Designing Distinctive Sports Graphics

Cake Studios describes their latest work for the Baltimore Ravens. 

By Meleah Maynard

Eight years after founding Cake Studios, Jim Steinhaus and Mannix are now known for creating memorable, visually captivating sports packages that stand out from the pack. That’s why the Baltimore Ravens recently called on them to design something unconventional and unmistakably unique to the team.

Steinhaus and Mannix did not disappoint. After making a trip to Baltimore to meet with the client and tour the city for inspiration, they used Cinema 4D and After Effects to create a comprehensive, stylized stadium and broadcast package. Rooted in the gothic feel of what was once Edgar Allen Poe’s hometown, the elements include exploding cobblestones, flocks of flying birds and an array of smoke and water effects.

Mannix, Cake Studios’ creative director, explains their approach to sports graphics packages and the process behind the Baltimore Ravens project:

How did you and Jim decide to focus on sports graphics?
Mannix: Jim and I worked together at another company before we founded Cake Studios in 2010. At the time, we were right on the heels of the recession and a lot of budgets were still constricted. But we had a client who gave us a presentation on how, despite the economy, budgets for sports packages were actually increasing rather than decreasing like other areas of the entertainment world. So we decided to concentrate on making that our business. It was kind of a happy accident but it’s worked out really well for us because we’ve gotten better and better at what we do. This past summer was the busiest we’ve had, yet.

How did you collaborate with the Ravens on this?
Mannix: The whole project was very collaborative. They were energized and excited about the major upgrades at the stadium and how the giant new video board could totally transform the game-day experience. We had never worked with them before but they knew our work for other football teams so they felt comfortable working with us. They didn’t want anything slick. They wanted more of a dark, gothic look –something kind of mean and intimidating. We showed them some concepts based on Edgar Allen Poe’s work and other references to the city but not any specific landmarks.

Once we established the foundation for the design, we built everything off of that, which led to a lot of back-and-forth with the client. One thing we’ve really learned is that it’s best to go for the master look from the start and then reverse engineer elements. That’s especially important in a package this large because, if you don’t have that master look down and you hit a wall, you can’t return from that very easily because you don’t have the time.

How did you create the ravens?
Mannix: We had a lot of reference images for them to choose from. They chose one that looked mean because they are a hard-hitting football team, and ravens aren’t friendly birds. The model was made and animated in Maya and we ported it over to Cinema 4D, which is the base that we work from. We wanted to find a way to have the birds interact with the clouds. We tried a few different things and liked the look we got by using X-Particles and Turbulence in Cinema 4D.

How was this project different from other sports packages you do?
Mannix: Every team has its own personality and attitude, which is also a reflection of the city they call home. But from a technical perspective, this project is different because it’s a lot more 3D-heavy and we’ve received a lot of great feedback on that.

Describe the gothic/modern interstitial visuals.
Mannix: The vibe is mid-19th century, the era of Edgar Allen Poe, but there are also modern elements, like the manhole cover. We worked to create a hybrid between the two and focused on creating a dark, gritty, ominous look. It was literally a black canvas, so we brought in purple pockets to tie everything in more closely with the colors of the team. To emphasize the point of camera impact for the interstitials, we used X-Particles and rendered them through Turbulence in Maxon’s Cinema 4D. This is the first time we used both plug-ins for a venue package and we couldn’t be happier with the results.

Talk about using exploding cobblestones and water to dramatize touchdowns.
Mannix: We’d never done anything like exploding cobblestones before. Outside of our imaginary Baltimore cemetery environment, we built a long entryway made of 19th century-era cobblestones. It’s that long cobblestone path that’s being ripped up by the energy of the text in that interstitial. To do that, we built the geometry for a single brick, used MoGraph within Cinema 4D to duplicate it, and then used dynamics to create the realistic interaction and impact between the bricks and surrounding environment.

For the water, we used the dock area of Baltimore as a design element. Crashing waves reveal the text interstitials. It took a while to work out the dynamics but we ended up bringing in a separate layer and treating it like stock footage. We used Houdini to animate the water effects and then composited it together with our Cinema 4D layers using After Effects. If the client wants to use the water visuals differently, they can swap out the ‘Interception’ text for ‘Touchdown’, or whatever they prefer, really easily.

Meleah Maynard is a writer and editor in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

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