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November 17, 2017 /Character Animator /

Bleacher Report: Animated Sports News in One Day

Sports culture is about more than just the game. It’s the energy, the excitement, and the comradery that shapes our cultural landscape. For the past decade, Bleacher Report has captured the unique power of sports through a website as fast-paced, relevant, and exciting as the sports it covers.

Game of Zones

One way that Bleacher Report captures the unique energy of its audiences is by combining sports entertainment and comedy into original animated shorts. During the football season, a weekly animated series called Gridiron Heights covers NFL players and culture through comedic minute-long episodes. Another weekly series, Game of Zones, places the drama of the NBA in a medieval fantasy setting.

Gridiron Heights

Bleacher Report’s most recent series, Delete Your Account, combines sports commentary, animation, and comedy in a brand new way. Hosted by “King of the Comment Section” Deon Buggs and “The Dark Lord from the Dark Web” Kenny Mac, Delete Your Account delivers fast back-and-forth commentary covering the previous day’s games and news. Famous guests, including Steph Curry and Gregg Popovich, appear. It’s funny, current—and also animated.

“We wanted to have a show that captured the energy of our comments sections and message boards, where you always have fans engaging with one another,” says George Anagnostakos, Senior Writer at Bleacher Report. “We decided to create an animated show, because with animation you can do anything. We can have celebrity cameos without trying to figure out schedules. We can travel to weird places. It really opens doors for creativity.”

The only problem is that animation also takes time. Bleacher Report’s animation team uses Adobe Creative Cloud apps to create and edit all pieces that come through the pipeline, primarily animating in Adobe Animate CC and editing in Adobe Premiere Pro CC. For Delete Your Account, the team decided to add Adobe Character Animator CC to the mix.

Delete Your Account

“Making sports content is very tricky, because things happen so fast,” says Kristofer Wollinger, Supervising Animation Producer at Bleacher Report. “Nobody cares about last week’s game. We wanted to be able to turn around animation very quickly, so we started working with Character Animator.”

After developing the look of the show and creating the animated puppets with Animate CC, the team exported them to Adobe Photoshop CC and then imported them into Character Animator for rigging. The animation team was then ready for its pilot episode. Writers gathered during an NBA playoff game, pulling jokes and commentary into a two-minute script. In the wee hours of the morning, the script was ready for the next step: acting. Two actors recorded their lines while Wollinger and his team puppeted the animated characters using Character Animator.

Then it was time to put everything together into a final production. Senior Video Editor Robert Arrucci pulled the four different camera angles for the animation from Character Animator. From there, editing the episode was very similar to a multi-camera show. Arrucci polished the edit, added sound effects, and added a short pre-rendered sequence to the end.

“It would normally take us several weeks to create this two-minute piece. We did it in under 10 hours, start to finish,” says Wollinger. “We had a lot of good comments where people were like, how did they do this so fast? The game just happened! But ultimately, the important thing is that people are enjoying it and not even realizing the work that went into it.”

One of the biggest differences when animating with Character Animator was not just the speed, but the ease of use. Even people who were complete novices to animation quickly learned to create their own animations using the puppets and quick controls.

“We added keyboard triggers for actions, like gestures, blinking, or eyebrow movements,” says Arrucci. “The eyes can make such a difference in the animation. In Character Animator, we used the mouse to track the eye movement, such as someone looking up as if searching for something to say, and it added so much emotion. It’s the little things that really bring the character to life.”

The Bleacher Report animation team is so excited about its ability to deliver animation in hours, it’s not ready to stop there. The next goal is delivering a live broadcast using Character Animator.

“Bleacher Report has different audiences for every form of social media, and different audiences will want to watch completely different things,” says Wollinger. “We have a lot of ideas that everyone wants to try, and Character Animator brings new opportunities to the table. We can’t wait to see how far we can go.”

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