Breaking Down ESPN's New College Football Graphics
We have finally made it to the Holy Grail of college football: The National Championship Game. Like everyone, we were blown away by the high-flying offenses that Alabama and Ohio State used to steamroll their ways through the College Football Semifinals. But, like the weirdos we are, we were also blown away by something most people probably didn’t notice: ESPN’s killer new graphics package. The level of talent and competition is elevated in these games, and ESPN elevated the technical elements of their broadcast to match. These are a few things that caught our eyes in the Rose Bowl and Sugar Bowl that you can probably keep an eye out for in the National Championship Game.
Right off the bat, we noticed a ton of gold worked into the broadcast to set the mood and the stakes. It was worked into the score bug, the wipes, the logo -- a constant reminder that these players are striving for glory (and a shiny gold trophy). It helped that the winning offenses were flashy and high-scoring, providing plenty of highlights, including Najee Harris jumping over a Notre Dame defender. On the flip side, ESPN also incorporated black, gritty, rocky elements into bumpers and wipes, invoking the toughness it takes to win in the trenches of a football game.
Most notably, this contrast came into play in the bumpers, which appeared to be 3D generated gold mines. There was a balance between rugged, black rocks and shiny gold bars and other gems. The detail in these bumpers was incredible, even if it all felt a little on the nose. It felt like a perfect representation of the action we saw on the field: Players battling for every yard, occasionally being outshone by superhuman highlight-reel plays.
Another set of bumpers featured 3D rendered team equipment, with specific details added in to highlight the game and the team. For example, in the Rose Bowl, a set of Alabama shoulder pads was surrounded by a bed of roses. In the later game, an Ohio State Buckeye helmet was set against a backdrop of black rock and red gems, matching the OSU red in the helmet. Aside from effectively setting the mood, these bumpers really set these games apart as something different from the regular season.
In order to make these graphics seem so lifelike, they likely used a physical based render engine to get realistic looks and textures on all of their elements. Basically, the computer uses actual physics to calculate how the textures and lighting interact with each other as if it were in the real world. This made it so details like the gold texture on the football and the pads could be seamlessly incorporated into one realistic image. These 3D graphics were also super detailed and quickly animated, again to just make it feel even more like you’re watching something that was filmed, not CGIed.
This all seems like a lot of work for elements that sometimes get missed going in and out of commercial breaks, but when you know what to look for, you can tell how much ESPN stepped up for College Football’s biggest stage. Maybe wait an extra second after a Josh Fields or DeVonta Smith touchdown tonight before you flip the channel, just so you can fully appreciate the full Championship broadcast experience.