No Small “Feet”: How BLOCK & TACKLE Crafted the Graphics for ESPN’s SneakerCenter
Sneakers. Who doesn’t wear them? No matter where you live on the planet, sneakers are a thing—and not only because of athletic performance or comfort.
Wait. Why are we talking about sneakers in the Frame.io Insider today?
Because sneakerheads, the cult of passionate and obsessive shoe collectors, now have their own show on ESPN+ devoted to global sneaker culture across sports, entertainment, and fashion.
In this installment of Made In Frame, we go behind the scenes of SneakerCenter, the seven-part series directed by award-winning filmmaker, author, DJ, and OG sneakerhead Bobbito García. We also dive into the workflow of NY-based creative studio BLOCK & TACKLE (B&T), who created the logo, animated open, and show graphics, to see how they used Frame.io from concept to delivery.
B&T founders and creative directors Adam Gault and Ted Kotsaftis are a couple of self-described OG designers who first crossed paths in New York in the early 2000s, forming B&T in 2014.
Driven by a shared ethos of collaborating closely with their clients and with each other, they’ve built enduring relationships with numerous clients like Time, Inc., SYFY, TBS, MTV, AMC, and FX, for whom they’ve created promo graphics for shows from It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia to American Horror Story to The Americans, demonstrating the range of their design and branding sensibilities.
Their relationship with ESPN has been similarly fruitful, and after working on graphics for the debate-style shows First Take and High Noon and the Christmas-themed NBA countdown, ESPN asked them to pitch creative for SneakerCenter’s graphics package.
“We love working on collaborative projects where we’re involved early enough to help find the right attitude and personality for a brand,” Adam says. “We’re a concept-first studio, so ideas lead our effort to craft the best solution.”
B&T came up with several different directions for Bobbito, who directed SneakerCenter for documentary production company Hock Films. “Bobbito’s an OG in his own right, so he wanted to make sure that our concept was authentic and classic while still appealing to a younger, mobile-first audience,” Adam says. “In our first presentation, he instinctively gravitated to one direction and gave us the greenlight to pursue that concept.”
One of the main criteria for Bobbito was that, as a sneakerhead himself, the show needed to feel like it was created for an equally sneaker-savvy audience. Authenticity in all respects was key, and in the 20-second open, B&T essentially covered the entire timeline of sneaker culture.
For those of you who might not remember watching Michael Jordan (dubbed the Jumpman in sneakerhead talk), Nike’s Air Jordans started the celebrity shoe craze back in the 1980s. With the rise of hip-hop, celebrity-branded basketball shoes, and skateboarding culture, sneakers became way more than just shoes. Paying prices in the thousands (or up to hundreds of thousands) of dollars, sneakerheads know their shoes like fine art collectors know paintings.
“It’s why it was really important that we got all the shapes and colors right,” Adam explained. “We created the designs in Adobe Illustrator and used Photoshop for textures, then loaded them up to Frame.io so Bobbito could pinpoint exactly where we needed to adjust colors or designs. Every detail needed to be accurate.”
Dubbed “Laced Up,” the open deploys a set of animated laces crisscrossing upward, creating different windows for imagery to live in. The camera travels up the shoe and catches the laces tying a knot as the logo appears on the sneaker’s tongue. “That structure really grounds the open and also sets a reverent but playful tone for the rest of the show,” said Ted.
Given SneakerCenter‘s grand ambitions, nailing down the logo was no small “feet.” Drawing further inspiration from sneaker aesthetics like stitching, treads, and laces, B&T’s minimalist hero logo honors ubiquitous sneaker-tongue brand patches, with varying font weights for added playfulness. “From that mark, we expanded to include an icon that could be used across social platforms and other marketing verticals,” says producer Megan Anderson.
The design of the open had to be bold and legible, because it’s intended especially for mobile viewing. But Bobbito also wanted to draw from his personal library of archival photography and sports clips as a way to provide historical context, while keeping the fast-paced and fun feel that the open needed to have.
“Hock Films shared over 150 photo and video assets that spoke to all aspects of sneaker culture,” Megan says. “From there, we worked closely with Bobbito to hone in on the best moments. The final open included 30 pieces of footage and imagery, in addition to all the graphic elements.”
B&T had been using different video collaboration software prior to this project, but knew that Bobbito was a huge fan of Frame.io. “When we presented our first material to him in Frame.io, he was super excited,” Adam says. “He’d used it on some of his other projects and really loved it.”
Having the ability to frame-accurately identify which portions of the clips Bobbito wanted to use was essential—especially because he wasn’t onsite. “We also had to be able to communicate back with Hock Films quickly so that they could secure licensing clearances for us,” Megan says. She generated a detailed Google sheet to make sure that every element had been cleared and approved. “Frame.io was a lifesaver when it came to keeping it all organized.”
(Pro tip: if you use Frame.io and Google sheets, check out the possible integrations through Zapier to automate those sorts of tasks.)
Beyond the logo, the animated open, and the show package toolkit, B&T was responsible for creating approximately another 30-60 seconds of animated graphics for each of the seven episodes, which have been airing in regular intervals since the show’s official debut in late September. At the time of this interview, they were working on episode four of seven, with the latest episode set to release on November 12.
“We’ve been using Frame.io with Hock to take in their rough cuts so we could see where the graphics needed to go,” Megan explains. “And because the delivery schedule was tight, it helped that we were able to deliver the final graphics files as ProRes 1920 x 1080 through Frame.io so Hock could drop them into their cut.”
A fired up crew
Part of what made Frame.io such an essential part of this project’s workflow was that Bobbito is a high energy guy who’s always on the go. That’s why the B&T team “found it liberating” to get Bobbito’s feedback whenever he had the time to give it—which was, according to Megan, “often between midnight and 2am.”
They also found his comments completely entertaining, even while reading them. “His infectious energy just came through,” Adam says. “It always felt like he was intimately involved in the project, although he only spent one working session onsite.”
Because this project was the first time B&T used Frame.io, and because Bobbito was such an evangelist for it, they realized that in some cases he was actually teaching them all the different features and ways they could better use it. And once they did, they were converts. “From my standpoint,” Megan says, “I especially appreciated the functionality of the Frame.io iPhone app. The playback is really nice and it’s just a great timesaver on all fronts.”
Adam adds, “Being able to share timecode-specific comments with our clients and mark them as ‘resolved’ helped put them at ease and ensured that everyone was on the same page.”
As for their director? “Collaborating with B&T on SneakerCenter was like putting on a pair of track cleats, sprinting out of the gate, and never looking back. Kapow! We had hard deadlines from ESPN but we met all of them and, at the same time, pushed the envelope creatively.”
We all know that when you’re showing your work to your clients, presentation counts. And as designers, Adam and Ted focus on it even more. They want their work to look slick and professional, and it’s yet another reason they enjoyed using Frame.io.
“The design of the Frame.io UI is really sophisticated and clean. You can tell that the product designers put a lot of love into it,” Adam says. “We used to use another collaboration tool that was clunky and outdated. It was gratifying to be able to put our designs into Frame.io, which made our work look even better.”
Adam, Ted, and Megan are now using Frame.io for all their projects. “Collaborating is really the most important aspect of what we do,” they all agreed. “We feel so lucky to have established a niche where we get to work on lots of different types of creative, and we love projects where we can work closely with our clients to find the best solutions. The SneakerCenter package was ideal in that respect.”
If you think about it, maybe Frame.io is a little like a well-designed sneaker—it’s comfortable to use and boosts your speed, performance, and results!
Original photography by Erik Teng.