For New Graphics Package, CBS and Turner Combine Forces In-House and Out

For basketball fans, Selection Sunday is the beginning of a large and arduous process of predicting how a field of teams will be whittled down to one. For the CBS Sports graphics team, Selection Sunday 2011 was the end of that process. For weeks leading up to the selection show, the CBS Sports graphics team had been creating the new CBS/Turner-styled on-air graphics not just for the 68 teams that wound up in the final bracket but for more than 150 possible schools that had a chance to make it to the Big Dance.

Prepared To Be Over-Prepared
“In years past, we had the package there and ready to go,” explains Julianna Barbieri, director of graphics for CBS Sports. “We had all of the team transitions, logos, and headshots because that’s what we were using all season long. This year, with the Turner partnership, we had a brand-new package to use for the tournament, so we came up with a list of the top 150 schools that we had to prepare for.”

That preparation included building logos in 3D to create team transitions, building sound-bite backgrounds, front-end sequences, and headshots for more than twice the number of schools for which the look would ever appear on-air.

“We had transitions coming out of our ears,” Barbieri laughs. “VCU, thank goodness we had that one prepared.”

Creating this year’s graphics package, which was identical in its use across CBS, TBS, TNT, and truTV, was a team effort. The package was built out by Reality Check Studios, which also wrote the scoreboard and bracket programs used for the studio shows in both New York and Atlanta. The designs for the insert package were done in-house by Turner Sports Art Director Chad Hudson. For the animation package, CBS once again tapped Big Studios design and animation house, the same group that created the Super Bowl package for CBS in 2010.

To create its package of teases, the graphics team traveled to Toronto in January, where they staged a large element shoot.

“We built all the logos to be larger than life, hung them from the rafters of an arena, and shot them in a variety of lighting setups,” Barbieri explains. “We also shot the trophy and silhouetted players. All of the elements were used throughout the package for bumpers, rollouts, and teases.”

The Best in Hardware and Software
To help ensure that the new graphics package would look its best and that all of the graphics would interface properly with the automated data feeds for scoreboards and tickers, CBS purchased 22 new Vizrt graphics engines and 22 Viz Trio character-generator systems and upgraded to Viz Artist 3.3, putting the network on the latest versions of all graphics hardware and software.

“I love this package; I love how the insert graphics came out. But, technology-wise, we had to update everything,” Barbieri says. “We did three test games in February to get ready for this, to make sure that the interface was working. The networking of everything is a huge undertaking because we have a lot of custom programs.”

During the early rounds of the tournament, CBS ingests data from all of the sites, then populates the scores that update the tickers and bracket program for real-time scoring. The way the tournament is set up, the hardest day is the first, and it gets easier from there as the number of games decreases, which means that everything must be perfect for that first tip.

“That’s why we did those three test games, and then we tested data coming back to New York to make sure we were receiving that,” Barbieri says. “Turner rented Viz machines and Trios so that they could do the shows, because they don’t work with Viz, so we had to get their operators up to speed. There was a lot of operator training and a lot of conference calls to get everybody working together.”

Cross-Network Collaboration
Fortunately, Barbieri and her Turner counterpart, Senior Design Director Jordan Shorthouse, agreed on almost every aspect of the graphical look, so the partnership turned out to be just that.

“We were lucky in that, on most of the calls, the things he pointed out I agreed with,” Barbieri says. “In this kind of a collaborative effort, you have to give; you can’t be stubborn on everything. But I was very lucky that we both agreed on most everything, so it went really smoothly.”

Together, Barbieri and Shorthouse worked together to develop the graphic look, and then Hudson and Shorthouse developed the insert package before everything was shipped to Reality Check for animating. Both parties took a few trips out to Reality Check Studios headquarters in Burbank, CA, to make sure the graphics were animating the way they were intended to, and on-air testing began in February.

At the Final Four, Barbieri was able to sit back and admire the months of work her team had put in to create the new graphical look in time for the tournament. With the bulk of her work behind her, the front-loaded tournament allowed her some reflection as a champion is crowned with a brand-new look, consistent across four networks.