How the VFX artist with 115 million views uses the award-winning motion tracking tools on his wildly popular videos.
Quarterbacking Sports Promos with Sapphire and Mocha Pro
5 minute read
Artist C.M. De La Vega shares his motion graphics/VFX playbook and how he helps coach artists looking to score creative touchdowns in After Effects.
Superbowl LVII is right around the corner. Between getting pumped to see Kansas City and Philly face off, making the all-important snack list, and readying ourselves for Rihanna’s half-time show, we caught up with C.M. De La Vega (aka DLV) to find out what it takes to create game-winning sports promos with the help of Boris FX Sapphire and Mocha Pro plugins together with Adobe After Effects.
The Nicaragua-born artist (who grew up in Miami) moved to Los Angeles, where he got his start working on reality shows and documentaries. “I love sports, and when an opportunity came up to make a video for AOL covering the Manny Pacquiao boxing match, I jumped on it,” says DLV. “A year later, a friend recommended me for a motion graphics job on ESPN 30 for 30.” He spent the next five years building a solid demo reel. Eventually, he landed a gig at the NFL Network, where he worked on 1-2 videos per week with a 3-day turnaround from pitch to final deliverables. “It’s fast-paced and really sharpens your ability to execute quickly,” adds DLV. “Over the years, my role has morphed into combining editing, motion graphics, and VFX to make compelling videos.”
Superbowl promos blitz the senses with high-end production values, dramatic storytelling, and epic song choices (in this case, AC/DC’s “Back in Black”). The art direction was to transform the video to black and white — playing off the song itself — with the only pops of color coming from the players’ jerseys and helmets. DLV turned to Sapphire to create the look.
“I love using Sapphire’s set of Stylize plugins, especially the color and film looks like S_VintageColor3Strip, S_FilmDamage, and S_HalftoneColor,” states DLV. “It saves me so much time in the color-grading stage or when I need to stylize my sports videos. It’s great because the final look helps set the videos apart from others.”
“I use the built-in presets all the time. They are definitely a great jumping-off point,” continues DLV. “Most of the time, it doesn’t require any tweaking, but when it does, it’s very minimal, i.e., reducing the intensity of the effect or adjusting certain parameters.”
Tackling Motion Tracking
DLV tosses a lateral to Sapphire teammate Mocha Pro on most projects. “Tracking and rotoscoping have become important, especially in sports VFX," notes DLV. "Mocha is an indispensable tool to get the job done quickly with great results. Isolating the athlete to convert the background into black and white required extensive use of Mocha to rotoscope the athletes — especially the helmets and jerseys.”
Building a Better Playbook
DLV believes in continually training and giving back to his community, which is why he also runs a YouTube channel dedicated to the sports motion design/graphics and editing style that makes him an MVP — and a great coach. “I know firsthand how rewarding and difficult this career path can be. I love sharing what I’ve learned throughout the years and seeing others progress in their craft,” comments DLV. “If someone can benefit from my experience and my mistakes, all the struggles I went through will be worth it.”
His channel, which has nearly 90k subscribers, focuses on After Effects, sports graphics and VFX, and even includes a playlist dedicated solely to Mocha tutorials. He also offers paid After Effects training courses (beginner, intermediate, and advanced) for artists looking to take their knowledge from the sidelines to the field.
Half-Time Pep Talk
“Learn to diversify and be good not only in editing but also VFX. That’s where Mocha comes into play. But most importantly, have patience and perseverance. It takes time to learn, apply what you’ve learned, and see the results,” ends DLV. “Make it into a habit to practice daily or often. After a while, you’ll be surprised how much you’ve learned and grown over the years.”