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ESPN’s Creative Content Unit Makes Magic With WWE Superstar Sasha Banks

ESPN's Aimee Stokes: “We've never been this ambitious in such a short period of time. I don't think we've done something like this, all things considered, ever.”

WWE Superstar Sasha Banks stars in ESPN’s College Football Playoff National Championship open.(ESPN)

Viewers tuning in to Monday night’s College Football Playoff National Championship were treated to a stunning visual open, courtesy of a collaboration between ESPN’s Creative Content Unit (CCU) and WWE Smackdown Superstar Sasha Banks.

Banks played the role of a futuristic superhero who sparks the start of the college football national championship in Indianapolis by using the final piece of confetti from last year’s game in Miami, all inside a lab that combines the history of the CFP with the passion and power of the final two teams standing.

The CCU, led by Vice President Craig Lazarus, produced the open. Senior coordinating producer Julie McGlone oversaw the production, with senior managing producer Aimee Stokes, co-director/producer Martin Khodabakhshian and co-director/editor Michael Sciallis of Victory Pictures teaming up to bring their ideas to life. Additional support was provided by:

  • John Cameron of Meta Productions – VFX Supervisor
  • Amanda Paschal – Manager, Shoot Production, CCU
  • Emmie Polinchock – Production Coordinator, CCU
  • Jake Roen – Associate Producer, CCU
  • Mike Bollacke – Director of Photography

“[College football production leaders] came to us in early November and said, ‘we want the biggest production on our biggest game of the year. What can we do to achieve that?’ McGlone noted. “We said, ‘you’re open to big, so let’s think big.’ Aimee came up with the kernel of the idea of this piece of confetti being melted down and shaping the trophy, and then Martin and Mike took it to the next level.”

Khodabakhshian is no stranger to these types of executions, having worked previously on several Marvel and Star Wars synergy collaborations, including Hawkeye for Monday Night Football in November and The Mandalorian last fall, also for MNF. But Monday’s open for the CFP was Khodabakhshian’s first time kicking off on ESPN’s premier college football property.

“We turned around one of the most unique opens we’ve seen in the industry in six weeks, over the holidays and during a pandemic,” Khodabakhshian commented. “This would not have been possible without my co-director Michael Sciallis. Mike is a rare talent who knows story and feel like no other, and his pacing and edit is second to none. And it doesn’t hurt that he’s more like my brother than colleague or friend.”

“We put together an all-star team of creatives for the project and everyone worked together tirelessly to bring the vision to life,” Sciallis shared. “It’s the National Championship! You gotta bring it all and the team delivered.”

Banks was thrilled with the process of creating the open with CCU, partnering with ESPN employees to create a buzzworthy intro for college football’s pinnacle.

“It’s been such an honor, I feel like everybody who has been working on the set, and the whole team has been so incredible … to walk in and to just feel so welcome, and just to see everything, and I was just like, it was amazing,” Banks said. “I love the outfit, I love the concept, and it just fit me so well.”

“This level of visual effects is something I’ve never done on a piece in my 25 years, and I haven’t seen us do something to this level,” Stokes said. “Internally, we’ve never been this ambitious in such a short period of time. We started production the week before Thanksgiving and then to put this together with a team in Calgary, people in LA and Bristol, and two holidays in the middle? I don’t think we’ve done something like this, all things considered, ever.”

WWE Superstar Sasha Banks: “I love the outfit, I love the concept, and it just fit me so well.” (ESPN)
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