Game Changer

Mon 9th Mar 2015, by Meleah Maynard | Production

Sacramento Kings Halloween Court Projections from imcalledandy


In the past few years artists have increasingly used 3D projection to transform basketball courts, ice rinks and football fields into lakes of fire, crumbling ruins, and the chess board, beach party and shooting star scenes in Katy Perry’s Super Bowl XLIX halftime show.





Quince Imaging is one of the main companies behind these types of visual spectacles. And the Washington D.C.-based video-production company is known for their work for the New Jersey Devils, Atlanta Hawks, Philadelphia 76ers and many others. London-based motion designer Andy Needham recently worked with Quince on an elaborate Halloween-themed pre-show animation for the Sacramento Kings. Here, Needham and Quince Imaging Production Designer CJ Davis explain how they created spooky 3D illusions including a zombie graveyard, a stampede of spiders and a swarm of bats.



Q: Before we talk about the project, please tell me a little bit about yourself?


Andy Needham: I’ve been a freelance motion designer for nearly 11 years now. I’ve always been interested in art and design and I studied multi-media production at Nottingham Trent University. Before that I studied photography. I started out doing you name it: 2D motion graphics, editing, DVD authoring, websites and brochure design. After a couple of years, my desire to combine 3D with 2D became stronger as I was seeing more and more amazing pieces of work on sites like Motionographer and Stash.


I was exposed to 3D Studio Max at university. But it isn’t available for Mac so I decided to find something else. I tried Maya and a few others, but they weren’t what I was looking for. I honestly can’t remember where I first heard about C4D, but everything changed when I read an article in 2006 about blending Cinema 4D elements with 2D After Effects animations. That seemed amazing and I dived in and haven’t looked back.



Q: What kind of creative direction did you get from Quince?


Andy Needham: They wanted the pre-show to be 60 seconds long, so I knew that it was going to be a huge undertaking and I had about a month to work on this. During the initial Skype meeting, CJ showed me the storyboard, which was a kind of mood board with a few references.





I went away and created motion tests for each section, sending work-in-progress renders over for feedback. I like to experiment with different methods and techniques to achieve a result. Eventually, I created a version of the whole piece that was not final so the client could see how the show would run, including transitions before they signed off on anything. Quince used my test renders to see how things would look when projected and could advise on what worked best. Final delivery was 3600 x 1920, so I created a mini render-farm in my studio and made use of Team Render to get the frames out of C4D and into After Effects for comping.



Q: How was this projected and what challenges did you face in designing this to be projected?


CJ Davis: We installed twelve 20,000-lumen HD projectors that were positioned around the court to create a 2x2 array. Using powerful media server technology we are able to combine all 12 projectors into a single 4K canvas directly on the court.


The major challenge with this project, and most similar projects, is ensuring that when the final product is delivered, all graphics align perfectly to the court and all its painted logos. For this particular show, we received a reference image that we developed into a template that did not match what was physically painted. Through a mix of hard work to reprocess some of the renders and the assistance of some live projector output tools, we were able to correct and realign all elements perfectly.



Q: How did you test how things would look when projected onto the court?


CJ Davis: Having done numerous projection mapping projects for the NBA and NHL, we have developed a permanent setup in our studio with a home theater projector that we use to test on-scale prints of the teams playing surface. Using a large format printer and an accurate-to-scale (and color) template, we test all visuals from multiple angles to determine how light will reflect in all areas of the court then modify colors and shading to maximize the experience for all the fans.



Q: Andy, the show opens with the court morphing into a zombie graveyard. How did you create the effect of hands coming out of graves to toss the basketball around?


Andy Needham: The zombie hands were supplied by Quince. I set up a few poses using the PoseMorph tag and animated the rig in C4D. This was a tricky scene. I wanted the ball to follow a specific path because if it went over the painted areas of the court, it would simply disappear and the illusion would be lost. I used a spline to guide the ball around and I had to do a lot of manual keyframing when the hands lifted the ball up.







I quickly modeled several gravestones. Then, I used a user data driven XPresso rig so I could select a different gravestone if the current one didn’t look right. I used a plane with a displace deformer to get the dirt effect under the gravestone.



Q: The scenes where the players’ faces rise up from the court are particularly haunting. How did you do that?


Andy Needham: This was the most important part of the show and so much fun to make. I started by rotoscoping the supplied artwork in Photoshop. Then, I used PlaneSmart to bring the artwork into C4D where I lined up a skeleton model to each player, posing it very crudely, and then rendering a frame.







I used After Effects to comp flashes of the skeleton model over players’ faces and created a spooky portal using a several layers of Trapcode MIR. GenArts Sapphire plugins helped me finish off the look.


After rendering two passes, I brought the players, the portal and an alpha channel back into Cinema so I could put the players on a separate plane. When the lighting flashed, I’d get these long, hard shadows coming across the court, which added a lot more depth.



Q: The spider scene looked quite challenging. Can you talk about that a bit?


Andy Needham: It was both fun and challenging. The original concept called for lots of spiders coming out from under the Kings’ logo. But I wanted to have a really big spider appear and crawl across the court because that would look super creepy. I haven’t done a lot of character work and I’m not a very good rigger, so I researched the best way to approach this task. I found a very good spider model in C4D’s content browser but it was too detailed for projection. Still, if you’re not used to looking there, I’d advise people to check it out.







Quince provided a basic model that was low poly but needed rigging. I used C4D’s character object to create the rig and the insect template to build out the rig. To animate it, I added a walk cycle using CMotion system.





Next, I tweaked the settings to get the look I wanted and then baked the animation into Motion Clip so I could use Motion System to retime the animation if it looked like the spiders were sliding and no longer walking on the surface. X-Particles was used to drive the spider simulation.



Q: How did you create the effect of the court collapsing and the bats flying out?


Andy Needham: This is one of my favorite scenes and the effect worked great when it was projected. I created a custom shatter pattern because the ones generated by plugins weren’t giving me the look I wanted, and this way I had complete control over preserving painted areas of the court. I used MoGraph to drive the dynamics and I baked the simulation so it would render correctly over Team Render.









I used a low-res bat, rigged it with simple bend deformers and created a looping wing flap animation. Then, I cloned it and used splines to guide the clones up from under the court and towards the camera. We incorporated the Kings logo so the crown became the bat’s head. Part of the reason the scene looks so cool is the lighting. Jate Earhart from Quince gave me a really nice light rig that I tweaked slightly.







Q: What are you working on now?


Andy Needham: I’ve just finished working with Nearly Normal on a spot for Smart Energy GB that mixes 3D created with C4D and stop frame animation. It has a really nice paper craft look and feel and I’m really pleased with the final result. Hopefully, it will become a series of eight videos.


I’m also planning my new courses, which I should be recording towards the end of the year. They’ll be themed around a robot animation that we’ll be creating in Cinema 4D and After Effects, and I’ll also show you how to get the same result using C4D and Nuke.





• Client: Sacramento Kings

• Agency: Quince Imaging

• Creative/Technical Director: CJ Davis

• Assistant Creative/Technical: Jate Earhart

• Concept: Quince Imaging

• Designer: Andy Needham

• 3D Lead and Direction: Andy Needham

• Sound Design: Andy Needham

• Sound Design Assistant: Jate Earhart

• Sound Mix: Jonathan Shakhovskoy @ Script


Meleah Maynard is a Minneapolis-based writer and editor.


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