Getting down to business at Savannah Film Festival


Don’t let the 90 screenings at Savannah Film Festival fool you. Savannah College of Art and Design’s week-long celebration of film is about more than art. It’s about the transactions and preparation that make it possible for us to experience the art. It’s about business: the elephant in most festival venues this week. Or if you’re film student Yang Xiao (M.F.A., film and television student), it’s the spaceship.

Yang participated in one of the many intimate meetings between students and industry that transpire during Savannah Film Festival. He shared pictures of the spaceship set he built for his thesis movie, TROY, with the co-founder and director of the SXSW Festival Louis Black and Austin media mogul Robert Walker.

Yang’s bold gesture wasn’t uninvited. It was an opportune illustration of what Robert and Louis, who helped established SXSW as of one of the world’s most successful platforms for music and film, were there to discuss: entrepreneurship. Robert, Louis and other heavyweights in the business came to SCAD to tell these emerging filmmakers not how to get a job, but how to make their own. To them, the spaceship represents the kind of hustle, savvy and radical ambition it takes to make it big in the film business today.

SXSW co-founder Louis Black with SCAD film students Tristan Aronovich and Amanda Maya.

A huddle with a founder of SXSW

The striking thing about what Louis did by turning SXSW - a small music festival started by a few friends - into a multi-media juggernaut generating $300 million in revenue for Austin, Texas, is that there were more barriers to success back when it was getting started. There was no crowdfunding, no Facebook, no smart phones. They solved their problems of having zero money and zero patrons with innovative solutions that are instructive for film students. Even though it’s easier for this generation to make their own empires, and maybe even inevitable given how technology has revolutionized filmmaking, aspiring directors, writers and producers can still learn from the old fashioned practices that turned Austin into the little film empire that could.

Lesson: Ingenuity first, money second
Chief among the lessons from the case study of Austin’s rise in the film industry is that, as Louis and Robert tell it, money makes it easier, but having no money makes you hustle. In their experience, low cash flow ultimately stimulates a more successful outcome because you have to maximize your resources.

When you’re starting out and you don’t have money and you want to make things happen, you learn lessons that stick with you your whole life.
-Louis Black

Robert agreed, “I’m not knocking cash, it’s good. But it’s easy to cover up mistakes or to just be lazy and pay someone to do what you should be doing yourself. It kind of zaps your creative abilities sometimes if you’re not careful,” he said.

Because the pair has had plenty of experience improvising, Robert and Louis still let their ideas, not the financing, direct how they approach a project. For example, when they were in need of a larger workspace recently instead of plunking down a bunch of cash they set their sights on a 50-thousand square foot building that the Texas National Guard was preparing to abandon. By working their relationships, they snagged the gem of the property for a whopping ten dollars in monthly rent.

Louis summed up his stories about building SXSW by telling students, “My one skillset is that I know how to visualize.”

Clearly vision doesn’t obviate the need for money, but as these lessons from Austin demonstrate, money is not to be pursued at the expense of it. 

Vinca and Steven at the panel "How Films Recoup."

Show Me the Money

The title of entertainment lawyer Vinca Jarrett’s book and web series, Show Me the F$#!KING Money, would seem to fly in the face of this lesson of vision before money. But actually, according to Vinca, vision and planning are essential to making the money part possible.

Vinca and her business partner, manager-producer Steven Adams, have made it their mission to teach how movies get financed. They produce the web series because the film business has the highest attrition rate of investors, and their goal is to turn that around by creating Warren Buffetts of the film industry: educated investors who understand where they’re putting their money and how movies get made.

In addition to investors, they target rising filmmakers who are looking to break into the business, like the SCAD students who shot five episodes of their educational series at the university’s studio during Savannah Film Festival.

Vinca and Steven had seen enough of their young clients commit career-ending mistakes while making movies, like bankrupting their parents, which could have been avoided if sound business practices had been in place from the start. Here are two of their best practices.

Lesson: Document your partnership
One of the biggest mistakes when starting out, says Vinca, is to rely solely on spoken agreements. You may share a creative vision with your team, but these individuals are still business partners, and you need to formally define that relationship, roles and responsibilities in writing. An absolutely essential first step is to put a deal memo in place, no matter how simple.

“Go away and write the ten things you want to accomplish with each other,” Vinca instructs, and then write the things you’re each going to do to accomplish those things.” An attorney can put your intentions into a deal memo so the partnership has rules to abide by. Then, of course, you must actually play by these rules.

It may seem obvious, but even before this step, Steven and Vinca are quick to point out that filmmakers – just like any other smart person in business- must know or investigate who they’re entering into a business relationship with. The wrong team member can sour a potential movie deal because of a bad reputation or track record. So do your homework.

Lesson: Know your rights
In addition to formalizing your partnership, Vinca and Steven say it’s absolutely critical for filmmakers to secure the rights to the movie they’re making. A lawyer can help you understand the rights you need to secure. You can navigate some of this process on your own - like obtaining a copyright – and then hire a lawyer to do the rest.

Recently her former intern brought her a TV concept and Vinca gave her this advice: Make sure the rights are in the public domain. If they’re not, do a deal with the executive who’s interested in your concept so they can’t steal the idea. Then document the full extent of your idea so that you can copyright it. Even if you do this part by yourself, it’s wise to know when to bring in an attorney to make sure you have a sound foundation of ownership before moving forward with your project.
From left to right, producers David Paterson, Susan Cartsonis, Jane Goldenring and, far right, Alison Owen.

Producing: Tricks of the Trade

The next lessons come from some of the very people who consult Vinca and Steven’s series: movie producers. 

The festival’s annual coffee talk series kicked off with an installment that answered a very common question: What do producers do? The answer - provided by a panel of award-winning producers of films like What Women Want, Bridge to Terabithea, The Giver and Hocus Pocus – was that producers are really the ultimate entrepreneurs.

From inception to distribution a producer’s single focus is working all the factors behind the screen to get the movie made, which requires a ton of improvisation, ingenuity and grit, as any start-up would.

So what can we learn from them? A couple recurring themes emerged that clearly are factors in their success and trademarks of smart entrepreneurship.

Lesson: Be tough and take authority
The perception that the producer is responsible for everything behind the scenes and the director responsible for everything on the screen is generally accurate, shared The Giver’s executive producer Alison Owen. But on a movie, as in business, things don’t always remain this tidy. The panelists agreed that in the cases where the lines of authority blur, it behooves the producer to be tough and to preserve those boundaries in order to maintain their responsibility to investors and to the overall quality of the film. This principle for success is in the vein of ‘if you don’t stand for something, you’ll fall for anything.’ And it’s certain these producers would say, so too will your film fail if you don’t create the parameters within which the film can be made and stick to them.

It’s good for film students in particular to practice toughness and authority while they’re still in film school, even if the context in which they make their films doesn’t mirror a real world set. Case in point, Headlong Entertainment producer Susan Cartsonis noted that in most film schools the director maintains the purse strings and the producer’s authority is often eclipsed by that power imbalance. So practice sticking to your guns while you're still in film school, especially if you're an aspiring producer.

Lesson: Wear many hats
Precisely because filmmakers must have a keen sense of authority over their project in order to guide its success, it serves them to borrow another tenant that good entrepreneurs and good producers follow, which is to do everything. Or, at the very least, know a little bit about all of the areas you’ll be managing on your project, even the technical ones.

Bridge to Terabithia producer David Paterson uses the example of how he learned to build sets when he was starting out as an actor, which not only gave him invaluable insights for his movies but, in the case of smaller films, he didn’t have to depend on someone else in this area in order to get the film made.

In other words, a lack of knowledge can make or break your project. So don’t allow a lack of interest on your part to isolate you from learning certain technical aspects of filmmaking. Bringing it back to finances, especially when it comes to the money, all the producers agreed that the line producer should not be the only one who knows their way around a budget.

Finally, in addition to knowing how to do multiple things on a set, a page out of a successful producer’s playbook is to have multiple projects going at one time in order to beat the odds against a project getting made.

The democratization of film, whereby first-time filmmakers are able to leverage social networks and advances in technology to fund and shoot films that can rival those by big studios, means that more films will get made. But it also means there will be more competition. Hopefully these lessons from some of the sharpest business minds at Savannah Film Festival will help your project come out on top.

What makes a college Emmy 'Possible'?


Tonight, Prasad Narse (M.F.A., animation, 2014) will learn whether he'll take home one of the most coveted prizes for film and television students: a College Television Award for his animated short "I M Possible." Watch the live webcast of the 35th annual awards tonight at 7:30 p.m. PDT. 

Since making the film at Savannah College of Art and Design, Prasad has garnered significant acclaim. In addition to the college Emmys, "I M Possible" won a Best of Festival award from the Speechless Film Festival and a Star of Festival award from the Grand Film Festival. In early May, Prasad will learn whether the short will be accepted by the Los Angeles Film Festival. The work Prasad did as a graduate student at SCAD continues to pay off, even as he works full-time as a CG animation intern at Laika in Portland, Ore.

Thread: Congrats on the success of your film. Why is it resonating with audiences?

Prasad Narse: Audiences relate to the trauma of the hero "Christopher" and his sheer grit in overcoming his weakness and making his weakness his strength. There are audiences who ‘never say die’ and this film confirms that outlook. Most of us struggle with something in life and this film must be encouraging audiences to keep going and not give up. I think the passion with which this movie was made comes across clearly to its audiences, as well.

Early character concept for Christopher, pencil and marker

T: You create such empathy for the main character. What is the secret to conveying such searing emotions through animation?

PN: Just like actors, an animator has to feel the emotions before driving his characters in a shot. Observation is the key. Certain poses or facial expressions tell us everything that is going through a character’s mind. In animation we tend to use these as story poses, which are often remembered by audiences even after the screening of the film. 

(Hopeless Night) Christopher's Court, digital paint

T: What inspired the film?

PN: My father is my inspiration. He taught me that everything is possible if you believe in yourself. He was a sportsman. Though he played cricket his entire life, he was passionate about all sports. Even after a tragic accident, which left his body paralyzed, his passion and love for sports didn’t diminish. Medically his condition was incurable, but he still had the grit to withstand it and wanted to make the impossible, possible. I sensed that it was his sportsman’s spirit that gave him the strength to withstand every adversity. This heartrending experience left me with the desire to make my thesis film “I M POSSIBLE”  while studying animation at SCAD and learning to convey emotions through fictional characters.

T: What was your father’s reaction?

PN: My father passed away twelve years ago. I know that he would have been extremely proud of me. The pride I wished to see in my father’s eyes is now reflected in my mother’s eyes. She is my strength, my friend, my guide, my mentor and my comforter and it is because of her and the vision she had of me today that ‘I am possible.’ I dedicate this film to my father, however, my I feel my future is going to be great because of my mother. I miss you, Dad, and hats off to you, Mom.

T: Tell us about your crew.

PN: We started in Summer 2012 as two students and eventually grew to 18. The entire crew is from SCAD except Brandon Clements, who is a student of Purdue University. The most interesting thing is that the crew members had never worked together and didn’t even know one another before the project. In the process of making this film, many of them graduated, however each one made a major contribution.

T: How did you prepare for your internship at Laika?

PN: The training, mentorship and dedication to quality at SCAD are par excellence. I learned all the nuances of animation there. The quality of work I did at SCAD was one of the major reasons that Laika decided to take me on as an intern. When I came to Laika, my supervisor told me that he enjoyed the performance of "Christopher" in my animation reel. In the last two and half months I have animated more than 15 shots for Laika’s commercials, like the M&M's "Bachelor" spots, and those for Shaw Cable and International Delight. Working on Laika’s short film is a big experience and it will be out soon.

T: What trends or technologies in animation are you watching?

PN: I am fascinated by the stop-motion animation technique, which uses a puppet animation. The hardest thing is to animate each and every frame. I think this is the most challenging way of animating, where an animator has to be prepared to redo the shot again and again. One shot of 450 frames may take up to 18 hours a day. I am also eager to jump into visual effects and animating for live action projects.

Christopher Expression Sheet, pencil and digital paint

T: What’s your advice for aspiring animators?

PN: Working on a personal project is different than working in the industry. I’ve learned from my internship that an animator must be able to change his shots according to the director’s vision. Nothing is fixed until the director approves it. While studying animation, follow your professors’ lead.  Plan your shots, collect references as much as possible, and don’t jump directly into 3D software. Try to take sufficient breaks while animating, animate in poses and then refine timing. Get enough of sleep, be alert and continue to take creative direction well.

Lighten up: behind the redesign of Mohawk Flooring’s HQ


Gadflies like Google have tipped us off that our work places needn’t be drab utilitarian environments lacking inspiration and intentional design. Mohawk Flooring is one of the latest employers to create a place that’s as imaginative as it is functional; that speaks to its history as one of the world’s most successful manufacturers of floor coverings. This fall, Mohawk enlisted interior design students from Savannah College of Art and Design to reimagine its Dalton, Ga. headquarters. The result of the 10-week sponsored project of SCAD’s Collaborative Learning Center was a plan that Mohawk accepted wholesale, with no changes.

The design board the SCAD team submitted during their final presentation to Mohawk reps.
As Mohawk begins construction on that plan, here’s a look back at the project with SCAD senior Bradley Odom, who also works full-time as West Elm’s director of design education. Mohawk selected Bradley’s “Light Lab” as the guiding design force for the renovation.

Project manager Bradley Odom and his fellow students delivered the final concept to Mohawk at SCAD Atlanta.

Thread: The first step was to visit the Mohawk site. What were the takeaways?

Bradley Odom: The field trip enabled us to immerse ourselves in the actual space. We were able to see the beauty of the building and the natural mountainous area it’s surrounded by. We also worked one-on-one with the client - users of the space - to understand their needs. This relationship was very important to our overall design.

T: What inspired Light Lab and how does it fit Mohawk’s objectives?

B: The client desired a more open work environment. They were looking for a paradigm shift in their culture and to create a place that fostered collaboration.

The site plan for the redesign of Mohawk's headquarters.

B: The existing skylight in the center of the space served as inspiration, as it allowed natural light into an area where people could converge to collaborate. The primary motivating goal was to create a place where design is first and foremost. Mohawk designs beautiful product, yet it was not the primary focus when entering, and I thought it should be. In the final design, the Light Lab is a place where visitors and employees can engage in the design process by seeing the resources, products and the people who are designing the products.

A model installation that the team proposed to reference the importance of weaving and threads to Mohawk's legacy.
T: Describe some of the unique features that the SCAD team included in the plan?

B: One of the most unique features is the water bottle wall. This was inspired by the client’s reputation in the industry as one of the world’s largest recyclers of plastic water bottles. Mohawk uses the recycled bottles to create carpet tiles. I believe visitors should learn this upon entering the building. Another great feature is the lighting. In the Light Lab plan we included a lighting element that would project natural and artificial light through cut out metal onto the floor in the form of keywords that described the overall concept and Mohawk as a company--INSPIRE, EXPLORE, DESIGN.

A sketch of how a lighting element filters natural light from the skylight and a prototype of a light fixture that also plays on the theme of weaving.
B: The dining area was a new feature for this space. We included stadium type seating for a more casual area, counter height dining and typical table and booth seating. The multiple seating heights provides flexibility for the employees and the space. We also included a communal dining table.

Stadium seating was proposed for the dining area.

T: The client had no changes to the concept you presented. What was the key to your success?

B: Seeing the space, listening to the client and one of the elements that was key to articulating the concept: imagery. Finding the right inspiration images to articulate what I was trying to convey was very important.

Paint chips and swatches for floor coverings.

B: In conveying the concept, I wanted to make a statement that was brief, but powerful. I believe the concept statement and imagery together met all of the clients needs. But the number one reason for the overall success was the collaboration of my peers and the expertise of Professor Liset Robinson. The concept was my idea, but my peers and my professor helped to bring all of my ideas to fruition, and expanded on them. The project couldn't have happened in the given time span without the contribution of everyone on the team.




Jason Middlebrook defies gravity at deFINE ART


The recyled materials artist Jason Middlebrook employed to bring his site-specific installation Submerged to SCAD Museum of Art - lumber salvaged by Southern Pine Company - remind him of his childhood home of Northern California, where majestic Redwoods soar. As high as those mega trees stand hangs the centerpiece of Submerged. Contrary to the exhibition’s title, though, Jason’s spectacular chandelier is the first piece to be hoisted up into the museum’s signature 86-foot tall steel and glass tower. Giving the historic lumber such a prominent position in the tower that’s been described as a beacon of Savannah was Jason’s precise intention.

To construct his chandelier, Jason will fasten the tips of lumber, weighing between 20 and 50 pounds each, to steel rings using heavy-duty flathead screws.

Thread: What’s the story behind the reclaimed lumber?

Jason Middlebrook: For 200 years these logs were in the Savannah River and the points of these logs were made and driven down into the river to build all the pier system that basically built Savannah. So I saw the logs, but first I saw these points. I was like these are so cool and they have this incredible history to this city

T: How did SCAD MOA and the tower itself inspire you? What made you think chandelier?

JM: Well the verticality of it, the light, the fact that nothing had ever been hung in there. It’s a brand new museum. I love that it’s the maximum height of anything that can be built in Savannah. It just cried out for an object that has a functional intention, and then when I saw the points I went home and I started drawing. I actually drew a chandelier here in my hotel in Savannah. I started looking at chandeliers and they’re tear drop in shape.

T: Tell me how you preparred the wooden tips for the sculpture and your use of color.

JM: We tape the wood off and then we seal the tape with a matte medium and then we do three coats of color. We have really uneven surface so Frances Russell (B.F.A., fibers, senior) and Anna (Jason's assistant) have been helping to clean up the edges for me because I want them to be crisp because the material is so rough in its manner. When you see the planks the color will make more sense because they’re really vibrant and this color is more understated. I only painted 24 and there are 55 of these points in the chandelier.

JM: The colors were designed to reinforce the planks and my palate. So there’s a lot of primary color, a lot of engaged color and it’s really just accents. I like color. I think color contextualized it in a contemporary art sort of way and it allows the viewer to engage in it more than just found wood. It starts to have a dialogue when you add some color. Even the black and white planks will feel engaged.

T: Someone told me that this is the first time you’ve painted both sides of the planks. Why just one side, previously?

JM: Well, for years they’ve just leaned. They occupy a space that's both sculptural and painting. This gives me a chance to treat them like Calder-esque…they’ll be like mobiles in the way that they’re suspended.

Untitled Painted Plank 4 by Jason Middlebrook. Jason will hang five cypress planks in the lobby of SCAD MOA to complement his chandelier.

T: What’s your advice for new artists who want to work with natural materials or found objects?

JM: I think the thing is to be super conscientious with everything, like place, site, material, history. Really think about where the materials came from and what that signifies. And be thoughtful about your decisions before you go head first, before you rip up a tree or cut down a tree. Think about, “Oh, this piece of furniture is broken. Maybe it can be fixed and circulated back into the community.”

T: Does deFine Art (Feb. 18-21) represent a unique opportunity for you?

JM: The best part is that the museum is trying to create a spectacle this week. That’s kind of how art works. That’s the art fair model. If you build it they will come. I think it’s a really good model because people won’t go somewhere unless…it’s like a P.T. Barnum thing. You gotta do a "thing" for people to come.

T: Especially in this age of over the top entertainment.

JM: Yeah, and this way they’re like, “We’re going to put all of our eggs in one basket for one week. And then we’ll get some energy and then learn from it, and next year it will be better or different." I love being a part of those things because there’s energy.

See Submerged at SCAD MOA from Feb. 18 - Aug. 3, 2014. The fifth edition of SCAD deFine Art runs Feb. 18 - 21 in Savannah, Atlanta and Hong Kong.


Olympic urbanism: the Games’ legacy to our cities


With the Winter Olympics in full swing, you’ll forgive me if I have more on my mind than figure skating, ski slopes, and curling. After months of studying the impact Olympic Games have on our cities for my graduate thesis, "Olympic Theatrics on the Global Stage: Evaluating the effects of temporary and permanent event structures on historic urban landscapes," it’s nearly impossible to acknowledge the Games at face value. As Sochi has already been marred by viral images of unfinished facilities and technical malfunctions at the opening ceremony, here are five things to think about while rooting on the talented athletes in Sochi.

1. The Olympics are no longer about sport
Instead, hosting the Games is an unsurprising justification for urban renewal efforts. Driven by financial and political motives, the Games provide opportunity for infrastructure improvements, economic gains through tourism, redevelopment schemes, and the city’s self-promotion to the global audience. This approach is referred to as 'Olympic urbanism,' defined by identity, regeneration, and the intended legacy of the Games. While the participants demonstrate extraordinary feats of athleticism, the sporting events are a mere façade to the administrative agenda.

2012 London Olympic Games. Credit: Rex Features, Canadian Press.

2. Planning decisions have significant long-term effects
In designing for the Olympic Games, host cities have several options: reuse existing buildings, construct new permanent facilities, or create temporary structures for the short-term use. Athens (2004) and Beijing (2008) created a building stock of megastructures that have mostly been abandoned due to high maintenance costs and limited post-Game function. Olympic construction should include a feasible long-term use plan before a city is selected to play host.

Olympic Abandonment: 1984 Sarajevo, 2004 Athens, 2008 Beijing. Credit: Huffington Post/Business Insider.

3. Hosting the Games comes at the expense of local residents
The Olympics are intended to be financed by fundraising efforts of the host city’s local planning organization, but it is not uncommon for the tab to be unwillingly picked up by local taxpayers. As the Olympics have reached a mind-blowing height of cost, the expense paid by locals is not only financial but also includes environmental and social consequences. Planning should engage local community members and organizations with focus on the long-term benefit. Sochi’s struggle with social equality and environmental conservation have been no secret while generating construction costs greater than any other Olympic Games in history: $51 billion compared to Beijing’s $40 billion in 2008 (the most expensive Winter Games prior to Sochi were Vancouver’s for $7 billion in 2010).

Credit: Mother Jones

4. The Olympics are detrimental to historic urban landscapes
Recent trends over the past 30 years favor mass demolition within the existing built environment to create a blank canvas for the Games. This tendency obliterates all historic integrity and sense of place specific to that region. With the need for large buildable area and little availability of open space, the Olympics are an undeniable catalyst for resident displacement. The dislocation of 6,000 people in London (2012) is seemingly minor compared to Beijing’s (2008) 1.5 million people. Sochi has reportedly displaced 2,000 families in preparation for this year’s event. The ideal solution would require host cities to implement a layering strategy to integrate new construction with existing heritage.

2008 Beijing statistics by David Trayte.

Historic hutong demolition by Jose Antonio Soria/CCCB.

5. The Olympics are not stopping anytime soon
The Modern Games have been held for almost 120 years without any signs of slowing. The Games are more often harmful to our cities than not, but it is important to acknowledge the lengthy Olympiad timeline that continues to grow. A sense of permanent Olympic identity should be evident in every host city, allowing the event to succeed while being sensitively integrated in the existing landscape. Only with the incitement of a preservation voice can the Olympic adage of “faster, higher, stronger” rise above displacement, destruction, and disregard.

Atlanta's Centennial Olympic Park by Andrew Gunners, Getty Images.

David Trayte (B.F.A., Architecture, 2011; M.F.A. Historic Preservation, 2013) is a preservation specialist for an architecture firm in Cleveland, Ohio, where he also volunteers with cultural landscape initiatives. His preservation interests include modern heritage of the recent past, cultural landscapes, and the integration of contemporary design with historic resources.


Demystifying TV development: how to hone your pitch and sizzle


One of the hardest things about selling a show idea is trying to figure out what your target, be it a network or production company, is thinking. The perfect formula of what they want and how they want it always seems elusive. aTVfest’s Demystifying the Development Process panel, including National Geographic’s Tim Pastore, Discovery Channel’s Joe Weinstock, UP TV’s Barbara Fisher, Creative Differences’ Dave Harding and Crew Neck Productions’ John Scheinfeld, gave their pitch-weary audience a veritable playbook for how to present their ideas and what to avoid.

In this excerpt, Tim Pastore walks us through what he looks for in a paper treatment.

Here Joe Weinstock emphasizes that paper can only take your pitch so far and the need to be resourceful about getting your characters on camera so a network can get a feel for them. Low budget? No excuse. Hint: Skype.

How my class designed the Super Bowl open


Editor's note: The SCAD/FOX Sports collaboration ran at 2 p.m. during pregrame broadcast, earlier than originally scheduled by FOX Sports. Watch the final animation here:

How did a bunch of art students land one of the biggest jobs on television? As with most things, this dream job happened because of relationships. Many of our motion media design alumni work for FOX Sports. We got together and figured out that designing the 20-second opening title for the Super Bowl would be the perfect assignment for Motion Media 408, a class created to teach students about network branding. Here’s how they did it:


To come up with a unique concept for the Super Bowl open, the class first dug in to understanding the FOX Sports brand and researching its aesthetic. Any designer has to retain this kind of information so that their concept matches the brand’s style.

The students finally landed on three different options to pursue and presented them to FOX Sports. FOX Sports decided to focus on Concept Two: Cleatus racing through New York City to arrive at an activation chamber, where he’d place his football to trigger the start of Super Bowl XLVIII.

With a clearly defined vision, and a healthy dose of notes from FOX Sports, the class began pre-production on the stylized world and story that will draw fans from the nachos to the TV for kickoff. First came the written treatment and laying out the specifics of the animation sequence. Even more important were the style frames and motion tests, which conveyed the style and pacing of the animation to FOX Sports.

Animating a giant football player robot is complicated for anyone, but Motion Capture technology gave the team the perfect tool to work with. They recruited local high school football player Robert Heyward to model the moves that an animated Cleatus the Robot would make along his journey through New York City.

The motion tests gave FOX Sports an idea of how the students would move Cleatus and the cameras in 3D. The students took the animated data and turned them in to motion clips, blending the movements together, or animating Cleatus, at 60 fps, which means for every second they created 60 frames, or images, each with a different pose. The class then rendered each frame and compiled them to create a complete animation.

The team spent a lot of time fine tuning the concept and creating storyboards. These boards showcased the mood, style, specific shots and camera angles in the opening sequence, which gave FOX Sports a scene-by-scene layout to approve.

But the most time-consuming elements of this project were the final design boards, which required several designers and countless hours to produce.
With each style frame treated like its own piece of art, the complete design boards exhibited a few significant scenes from the storyboard. Expertly composited of 3D, 2D, texture and lighting elements, the design boards were made to simulate the refined look of the final animation that you’ll see on Super Bowl Sunday.

Austin Shaw is a motion media design professor at Savannah College of Art and Design. He has worked as a creative director, designer, and animator for companies such as Süperfad, Digital Kitchen, and Curious Pictures, creating original content for the broadcast and advertising industries. His credits include numerous Broadcast Design Award and Emmy-nominated projects.