Interview w/ Madden NFL Art Director, Michael Young: Presentation Is Everything

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So by now all of you know I am a huge Madden fan and have been for years. I think my love for Madden started back in 94. So as you can see I have been playing it well over a decade, and haven’t missed an installment yet. I remember when I was a little kid, I actually wrote a letter to EA Sports about all the things I wished they could put in the game, and they actually wrote back. It was a pretty standard form letter, but to a kid it meant a lot. Fast forward 17 years later, and I find myself sitting down to interview one of the major minds behind the game. Enough reminiscing though, let’s get down to business. As part of a three-part series, we will be sitting down with 3 of the key folks that make Madden what it is every year. For our first chat, we sat down with Madden NFL Art Director, Michael Young, to talk all things art and presentation in Madden.

The first thing I noticed about Mike was that he was a really down to earth guy, and that he genuinely enjoys what he does. There is a real genuineness about him that lets me know he truly believes in what he is saying and doing. The first thing we asked Mike was where does he start when it comes to looking at all the new art and presentation stuff that he wants to put into next year’s game. The first thing out of his mouth really surprised us. He said that many of the things you are seeing in this year’s game have been in the works since about 2008. He says it’s a collection of things that the community wants as well as ideas from inside the team. That’s right, these guys have 3 to 4 years of requirements for new features, and he said that ultimately they look at which ones will give them the most bang for the buck that year. From his perspective, he wanted to put a major focus on presentation this year, with a lot of time and energy going into getting the details right. This year things like authentic broadcast cameras and progressive lighting were what the community had been asking for, and the Madden team is now delivering on. This year’s game does have tons of detail including: team color gloves and shoes, more helmets, linear lighting, the green dot on the back of helmets – to show who’s “miked up”, flak jackets on QB’s, improved skin shading, uniform degradation, and more.

Since we had him talking, we took a moment to ask him about the upcoming changeover of NFL uniforms from Reebok to Nike. He said that if things hold true, they will probably get early concepts sometime in the middle of this year, which should give them more than enough time to make sure that by the time the game drops next year, all of the new uniforms will be 100% authentic and accurate. So for those of you that were wondering, no matter what Nike comes up with, the uniforms in Madden will be on point. For his part, Mike is huge fan of different uniforms and wants to do more of them. He says that he thinks that in some future game, they will really go big on uniforms with tons of alternates. As it is, the whole process of who gets their alternates done is fairly random, and has a lot to do with what teams are popular at the time. Just as an alibi, Mike IS the guy that has final say on what alternate uniforms make it into the game, so you might want to lobby him on Twitter, or the official Madden forums sometimes, since he says he does read them and take them into account.

dez-bryant-madden-12From there we moved on to one of the most important aspects of the game – stadiums. Contrary to popular belief they don’t get to go to EVERY stadium every year, but they do manage to hit quite a few. When he is not handling his business on Madden, he works as a sideline photographer for about 10-12 games a year and has personally been to quite a few of the stadiums, but not all of them. He says that when they do need to go to a stadium, they will usually send someone out and that person spends several hours shooting every little detail. They also have great reference photos of every stadium, and access to a tool called “NFL Rewind”. This is like the coolest thing ever and shows just how much tech the NFL really has. NFL Rewind allows coaches and EA Sports to type in a search query, and pull up every play that matches it. For instance, you could type “Demarcus Ware Sacks” and the system would pull up every play that involved Ware sacking someone. I don’t know about you all, but I think that is pretty cool. At this point, he took the time to reiterate that a lot of this stuff is made possible by the fans who hit them up all the time with info on player chants and little small touches at every stadium. The reason I keep reiterating this is because he did, and he really stressed how much fan input has into where the game goes, so keep it coming guys. We asked him about which stadiums he loves the most and he gave the political answer, which is he pretty much likes them all, but as a Steelers fan he is partial. He also really loves Raymond James Stadium, home of the Tampa Bay Bucs.

A lot of our readers who are Madden fans and aspiring photographers emailed us and told us to make sure we asked Mike about the kinds of cameras he uses. Mike says that he uses a Canon because his mentor used one, but said that it’s not so much about the camera as about having the right set up. For shooting sports he says you need a camera that can shoot a high rate of frames per second. If he had to tell an aspiring photographer where to sink their money, he says that it is all about the lenses, specifically recommended “70-200mm f 2.8”, hope we got that right and that you photographers out there understand it more than us. He reiterated the part about buying a camera with a high shutter speed that allows you to freeze the action. Finally, he came back to say that a camera with good FPS is imperative, saying “it allows you to track a moment and then fire a burst to make sure you capture that key moment. To get the money shot”.

madden-nfl-12-apr-2Getting back to Madden, we asked Mike about what he thought the biggest single improvement from last year’s game to this one, and he answered in a way that you would expect. He said that from his perspective, there are several great improvements, but he would say the camera work. To understand why he would say this lets us give you the skinny on the improved broadcast style camera shots you will see in this year’s game. In previous installments, they hand animated all of the camera angles, but this year they did something unique. The majority of camera work in this year’s game was done by cinematographers from NFL Films. They used a new technology that allowed them to show the folks from NFL Films action from Madden NFL 12, and the NFL Film folks actually shot the action the way they would do it in real life. That means, when you see a guy running down the sideline in Madden 12, more than likely the camera angle is just how you would see it on TV, because the guys who shoot it in real life, shot it in Madden NFL 12. In addition to that, the cameras in this year’s game are in the same position that they are in real life. So when you play a game with your favorite team it should look and feel eerily familiar, because the same angles you see on TV will be the same ones you see in Madden. Madden 12 will feature over 700 new cameras with 16 broadcast cameras per stadium.

As we wrapped up our interview with Mike, we asked him for some closing comments. He said that they know they aren’t going to get everything done that everyone wants this year, but they want everyone to know they will keep trying. Michael says that this is the ultimate goal – to one day be a part of an installment of Madden that is universally accepted as one of the greatest sports game’s of all time. You know what, if the passion we picked up from talking to him is any indication, then I think one day they just might do it.

Well that is it folks, we want to thank Madden NFL Art Director, Michael Young, again for taking the time to sit down and chat with us. You guys can find him on Twitter @mysportsphotog. Don’t forget to stay tuned for the second installment in the series when we talk all things Franchise and Ultimate Team, with Madden NFL Senior Designer, Josh Looman.

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Lorenzo Winfrey

Lorenzo Winfrey

Editor-In-Chief at ZoKnowsGaming
I am the Co-Ceo of DLT Digital Media. We are a company that is focused on developing new and innovative web properties in addition to developing WordPress based web sites for others. But before I was all that, I was a gamer.
Lorenzo Winfrey