Talk us through the directorial design process for the title sequence.
I began by trying to imagine the Cabinet of Curiosities as a place that could somehow actually contain so many characters and imagery from all of these classic stories. I was doing a bunch of photocollages, fabricating and shooting elements, and trying to focus on separate incarnations of the stories before thinking of how they would interact.
At first, I imagined them in a huge hall, but it quickly became this recursive space where worlds are nested inside other worlds, and the paths between them keep changing. When David Rowley started visualizing that concept of recursion in Houdini tests we knew we were on to something and things really took off.
The common thread in so many of the source stories for the series are moments of transgression, so crossing thresholds visually became a core theme. We’re constantly going somewhere we shouldn’t. We begin as an observer approaching the Cabinet and quickly realize it means to make an exhibit of us.
After the initial pitch call, I had a little more time than expected, and that let us get Akshay Tiwari involved. Everyone on the team loves Surrealism, and it was a fun process as we dug into everything to hear all our different touchstones and favorite references coming up as we built out the worlds. It was the best feeling to be at work every day asking “is this uncanny enough?”
I learned so much during the pitch that by the time we kicked off the plan was pretty clear and we worked linearly through the story to the finish pretty relentlessly. I felt like a surrealist curator hosting the best carnival ride ever.
Where did the inspiration come from?
I grew up reading and seeing a lot of the same stories that del Toro did, so even early on when we only had a list of the authors they were adapting for the series, I was completely on board. And of course del Toro’s namesake book featuring his collections and Bleak House told us what to expect.
Sandy Dvore’s 1970 title sequence for The Dunwich Horror was a really big inspiration for me.
This beautiful old bound collection of 19th-century Italian poetry chapbooks guided my typography process and also inspired the filigrees that you see in different places.
Meret Oppenheim and René Magritte were our spirit guides along with Max Ernst, Zdzisław Beksiński, and countless others.
I was completely living it for a while—hanging out in all the 19th-century graveyards around my house taking pictures, re-reading all my old occult books, looping an 8 hour playlist of scary music, and devouring scary movies.
Were there any challenges you faced during the project? If so, how did you and the team overcome them?
Right from the start, we had a nearly limitless wish list, a rapidly approaching deadline, and a very small core team.
We were also working remotely from one another. This turned into a huge asset because we were all able to tailor our personal workdays and processes to best serve this one very odd project and temporarily disappear from the larger Mill grid. All surrealism, all the time!
It was also an incredible challenge to realize all the objects and settings and atmospheres of all these different environments. David crafted a staggering number of interiors, Akshay gave us some amazing pieces with procedurally generated geometry, I scanned some masks from my house for the great hall, and we used every option we possibly could.
How much did you and the team know about the show to create the sequence?
I had read some of the short stories they adapt in the series as a child, and del Toro’s universe is a pretty good guide on its own. But they told us early on that we shouldn’t be echoing specific moments from the show thematically.
We dove into the references from the series as they started to filter through and absorbed them into the tone and look of different elements throughout. We learned more about the show as we worked and that just made us feel better about where we were headed.
What was it like working with Guillermo and his team?
Guillermo was a blast to collaborate with. He was so observant and insightful and generous throughout the process. Upon first hearing the concept he very quickly saw how to refract and refine it into the schematic for what became our final sequence. We were always motivated to push each moment as far as we could.