I have been designing graphics for stadiums for more years than I can believe and the technology has come a very long way in those many years. I'm going to stick to the subject of raster graphics or pixel-based graphics. They are also referred to as bitmaps. Bitmaps are resolution dependent. Bitmaps are okay to scale down without loss of quality but scaling up a 72 dpi jpg to 60 feet high is a real problem. You loose all the quality of the image. You must begin with a high resolution image. We tend to prefer vector images in the environmental graphics industry for many reasons one being they are scaleable without loosing image quality.
Photographic-based images bog down your computer because they are such huge, memory-intensive files. One of the things I will do before working with the photos is create a high-resolution version and stick it in a folder called, "high res". I will save it into that folder and then create another folder called, "lo-res". I save the image with the same name in each folder but reduce the image size substantially in the "lo-res" folder. I use the lo-res version while designing the graphics and when I send it to the printer for production I only send the hi-res version. Because the file has the same name, the hi-res files link for the printer. This way I am not slowed-down working on my files. Sometimes I will have to use the same file over and over in a design which can make the files enormous in size.
For example, I designed the NHL Stadium Series game at Yankee Stadium using a base of vector graphics with Photoshop (raster) brush-effects and light-effects over the vector art. I do not embed the linked images therefore I have to remember to send the linked raster images to the production team.
I have also learned over the years that if you scan an image at a very-high resolution and then reduce the resolution down, the file keeps most of it's information and clarity as opposed to scanning in at a lower resolution. I tend to work with images at 100 dpi at full-scale. I have to do some calculations when working with files to figure out what resolution will work. I like photos shot from a camera on the "raw" setting but it's rare I actually get images like that. My 100 dpi rule applies to raster images that will be seen within feet of the image. If it is a building graphic or seen from a distance than the raster/bitmap image can be as low as 25 dpi. Some billboard graphics are as low as 9 dpi and work just fine.
When creating stadium graphics it's difficult to use a full raster layout, for example, creating a field wall wrap which is a long horizontal treatment, I have to create overlapping panels for an easier installation. I will use an image of a football player, for example as a panel break with an overlap. Color is a huge issue as well. I can not control the color of a raster images in the printing process like I can with a PMS (Pantone Matching System) colored vector graphic.
As I said before, I use Abobe Illustrator with a CAD plug-in called CAD Tools to created scaled drawings used for production. The raster effects I place and link to my vector graphics add complexity and time to the files but they can add so much more depth. I can achieve looks I can't create in Abobe Illustrator. I can not build 475 foot long, 1/4" scale stadium field wall in Photoshop. The software is not set up for this niche sector of graphic design. When I do use raster effects such as glows and drop shadows I must create them for the full scale image. The effects may look good on your computer screen at 1/8" scale but when blown up on a 20-story building they may not have scaled correctly or look completely fuzzy. This is why I will take a "sliver" of an image and print it full-scaled on our office plotter to see if the effect is working as intended and the resolution is good. These stadium and building graphics cost thousands of dollars to produce and install. Testing is essential to success. A small imperfection on large-scaled stadium graphics can be a glaring error. Something that is a blip on your computer screen can be 5 feet tall on the side of a stadium when produced at full-scale.
Lots of people claim to be designers these days because they know how to use Photoshop…But they don’t actually know how to use any other equally important design program. That’s probably because many people think designing is much easier than it actually is. Then there are all the people on the web saying they will design a logo for 5 bucks! No one outside of our field understands file types, sizing, raster, vector, typography, or really any crucial aspect of your work. Everyone raves about Helvetica like it’s the best creation known to man, and that’s only because it’s one of the only good fonts every non-designer knows.
Sorry, felt like a designer rant this morning. It's funny, I spend all my earning on books I will never read just because I love the way it's designed or packaged! But then again, bad design haunts me where ever I go. Oh, and BTW, PCs suck for design! Don't ever tell a designer they have to work on a PC! And why is designer software the most expensive software out there?! What about buying new fonts?! I should be charging lawyer rates to afford everything I need to create a good design. I'm actually in a good mood and writing this with a smirk on my face drinking my awesome cup of Peet's coffee.
I have been in the industry for more years than I want to admit. Over the last few years the special event/sports design business has become very competitive. We never had to go through the "request for proposal" process like we do now. I have spent weeks working on concepts, scope, presentation format, etc, etc. I work on a team so you add the time of a project manager, a sales person, a production artist, copy-righting not to mention sending a team of 3 people to the site or venue, it can get very costly.
More and more RFP's want a design component to it. Internally we are always challenged how much design to give away. Design and project management is our product so to give 2-3 design options and not to get the gig is not juts deflating but very costly to a small design firm. It is not uncommon to spent $10k - $20k to try to win a bid.
I am writing this because we are in the middle of 3 huge RFs at the moment. In fact, I am spending 100% of my time working on these projects. I have many stories of wins and huge losses.
I work for a Berkeley-based sports design firm (when I'm not freelancing) which has/had 5-10 employees. We were offered to bid on the signage/graphics on the new Wembley Stadium in London. They were knocking down the historic old Stadium and rebuilding it from the ground up. They wanted to bring the history from the old building into the new Stadium using the concourses to show images of great events from Live Aid and other concerts to soccer games to Royal events. I had a great time designing photo collages and researching the history of the London Stadium. Along with another designer we spent a good month concepting different options. We printed samples of our work as well. Three us flew to London and surveyed the new Wembley Stadium as it was being built. We had to take a 2-day safety course before we could roam the property and walk through the construction site. We returned after a week with survey data and drew up our scaled baselines and proceeded to formalize our designs. We are now 6 weeks into the RFP when we get a call that they have decided not to do the proposed design direction because the construction has gone over budget. We were not just devastated but financially in a hole. As a Company we had spent $20k and no way to recoup the cash. It almost ruined our little design studio.
This is just one example of many RFPs. In this day and age I still don't believe that design wins the bid. It's all about the mighty dollar and even though we put our little copyright line on each concept, it doesn't stop the potential customer taking our designs to the lowest bidder and revising a line here or a color there. It's tough to prove they "stole" a design. The RFP seems a great way to get free design and free services.
We are currently waiting to hear if we are a finalist on a bid for a National football game being played early next year. We had a team of 6 working out the initial presentation including hiring a 3-D modeling artist. If selected 4 of us are flying to another State to do a meet and greet. This is the nature of the business now. It's a huge risk and it feels very unfair. Many of these RFPs are for a one year contract so if you are awarded the project you have to make your money back on that one event and then spend the money again to go through the RFP process again to try and win it again.
Please share some of your own experiences. I know this is a hot topic in the design/event industry.
I'll try to keep this short but I grew up with a father who was a chemist and a mother who was very creative. I never figured out what they had in common and it's not surprising they are not together any more. Because of this I was torn on what direction I should go in my own life. My mother put in in numerous art classes and private drawing lessons when I was young. I did this instead of playing team sports like most kids. My parents both being Brits didn't know much about American sports or life for that matter.
Leap forward to college; I entered UC Davis as a nutrition major. I spent 2 years in the sciences completely unhappy but felt it was the only way I could see a future in something that would make money until I took a design course as an elective. The teacher was a lady named Barbara Shawcroft, she saw my potential and was a great influence on me to change my major. I thought to myself, if I pursue a degree in design I need to focus on commercial design. I didn't want to be a Telegraph Avenue street artist. This decision changed my life. Computers were not part of the program then. Everything was done by hand and on drafting tables. I became the College newspaper's graphic artist and I also designed a series of posters of based on a friend's poetry in a Davis coffee shop. During this time I also designed a t-shirt of a cartoon cow with sunglasses which I sold at Woodstock pizza. The t-shirt was a huge hit. I sold more than 800 shirts. Woodstock's pizza asked me to do cartoons for all their print ads because of the success of the shirt. The t-shirt vendor for the University tracked me down and asked me to come work for them after I graduated which I did for a year. I had moved back home with my Mom in Berkeley. I felt I was being used designing shirts for retail and being paid just above minimum wage. I quite and decided to sell high-end screen printing in San Francisco to design studios. I learned quickly I'm not a salesman and my true love was the creative process and making art. My Dad told me Chevron of all places was looking for an in-house designer. I was the first new hire in 10-years and I ended up working with 3 designers who had been there for at least 15 years. They nicknamed me "the pup". Even with my huge ego at the time, they taught me so much. This was 1989; enter the Mac computer. Chevron got rid of all the drafting tables and bought a few computers. I quickly learned Macromedia's Freehand and Pagemaker. Working at Chevron for 11 years taught me invaluable skills. I even had my own cartoon in the company newsletter.
I began to feel stifled creatively so I began freelancing on the side. I got my first gig at Broderbund Software in Novato. I would drive up there after work and have meetings. I illustrated all the teacher's guides that went with the educational software. It was a great project for me and gave me the confidence to put myself out there.
At the same time I was asked to design some ads and invites for THX which was located at Skywalker Ranch in Marin. That was very exciting for me. I would have worked for free. I was up there several times including an invite to a private screening of Unforgiven, but I digress.
It was now the year 2000 and the whole dot.com explosion was happening. I decided to leave Chevron for a cray start-up called DigiScents. I became Art Director of a company that never made a dime but I had the most fun working for this start-up. They shut there doors after almost 2 years after they lost their funding. The whole premise was to smell up the internet with "ismell" boxes connected to your computer.
I was left without a job and had to act quickly to find something. I found a job in Craigslist. A small Berkeley-based design company called Flying Colors that designed the Super Bowl. I jumped on that! It was August 2001. I was hired in 2 weeks before 9/11. They has already had a "look" for the Super Bowl being played in New Orleans BUT the 9/11 tragedy happened and the NFL decided they wanted a "patriotic" design instead. I came up with a "crinkled" American flag look which the NFL used. If you remember everyone after 9/11was displaying the US flag everywhere. I went on to design several more Super Bowls and a number of Bowl games until 2006 when Flying Colors lost the Super Bowl account the company had had for 20 years. At the tim, Flying Colors was the only company designing for professional sports teams. At one time we has the MLB All-Star Game, the NBA All-Star Game, the NFL Pro Bowl, the Rose Bowl, the Fiesta Bowl, the Orange Bowl and the list goes on. In short, I was let go because there wasn't enough "creative" work to keep me on. I was quickly picked up by Chevron as a contracted designer. I went back to Chevron for 3 years until David K, the owner of Flying Colors called me and asked me to come back to because he had been offered the Super Bowl for another year. I took him up on his offer. I worked on Super Bowl 44 and the NFL Pro Bowl in 2009-10. I am still here and have been the sole designer for the past 3 years bringing in talent when needed. David K. sold Flying Colors to Moss Inc. 3 years ago and since then I have designed 3 NHL Winter Classics and 2 NHL Stadium Series games, the Pittsburgh Steelers "look" and the University of Pittsburgh branding.
This type of environmental design work is such a niche industry. Traveling to the venue to make design decisions on scope, taking measurements, deciding what materials to use and how they are going to attach not to mention figuring out wind loads and will things stick if temperatures get too low or too high or if we can use a type of adhesive that won't leave a mark. That's whole other blog post.
I continue to do freelance graphic design as Ransley Design. Because designing is my hobby, passion and profession, I am always working on something, somewhere. I feel blessed I have been doing this now for over 26 years and I can't imagine doing anything else. To be continued...
As most of you know I have spent a number of years designing for a small Berkeley company that has been involved in some of America's biggest sporting events. We were bought by a Chicago-based Company 3-years ago called Moss Inc. We recently changed our name from Flying Colors to Moss Sports. We are still operating like a small Company with myself as the sole designer bringing in support design help when needed. I work with a Project Manager and an Art Director who is more of a PM these days. Somehow we manage.
It never gets old seeing my designs on television or in a magazine after all these years. It's truly a great job working with a team to produce graphics at such a large scale. We just finished up designing the Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic in Ann Arbor, Michigan on New Year's Day 2014. It was broadcast on NBC. It was the most successful Winter Classic to date for the NHL.
We also finished up two games in fantastic venues for the NHL. The Coors Light NHL Stadium Series at Yankee Stadium in New York and Soldier Field in Chicago were also very successful. I feel deeply honored to have designed these games for the NHL working for Moss Sports.
It was a challenge designing for these events because they were literally one on top of the other being weeks apart. We pulled it off somehow like we always do. On to the next project...
Ian Ransley DESIGN
Ian Ransley is a Bay Area Digital Artist, Graphic Designer and Illustrator who has designed some of the most popular large-scale sporting and corporate events in the world.