Creative design and digital production studio The Syndicate extended its creative partnership with ESPN with the design and production of a branded on-air broadcast package for the 2007 season of NASCAR, the cable network's newest sports franchise. The Syndicate was awarded the project following the success of its first collaboration with ESPN on one of the biggest sports branding packages in television history, the dramatic effects-intensive Monday Night Football show open and graphics package. The Syndicate's work on the Monday Night Football project was recently nominated for a prestigious Visual Effects Society (VES) Award.
The NASCAR package for ESPN features three uniquely different :30 films, NASCAR NOW, COUNTDOWN and RACE, which were entirely produced by The Syndicate, from initial concept through live action direction, visual effects, motion graphics, logo design, telecine and digital delivery. Augmenting the package are customized insert graphics for realtime race data, driver bios, technical animations of racecar dynamics and related NASCAR content. The package will support ESPN's NASCAR coverage on its full suite of media, including its cable TV networks, ESPN360, Mobile ESPN, ESPN.com and affiliated international networks throughout the world.
ESPN offered unlimited creative freedom to The Syndicate's creative director, David Hwang, whose original concept set the visual premise for the package; Hwang also directed the live-action sequences. Visual effects were supervised by Luke McDonald, who also provided on-set supervision, and digital effects were designed and supervised by Minory Sasaki. The team attended live NASCAR races to not only experience the thrill of the race but also the excitement of the famously devoted crowds. NASCAR NOW sets up ESPN's daily and weekend news program, which premiered on Feb. 5. NASCAR imagery is projected on crystalline skyscrapers in an otherworldly cityscape through which racecars speed, leaving prismatic energy tracers in their wake.
COUNTDOWN, the prelude to ESPN's pre-race studio show, is set in an entirely CG command center, a glowing environment of monitors and cameras. Live-action talent counts down to ignition with all the suspense of a rocket launch, while illuminated data is manually slid across a virtual screen a la MINORITY REPORT and robotic devices hover over racecars before they explode onto the track.
RACE will open ESPN's live race broadcasts, beginning with the Busch Series season opener on Feb. 17 from Daytona International Speedway. The highly stylized, adrenaline-heavy piece conveys the pure sensory overload and heat of the NASCAR experience. An intrepid HD chase camera, with all of the superpowers of a CG character, flies over the field, buzzing CG racecars and dodging between them as drivers jockey for position at 200 mph. Fenders bump and recoil from the impact until, in a visual crescendo, the G-force of the race rips the skin from the lead car to reveal the new ESPN NASCAR logo, also designed by The Syndicate.
Crowd elements were shot live against greenscreen and replicated for close up and medium shots. The Syndicate's digital artists further employed Massive to produce the illusion of 150,000 spectators populating the geometry of the virtual stadium and track infield. Additional software utilized in the package includes LightWave, 3ds Max, Maya, Luxology Modo, Cinema 4D, Photoshop, After Effects, Fusion and Flame.
"We are very fortunate that ESPN gave us the status of a creative partner and the latitude to bring all of our core strengths into play on the NASCAR project," said Kenny Solomon, managing director of The Syndicate. "From branding and design, to live action direction and visual effects production, our goal was to provide ESPN with absolute technical continuity, high production values and stunning imagery."
The entire NASCAR project, from concept styleframes, to the use of ARRI's latest D-20 digital film camera to final delivery in digital data format on a FireWire drive, mirrors the vaunted creativity and tech savvy of both ESPN and NASCAR. NASCAR, known for making the sport uniquely accessible to fans through live video feeds from the cockpit and online services providing interactive realtime race information, rivals ESPN's in-house Creative Services, whose bold branding and marketing initiatives have resonated with viewers and boosted ratings meteorically.
NASCAR is the fastest growing professional sport in terms of television ratings in the U.S., second only to the National Football League in popularity. NASCAR races are broadcast in more than 150 countries. With 17 of the top 20 attended sporting events in the U.S. and 75 million brand-loyal fans purchasing more than $2 billion in annual licensed product sales, more Fortune 500 companies sponsor NASCAR than any other sport.
The Syndicate (www.Syndicate.tv) is a creative design, branding services and digital production studio specializing in direction, visual effects, animation, motion graphics and telecine for commercials, television and music videos. A division of Santa Maria-based CafeFX, an award-winning feature film visual effects facility, The Syndicate has worked with top agencies, networks and studios on commercials, television programs and music videos that have been seen around the world.