Many moons ago, graphics were shot with white letters on a black board and superimposed over video.
These primitive and simple elements have given way to graphics machines that can animate complex titles, incorporate moving video and sound. The modem graphics operator needs to have a skiliset that includes design, computer network and database integration, as well as attention to detail to work in a high pressure and time-sensitive environment. The volume of graphics that are incorporated into a modem sportscast range from something as simple as a lower third with the name of a player and their position and jersey number, to full screen animations that are able to key out over video.
The folks in the graphics department are usually a team of at least two people. This area is easily one of the busiest parts of the production from the time of crew call until the show fades to black. The graphics crew has a lot of information to convey and build in a short amount of time. The people who work here and succeed are well-organized and good under time constraints.
The graphics coordinator (usually an associate producer) works closely with the producer of the show to build a list of potential graphics. This person will have the latest statistics and information to make sure that anything presented is accurate and up-to-date. With larger sports and leagues, this information might be readily available and delivered electronically. For a smaller sport, for example a high school contest, the information might be less available and not updated on a daily basis. A font coordinator needs to know the story lines before the game to prepare the information for building graphics, and they also need to be able to keep up with the stories of the contest as it unfolds. They will need to work with the operator as well as listen to the producer, director and announcers to keep up with the show. This can be quite a challenge!
The graphics operator can also be referred to as the "Duet operator" or "Hyper X operator" because that is the machine they are using. As an operator you will be responsible to create and deliver all on-screen graphical elements. One of the biggest challenges in this position is the high level of technical and artistic skill needed to be an effective operator. The programs in use by the industry are not your typical Photoshop or AfterEffects, although knowledge of those programs would help as well. As we note in the box, learning the machine takes some innovative strategies and determination. A graphics operator will also need to have skills in database management. Often a league or venue will have a database that updates in real-time and integrates into the graphics machine. This allows the operator to call up a graphic that can automatically be populated with information. For example, a graphic for a player might have their name and spaces for their points and rebounds in the current game. When the graphic operator calls up this graphic, the machine will go out and communicate with the database and automatically populate those spaces with the current stats. If a player drives to the basket, drops the bucket and gets fouled, then seconds later they will be standing at the free throw line. With the help of the database, the player's information is ready as soon as the stat is updated. This allows the graphics team to be very efficient and quick in regards to calling up graphics.
In addition to the coordinator and operator, often a few other folks are a part of the team: the statistician and score bug operator. This of course depends on the size of the show, the budget for hiring crew, and other factors.
A statistician will keep track of a variety of statistics during the show. This person might serve a dual role of helping the announcers and the graphics department. Often, they will give the information to the graphics team in the truck and, after the graphic is built, will give the information to the announcer so they have some frame of reference for the note that is appearing on the screen. The "stats" position might keep items such as balls, strike, and overall pitches in baseball, or points off rebounds in basketball, or average starting line of scrimmage in football. Quality statisticians come prepared to watch the key stats of a game yet are flexible to take instruction from the producer or graphics team to keep track of the items that relate to the storylines of the game.
Prevalent on many sportcasts is a graphic that is on the screen for a majority of the game. The score bug gives the viewer a constant reference for the score and where the game action is in terms of inning, quarter, half, set, or whatever segment the game is being played. While this graphic is sometimes populated automatically by a data feed,
A score bug
the score bug operator works to make sure the information is accurate. On some score bugs, an operator will be responsible for adding certain pieces manually. For example, sometimes a score bug will have a sponsored element, provide the current team on the floor, or let folks know that a penalty has occurred. These are triggered manually by the score bug operator. Another common function of the operator is to change the size and position of the score bug. The score bug might shift from a position at the top left of the screen and transform into a larger score going to a commercial break. Again, this is manually triggered by the operator.
What We See
What appears on the screen from the graphics team has a jargon that lets everyone know what is on the way. This can impact how long the graphic will be on the screen, how to frame a shot, the source, and how to transition to and from the graphic. The way people refer to graphics reflects the simple and direct language you will find throughout production jargon. As with many areas in the production flow, people need to be on the same page and know what is coming, so using the correct terminology consistently allows people to gain a wealth of information in a short amount of words and time. The following is a brief description of the major types and styles of graphics that appear on a typical sportscast:
A staple of sportscasts. These graphics are called lower thirds because, oddly enough, they tend to either cover the lower third of the screen or at least are placed in that general area. Lower thirds are great to use when you need to convey one or two pieces of key information such as a player's name, position and a key statistic or two.
When a graphic covers an entire screen, this will be referred to as a full screen. These graphics are useful to highlight more complex information. Although you have the entire screen for your graphic canvas, you should still not try to cram more than four or five pieces of information on a single full screen graphic. The two main reasons are time and
A lower third
readability. During an event, you will rarely have time to read a full screen for longer than five to seven seconds if you are lucky. In addition, too much information on a full screen will appear cluttered and confusing. If you find yourself running out of room, create a second or third full screen to show your information.
One of the key functions of graphic elements is to provide corporate logos for sponsored elements throughout the show. This requires folks to be certain the logos and colors used are accurate and up-to-date. Businesses and companies often pay large amounts of money and a tiny two-inch square logo can cause hours of apologies and corrections and loss of revenue if they are not correct.
A very specific type of graphic element is called a billboard. These often have some type of voiceover associated with them in the vein of "This sportscast is brought to you by. . ." Again, these are often company logos and require an attention to detail to make sure they are correct in terms of color, aspect ratio, and anything else the client has requested.
A style guide is a list of rules that accompany a graphics package. Stations and leagues
will often be very specific about how graphics are built and presented. A specific logo
A full screen
or a particular bar or anything that goes on the screen in graphic form will have a rule or guideline associated with it. These can be as simple as a color choice, or as complicated as which animation or sound effect goes with a particular graphic. This is usually a document in printed form with a wide variety of examples for coordinators and operators to reference. When new graphics packages are rolled out, sometimes stations or leagues will hold a training "summit" to show folks how to use all the elements.