Friday, April 11, 2014

It All Starts at the Beginning

I don't watch a huge amount of television (especially considering how busy my life is becoming now that I have to become an adult soon). But I do like to watch television as a break between projects and things like that.

Of course, even during breaks from productive creative work, I can't turn off that part of my brain. I always pay attention to design-related aspects of television like title sequences and motion typography. As I create more and more projects based on time and motion, I am beginning to see myself more and more as the type of designer who might dabble in this kind of thing.

A friend mentioned to me that she also really appreciates good title sequences. The high rollers like HBO and AMC pride themselves on amazing sequences like the ones I mention below. I offered a thought to her that the reason title sequences are so important is because they emotionally condition the viewer to watch the show in the right state of mind. I could go off on a ramble here about how commercial breaks ruin the flow of these artfully crafted works, but that's for another post.

Especially for highly dramatic and intense shows, I find that the opening titles act as an emotional ramp up to what will happen in the show. For example, one of my current favourites is True Detective.

The show is set on the back-country roads of Louisiana and deals with a very nitty-gritty unsolved murder mystery being tracked by two very nitty-gritty police detectives. The sequence features beautiful typography that moves so naturally with the background, you probably didn't notice that it was moving at all. The double-exposure film is nothing short of beautiful, and the mix of obvious and subtle themes like religion, sex and family values are spot-on with the plot line and characters. Having watched the entire first season in under two weeks, I can honestly say that I did not fast-forward through the title sequences once. I could watch this over and over. And I do.

Opening sequences can also be informative as well as visually arresting. Take Game of Thrones for example.

The 3-D map of the world changes often, up to every two episodes at times. The places shown on the map will become important in that episode, and it helps viewers to keep track of where characters are in relation to each other. Not to mention that it is so beautifully done, many loving remakes have been made by the likes of the Simpsons couch gag and HootSuite's Game of Social Thrones.

This post would not be close to complete without the mention of The Walking Dead.
The colour palette and music mix with the imagery to explain a post-apocalyptic world in which the living must fight to their last breath to survive against something (not pictured) that has gone terribly wrong. The fact that the visuals do not feature any real people but only their essence as experienced through objects is such an amazing idea. A street of empty cars, an abandoned house. I might go so far as to say that the visuals might be seen from the perspective of a zombie. "What are these things...I feel like I remember them from another life" is the inner monologue I see on screen.

Less recently (but I just blazed through all five seasons) is the amazing opening for Six Feet Under.

Starting out as a lighthearted comedic look at death and turning into more of a soap opera, the opening sequence remained amazing. The sequence takes an outsider's perspective on the rituals of the Christian Western World in terms of dealing with loss of life. Everything is so calculated, from the two hands falling away from each other at the beginning to the green tree turning brown and dying over the writing credits at the end. I am also a huge fan of Thomas Newman's original scores (Finding Nemo, A Series of Unfortunate Events).

Much as I am taking a break from this show (too scary!), the opening credits to American Horror Story are delightfully creepy. Here's season one:

The music, the cut-up imagery, the use of colour and inversion, this opening has all the cheesy aspects of your usual horror genre, but somehow it works really well. And I must say, I have never thought of the typeface Hillhouse as creepy until this show. Now, everywhere I see it seems atrociously inappropriate if the theme isn't horror. Further, the various images are all seemingly abstract, until they become slowly revealed one by one throughout the season. For example, the nurse's outfit suspended in water seems to make no sense until you see the episode in which it is featured. By the end of the season, every object's story has been revealed. Say what you will about the amateurish filming style, but that takes some planning.

This is by no means a finished list, but just some of the ones that stuck out in my mind. The only downside to film openings is that while they are very good at bringing you down to the dramatic level of their show, there is no show ending to bring you back up to the emotional state you were in before you watched the show. This is the main reason I can't watch American Horror Story at night anymore. Too scary!

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