When most people watch the popular television game show "Deal or No Deal," they see host Howie Mandel and a bevy of beautiful models holding metal briefcases, all lined up before a nervous contestant who is trying to win $1 million.
But there is a lot more that goes into designing the eye candy of a game show than pretty people, twirling lights and a driving theme song try logos and other computer generated graphics.
"Deal" has a gold bar-like logo, designed to represent the "money." And "American Gladiators" has a giant metallic "A" logo surrounded by oiled up muscular actors spinning on a platform, representing a cast of hardened wrestlers.
"Motion graphics are extremely critical to branding a show from beginning to the end," said David Hurwitz, an executive producer of NBC's "American Gladiators" and "Fear Factor," among other graphic-heavy shows.
Indeed, hitting the right graphic fit can translate to hundreds of millions of dollars when it comes to top rated game shows on broadcast networks. And networks are willing to pay hundreds of thousands of dollars to make the graphics pop.
That kind of payday is drawing newcomers into the business and posing stiff competition for big established graphic firms, such as Troika in Hollywood or Charlie Co. in Santa Monica.
Fish Eggs is one of those relatively young companies. The Venice firm was founded five years ago and has just seven employees but already has an enviable client list that includes Hurwitz and other network show producers.
"The networks need to differentiate their products from the cable reality shows and one way they can do that is by making the motion graphics bigger and better than those on cable network shows," said founder and Chief Executive Chris Roe, whose company name was spurred by his surname.
When Hurwitz wanted to revitalize the logo and look of "American Gladiators" he turned to Roe and his handful of artists who work out of a small building on Electric Avenue in Venice.
Similar to the original "Gladiators" franchise, which aired on syndication in the United States during the 1990s, NBC reinvents the show that featured amateur male and female contenders pitted against "Gladiator" show regulars with names like Crush, Justice and Jet.
"I wanted to keep the red, white and blue image of the old logo but I wanted to update it to be more bold, defining the new look of the show," Hurwitz said.
Roe and his crew at Fish Eggs came up with a bold response: the big "A" logo. "I envisioned a 30-foot-tall transformer that personified the show, as a strong, muscular yet lean figure," Roe said.
Roe also was responsible for highlighting the gladiators.
He directed the promotional shoot, oiling up each gladiator, placing them on a twirling platter-like stage and then lighting them so that they appeared metallic, matching their image with the giant silver "A" logo.
When it came to designing the logo and other graphic elements for "Deal or No Deal," Roe depended on a combination of pre-recorded designs and a rear-projection system that allows producers to activate graphic elements while the game is played.
For example, when a contestant on the show chooses a briefcase and the model opens it, the dollar value in the case is displayed on a big board. Using rear projection graphic techniques, it appears that each light bar on the board rotates to reveal the dollar amount. However, that's just an illusion.
While neither Roe nor the show's producers would comment about the cost of graphics, industry sources say that such graphics can run upwards of $50,000 for a package of five to 10 shows.
However, the amount that a show's producer spends is directly related to how well the show is received. Reality and game shows are typically introduced as a pilot or about five episodes. In that case the budgets are a lot tighter, with producers spending about $20,000 or less.
But if the show is a hit like "Deal" or "Gladiators," with a network picking up 30 episodes or more, then the producers are willing to spend more and are more likely to modify their graphics as the show progresses. That can translate into hundreds of thousands of dollars to the graphic designers.
Because Roe literally started his company in his Mar Vista garage and even now maintains a very small staff at his Venice office, he's able to compete with commercial graphics heavyweights like Troika, which designed the logo for NBC's Olympic Games coverage and Charlie, which does work for the big three broadcast networks, as well as HBO, MTV and VH1.
James Sweigert, an executive producer at Charlie, said the company is not unaware of all the young graphics firms in the field.
"I think that you're beginning to see a lot more competition in motion graphics," Sweigert said.
Indeed, technological advances in personal computers are spurring much of that competition. Freelancers willing to spend a few thousand dollars on new Mac computers now have the firepower to produce graphics with a professional look but that doesn't necessarily mean they know what they're doing.
"I've seen a lot of people hang up a shingle and then fold because they just didn't understand production," Sweigert said. "You have to be able to work smart and deliver on what you've promised, how you promised it and when you've promised it."
With so much competition motion graphics companies like Charlie, and even Fish Eggs, are beginning to search out other niches.
Charlie is looking into doing more commercial TV work and Fish Eggs is looking into non-entertainment companies to create graphic visual effects in corporate lobbies, using lights, LCD screens and a variety of other elements.
"Companies are beginning to realize that it's not enough to have a static lobby in this day and age of the Internet and hundreds of channels on TV," Roe said. "Lobbies of corporate America are becoming branding devices, just as signage was in the past."
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