Behind The ScenesNBA

NBA Finals historical highlights meticulously animated for ESPN Social Media

ESPN has teamed with animator Richard Swarbrick of Hotspur & Argyle for the first time to produce an exclusive campaign celebrating this week’s NBA Finals (Game 1, Spurs at Heat, ABC, Thursday, 9 p.m. ET). The 60-second spot, debuting today across all ESPN social media platforms, presents outstanding moments throughout NBA Finals history in a unique way.

Swarbrick, renowned for his unique animations of European soccer, worked closely with ESPN’s John Twomey, associate manager of social media, and Timothy Hubbell, associate director of social media, to transform film clips of NBA icons such as Willis Reed and Jerry West through LeBron James into art. With appearances by Tim Duncan, Kobe Bryant, Shaquille O’Neal, Magic Johnson and Michael Jordan, the video showcases Swarbrick’s animation to the sound of Mint Julep’s Save Your Season.

“As a subject, basketball works particularly well with my style of animation — the almost balletic elegance of the movement of the players is a given, and animating it came naturally,” said Swarbrick. “One challenge we faced was finding music which would complement the pace of the action while enhancing the passion, excitement and emotion surrounding the NBA Finals.”

According to Swarbrick, each frame of the animation is illustrated by hand using a combination of techniques.

“The bulk of the painting work is done using a Wacom tablet, although I experiment with techniques on paper before I get to this stage,” he explained. “Once painting work is finished, the images are arranged in a sequence to give the final result.

“I limited the paint color palette in each shot to the three or four colors of the relevant team’s jersey, to accentuate their identity, and the background color is provided using large sheets of paper,” he said. “I was keen to vary the colors to somehow reflect the different eras cited in the film.”

Hubbell and Twomey explained that, while this spot features a different visual execution for ESPN, it successfully fits within the overall framework of how the network promotes the NBA.

“When thinking about social content, we focus almost solely on shareability,” said Hubbell. “While these clips are very famous, no one’s ever seen them like this, which we think will compel people to share in their different social spheres.”

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