Though the basic concept is perhaps borrowed from some other places, this sequence does a great job of visually setting up the story and the tone at the same time, while maintaining incredible visual interest. Why does this man have a cigarette lighter flying out of his mouth? We have to wait and see.
The Jungle Book (2016)
The recent update to the Jungle Book was visually stunning, but I wasn't expecting this fun mini-telling of the movie at the end. In addition to summarizing the film, it also places it (literally) in its literary roots.
Thank You for Smoking
I like skeumorphism if it's done well. And this one is. I'm not sure if this actually counts as skeumorphism, but I'm going to consider it as one.
The title sequence is better than the movie in this case. The titles brilliantly update the 1950s saucerpunk films like Earth vs. the Flying Saucers and It Came from Outer Space! The color palette and the somewhat ridiculous-looking fleet of flying saucers tells us what kind of movie we're in for (even if the movie itself didn't quite live up to the promise.)
It's a Mad Mad Mad Mad World
I mean, Saul Bass. That's all I have to say. As I noted earlier, the title sequence for the series Feud is fantastic, as is that of Catch Me If You Can, but neither of those would exist without the pioneering design work of Saul Bass.
Every once in a while, something so mindbendingly bizarre yet straightforward appears.
On the heels of what I wrote about last week, I came across this video, which articulates the shift in the TV Title Sequence landscape that we're seeing today. My favorite insight: Title sequences are the new music videos; a playground for visuals.
I love a good title sequence.
I mean the ones that really set the stage for what you're about to watch (or, in some movies, what you just watched), either realistically or stylistically, and sometimes in a completely abstract way. Here are eleven of my favorites, in no particular order.
Daredevil on Netflix.
Visually, it's stunning, which is a good thing for a title sequence to be, but the visuals aren't just pretty pictures. The dirty and shadowy red background speaks to the gritty tone and red color of Daredevil's costume. The bloody liquid pouring slowly over various New York City scenes sets not only the stage, but tells us this is going to be a show steeped in violence. But what I find really cool about it is that these objects are invisible until revealed by the liquid...which suggests how Daredevil, being blind, can "see" the world through the way sounds reflect back to him.
Breaking Bad on AMC.
This is barely more than an animated logo, only 18 seconds long, and the reason for this is that the creator, Vince Gilligan, wanted to use as much of his allotted 42 minutes to tell a story, rather than re-play a lengthy title sequence. Short as it is, this sequence captures the essence of the show with its iconic twangy music and the periodic table emerging from a cloudy haze. It's a modern western, in a sense, with a chemical twist. The wisp of smoke at the end completes the metaphor. Simple.
Feud on FX.
An homage to the Saul Bass titles of the era, this one cleverly updates the style to present the bitter conflict between Joan Crawford and Bette Davis on all its levels--practical, social, emotional, and dramatized. The transitions between shots flesh out the idea that these women did not hate each other, but they were drawn to destroy each other through any means necessary.
This is not a flashy title sequence, and it's quite long. But that length, underscored with Angelo Badalamenti's haunting theme music is almost trance-inducing, serving to bring the viewer into the altered state necessary to fully appreciate the show. The slow-moving waterfall, the foggy Pacific Northwest landscapes, and hypnotic imagery of a sawmill at work establish both the setting as well as the melancholic and yet somehow homey tone.
Bojack Horseman on Netflix
From the opening warbly riff, you know that this show has an identity of its own and that you are in good hands. This sequence is way better than it has any right to be, and the portrayal of a day in the life of Bojack Horseman is also the overall arc of the show.
Carnivale on HBO.
In 2003, this sequence impressed me in both the technical skill needed to pull this off, as well as how effectively it established the era.
Game of Thrones on HBO.
I mean, there's really no need to go into detail here. We all know why this is a good one. Worth noting, however, is the necessity of this sequence. The show is so grand in scale that we really do need to have a map to show us where the various scenes take place and their relationship to one another. The customizations from episode to episode speak to that as well. (We're going to Dorne on this episode, so we better put Dorne on the map.)
True Detective season 1 on HBO.
Much like Twin Peaks, this sequence captures the tone of the show in an elegant way by showing us scenes through the perspective of the two protagonists.
The Leftovers season 1 on HBO
These titles reflect the sense of religious fervor that underpins the core conflicts of the show. It evokes Renaissance-era cathedral frescoes, depicting the lives of flawed, modern humans rather than the lives of the saints.
Manhattan on AMC
An underappreciated show with a fantastic title sequence. The unstable and yet regular music sounds like a Geiger counter. In keeping with the radiation motif, the visuals illustrate the rapid growth of Los Alamos during the Manhattan Project, creating a critical mass of people required to create the atomic bomb. This cluster of people moves together, mirroring the actual uranium nucleus at the heart of the bomb. I love me some visual puns.
Is it one of the best? No. But I don't know any other title sequence that is so aggressively of its time. And it's glorious.
Bonus: The Simpsons, season 26, episode 1. Because I think Don Hertzfeldt is an unimitigated genius.
Simple, yet effective spot.
Staging is the principle that covers the layout of the action in a scene, calling for an easy-to-read motion. One method for doing this is to put your character in silhouette and see if the poses are still clearly readable.
I know you've all been eagerly waiting for this one. The anticipation is over!
On the first day...Squash and Stretch!
Sometimes, using double negatives conveys love more: there is nothing about this short film that I don't absolutely love.
Over the years, I've designed a lot of aliens. Some of them were realistic, some were cartoony, some were humanoid, some were animalistic. I always try to design to the tone of the show. For example, Ancient Aliens often calls for frightening, sinister aliens, whereas Through the Wormhole takes a much more clinical and/or fun approach to the subject. I thought this video essay did a great job breaking down the specific needs of creature design.
This morning, I walked into my office and was greeted by a jar of fortune cookies. The above fortune got me thinking about the importance of planning in animation.
Sometimes, the pace of my gigs has been so fast that it seems luxurious and perhaps foolish to spend even as little as one hour preparing before doing the shot. If I’ve done a similar shot in the past, I might be tempted to skip the planning and dive right in. But most of the time I’ve given into that temptation, I’ve regretted it.
One thing I’ve never, ever regretted: taking the extra time to get things set up properly.
Every shot is its own entity, so there’s no typical way in which I approach them. But one thing that I always start with is what a former coworker of mine called “Advanced R&D”. That is, lots of research and sketching. This gives me an idea of what the camera move should be, what the creature/ship/planet/etc. should look like, and what the lighting situation should be. When I feel I have a grasp on what I’m undertaking, I move on to the actual shot creation.
For the show Ancient Aliens, I was tasked with a shot of the Nommo, a god-being of the Dogon (a group of people in Mali). I researched the legends as extensively as I could. I did character design sketches, working with the constraints that it was both fish-like and humanoid. I looked at the Creature from the Black Lagoon, because I’ve always liked that creature design, and love throwing in an homage when I can. I thought about how it would move on both land and water, and streamlined it for swimming. Once I had a design, I planned out both the camera and the action, recording video reference of me performing the shot (that no one is ever, ever allowed to see), and then planned out the poses and keyframes. Then I sculpted the creature and set up the rig. Only then, after a full day of prep, did I start animating.
The clock was ticking, and I was nervous at having not even started animation yet. But you know what? Once I just threw in the poses and timings I’d already planned out, I was 80% done within two hours. It’s a very short shot, but even so, it still took a few more hours to get it finessed until the deadline stopped me. In the end, I wound up with a shot that the producers loved, that looked cool, and that was relatively painless to do, thanks to my preparation. What could have easily gone pear-shaped was prevented by beginning well.
Here is the finished shot:
Welcome, you’ve found the Idea Swamp. I’m the head mucky muck, Patrick. I live in Portland, Oregon, after having spent 17 years in the film and television industry in Los Angeles. Technically speaking, I still work in that industry, though I am no longer physically located in SoCal full-time.
So what is the Idea Swamp? Simply put, it's an animation graphics company. Or, to use my elevator pitch, I am a CG generalist specializing in documentary visualization. If you have something to explain, I create animated explainers.
In other words, let’s say you’re a producer for a documentary TV series. You don’t have the budget to hire a full-fledged VFX house to do your graphics, but you still need to have them done. So you turn to someone like me—a generalist—who can take your shots from beginning to end, and can do them quickly and at a high quality.
What I strive to do is to make it easier for producers and content creators to tell their stories by making the potential roadblocks to those stories—that is, the difficult to explain parts—visually appealing and seamlessly integrated into the rest of the piece. I do that by doing a lot of research and concept work, so it's not just random pretty-making. If you, as my hypothetical documentary producer, are trying to explain what the Loch Ness Monster is, I study maps, history, Plesiosaur fossils, alternate hypotheses, and whatever else I can get my hands on to inform my design and concept process. Then I use that information while I'm modeling, sculpting, and animating the shot. The end result, hopefully, is a more informed, detailed, and aesthetically richer animation.
While documentary visualization is my specialty, I do all manner of things graphical and animated for any industry that might need graphical and animated things. I've worked on TV shows, feature films, web series, short films, trade show presentations, and even patent applications. I've done main titles, technical illustrations, cartoons, and fully realized alien creatures. I'm living the nerd dream; I get to enter in to another world with every job and explore it from all angles, and then add my own little brand of polish here and there. It's one of my passions, and I'm grateful that I have the chance to do it. If you haven't done so already, please take a look at my showreel and check out some of the worlds I've ventured into.