Blockbuster Films Inspire Big Machine's Creative NFL Network Open

March 12, 2012 1:14 am

Tags: 3D, Adobe, After Effects, C4D, CINEMA 4D, MAXON

There is a fantastic, futuristic world where moving pictures and limitless information are literally available at one's fingertips. It is an interface where conduits of power and energy flow swiftly and seamlessly into a single space, providing a never-ending number of images and statistics.


To create the illusion of blue light hitting the hosts' faces as they interacted with the holographic displays, Big Machine used directional blue lights on set while shooting live footage.

Award-winning motion design house, Big Machine, created this world in a new open for NFL Network’s, GameDay Morning, which features live-action shots of the hit show’s on-air hosts interacting with virtual, holographic displays. Inspired by iconic films, including Minority Report, The Matrix and Tron: Legacy, Big Machine used Maxon’s Cinema 4D and After Effects to create the fast-paced open. Watch it here:

Having created the previous show package for GameDay Morning, Big Machine was well prepared to take the open to the next level by incorporating live action shots of the hosts into some of the existing graphics. What they delivered, says co-founder and creative director Ken Carlson, was a customizable toolkit that enables the NFL Network to change out elements of the whole GameDay package as needed.

“This keeps GameDay looking fresh while giving the network control over the look of the show’s intros, elements and bumps from week to week,” says Carlson, a self-taught designer and creative director who as a beginner quickly learned how to use C4D. “Cinema has the best combination of ease of use, power and flexibility, so it encourages experimentation.”



The show's 3D, holographic football was created using sweep nurbs shapes. "We wanted to get across the idea of the football shape without it being too busy and started to lose the simplicity of the form," explains Carlson.

The future of sports coverage

Knowing they wanted more than a lot of eye-catching images, Carlson and his team came up with a “backstory” for the open in which the hosts are shown sifting through information and selecting footage, charts and numbers as they put together an actual show. “I wanted to show what the talent was doing, which is putting together the show,” he explains. “Without motivation, it’s hard to direct the talent. Plus, you need to convey to the animator a sense of purpose for the scene. The viewer may not consciously register this, but subconsciously it registers as having order and purpose.”


Using a stand-in for one of the hosts, Carlson and his team created all the details of the interface and placed them on a blank piece of Plexiglas.

Designed to be modular, all of the shots in the open are in sequence with multiple combinations of hosts and multiple interface setups with several different windows in which to insert things like facts, figures, charts and info-graphics. To flesh out the visual data display concepts used throughout the set, Carlson sketched out several different ideas that were developed by Big Machine’s designers using C4D. Holographic screens were created in Adobe Illustrator.


The interface for this shot was created using Cinema 4D, After Effects and Illustrator.

Live footage of the show’s hosts was shot by Carlson and his creative team at GameDay’s studio in Culver City, California. Time was short, less than 10 minutes with each host, so they had to work fast. “The most challenging part of the project was trying to explain to an ex-football player that there was a holographic display and that they had to use their imagination while pretending to use it,” Carlson recalls. “They’re all good on camera, but they’re not actors.” Once the hosts figured out how to interact with the holograms, Carlson let them do whatever they wanted and the interface was built around their movements.


Cinema 4D was used to create the form of the screen and the map of the United States as well as the red team location elements.

Making it all look real

The live footage was then 3D tracked with SynthEyes, and the camera information was brought into C4D to create the CG set elements and holographic displays. Finally, both live-action and camera-matched C4D footage were comped together in After Effects.

The combination of tracked live footage, CG elements and final After Effects compositing make up the versatile, modular system that the NFL Network wanted. Bringing everything together was a three-step process that began with live action. Next, CG set elements such as the holographic screens were created in Cinema 4D and that footage, along with the live-action footage, was comped together in After Effects. This essentially created a finished piece that was only missing the data that would be shown on the displays. That way, the GameDay team could easily swap in information and graphics as needed.


Big Machine focused on creating interfaces to fit the on-set movements of the GameDay hosts.

To lend more of a dynamic quality to the open, Carlson and his team added CG elements that helped make it look as if information for the show was flowing throughout the set. He cites Star Wars and 2001: A Space Odyssey as big visual influences for this concept: “This is a live action plate that was just this round circular set piece that we put holographic images on top of,” he says.

While Big Machine has created dozens of similarly cutting-edge packages, including: Suburgatory, Windy City Live, promos for National Geographic Channel, a commercial for Stratosphere in Las Vegas and more (, this is their first project that almost every shot has some degree of interaction with the elements and space.


To create the show’s new logo, Big Machine embellished the existing GameDay logo, with several different backgrounds and environments in order to evolve the look without compromising brand identity.

Currently, Big Machine is directing a music video for Phife of A Tribe Called Quest, spots for the Travel Channel, and creating the visual style for a new reality-documentary TV show called Real Vice Miami.

In the future, Carlson says he wants to work on projects that help to communicate complex ideas and concepts, much like TED videos or RSA Animate. His goal is for Big Machine to make these presentations easily comprehensible to a mass audience through a traditional delivery. “I want us to create something that’s fun and creative and accessible.”

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Article by Scott Strohmaier

Scott Strohmaier is a Los Angeles-based writer.

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