2014 Emmy Nominated Title Design

  1. Answered by Michelle Dougherty and Karin Fong

    Tell us a little about the initial call.
    MD: It was an initial meeting. We went to talk to Jon Steinberg and Robert Levine, the creators, in Los Angeles.

    KF: I distinctly remember that it was International Talk Like a Pirate Day. We were debating about how far to take that.

    MD: We quickly learned that this show is the furthest thing from Pirates of the Caribbean or any other pirate-styled fantasy. No parrots, eye-patches, or Jack Sparrow types. This is the story of people fighting for survival, going up against society. They operate outside of European civilization, which makes them feared. It’s a Brave New World, but tied to the old one.

    What was the one thing you were tasked to convey in this title sequence?
    KF: Jon mentioned that if an existing image could capture the spirit of the show, it would be that of the soldiers at Iwo Jima. You know the one, where they all strain to raise the flag. These guys were both pioneers and survivors.

    Explain the final concept of the title.
    KF: The title uses the baroque language of the European establishment to metaphorically depict the mix of themes and characters of this “golden age of piracy.” At the same time, the rising water threatens to submerge it all. It symbolizes the impending doom that is coming to this precarious environment. Like our Art Director Alan Williams asked, "What would rebel pirates, collapsing shanty towns, whore houses etc. look like if they were represented within those ornate sculpted vignettes; amongst pristine saints and kings?"

    How did it evolve with you as you worked on it?
    KF: We were pleasantly surprised to discover that, when buckled down to figure out the 20-plus scenes, there was a wealth of material that needed to be fed into this concept. Of course, as time progressed, there were more episode edits to watch, and more details to explore. It became exciting to see how this title could grow with the show. One thing that evolved was the idea that many of the shots embody a pair of opposing forces. Old vs. young, land vs. sea…always with death lingering throughout.

    MD: Once we established this direction, we worked with sketch artists to design each scene, and then modeled them in 3D. At the beginning, because we generally tend to have a modern sensibility of what people should look like, the pirates were almost too much like actors from the show, rather than resembling the classic, Baroque sculptures that you’d find from the 17th or 18th centuries. So we still had a lot of homework to do, and we studied up on the most talented sculptors of the world – sculptors like Kris Kuksi. Since these were basically still lives, we needed them to feel powerful on their own with the minimal amount of movement. So as we went on, we had to adjust the forms, the poses, and the lighting to get the most powerful image.

    Tell us a little about your process, how do you typically work?
    MD: After an initial brief, we dive into a design phase. This typically is a lot of brainstorming— both visual and verbal. What we create during this conceptual period varies according to the project. Many times it’s style frames, other times it’s an animatic. Sometimes it’s a key frame with a written treatment, other times a full storyboard, or a motion or photography test. The design solution will dictate what we need in terms of how we express the idea, and subsequently, the team.

    KF: As we move forward into production, we further define the shot lists, edit, and production method— in this case, 3D modeling and animation. It is, of course, crucial to put together a team of talented artists, people who elevate the craft every step of the way. We were lucky to work with some inspiring people on Black Sails. And, to remember it’s all wet clay— at some point, a project takes on a life of its own and you’ve got to adjust accordingly!

    What is the most interesting part of the process for you.
    MD: I love coming up with different design solutions and working with teams comprised of amazing artists. With the Black Sails title sequence, every aspect was completely CG. At the beginning of the project, we definitely entertained the idea of shooting things practically, but in the end, the only practical way to do this with the tight schedule was to go CG.

    KF: I enjoy the license to dig in and research all of the aspects that make up a show: the history, the real-life influences for the characters, the art and music of the era, the science behind the fiction, etc.

    How do you feel when you see your own work?
    MD: I usually feel very happy and definitely feel a sense of accomplishment. I’m lucky that I’m able to work with amazing people to make it all come together. It really takes a village.

    KF: You know, whenever I see our work, either on the big screen or broadcast, I have to admit I get a little thrill. I hope that never goes away.

    # vimeo.com/102552993 Uploaded
  2. Answered By Curtis Doss

    Tell us a little about the initial call.
    We were tasked with a much smaller segment of the show titled the Evolution of the eye. We were called upon to develop a 4 min piece that would explain the significance of light sensitivity as it pertains to the evolution of living creatures.
    During that process of development, we had the idea of making the Eye/Nebula which ended up being the Cosmos logo.
    A few months later we were invited to develop the main title around that image.

    What was the one thing you were tasked to convey in this title sequence?
    The original Brief for the main title was one of the most daunting directives we’ve ever heard: “The universe is your pallet.”

    Explain the final concept of the title.
    Show the viewer a glimpse of the vastness of the cosmos and all its wonder though visual similarity and connection. To inspire a new generation to explore the universe. And to celebrate how far we have come in our understanding of the cosmos through exploration.

    Did it evolve form the show creator’s original intent?
    The only original intent from show creators was to pay homage to Carl Sagan and include some key concepts from the show. So it evolved a lot over time as we explored what concepts to include and how to connect them together.

    How did it evolve with you as you worked on it?
    The Title evolved dramatically on an aesthetic level and contextual level. Our original concept of Connection, Inspiration, and wonder never changed. We went through many rounds of pre-vis to nail down the details of each shot and vet out the effectiveness of the story, while including some key concepts from within the show.

    Tell us a little about your process, how do you typically work?
    Research is a big part of our process. We begin by pulling any reference that we feel relates to the subject. With everything under the sun a possibility for this project, we found ourselves digging through vast forms of aesthetic, scientific, historical, animation, and transitional reference. We ultimately turned to the creator of the original show, Carl Sagan. A well known quote from Carl “We are a way for the cosmos to know itself” became our main inspiration and the necessary filter narrowing down our ideas.

    What typically inspires you during conceptual development?
    Conceptual development is always intense. Many Ideas running through many peoples heads. For me personally I get inspired by hearing the ideas of others. I love exploring the connections and relationships between concepts and visuals based on ideas that I would have never explored on my own.

    What is the most interesting part of the process for you.
    I find the research and conceptualizing parts of the process most interesting. However, there were many interesting aspects of this particular project related to the technical aspects of the project.

    Were there any compromises you made along they way?
    Compromises are usually a part of the process. We did make some compromises, but are still very proud of the end result and would rather not list any specifics.

    Were there ideas that you loved that got killed?
    There were some early ideas that we really loved that were left aside. Most of them too grandiose, So it’s probably a blessing that they did get killed from a practical point of view.

    What drew you to title design?
    Title design is a great canvas to incorporate many concepts of the show into a small summary of the entire lifetime a show. its almost as if they are an iconic branding statement for the show itself. Telling an open ended story that seeds abstract ideas into the viewers heads really appeals to me, and Main titles seems to be at the forefront of this type of storytelling.

    What are your thought specifically on Titles for TV?
    Titles are a great way for a show to express some deeper aspects of its brand message. I think there will always be a need for this type of communication.

    How is it different from the rest of the work you do?
    Working on Commercials and broadcast packages, we usually have to drive home specific points and ideas in specific ways. With main titles the way you portray the specific points is wide open. You can be intimate, abstract, specific, blunt, emotive, and on and on…

    Do you watch the show?
    I did watch most of the season. I am amazed not only at the content and message of the show. But also at how much work went into making it a reality.

    How do you feel when you see your own work?
    I am very proud of the work that we did for Cosmos. However, whenever I watch any of my own work, I feel that it’s never quite finished.

    # vimeo.com/102553320 Uploaded
  3. Answered by Leanne Dare

    Tell us a little about the initial call:
    At first, we met with Michelle Ashford and Sarah Timberman; Creator and Executive Producers of Masters of Sex. There were a lot of giggles when throwing out ideas! I honestly can’t say I remember many specifics of the meeting - but I do remember leaving the meeting thinking “It’s on. We can push this one all the way.” We had a clear premise and objective - and almost as importantly - free reign on how to execute this concept.

    What was the one thing you were tasked to convey in this title sequence:
    Without a doubt, they also wanted something beautiful and sensual for the show’s title sequence. But they also wanted the titles to be more than just eye candy. One key word I remember writing down and repeating to myself throughout the process was “wit.”

    Explain the final concept of the title:
    At face value, this title sequence is a barrage of sexual innuendos intended to trigger sensory overload for viewers. I’d also like to say it’s a series of strategically choreographed slices of everyday life, that are designed to make you feel awkward and astounded.

    How did it evolve with you as you worked on it?
    This project had a lot of time for evolution. There were some changes to the show delivery schedule which allowed us to sit with it for almost a year. Initially, we started with just clips of our everyday innuendos. Further along during production, we added some of the more raw and clinical imagery into the sequence; we found that we could strike a perfect balance of the two that kept the sequence unique and fun, while still appropriately reflecting the storyline of the show. It wasn’t until the end of the process that we created the 50’s style illustrations; they did a fair job of depicting the four stages of Master and Johnson’s Human Sexual Response Cycle.

    Tell us a little about your process, how do you typically work?
    I go a little crazy with research. At least for me, I’d say that research amounts for 50-75% of the time spent on any given project — well before anything is actually created. If I already have a concept in my head, I will spend time getting everything I need to support and make that concept stronger. In the case of Masters of Sex, I didn’t have an initial concept. So I spent my time exploring the themes of the show, looking for a sliver of an idea that I could sink my teeth into.

    What typically inspires you during conceptual development?
    Honestly, one of the most powerful tools for concept development I use is simply an internet search engine. I find the internet to be a vast expanse of ideas, waiting to be collected, manipulated, developed and refined. Usually we don’t really have a lot of time to develop a concept. The internet is a gold mine as far as inspiring new ideas and improving ideas you’re already holding on to. If I’m researching and I come across something I’ve never seen our knew about before - I get really excited.

    What is the most interesting part of the process for you?
    Pitching is really fun. It’s the point when your concept is the most pure. But I’d have to say that the most interesting and challenging part of the process is all the stuff that comes after you’ve won the pitch and you’ve got to figure out how your idea is really going to work.

    Were there ideas that you loved that got killed?
    Yes. We have so many amazing bits that didn’t make it to the end. For every shot that there is in the sequence - there are 10 that were left on the cutting room floor.

    What are your thoughts specifically on Titles for TV?
    Unfortunately, not all title sequences are created equal and not all of them have the creative opportunities like Masters of Sex. I’ve worked on many title sequences which became 5-10 second montages of footage from the show and followed by a title card. It’s not creative. It’s not interesting. It’s safe and easy and the usual excuse for these poor title sequences are usually marketing concerns. All I have to say to that is - When has a creative, thought provoking, beautiful title sequence ever ruined the chances of a show’s success?

    I think TV titles are a huge part of a show. We remember them. We talk about them. We hum their tunes. They set a mood for a show and for the most part good title sequences and good shows come in pairs.

    How is it different from the rest of the work you do?
    Whether creating a commercial or a title sequence - the general approach and process have a lot of similarities. The subject matter for a title sequence tends to be a bit more interesting and come with a few less constrictions.

    How do you feel when you see your own work?
    If possible, I avoid watching my own work once the project is out of my hands. When I do - all I think about is how it could be better.

    # vimeo.com/102555407 Uploaded
  4. Answered by Garson Yu

    Explain the concept of the title.

    The visual concept of the opening sequence was inspired by isometric pixel art. People usually relate pixel art graphics to old computer technology. However, we reinvented the pixel art look into something more advanced and sophisticated. With this sequence, I hoped to tie in to the idea of evolution. The tech business in Silicon Valley has a long history of companies rising and falling, with many companies bought out by other corporations, and businesses failing or merging with others. For example, in the sequence, we see Sun Microsystems get replaced by Google, and new Facebook and Apple campuses being built. The Napster balloon also goes up and comes down. We wanted to use the visual look of pixel art to represent technology and support the idea of evolution. In a high level concept, we wanted to embrace the idea of evolution. This concept is enhanced by using the visual technique of time-lapse in the animation. It shows the passage of time and we see old company signs being taken down and new signs going up. The Silicon Valley building is a construction site with cranes and construction equipment… then you see the steel beam frame build up in time lapse, walls go up, windows are added, and then the building forms fully. In reality, the entire Silicon Valley was a residential area until more and more corporate building took over, replacing family houses. All along, we see different activities happening on the street, on the roof tops, (roller skating, partying, bungee jumping, and many more) or on the corporate campuses. There is traffic everywhere. 

    It is a town with a hectic energy and is busy as hell. That's how Mike Judge wanted to portray Silicon Valley: it's a hub filled with energy and opportunities. 

    Did it evolve form the show creator’s original intent?
    Mike Judge loved the idea of using pixel art for the Silicon Valley main titles. When an idea clicks with the creator's vision, all creative possibilities flow so well and everyone is happy.

    What typically inspires you during conceptual development?
    Everything around me inspires me. My team, my friends and family, TV, web, my own life experience. Dialogues and conversations play a big part of the conceptual development process. I am not so much about the visual design and style but I am more into story, idea and concept. Visual style will come naturally. The initial brain-storming meeting is important to me. I hear ideas from my team-- they have their unique point of view towards the project. No ideas are bad or good until we put that into the right context, where it becomes a solution. If an idea is not a solution then we can't call it an idea. I don't enjoy working alone, but I enjoy working with a team. That's why I called my company yU+co (Yu and Company) Other people inspire me, and I hope I inspire other people as well.

    What is the most interesting part of the process for you.
    The interesting part of the process was interacting with Mike Judge and having a creative synergy with him. I was excited when he would see a good idea and stick with his vision. He has a strong animation background as the creator of Beavis and Butthead and King of the Hill. Every time when we met with him, I was curious to get his response and reaction to our ideas-- he always gave good notes. The other fun part of the process was coming up with funny gags for all of the micro animations that happen within the sequence.

    Were there ideas that you loved that got killed?
    No, we were very lucky and got to do everything that we wanted to do. The client loved everything.

    # vimeo.com/102555457 Uploaded
  5. Answered by Patrick Clair

    Tell us a little about the initial call.
    When we were initially briefed, Nic Pizzolatto, the showrunner, and Cary Fukunaga, the director, spoke a lot about how the landscape and setting of the show revealed the characters and reflected their internal struggles. The show is set in Louisiana in the ’90s, with a strong presence of the petrochemical infrastructure and the pollution of the physical landscape. We read scripts for the first three episodes before even considering the visual execution. Story is always the most fundamental part of our design process, so it was great getting a good understanding of the writing before we began to explore visual ideas.

    Explain the concept of the title.
    Visually, we were inspired by photographic double exposures. Fragmented portraits, created by using human figures as windows into partial landscapes, served as a great way to show characters that are marginalised or internally divided. It made sense for the titles to feature portraits of the lead characters built out the place they lived. This became a graphic way of doing what the show does in the drama: reveal character through location.

    Tell us a little about your process, how do you typically work?
    We boarded out the sequence with full photographs very early on. The production was inspired by the work of photographer Richard Misrach. We started with that and also folded in other evocative and strangely beautiful shots of pollution, prostitution, and wildlife across the Gulf Coast. We didn’t have to use much imagery from the show itself. Many of our pictures of the cast come from the rushes, but they’re abstracted to the point where they don’t feel part of any specific scene.

    As we started to plan the movement and animation, we faced some interesting challenges. We wanted the titles to feel like living photographs. But the footage was too kinetic and jumpy and stills were too flat and static. Many shots feature footage that has been digitally slowed to extreme degrees. The digital interpolation and artefacts created by slowing footage down often looks strange or tacky, but we found that in this case it evoked a surreal and floaty mood that perfectly captured what we were after. Some shots were dragged down the point where they are hardly moving at all — 10% or 20% of their original speed. These gave us striking and smooth character portraits to use as slow-mo windows onto our landscapes.

    Then, we took the shots from Misrach and others, and built them out as 3D projected scenes. We created low-poly geometry for truck stops, oil refineries, and more, and then projected landscape shots overtop, painting in details. Very slow virtual camera moves would then fly gently through these spaces, bringing them to life in 3D. These landscape and portrait elements would then be combined in a single comp with more spatial animation, focus effects, and lots of texture.

    It was important to have light and dark dirt and marks running through the pictures with a really gentle undulation between pale yellows, greens, dark blues, and light flares. In some cases we also went so far as to create digital doubles for some characters. In one shot, the spiked heels of a stripper and the skin of her backside were built in 3D, allowing us to pan past material that had only been captured in a single still shot.

    The final cut was then stitched together with photographic distortion effects and lots of optical glitches to emphasize the double exposure technique and meld the animation with the music. Animated flame elements play a colourful and destructive role in pushing the sequence toward its climax.

    What is the most interesting part of the process for you?
    Understanding the characters, their story and where that might go. My interests really lie in long form drama as much as design. The chance to combine that in a title sequence is always thrilling for me.

    Were there ideas that you loved that got killed?
    Usually, that happens A LOT on our jobs. Here, we were lucky - and I think we had really smart show runnner’s guiding us. The final execution is eerily similar to the pitch, which is something I’m very proud of.

    How do you feel when you see your own work?
    Embarrassed. always ashamed and embarrassed. But, when you get attached to a show like True Detective, enourmously proud as well.

    # vimeo.com/102555541 Uploaded

2014 Emmy Nominated Title Design

motion and title design PRO

In their own words. The creators of the 2014 Emmy nominated opening title sequences reveal insights about the making of their work.

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