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September 1st, 2016

Mill+ collaborated with 25/7 Productions and director Michael John Warren to craft the striking opening titles for Fearless, the new Netflix series documenting Brazilian bull riding culture, and the grueling journey of riders from Sao Paulo to the championships in Las Vegas. The Mill+ team crafted the title sequence to introduce viewers to each of the characters' unique personalities and stories through a series of vignettes using a distinctive, hand-painted look.

Led by Creative Director Clarice Chin, the Mill+ team was excited to pitch on the project. She shares, “On the initial call with director Michael John Warren, he sounded so passionate about the project and it sparked the same kind of feeling in us, too. It was really fun working on the pitch. We explored bunch of different ideas, and when we presented, it became clear that the director had been living and breathing this for such a long time. He was so passionate and into it that it was contagious. We fed off of that. He also trusted us, and our opinions, to see the title sequence through. Initially, he had certain elements he wanted to include, like portraits of the different characters. He was very open in terms of the style and story we wanted to tell.”

 Netflix  1Pitch Concept Design

With the director’s input and the freedom to explore their own ideas, the team worked on developing the final look. Clarice explains: “We wanted to create a style that was a little more own-able. He wanted a hand-drawn, illustrated look; we wanted more of an organic, painterly, tactile feel because the show itself has a lot of heart in it. We wanted to visualize that.

 Netflix  2Pitch Concept Design

“It’s always fun working with Netflix, as well. They’re just a cool, creative brand. They’re so diverse, and not linked to any specific style or technique. This show in particular is very interesting because we didn’t know anything about bull riding, let alone Brazilian bull riding! The stories told by the bull riders are what lured us into the job; they were the inspiration for the titles.

“We were shown a few episodes of the show before we got started – that was definitely necessary to do justice to main titles and help us understand it. We learned about the bull riders’ lives, how they started, what stage they’re in in their careers right now. Each person had a totally different story.”

 Netflix  5 CroppedStyle and Colour Exploration.

The stories told by the bull riders were an important influence on the style of titles. Clarice shares: “The quality of the style was very important. We wanted it to feel tactile and relatable. It had to evoke empathy because of the very emotional, intense stories that were being told. Most of the Brazilian bull riders that were featured in the show came from very poor backgrounds. Some had to leave the country and move to The States. As a sport, it’s physically grueling but also very psychologically demanding when making a connection with the bull – and that affects their families too.

“It’s an intense sport in general, and the people that partake usually do so to make a living and help their families escape poverty. After some time, you get stuck in it, depending on it to make living. American bull riders are very different. Brazilians do it out of need; Americans treat it more like a regular sport. That’s something the show wanted to communicate.”

 Netflix  3Style and Colour Exploration.

The team explored different styles to achieve the distinctive, hand-painted look of the title sequence, ensuring that the quality of the style would match the emotional, intense stories that were being told through the docu-series. 

Mill+ Art Director Helen Hsu explains: “We used oil paintings as an initial influence to create a tactile effect. As the job progressed, I explored different variations of colors and painting techniques to refine the style in production while keeping the whole piece cohesive. It was challenging to find the right balance between photorealism and a painting. While the initial design started off with looser brush strokes, the look gradually evolved with more refined detail to add realism and purpose. This helped fulfill the director’s desire that the characters be recognizable. To further enhance the organic and tactile look we conceptualized, we had to repaint the frames multiple times to avoid it looking computer generated. In the end, we are really happy with the result which is unique and own-able. ”

 Netflix  4Style and Colour Exploration.

Early on in the project, Animation Lead Justin Demetrician worked with Clarice and Helen to figure out what was technically possible and their best method of approach to achieve the final look. He discusses the resulting process: "Overall we used frame by frame animation from Photoshop to achieve the hand done paint strokes and then projected these textures on 3D objects and in 3D space.

"To create this immersive environment, we had a general rule to animate on two's while the camera remained on one's. For example, on the opening shot, the camera is smooth and moves every frame, while the flags and textures evolved and animate every other frame, or every four frames.To achieve some of the lighting in the shots, we needed to use the alpha from an asset to put it in 3D space and turn on a light behind it to create a heavy volumetric light effect."

Fearlessopening 600Fearless Title Sequence

Since the project was to be delivered in 4K, there were additional technical challenges for the team. Tim Devlin, Animator at The Mill LA, shares: "Each hand-painted texture had to be created in anywhere from 8K to 12K since some of those textures would be seen very close to camera. This sometimes resulted in some really heavy image sequences being mapped to our 3D geometry.

"We spent a good amount of time sculpting and rigging models of the bull riders based on reference images we had of them. From there, we would project our painted textures onto the models. This ensured that we maintained a level of depth and parallax as the camera moved around in the scenes. Once we rendered them out, we noticed that we were able to get some really interesting shadow and light passes out of this technique that we would further manipulate by painting on top of in the final composite.

"For the fire scene, the fire was rendered to be pretty fluid and fairly lifelike, but we combined that with an abstract hand-painted texture on top of it to bring it into an illustrated world while still maintaining a slight level of realism."

Fearless Pr 03Fearless Title Sequence

The resulting titles play a pivotal role in introducing the characters and launching viewers in to the world of Brazilian bull riding. Clarice explains what this project means to Mill+: “We always love working on main titles. It’s very creative work; very rewarding. We were able to work closely with the director, and in building that relationship, he really trusted us in the process, which was great because we knew how much it meant to him. We hope to do more work like this.

 Netflix  6Title Card Exploration