SmackDown Superstars Get Animated

When SmackDown makes its debut on the CW Network this Friday, fans will be greeted by the familiar faces of their favorite SmackDown Superstars. However, as the show opens, WWE fans will notice that those faces look a little different, as the WWE graphics team has found yet another way to reinvigorate TV that is changing Friday nights. The opening highlight reel that jumpstarts each edition of SmackDown has been completely overhauled and now features vibrant animated renderings of some of SmackDown's biggest names, immortalizing Superstars like Batista, Rey Mysterio and King Booker with true superhero treatment.

The original artwork for the new animated open was sketched by WWE Graphics Designer Matt Swinford, who majored in cartooning illustration in college and learned to draw through years of reading and studying comic books. After Swinford created some animations for a Finlay entrance video at the beginning of the year, he was approached by SmackDown Producer Chris Siciliano with an idea for the new SmackDown open. He was handed several pictures of various SmackDown Superstars, which he then drew in pencil before inking them using a brush and ink, then using a computer to colorize the images. Each drawing required more than 8 hours to process from start to finish.

All those production hours were definitely worth it, as the new opening sequence seamlessly integrates the illustrations into exciting live action footage of the SmackDown Superstars. The entire package appears on a three-dimensional rendering of an arena scoreboard, complete with a steel girder lighting grid, which was created by 3D Graphics Designer Dan Cerasale. Both Cerasale and Swinford worked closely with Senior Graphics Designer William Goertel to create the sensation of being in the arena for the kind of live performance that only WWE can deliver.

"Everything we do, what we always hear first and foremost, is ‘It's got to look big. It's got to feel big,'" said Goertel. 

Swinford agreed. "That monitor exists in every arena -- the one that hangs down from the center with all the speakers -- but you never see it on camera. You look up at the height of the arena and that huge monitor, and that's a big part of being inside an event in a sports arena. [The 3D rendering in the new animated open] is a cool way to bring the audience at home watching on TV and give them that piece in the open that they're not going to experience because they're not there."

WWE fans might not have been able to share in the big fight experience at all, had it not been for the combined efforts of Cerasale, Swinford, Goertel, Graphics Director Bruce Sandler and, perhaps most importantly, Siciliano. As a producer, Siciliano has a much closer relationship with Executive Vice President of Television Production Kevin Dunn than any member of the graphics department. His enthusiasm for the project helped drive the production of the new open, as he and the other producers were able to use their critical eyes to help create the best possible package.

Even more impressive is that the entire new opening sequence was created and produced in house. Then again, as Sandler points out, could anyone outside of WWE truly captured the essence of the greatest show in sports-entertainment?

"The guys that work in here know the product, they know what the feel is. We know this product better than anybody else," Sandler beamed. "In a lot of places, launching a new look like that, you'd have a team that would work on that exclusively for a few months, and that's all they're working on. Here, people don't just design well, they design well and fast."

In the manic, high-velocity environment of WWE, where everyone from the Superstars to the announcers to the interns are constantly bombarded with the task of producing more than 15 pay-per-views, live events, television shows for three different brands and countless other appearances. The WWE lifestyle truly is 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and the excitement provided in just 30 seconds by the new SmackDown open is a testament to the work ethic and ability of WWE's graphics team.

Goertel put it best as he reminded, "No other company in the world designs like this."

Few companies do anything the way WWE does, and when the new opening highlights kick in for the first time as SmackDown makes its premiere on the new CW Network this Friday night, the world will once again be reminded of the excitement and action that WWE knows how to provide better than anyone else.


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