A couple months ago, Jeremy Lasky (Design Director) and Danny Gonzalez (Effects Director) of NYC-based studio Perception visited the Savannah College of Art and Design to give a talk about a series of six promos they created for ESPN’s coverage of the Major League Baseball playoffs.
I was really impressed by Jeremy and Danny’s presentation. They showed us everything about the project, from concept to delivery—including boards and ideas that didn’t make the cut. As a student, I found the whole experience to be incredibly informative, and we all thought it’d be a good idea to essentially recreate much of the Perception presentation in Q&A form here on Motionographer.
So how did this project come about?
Jeremy Lasky: The project came about by winning a pitch we were invited to participate in by the ad agency, The Concept Farm in New York. We were the underdogs going against three well-known and highly respected design companies. The agency had an initial concept. They presented the overall idea to us as a written treatment as well as a very rough schematic board. It was up to the companies pitching to take it to the next level. The agency was looking for the most innovative design and creative solution to the challenges their concept presented.
What was the turnaround from the moment of hearing about the project to the pitch?
Danny Gonzalez: We essentially had two days to come up with ideas. We actually ended up showing our work a little sooner then expected. So in addition to creating several storyboards and a motion test, we wrote up additional written treatments for ideas we didn’t get to board.
Did you guys pitch in person? Over the web?
JL: The pitch was over the web and the phone. We set up links to the boards and the motion test, and explained them over a conference call. The agency actually got everything ahead of time, so they had a chance to see everything and evaluate the work before we had a chance to walk them through. Each concept included a written description so the work could literally explain and sell itself.
DG: Every pitch is a little different. Whenever possible, we like to present in person. It gives us a chance to catch a first impression and help control that impression with what we say, and how we say it. In this instance, we had to package the work in an email that would hopefully replicate the experience of having us there in person, explaining the ideas, the concepts and the reasoning behind everything we did. We pride ourselves on our pitches.
What was the competition like? Was it an intense pitch?
JL: We’re big fans of the other companies that pitched. But that just motivates us to go above and beyond. Not sure how extensive the other pitches were, we put everything out there—storyboards, concepts, motion tests, whatever it took to get the client to see their initial idea come to life. We recognized the challenges and doubts the client expressed initially about the campaign and decided early on that whatever we showed had to demonstrate to the client that the campaign was in fact feasible, that it could be done, and would be stunningly beautiful. There were a few late nights involved, but it paid off.
How many sets of boards did you guys create for the initial pitch? What were some of the concepts you guys tried out?
DG: We presented five sets of boards and a motion test, with written treatments to go along with each. In addition, we had a full page of ideas that didn’t get boarded but we felt were strong enough to present.
JL: Some of the ideas we tried out included: pushing the dimensionality of the blackboard world. Having the perspective constantly shifting between a flat, head-on board with a board that’s rotating in space as the chalk and live action elements peel off of it, becoming a 3D landscape. Having real-life images morph into chalk-drawn illustrations, and vice-versa. Having players playing on the surface of the blackboard backdrop, as well as in front of it; utilizing a lot of contrasting scale and proportion. Showing a human hand or actual piece of chalk doing the writing/drawing. Also other chalkboard tools could be shown drawing the marks: chalk compass, yardstick, eraser, etc., flight of the ball vs. points on a sine curve, and others.
Which concept did the agency go with, and why do you think they chose it?
DG: As is often the case, the end result was a combination of almost all of the boards, with a few of the un-boarded ideas thrown in. Having a full campaign of six different spots left a lot of room for most of our initial ideas. After all of the exciting moves and dynamic compositions, the sequences essentially had to be a journey across an equation, from the first variable all the way to final result, indicating the ingredients that make up the secret formula for a team to make it all the way to the division series. We wanted to make every fan watch these even if their team was not in playoffs.
Did you ever work directly with ESPN or was all communication through The Concept Farm?
JL: Mainly through The Concept Farm. The collaboration was fantastic. A rare and wonderful creative chemistry emerged early on, where ideas could be bounced back and forth, experimentation was encouraged and ultimately the end result turned out much better because of the team effort.
How many iterations did the design go through before the agency signed off on it?
DG: There were always pieces to tweak and refine. Revisions were happening on a daily basis to get all the spots right. A constant stage of finesse lasted until we had to output to tape. So many opportunities for design and animation details, hidden ‘gags,’ and inside jokes baseball fans would get would constantly present themselves to us. Too many opportunities to ignore, we didn’t want to miss out on any! We love adding all the little details.
What were some of the technical challenges you guys faced throughout production?
DG: We had to deliver in HD and SD so we had a bunch of variables: Rendering. Rotoscoping in HD. Making SD shots work in HD because that’s all they could provide. Creating believable chalk effects and shading. Delivering a huge toolkit before our actual delivery date.
How many people were working on the project when you guys were running full blast?
JL: At the high end, nine, and when we were on autopilot, around four. We had a small team of roto artists and a designer/art director who worked out the initial approved board. Then we had four designers for six spots.
Was the whole Perception crew working on this project only or were you juggling other projects at the same time?
DG: Believe it or not, we had ten other projects in house that we were dealing with at the same time. Two of them were for The Concept Farm and came about as a result of our MLB pitch. We were drinking Red Bull like it was water. At one point we wondered about the possibility of getting it on tap!
How long did the series take you to complete?
JL: In total, about four weeks.
Were there any curve balls (pardon the pun) that had you guys sweating a little?
JL: We were at the mercy of the MLB teams according to the rankings every day. We were also watching individual players’ stats. Numerous times, we were rotoscoping a player and then found out the next day he got hurt and was eliminated from our spot. We also started doing the White Sox and when the losses for them started to go up instead of down they were taken out of the project. The rotos were a big part of this project especially since this was done in HD. Everyone knows that roto’ing is time consuming, but we had a great team of artists and my hat goes off to them. We also had three days taken away for audio, output and closed captioning.
Are you guys going to do more ESPN work thanks to this series?
JL: Actually, the ESPN family is already one of our best clients. Working with The Concept Farm is the new wrinkle for us, and it looks like the beginning of a great relationship. We want to start getting heavier into the agency world and start using our creative solutions for multiple mediums. When we were at R/GA, all we did was agency work. Perception opened in 2002 and we landed broadcast work immediately. We love working with ESPN on projects; they really let us loose when it comes to the creative. We constantly try to raise the bar for sports entertainment graphics.
Is Perception growing? Holding steady? What’s the future hold?
DG: Perception has been steadily growing since day one. We started out in pretty much a closet and now have 2800 square feet, and we are now looking to double our space and staff. We have our repeat clients that we enjoy having around. We have a very open atmosphere here and the clients sometimes come to hang out even when they don’t have a project in production. We love that.
JL: The future is very positive. We’ve added 2 new designers and already hired a SCAD student we met when we were down giving our presentation. The team we have now is in my opinion the strongest we have ever had.
DG: We are in talks for a music video, we are about to re-launch our website (look for that), we also plan to start an internal creative initiative to produce some "mini projects" that the entire Perception team can help bring to life. We believe it’s important to challenge our designers and give them opportunities beyond “the work” to showcase their creativity. Who knows, the look we come up with may work for a client’s project in the future.
JL: We’d like to take this opportunity to thank everyone here for busting their ass on this project and for making me proud to be in this industry. This was a pure creative collaboration with ideas flowing from everyone throughout the project. Without that spirit of shared commitment to making this special, this project would not have turned out as great as it did.