UFC x James Braithwaite: amplifying sport’s storytelling through animation

UFC x James Braithwaite: amplifying sport’s storytelling through animation

Over the past few years, James Braithwaite and his Picnic Dinner team - Darren Pasemko and Fred Casia - have collaborated with the UFC to tell the story of the world’s most successful MMA promotion through short animated films.

Moving away from the usually hyper-masculine UFC visual universe, the animations adopt a stripped-down visual approach with a touch of humour. James develops: “We’ve worked with the live-action director, Dan Marks, many times over the years. He has a lot of trust in us and lets us explore new approaches with each new project. So for each episode for the UFC project, we are using a slightly different style. Some look like ink, some are drawn with real pencil, some have more collage elements. We want each episode to have a unique style approach, and I think the varied art styles help spice up the episodes.”

James held different roles within the project: “I did a bunch of drawing, alongside the wonderful Noam Sussman and Bijan Shahir. But I also art directed and helped write the animation scripts.”

The project didn’t come without any creative challenges. “At the beginning, none of us were really fans of MMA. A little too visceral for us wimpy artists”, recalls James. “We needed to find a way to get excited about the content and find a fun way in. The first episode was about a guy named Forrest Griffin. He was surprisingly hilarious and empathetic. His funny vibe gave us permission to get a little weirder with these episodes. We didn’t need to focus on only the blood and the violence, but let us shine a light on the stranger, funnier aspects that happen around the fights.”

The UFC animations follow the path set by Picnic Dinner and Dan’s work done on the 30 for 30 ESPN series, which set a new benchmark for sports documentaries. James and the creative team’s animation added another exciting layer of storytelling to the customary sit-down interviews plus archive footage combo usually seen in sports documentaries. “The 30 for 30 series really changed the world of sports documentaries for the better”, explains James. “It was great to be part of such an iconic series”

The UFC collaboration is far from being concluded, and it is going to add a new chapter soon. “We are currently working on an episode about Marc Ratner,” says James. “Ratner was the boxing commissioner who joined the UFC to help solidify the rules and turn it from seemingly random street fights into the sport juggernaut it is today”.

So stay tuned for the next episode coming soon!

See more of James Braithwaite’ work here.


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