currently, Perception is working on several new projects, including campaigns and show opens for major sporting events. “And we’re currently in production on a ton of futuristic effects for next year’s RoboCop reboot, as well as some early concept development for other films,” says LePore.


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Article by Dan Heilman

Dan Heilman is a St. Paul, Minnesota-based writer and editor.


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