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A three-ton robot helped ESPN prepare for NFL Draft

High-speed camera jib KIRA captures 150 prospects striking a pose

Jeremy Anderson, ESPN Post Production content producer, and Lucas Nickerson, creative director, have teamed up to showcase the NFL Draft and its players in increasingly imaginative ways every year since 2011, winning several awards and a Sports EMMY nomination along the way.

Anderson and Nickerson like to think big — two years ago they secured Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones for a cameo in the show open — so with the 2018 NFL Draft at Jones’ AT&T Stadium for the first time, how do they top that?

Enter a three-ton robot named KIRA.

More specifically, a high-speed robotic camera jib from Motorized Precision that allowed the creative team to capture video of the top NFL prospects (see Broncos draftee Bradley Chubb above, others below) in an envelope-pushing way.

“All of us had used motion control before, so we knew that was a possibility,” said Anderson. “What influenced us was [rapper] Kendrick Lamar’s use of it in one of his videos [2017’s “Humble”],” which utilized motion control which moved much faster than systems of the past. Its speed really sparked an idea for all of us.”

Brad Griswold, coordinating designer, Motion Graphics, suggested utilizing a robotic rig in January after seeing a similar product at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas.

“This just happened to be the perfect project,” said Anderson, who collaborated with multiple ESPN departments to use the more than 5,000-pound robotic arm at the NFL Draft Combine shoot in Indianapolis.

Newer technology meant breaking some new ground with Motorized Precision’s software.

Dale Harney, senior concept artist, and Mark Rohrer, animation supervisor, finessed getting the camera data out of the robot and into a workflow that allowed the design team of Brian Girardin, associate Art Director, Alex Young, coordinating designer, and Jeremy Bond, senior concept artist, to create high-end visuals with the camera data.

“To shoot 150 players and know that we have multiple paths for the camera to travel and edit with is unique,” said Nickerson.

Unique, but also the heart of ESPN’s NFL Draft presentation.

“All that footage is used all the time,” said Anderson, “Eighteen hours of coverage, plus studio shows, use the bulk of this shoot, which adds to a cohesive and, more importantly, creative look.”

Kimberly Elchlepp contributed to this post.
ESPN NFL Production produced the videos.