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Creating magic for a Gladiator Shoot!

For more than 20 years, hype videos were at the center of my creative video production experience at the OSU athletic department. These videos are built and designed to excite the crowd, bring energy to the stadium and/or arena, and pump up the athletes preparing to compete. The small staff I guided created content for all 36 teams, and over the years, we kept refining that process until it was dialed in for maximum efficiency.

The Setup

It takes time to create content for 36 teams, with 1000+ athletes. In the age of NIL, we needed to help those athletes with their own brand as well.

Each year, the look might change, but the end goal is to create something exciting for the viewer and the athletes.

Location, Lighting and More

The location can be a gym, a locker room, an old warehouse or factory, or a set in a studio. I look for unique places with personality and depth to create texture and shapes to bounce light off of in the background. Some of the best shoots are in random backstage areas at arenas, and we just grab various objects to set up in the background.

Lights can be used as features and they help to create a dynamic look to the images and video. With the advent of LED technology, you can have lights in a number of shapes and colors, and they can easily be changed to match situation. I love tube lights because they can also run on battery power, which makes it easy to move them around and adjust on the fly. You can use them as features in the background, or they can work as fill and rim lights.

Other fun elements are TVs, projectors, fog, lasers, and almost anything else you can think of. TVs can have pre-programmed looping animations with a team logo. You could have 1 or two LED TVs, or you could even use several old vacuum tube box sets to create a wall of TVs and get a nostalgic look.

Fog is always a nice touch, but in some locations, they set off the fire alarms. Lasers give that futuristic look. Projectors can work like LED screens, or add another layer if imagery is projected directly onto the subject.

Getting the Shots

Once the set is ready, now it is time to get the shots you need. I like to have 2 different cameras on site. The first camera is for shooting still images. I like my Canon 5D Mark III for the still images.

The second camera is lighter and operated on a gimbal, which allows you to get those smooth action shots. I look for a camera that can shoot 4K and/or a high frame rate. This allows for nice time shifts in the editing process. I usually gravitate towards the Sony A7S III for this reason.

For lenses, I look for something that gives me a nice depth of field, so I can direct the focus of the viewer by what is in focus or out of focus. I love getting really close on the uniform and having a really tight depth of field allowing me to rack the focus across a logo patch, or the piping. You can actually see threads coming in and out of focus, which is a lot of fun.

It’s fun to play with the focus on the details.
Notice how tight the depth of field is.

Directing the Action

Now we are all set up and ready to go, but how do you get the subject to pose for you? I have some tricks that I have picked up over the years to assist.

Music helps relax the athletes or subjects. I generally set up a bluetooth speaker so they can play whatever music they prefer. Most teams turn on a spotify channel and we just let it play nice and loud throughout the shoot. We generally don’t record audio for these, but if we need to, we just mute the speaker and then unmute when we are done with any audio recording.

I use gaff tape guides on the floor to mark positions for the athletes so they know where to stand. This footprint mat comes in handy when the feet aren’t going to be in frame. I ask them to stand on the stripes, or the polka dots, and they know exactly how to place their feet and angle their body.

Footsteps on a floor mat help pose the athletes.
Pose boards give examples of dynamic poses.
I have several pose boards with props that relate to the sport I’m shooting.

Pose boards are a great way to show what you are looking for. I generally let the athletes look at the boards and pick out their favorite poses. It also helps move things along as you just move through the examples on the boards. It also sparks ideas during the shoot to create a variety of action shots.


The finished product is fun to edit together. I generally use fast paced music with lots of interesting rhythms.

The footage can be used on its own or mixed with game footage. In a few minutes, you can capture enough footage for each athlete to have their own 10-15 second reel for social media. It looks good horizontal, vertical, or square!

The photos can be used for promotion through social media as well. You can make nice gameday graphics, create spots for various uniforms to show what your team is wearing for the upcoming game, or pair with an awesome game clip to promote an athlete who made an incredible play.

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