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The Greatest Show on Earth: How Framestore brought Sky Sports’ new ad campaign to life

Sky Sports' new advertising campaign turns some of the biggest names in sport into circus performers. TVBEurope speaks to the team at Framestore to hear about the visual effects and technology employed to bring the broadcaster's vision to the screen

Over the last few weeks, Sky Sports has been busy promoting the extensive range of content it will be broadcasting in the coming months, from the Premier League to the US Open and Ryder Cup.

The broadcaster worked with Framestore on the creative elements of the ad.

Dave Stratton, director of marketing for Sky Sports, said the aim of the campaign was to dramatise the incredible athletes’ abilities with a visually spectacular campaign. “This start of season campaign is like no other and we can’t wait for the amazing year of sport ahead for our customers to enjoy,” he added.

TVBEurope spoke to the team about their work bringing The Greatest Show on Earth to the screen.

How did Framestore get involved with the project?

Michael Brown, senior producer: Framestore has a long-standing partnership with both Sky and the director, Daniel Kleinman. It was great to combine forces to work on The Greatest Show campaign, especially as there is already an established trust among all parties.

How long did Framestore work on the project?

Framestore was heavily involved from the start. Given that nearly all the shots take place in a CG environment and there was a host of talent shot on blue screen across multiple days to be integrated in the same scene, it made sense to work closely with the director on a pre-visualisation to help guide the shoot. VFX supervision during the shoot was essential to ensure the Framestore team was set up from a technical point of view to seamlessly execute all the post VFX required – this includes CG asset builds, CG crowd, deepfake face replacements, and challenging shot compositing. 

From previs to end delivery was only 10x weeks! And the bulk of the VFX shot production was during a 4x week period after the edit was locked in place.  

What did Framestore want to achieve with the advert?

Kamen Markov, creative director: Building upon the creative ambition of Sky Creative and director Daniel Kleinman we wanted to create a fantastic glimpse of the experience Sky can provide for its viewers – a show like no other, larger than life entertainment. We wanted to help create a filmic and captivating piece of advertising. We took inspiration from some of the most successful examples created by filmmakers and applied it here.

There are multiple versions of the ad, did that impact Framestore’s work at all? 

Michael Brown: The cutdowns largely stemmed from the :90second longform, so all the techniques and creative decisions to complete that spot flowed down to the shorter versions.

Tell us about the technology used on the visual effects and the technology used.

Jules Janaud, VFX supervisor: We started to build the environment in CG while prepping for the shoot. We began with the exterior canvas for the intro and outro shots. In close collaboration with the art department, we then started to craft the interior arena with the ring, pillars and bleachers to define the main layout and scale. We developed a procedural workflow in Houdini to be flexible and to adapt the proportions at any time of production. All small circus props were added later for composition and realism.

We used our in-house crowd generator to populate the stands and add scale to the scenes.

Once all shots ingested back from the shoot, we created a generic lighting rig in Houdini that could quickly render all lighting scenarios and leave some control for creative decision at the compositing stage. At this final stage we had the ability to combine the live-action blue screen elements and the CG extension. We shaped them together in real-time to create a unique filmic look for each shot.

For the face replacement we decided to use Deep Fake technology. In collaboration with the talent, we recorded a data set that could be used to finesse the shots that would have been difficult to achieve otherwise. We used Diffusion models and GAN neural network for the software.

Company 3 created the colour grade on the advert, were there particular colours that you made brighter etc (eg red seems to be one of the dominant colours), and why?

Steffan Perry, colourist: “Red was definitely a dominant colour in the ad, due to the set designs and costumes, however it was important to have a world of rich contrast as the ungraded version was very warm and lacked that contrast. I worked on bringing in a mix of light for each shot, a cool smokey atmosphere and the warm glows of flames and ambient light. With only one temperature of light source flattening each image, a complimentary tonal range was always needed.”

What was the biggest challenge of working on the project?

Kamen Markov: The short timeline meant that what the Framestore artists achieved in those key 5x weeks was extremely impressive!

Another challenge was having our celebrities complete these complex circus acts. What we filmed was essentially more than 60 shots of full blue screen edit with our heroes in it. We had to design the world, its look and feel, create a larger-than-life circus arena and seamlessly drop the characters in it.