Picture yourself settling in for the evening, remote in hand, anxiously awaiting the beginning of your favorite program. You know the theme song by heart. Anticipation builds as the opening credits roll across the screen. If you are patient enough to avoid skipping through those credits, you may just catch a glimpse of pure genius.
The greatest television series are preceded by their own masterpieces of graphic perfection. Like mini cinematic stories setting the stage for what is to come, opening credits draw you in and are often just as entertaining as the shows themselves. However, the artistry, time, and likely boatload of money that whirls around these productions are seldom credited to the designers who created them. Being a designer and opening credits super-fan myself, I have compiled a list of my all-time personal favorites while diving into the creators behind them. Who are these visual masterminds? Read on to find out and to appreciate the art of the opening credits.
1. Mad Men
Steve Fuller and Mark Gardner – Imaginary Forces
Stylized with an art nouveau flare, this opening sequence is reminiscent of a murder mystery novel. It is as sexy and devious as the show itself and sets the stage for the scandalous world of advertising in the 60s. The dark figure who we assume to be leading character, Don Draper, steps into his swanky office. Everything in the room starts avalanching and progresses into the figure falling from the building himself, floating from the skyscraper and through the very same advertising which defines him. It is a conceptual foreshadowing for the life of Don Draper, the man of mystery.
In a 2008 interview with AMC, Steve Fuller and Mark Gardner say that the fall was a metaphor for confusion as it is a helpless position and that it also depicts a dreamlike quality where you are jolted awake. In another interview for The Art of The Title, Steve says, “he loved the idea of this main character selling the American Dream, but also being totally confused by it. He’s trying to find himself throughout the show — to define himself.”
Patrick Clair, Yi-Jen Lui, Andrew Romatz, and Miguel A. Salek
If you are any sort of comic book based cinema fan, then I am sure the Netflix original series Daredevil is a breath of fresh air after the terrible 2003 movie staring Ben Affleck. The show is gritty and believable in that superhero sort of way and puts a dark spin on saving the world. And it has an opening title sequence to fit the bill. Set in tones of red and black, the red goo which can be assumed is blood, pours over a statue of justice and over the entire city of New York, eventually covering the mask of Daredevil and engulfing him. The sequence ends with a back profile view of the lead character as he is ready to serve justice himself.
The team discussed the opening credits with The Art of The Title and explained that they spent a lot of time immersing themselves in the many themes and symbols of the Marvel comic. From the neighborhood icons and Catholic imagery, they dove into the project to depict the corruption of the city and heavy weight on Daredevil’s shoulders. CG liquid simulation was a difficult and technical hurtle and was modeled after a poisonous, blood-like sludge.
3. Game of Thrones
Angus Walls – Elastic
This show is so exciting that my heart automatically beats faster every time the opening credits roll. The visual of the moving map of the kingdoms paired with the dramatic symphonic music sets the tone for the HBO series that no one can stop talking about. Ever. It begins with a spinning fiery orb that flies above the map, pausing at each kingdom to show buildings arising out of cogs and statues of soldiers ready to defend and overpower the iron throne and ends with the show’s title encased in a crest of each of the houses.
A conversation by The Art of The Title with Angus Walls reveals that the concept was developed from the similarity of the need for a map or legend in many fantasy books because the world itself only exists in books. Since the story can be confusing to keep everything straight as far as characters and places, they opted for a sequence that would both take the viewer on a journey and give you information on the world you will see in Game of Thrones. Their goal was to create a map that looked like a physical object and referenced Leonardo Di Vinci’s machines with a timeless, manmade feel constructed from metal, wood, leather, and other natural materials. From first conversation to completion, the project took two years and twenty to twenty-five people.
4. True Detective: Season One
Patrick Clair – Antibody and Jennifer Sofio Hall – Elastic
The opening credits for True Detective: Season One is so beautiful it hurts. The overlapping scenes are reminiscent of a brand new photo blending app and a 1970s film reel. It gracefully forces viewers into the pained lives of the good and evil people of Louisiana and pairs two slightly bent detectives as they set out to expose the destructive path of a serial killer. Blending the elements of fire, water, and smoke, the music guides us through beauty, scenery and tough men together cinematically dancing through each other in the warped interface of reality.
Patrick told The Art of The Title that they were inspired by photographic double exposure and revealing characters through location. With fire being a key element to the show, they incorporated it into the opening sequence to create drama and the sense of the whole thing burning down. Partly built from photos taken by Richard Misrach then blended with 3D animation of the characters, they were able to stitch the credits together using distortion effects and optical glitches. The haunting song “Far From Any Road” by The Handsome Family brought the sequence to life.
5. Boardwalk Empire
Karin Fong and Michelle Dougherty – Imaginary Forces
The fashion of the 20s is by far one of my favorites. Stylish and masculine, the creative directors focused on Nucky Thompson’s keen sense of dress by pausing on each article of clothing, right down to his red carnation boutonniere and gold cigarette holder. Ah! The credits begin with the main character standing Oceanside while waves crash and liquor bottles bob up and down in the current, eventually washing up at his illustrious saddle shoes. You can tell just by the looks of him that this man means business and the expression on his face as he lights his cigarette and turns to walk back to his Atlantic City leaves you wanting to know what he is going to do next.
The visionary masterminds revealed in an interview with The Art of The Title that the pilot had already been shot before beginning the concept for the opening credits. This made it easy for them to pull visual references from the art department as well as from the trailer from the pilot which was in editing stages. There were many different concepts and storyboards involved including the idea of showing the boardwalk’s iconic carnival rides, Nucky’s desk, getting dressed, and being the head of the table. The team ended up going with a more conceptual look at Nucky walking away from his empire and on to the beach with symbolic importance of a storm rolling in.