EXCLUSIVE – Behind the scenes of The Greatest Show on Earth

EXCLUSIVE – Behind the scenes of The Greatest Show on Earth

The Greatest Show on Earth adSky Sports has launched a major new creative campaign called The Greatest Show on Earth, featuring world-famous sporting faces in a big-top setting as they perform seemingly-impossible circus acts. 

Sky Creative developed the 2023 start-of-season campaign alongside Rattling Stick and Framestore, to showcase the range of sports available on Sky Sports this year. 

In the TV ad, Idris Elba appears as the ringmaster throughout, with a range of huge sporting names including Erling Haaland, Jack Grealish, Ella Toone, Lauren James, Lewis Hamilton, Ben Stokes, Emma Raducanu, Jon Rahm and more making their ‘circus’ debuts. 

The ad was directed by Rattling Stick’s award-winning veteran helmer Danny Kleinman – best known for his work designing the title sequence for every James Bond film since GoldenEye in 1995, apart from Quantum of Solace. (He then returned to work on Skyfall, Spectre and No Time to Die). 


Greatest Show on Earth

The Knowledge spoke to Sky Creative’s head of production, Paul Mortimore, to hear about the highlights and challenges of the shoot. 

Can you tell us more about where the ad was filmed and how long it took? 

We filmed at Garden Studios in Acton. Filming over two stages, we created the entrance of the tent in one stage and the circus floor with circus seating on the other stage; on top of this we also filmed at Manchester City’s training facility, The Northern Film & TV Studios in Hartlepool, McClaren in Woking and Phoenix Arizona. 

The shoot in Phoenix, AZ was for Jon Rahm, our golfer, again one of those moments where we had last-minute availability, so we sent a small team over to film for a short time. We had him for just 45 minutes as he was preparing for a tournament. 

The ad took four very long days in the studio with four extra pick-up days (three in the UK and Phoenix, AZ). 

How much of the stunt work was real and how much CGI? 
We hired in performers who would double for the footballers then used deep fake AI technology to replace some to make them look like our sports talent; also some of the scenes were shot in camera and cut seamlessly to look like the sports talent were back flipping. 

The other sports talent were shot doing what they do best, though Jon Rahm didn’t really swallow the golf club and the scene with Emma Raducanu was shot a few feet off the ground.

Some of the talent were very happy to get involved where as others understandably, like the Man City pair, were [filmed] two days before the FA cup final so we were limited in their performance.

The Greatest Show on Earth

Can you expand a little on the CGI used?  

Alongside Daniel Kleinman (dir), we meticulously crafted a 3D pre-visualization of the full film in order to organize the timing and composition of each action.

While prepping for the shoot, we designed and built the big top tent in CG which was made of fabric, high detail structures, large pillars, bleachers, and other relevant circus props. To add to its unique look and provide a platform for the F1 narrative, we also created a velodrome race track: “The Wall Of Death.” 

The whole spot was shot in a very large studio with extensive use of blue screen and set constructions. We captured multiple plates for the different individual actions and layered them together with our CG environment during compositing stage. 

We had to light the tent background to match the separate character passes and embed them into the scene while also creating a specific look for each of the key vignettes. The CG crowd has been also added to fill the arena and add to the performance scale.

To pull off all of the acrobatic performances, the director choreographed those actions with stunt doubles. We used deep fake AI technology to replace some of the acrobats’ faces to look like the celebrity talent.


What were the main challenges of the shoot? 
Talent availability really was the big challenge on this production – we were dealing with some of the best sportsmen and sportswomen in the world so it was essential that the schedule was kept fluid, not only because the times at which they were arriving were changing but the days as well, so we had had to be very reactive.



The Sky Sports Greatest Show on Earth campaign comprises a TV ad in 10”, 30”, 60” and 90” formats, DRTV, social, digital, DOOH, OOH, print, radio, cinema and an extensive influencer campaign. 

With many thanks to Paul Mortimore for his help in compiling this article. 


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