By Skateboarders For Skateboarders

Barton Damer dreamed of working with Street League. So he sent out a bunch of “cold” emails trying to guess Rob Dyrdek’s email address until one, finally went through.

ESPN 2’s Street League Skateboarding

Barton Damer describes getting the opportunity to create the show open for Rob Dyrdek’s Street League Skateboarding on ESPN 2 as a dream gig, and that is no doubt the case for the award-winning motion graphics designer and digital artist. But the whole truth is, this dream project didn’t just materialize as dreamlike things often do. Damer made it happen by taking a chance and just going for it in a way that few people ever have the courage to do.

As a longtime skateboarder, Damer immediately saw Street League Skateboarding, the top professional street skateboarding series worldwide, as an opportunity for the sport to be better marketed to the mainstream. Curious about the possibilities, he and John Davidson, a friend and fellow skateboarder, flew out as fans to see a Street League event in Los Angeles during its first season three years ago.

Standing in the crowd, Damer thought about how he’d been doing live production and motion graphics for live production for years. “I started dreaming about how one day I want to do some cool stuff for Street League and help take them to the next level,” he recalls. (Check out Damer’s site here.)

Back home in Dallas, Texas, Damer, who primarily relies on Cinema 4D and After Effects for his work, typed up a proposal explaining his credentials and outlining why Street League “needed to be branded by skateboarders for skateboarders”. He took some guesses about what Rob Dyrdek’s email address might be, and then he hit send. Unbelievably, the legendary professional skateboarder and MTV reality show star responded.

With the exception of needing to reflect ESPN’s brand, Damer was free to follow his own vision for the Street League Skateboarding project.

Damer followed his own vision

“Within a couple of hours Rob wrote me and said: ‘Let’s do this,’” Damer says laughing. “I thought, ‘What does that mean?’ I just suggested a year’s worth of work to Dyrdek in an email that I blasted off to a bunch of addresses, so someone must be messing with me.’” The next day, the general manager of Street League called Damer to get things going. Turns out, Dyrdek, a self-made entrepreneur known for using the phrase “make your own luck”, was impressed that Damer had a good strategy and had pursued him.

So Street League hired him to do a series of animated intros for events, and Davidson, whose talents lie more on the business end of things, got the job of accounts manager for Street League. It wasn’t long before making a few intros grew into creating the motion graphics package for the 2012 season of Street League Skateboarding.

Getting the skateboarding vibe right

Creative direction for the show open was limited to a request that the look be consistent with the ESPN brand, so Damer was in the enviable position of executing his own vision. Departing from the typical skateboarding route, he created an arena environment with a skateboarding vibe,” Damer explains.

His style boards, which depicted a stadium completely in the round and packed with skateboard standards like handrails and concrete textures, were quickly approved.

(Watch the show open here. Or watch the open and rebroadcasts of Street League events here.)

The stadium was created in the round as a subtle way to represent a skateboard wheel.

To give the arena’s centerpiece the rounded look he wanted, Damer applied one, big spline wrap all the way around it to form a circle. “It wasn’t hard,” he says, “in fact it’s an easy way to go about getting something that looks challenging accomplished.” One of the things he liked most about creating the arena’s environments in Cinema 4D was finding all kinds of abstract camera angles that offer different effects. “There’s one shot, from the top view, that I really like where the stadium looks like a skateboard wheel,” he adds.

Reflections seen in the centerpiece’s skateboard and other parts of the arena were created using Greyscale Gorilla’s HDRI Studio Pack.

Damer used Greyscale Gorilla’s Texture Kit to create the centerpiece’s brick surface and created the concrete texture himself using photographs for reference. “I was able to create patterns in Illustrator and Photoshop to get some cool grids and gradients for that sports graphics feel, and then I applied the textures in Cinema,” he explains. Reflections in the arena were created using Greyscale Gorilla’s HDRI Studio Pack and can be seen most clearly in the centerpiece’s skateboard and in the monitor towards the bottom of the screen.

Damer updated video clips on the centerpiece’s console for each stop on the Street League tour without having to rerender each one.

Some elements of the opener, including the information screens on the arena’s centerpiece, had to be updated for each of the four stops on the Street League tour. Damer used external compositing tags to make updating the screens easier. Updating the video files on the larger centerpiece’s larger screens was trickier because the rounded surface made it harder to use external compositing tags. “There’s a way to do it, but I don’t know what it is,” Damer admits.

Luckily, the renders were so fast that it wasn’t an issue to update in Cinema 4D. “It’s a beautiful thing that I was able to have that entire area render so quickly,” Damer recalls. “I was blown away.”