How Gareth Bale animation was made

Originally Published: August 9, 2011
By Dave Wilson | Page 2

For Richard Swarbrick, passion won out in the end.

Swarbrick was a multimedia editor who had worked in graphic design, photography and film editing for about 10 years before deciding it was time for a career change. He went the noble route, becoming a teaching assistant for autistic children in elementary school while he worked toward a full-time teaching job.

Richard Swarbrick
Richard Swarbrick

The 33-year-old London resident changed his life, however, just by watching his favorite soccer team. Inspiration struck him in the form of Gareth Bale, whose performances for Tottenham Hotspur against Inter Milan were the stuff of legend.

"I had just seen the Champions League performances against Inter Milan where Bale played really well. I was just going to edit together a video of him using footage from YouTube," Swarbrick said. "I had looked on YouTube and I hadn't been able to find anything together of the two games edited into one piece."

Swarbrick remembered a hand-drawn chalk illustration he'd done years before in college, which he had then animated. He decided to try to replicate the style digitally.

The result was stunning. Pele, who once called soccer the "beautiful game," could've been describing Swarbrick's two-minute tribute.

He created the entire work himself, at night and on weekends, painstakingly painting each frame -- about 1,500 of them -- in Photoshop on a digital tablet. Swarbrick then animated it in After Effects, combining commentary from the matches. Even the music was a composition he created.

He posted it on YouTube, and the world noticed.

It garnered more than 100,000 views in the first three days. Soccer blog The Run of Play said, "If there were a channel that showed live matches in this style, I might forget what living people looked like."

"I was really shocked. I couldn't believe it," Swarbrick said. "It got picked up by some of the online newspapers over here. The number of views on YouTube went sky-high and it very quickly went much higher than I thought it would."

Swarbrick was flooded with interview requests and job prospects, trying all the while to maintain his day job.

Not bad for someone who'd given up on this line of work.

"It was quite overwhelming. Looking back on it, it was quite good I was working at the school because it helped me stay grounded," he said. "Having said that, because I was working in the school, I didn't have time to reply to all the emails I was getting. I was finding that side of it a bit stressful at the time."

And the irony wasn't lost on him: He'd spent 10 years working for this type of notice, and it only found him after he'd decided to move on.

"It was strange to finally get this success when I wasn't even trying, when I was trying to do something else," he said.

Swarbrick was offered the chance to join forces with film production company Hotspur & Argyle of London (which was named after two soccer teams, Tottenham Hotspur and Plymouth Argyle).

"My partner [Theo Delaney] is a massive Spurs fan," said Danny Fleet, the CEO of Hotspur & Argyle. "He saw Richard's animation, started talking about it and got him in."

Their first collaboration was a commercial for British television giant Sky Sports. Swarbrick jumped at the opportunity, noting that he had a two-week holiday from school when he could do it.

The reality, however, quickly struck him.

"We got asked how long [the Bale video] took, just after I'd done it. At the time, I gave an answer that was completely wrong. I think I said 35 hours."

Swarbrick said he realized he'd just been watching television while he was working, and had been enjoying the project so he wasn't keeping track. In reality, however, it was more like 80 to 90 hours of work for a two-minute clip.

"He's been held to it ever since," Fleet joked. "Painting every frame, it's a really big deal."

"To meet that deadline, I had to work really long hours and was not sleeping at all," Swarbrick said, laughing. "That was quite hard to get that one done in that two weeks, because I didn't realize it was going to take that long."

The finished product, an animation of Barcelona's 5-0 victory over Real Madrid in the El Clasico rivalry, was met with the same enthusiasm as the Bale clip.

And Swarbrick's teaching career ended, just like that. He's currently lined up for "various commercial projects," according to Fleet.

"He can paint, he can animate, he can edit," Fleet said. "To throw in the fact that he can compose music, you literally have to give the guy enough hours in the day to do it all, because he does it all. He's a pretty good live-action director as well. And he's extraordinarily modest."

Swarbrick has already worked on different styles of animation, like an idea he pitched to quickly produce animated highlights from sporting events. He collaborated with photographers to recreate Andy Murray's between-the-legs shot at Wimbledon out of string and a button.

His current project is directing a four-commercial campaign for The Sun newspaper, which just launched at the end of July. The first one features Wayne Rooney's iconic bicycle-kick goal for Manchester United against Manchester City. The Sun posted a video interview with Swarbrick as part of its campaign that shows some of his technique.

Swarbrick said he's got his eye on American sports, and is studying them to see what opportunities might exist.

"I keep thinking about which sports would look good -- basketball, baseball, football, all of it," he said. "I'd love to do something like [the Bale video] for the NFL. I just think I could really reach a different audience."

Swarbrick found overnight success, even if it took 10 years and a career change to get there.

"I have a new house and a new career doing something I love," Swarbrick told The Sun. "My life has changed so much since I created that first video."

Follow Richard Swarbrick on Twitter here.

Dave Wilson is an editor for Page 2.

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Dave Wilson | email

ESPN Staff Writer
Dave Wilson is an editor for since 2010. He previously worked at The Dallas Morning News, San Diego Union-Tribune and Las Vegas Sun.