Many projects you have worked on are based on photography, or use photographic and photoreal elements - instead of more abstract or stylised animated graphics.
Could you share some ways you look at and make the most of photography as a designer and animator? For example, bringing the images to life with motion & graphics without losing their original intention.
In essence I’m probably a frustrated film maker, so I think that’s what pushes me towards realism. That said, it’s not realism for realism sake that interests me. Real world photography is often a very carefully constructed process. They’re not angling for realism for its own sake - they want to make an image that arrests the eye. I have the same goal, but just use different tools.
What are some techniques you have for approaching new projects and looking for ways to visualise a story?
In terms of title design, primarily we are informed by the imagery, content and themes of the show. The pitch document goes a long way to interpreting that aesthetic and fusing it with our own influences and interpretation of the story.
Personally, I’m often drawn to either focusing on the macro or the micro. The show itself will obviously be exploring the meat of those narratives and extended themes and meaning. The titles shouldn’t be merely retelling those points, but circling around them, alluding to something more symbolic about the overall narrative message, or focusing in on a minute detail that reflects a wider simplicity about the story.
For example the titles we did for ‘Halt and Catch Fire’, was an impossible close-up sequence of the electrical signal running along wires and mainboards to illuminate the little flicking light at the front of a 1980s-era PC. In itself, it’s a regular, mundane piece of operating procedure for a computer from that time, but we used it allegorically to illustrate the competing forces driving young tech entrepreneurs towards a new technological dawn. The birth of a new idea, and the great pressure these characters were put under, transferred neatly into a metaphorical world of electrons and circuitry.
That double meaning is often a good area to explore, as it’s conceptually interesting for the viewer as well as allowing you to make broad symbolic comments about the show’s themes without having to explicitly depict it. A great example of this is the title sequence for ‘Dexter’. It simply shows a man making his breakfast, but filmed in such a way as to allude to the more sinister intentions of the protagonist’s double life.
When you are looking for reference, especially at the start of a project, what are some favourite sources?
I usually start research for sources outside our industry. Photography and film, as I’ve mentioned, are great starting points. But fields like contemporary art, sculpture, painting and more experimental forms can also be very productive.
A lot of artwork may be rather impenetrable to a general audience, but when reinterpreted and placed in a different context, it can be very effective in creating striking imagery. I guess you could call it cross-pollination. I think we benefit from bringing in inspiration from as wide a field as possible.
Winning awards is inspiring!
When you see your team’s work recognised with an award or nomination, how do you take advantage of that success as you go forward into your next projects?
I’m really lucky to work with some very talented people. Patrick Clair, my Director at Elastic, has been consistently coming up with brilliant ideas, so a large part of my success goes in thanks to his genius efforts.
What I hope comes from things like the Emmy wins is the freedom and support to explore more risky and innovative ideas in our work. I’ve already found it surprising how open-minded and progressive the clients we work with are about the concepts we put to them. If I can continue to work in titles design for the near future I’ll be very content. It’s a privilege.
About the recent 2016 Emmy Award for the ‘Man in the High Castle’ titles, could you identify some aspects of it that you believe contributed to that win?
It’s hard to tell what’s going to hit with the voting audience, but I think there’s something seriously brilliant about Philip K. Dick’s original novel that shines through in the TV adaptation. An alternate universe, in which the Axis won the Second World War, created for us a plethora of symbolic imagery to work with. Shots of the Nazi eagle emblazoned over the American bald eagle create a whole list of connotations. I think that subversion of American icons lead to the titles having an iconic quality and thus being awarded the gong.