Saturday, November 26, 2022

Harris Lue: Designing for Netflix’s “The Crew” and His Next Career Move

(PC : Netflix)

The week of February 14th 2021 will be an important, and memorable week for the sport of NASCAR.

The season will go green that Sunday, with the running of the Daytona 500, the sport’s most prestigious event of the year. On Monday, February 15th, NASCAR enters a completely new realm of streaming with an entirely new show focused on the sport.

“The Crew” is a brand new comedy centered around NASCAR. The show will follow actor Kevin James as a crew chief for Bobby Spencer Racing. After the owner steps down and his daughter takes over as the new head of the team, James has to do all he can for job security.

Arguably, expectations from a fan’s perspective can be rather high, and somewhat protective. Can “The Crew” deliver an authentic NASCAR portrayal to new eyes all around the world?

NASCAR Graphic Designer Harris Lue, better known as “Lue Creative” on social media, was given a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to bring the authentic image of NASCAR to the small screen.

Harris was tasked with some of the design languages of the series, to make the series look as true to NASCAR as possible. With five years of experience in the sport, it seemed he was the obvious choice for the job as the opportunity came to him from NASCAR’s Senior Vice President and Chief Digital Officer Tim Clark.

“We’ve worked a lot together through my day job,” Harris said. “When it came time for the people at The Crew to need a car design, and to make their show as authentic to NASCAR as far as the trackside stuff goes, he referred me to them and got me the gig as ‘Lue Creative’. It wasn’t something that would typically come through the NASCAR request system, so I was able to do it myself and in turn, got my logo on the car and got to  work with a bunch of people there and so them the ropes in terms of how a NASCAR car gets designed, and where the numbers go, and to make the sponsors they created look authentic in a fictional show.”

The team of Bobby Spencer Racing had a couple of fire suits, as well as a sponsor in “Fake Steak”, but that was it. It was Harris’s job to bring that team identity to life on track.

“Other than that, they had nothing set in stone,” Harris explained. “I was working with Anthony Bruno who is the Art Director for the show. I had a checklist in my mind of things a car needs – driver signature, number font, a solid look for the team, the team colors were blue and orange. You know, how do we a team scheme? I even had Emily (Butler of Truex Management Group) help me out with the driver’s signature. She is really good with calligraphy. I took that and put it into Illustrator to kind of make a door rail, and fire suit belt, and all kinds of stuff.”

In addition to the physical car and all aspects of that design from number font to the addition of the Premier Partners, Harris also created pit box designs as well as set elements for the race shop with his own personal vector art on them.

In an effort to gather real on-track footage, The Fake Steak No. 74 did see some true track time last season. At the doubleheader weekend in Michigan in August, Spire Motorsports re-numbered their traditional No. 77 to the comedy’s No. 74 Fake Steak Camaro that Harris designed.

The No. 74 Fake Steak Camaro (Top Photo – Harris Lue. Bottom Photo – Getty Images)

“It was really cool,” Harris said. “I’ve worked with the folks over at Spire, I think my first Cup design was the NASCAR Mobile App design, once again through Tim Clark for the Spire No. 77. Getting to see that come to life and to see it run those two races at Michigan back-to-back to get all the shots for the show was really cool. Seeing it go from the flat files on my computer last year to the show cars they have in the back of the race shop shots in the show. Then to see it really running around with Reed Sorenson behind the wheel, and seeing the Spire Motorsports crew decked out in the Fake Steak gear was really cool.”

The idea for the car design itself is actually a rather clever concept. With the team colors being blue and orange color, the base design carries the branding well. But Harris opted to make the car, along with the colors of the Fake Steak logo, to simulate a “last-minute sponsor” deal, something that happens occasionally in NASCAR with smaller teams.  This strategy can be unfamiliar to a designer, as typically they can be given a list of requirements from colors, to style and branding and are given a box to work in. This required some new thinking from a designer standpoint for Harris.

The No. 74 FakeSteak Camaro (PC : Harris Lue)

“It was a little bit of working backward,” explained Harris. “I started with the FakeSteak logo and made a scheme that perfectly matched it. It had the mushroom (of the bull’s head) on the hood and it tied in all of the green and gold.  I sent that over to Anthony and the folks over at ‘The Crew’ and they were like ‘Oh no wait, we didn’t explain this right. This is supposed to be the Bobby Spencer car that the logo is on.’ So then I started switching gears and wondering how I would design this car for Bobby Spencer Racing with similar elements to the car that I had previously done. But how do I make this look like you can take these FakeSteak logos off and it would just be the Bobby Spencer Racing car.”

While his design resume at NASCAR includes multiple components to a driver or team’s identity, Harris never had to mix all of those elements together into one massive project. It’s fitting that his hero, the late Sam Bass, went through a similar process when Sam was tasked with the creative identity of the 2006 box office hit “Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby”, which spawned iconic designs such as the No. 62 “ME” Chevrolet. As soon as Harris found out about the project for Netflix, Harris immediately called Sam’s wife.

“She was sharing stories of what Sam went through when he was doing the Talladega Night stuff,” Harris said. “Like the Laughing Clown Malt Liquor car, WonderBread, Perrier, and Old Spice. It’s pretty cool to do some of the same things and to bring NASCAR back to a screen, and to put it in front of a lot of people.

As many remain hunkered down at home thanks to the ongoing pandemic, streaming services such as Netflix have become even more important as millions look for a quick way to deviate from the outside world. With an abundance of eyes prepared to watch “The Crew”, Harris’s work is about to be seen on a much grander scale. The sheer number of potential eyes is something that hasn’t settled in yet.

“I don’t think it will set in until it premieres after the Daytona 500,” Harris said. ” A little bit set in when I got a check in the mail that had Netflix on it. I’ve been paying Netflix for like six, seven, eight years, it’s weird to get a check from them. I don’t know if I want to binge it, I don’t know if I want to watch one episode, and savior it and cherish it. It’s going to be really cool.”

The upcoming premiere also gives Harris’s family some anticipation and excitement. Harris’s father was a major fan of King of Queens, a show that Kevin James played a major role in. Now, the son will get to have one of his father’s favorite actors on set with his own creations.

Of course, the “Lue Creative” logo is also making its way to Hollywood and to Netflix, The logo of Harris’s own creative brand will be featured on the C-Pillar of the No. 74 FakeSteak Camaro.

“As a kid, I would get on my tricycle and my Memaw had this brick walkway from her front door to the driveway, which is about 20 feet long. I used to put on my sunglasses, get on my tricycle and say ‘Hey Memaw, I’m going to Hollywood!’ and I would ride the tricycle to the end of the brick walkway and then come back. I called her the other day and told her ‘Look! My logo went to Hollywood for real!’ She doesn’t have Netflix so I’ll have to go show her the show.”

2021 is shaping up to be a banner year for Harris, from working on a Netflix show to working with popular clothing brand Urban Outfitters on some exclusive NASCAR merchandise.

Recently announced, Harris is helping to bring 2000 NASCAR Cup Series champion Bobby Labonte back to the track in 2021, designing a No. 25 CookOut Modified that Labonte will race this season in the Southern Modified Auto Racing Teams Tour.

But the new year is not without significant change. Known for his incredible artwork for NASCAR social media, merchandise, and at-the-track activation, Harris will bid farewell to NASCAR this month after five years with the sanctioning body.  Fans looking for that Lue Creative magic will turn their attention to the powerhouse of Stewart-Haas Racing, where Harris will take over as the Graphic Designer Manager for the Ford team.

“I had  Gary Bohaink from Stewart-Haas Racing call me and said they were building a creative team, and they needed some good folks,” explained Harris. “They’re building a creative team that will be focused on social media and video content, hopefully, a little bit of paint scheme work if there is an opportunity. I’ll be working in the marketing department at Stewart-Haas Racing to land partners, and to make the partners we have shine and take my skills to a more concentrated area to make Stewart-Haas look as best as possible.”

Harris will take an impressive resume with him to Stewart-Haas Racing, after spending half a decade with NASCAR at their headquarters in Charlotte, North Carolina. Fear not, as the position vacated by Harris at NASCAR is being left in the hands of another great designer.

“We just hired Jon Palmieri, better known as Speed Visions,” Harris said. “I think I’m leaving it in good hands. He’s already getting his feet wet.”

Harris, in his words, owes a great debt of gratitude to his soon-to-be-former co-workers and colleagues as he prepares to focus his attention on a whole other aspect of the sport he loves so much.

“A huge thank you to my boss Caroline Fogle, my previous boss Richard Chatham, my co-worker Alex Brown, and Dana Whippy. They’ve made me into the designer that you see today. I came into NASCAR five years ago wide-eyed and bushy-tailed and had no clue what I was doing. I just knew that I loved NASCAR, and working with the people I’ve worked within the sport have sharpened the knife you see today and helped me get to where I am. Without Tim Clark, Megan Malayter, Brad Norman, Jonathan Merryman and many others , I wouldn’t be sitting here.”

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