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March 15th, 2013

On the 4th day of Sundance Film Festival 2013, a documentary played to a sold-out main theatre. Greg Barker's Manhunt documents the decade-spanning journey towards the capture and killing of Osama bin Laden. Unbeknownst to most, the story started with a team of predominantly female CIA analysts, known amongst their peers as the Sisterhood. Ahead of it's hotly anticipated May HBO airdate, the documentary premiere got a glowing review in the Hollywood Reporter. The Mill LA's , Creative Director and Designer Manija Emran, who masterminded and created the title sequence for Manhunt, talks us through the process.


"The project utilized a small and passionate team (1 designer, 3 animators, 1 junior animator and producers) collaborating on an expanding deliverable list. What initially started as a short title sequence and 5 'graphical moments' eventually expanded to a longer form title sequence which equated to approximately 7 minutes of the 120 minute film! Each frame of which had to be designed leading to over 150 individual Photoshop frames that were then able to be passed to the Jedi like genius' in the animation team.

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Overcoming the challenges was about hitting all the data hard. I read all the source material and some dense historical books about the hunt, that allowed me to understand the history of the manhunt for bin Laden. I also studied at length the characters and their roles, from the agents to the terrorists. The research was so in depth that I became increasingly worried that should I get stopped at the airport, my notes and designs would be difficult to explain with my computer filled with extremely detailed Al Qaeda network information and Kabul as my place of birth in my passport! The key to overcome this was understanding it all, it took time but that allowed the designs to have depth and meaning. What was useful was to see the edit frequently, be exposed to tons of extra footage and meetings with the client.

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Collaborating closely with the director, editor, archive researcher and producers of the documentary enabled the titles to be even deeper and more layered, as the graphics needed to emphasize the key moments in the complex story; their beautifully crafted personal story. Additionally they were able to translate and write in Arabic any text needed, which allowed layers of information to sit within the graphical style.

After spending so much love on the new HBO documentary I was keen to see what the work looked like at its Sundance Film Festival premiere. The screening was even attended by the CIA agents that were responsible for tracking and hunting bin Laden for two decades. It was truly humbling getting called up to the stage to talk about the work done and standing alongside these heroes. At the open Q&A, the audience even asked questions about the graphics which was certainly unexpected considering the amazing array of talent on stage."

//Thanks Manija for this incredible insight, roll on May and the HBO airdate!

mill credits:
designer/cd: manija emran
executive producer: stephen venning
producers: adam reeb, lusia boryczko
animators: justin sucara, victor duncan, andrew marks
junior animator: kyle moore
coordinator: krissy estrada