Artist C. M. De La Vega on how he blends design and motion graphics for Thursday Night Football.
During the NFL’s regular season motion designer and video editor C. M. De La Vega works for the NFL Network’s “Thursday Night Football” show. Working on a tight schedule, he specializes in blending video editing and motion graphics for upcoming matchups that feature marquee names, teams and VFX-heavy hype videos.
With an impressive resume that includes six Super Bowls, six NFL Network seasons and two ESPN “30 for 30” documentaries, he has also worked for ESPN Desportes, Fox Sports, Telemundo and many others. We talked with De La Vega about the unique workflow he brings to his work.
How did you get into motion graphics?
De La Vega: I went to the University of Miami and majored in computer engineering. It was there that my two passions, art and technology, collided. A couple of years after graduating, I left my software programming job and jumped into directing and producing my first independent film.
The movie caught the attention of musicians in Miami, which quickly led to directing and editing VFX-heavy music videos for those artists.
After a few years working in the music video industry, I moved to Los Angeles and started working at a production company creating motion graphics for network shows and documentaries.
What production tools do you use most?
De La Vega: My go-to tools are After Effects, Premiere, Red Giant’s Trapcode Suite and Universe, Photoshop and Illustrator. I also use Element 3D and Optical Flares, and I’m learning Unreal Engine and Cinema 4D so I can add them to my toolset.
How much time do you usually have to complete visuals for broadcast?
De La Vega: Sports graphics demand quick execution. For the NFL Network I typically have one or two assignments per week and a three-day turnaround from idea to final delivery.
My process starts with solidifying a visual concept for the video. Next, I search for the best plays and angles that I’ll need. Then, I move on to editing, creating the motion graphics and getting producer notes for revisions. It’s an intense sprint to the finish line requiring long hours, staying up late, and lots of coffee.
Red Giant tools were used for the final composite of footage featuring Aaron Donald of the LA Rams.
Say more about how you come up with concepts for NFL football graphics.
De La Vega: The show producers give me a list of teams or players they want to see in the videos. I’ve been blessed that they’ve given me room for creative freedom, and I’m always striving to push the envelope.
Sometimes I come up with an idea on my own. Other times, I have a brainstorming session with my Thursday Night Football crew. We’ll bounce ideas around and they’re also my second pair of eyes to make the videos even better.
Can you break down your “Journey to the NFL” piece for us?
De La Vega: The “Journey to the NFL” piece is a player matchup of the first draft picks from the 2020 and 2021 draft—Joe Burrow of the Bengals (2020) and Trevor Lawrence of the Jaguars (2021).
Both of them had a very similar trajectory into the league, and I wanted to make that a theme in the video by having each player on opposite sides of the frame. The video starts by introducing each player and then travels through their parallel journey from college to the NFL.
My goal was to make each section look like a poster that could live on its own. I relied heavily on Red Giant Universe plugins, especially Texturize Motion, to give the background texture and movement.
Final graphics showing Joe Burrow and Trevor Lawrence that aired on the Thursday Night Football kickoff show.
And what about the Run CMC piece?
De La Vega: That piece was lots of fun. I came up with the idea to have Christian McCaffrey, the Carolina Panthers star running back, transform into a real panther. I used a stock footage particle effect to make the switch from player to panther, but it needed something else to really sell the effect. Universe’s Chromatic Glow was the missing ingredient to pull it off.
Some of these pieces are more VFX heavy than others, right?
De La Vega: Yes! The Aaron Donald video was one of those pieces that ended up being more VFX heavy, especially when you start rotoscoping. Since the video starts off with pre-game tunnel shots of him and light lasers flashing in the background, I decided to use lasers as the main theme throughout the video.
I used Trapcode Particular to create the laser effect, Mir for the floor grid and Universe’s Chromatic Aberration on top of my layer stack to enhance the theme.
LA Rams player Aaron Donald raw footage and final composite.
You post video tutorials on your YouTube channel, right?
De La Vega: Yes, I have a passion for teaching and sharing what I’ve learned and YouTube has been a great platform to connect with other creators who share a similar love for learning motion graphics.
In addition to creating tutorials on YouTube, I recently launched my After Effects Master Course, which goes more in depth on the workflow, tools and techniques that I’ve used to create the elaborate motion graphics I’ve done over the past 14 years.