Behind The Scenes

ESPN The Mag: How we landed a ‘unicorn’ for Fantasy Football issue

(L-R) Stephanie Weed, Karen Frank, Ice the “Unicorn” and Carrie Kreiswirth. (Photo courtesy of Chris Buck for ESPN The Magazine)

Take Houston Texans running back Arian Foster, a unicorn, and a faux enchanted forest, put them together in a Los Angeles studio, and you get one snazzy cover shot for ESPN The Magazine’s 2012 Fantasy Football Issue, currently on newsstands.

Front Row caught up with The Mag’s Karen Frank, senior director of photography, and general photo editor Stephanie Weed. They describe how the magical shoot came to be — I was granted a cameo with Ice and the crew, as you can see above — and how fantasy isn’t such a bad thing after all.

How did the concept of putting a “unicorn” on the cover with an NFL star come about?
We were batting around the idea of “fantasy” in a creative meeting. We’d all seen many “fantasy” cover subjects photographed as superheroes, action heroes, etc, and decided to play with another side of fantasy. We all loved the idea of a unicorn. The initial idea was to get Arian to sit on, or ride, the unicorn.

2012 Fantasy Football Issue
Arian Foster and “Ice” adorn cover.

Why was Foster chosen, and what was his reaction to the concept?
Arian was chosen because he was the No. 1 Fantasy pick of the 2011 season, and because he is very vocal about his distaste for fantasy leagues, while at the same time he acknowledges their entertainment value. Convincing Arian to play along with our unicorn concept was no easy task. However, Stephanie never gave up trying and she was finally able to win him over. When he arrived on set, Arian really got into it and, when he wasn’t in character, he was unbelievably kind and sweet with our unicorn.

Who starred as “the unicorn?”
Our unicorn was “Ice.” Ice is 20 years old and has been in showbiz for most of his life. He starred as the unicorn in one of the Chronicles of Narnia movies.

How did the horse adjust to the makeup?
Ice is a seasoned professional and had no problem with the application of the horn, which was done with surgical glue. Ice’s handlers were on set with him at all times and kept him happy while he was waiting for his close-up — everyone knows it’s all about lighting! — and let us know whenever Ice needed a break from the action. Ice was the calmest, gentlest, and most cooperative animal talent I have ever worked with and he absolutely loved the camera!

Where does this rank among ESPN The Magazine’s most unusual covers, in your opinion?

Chad Millman, editor-in-chief, ESPN The Magazine: The Ricky Williams-Mike Ditka cover is a good example. We’ve also had Elton Brand with needles in his face for a college basketball preview one year. Kevin Garnett painted blue is a good one.

See outtakes of the photo shoot by clicking here.

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