Five of this year’s six nominees for main title design are for shows from the science fiction, fantasy or horror genres. Only “The White Lotus” is a conventional drama. But all are imaginative, some even delightful, and all were the product of months of design and production.
“When titles are successful, they give an indication of the tone of a show, almost like a book cover,” says Andy Hill, one of six artists nominated for “The Last of Us,” the post-apocalyptic series about a fungus that turns people into zombies.
His talks with executive producers Craig Mazin and Neil Druckmann, along with considerable scientific research, resulted in the design of constantly growing fungus “grounded in reality, like a nature documentary, but would also at certain points look like an image of a city or a moment that had a relationship to the context of the show.”
“Wednesday,” on the other hand, was “reverse engineered,” says designer Aaron Becker, once his Filmograph team realized that producer Tim Burton wanted it to end with stormy clouds and a moon that becomes the eyes of the youngest of the Addams family siblings. “The sequence functions as a metaphor, a Burton-esque journey through her mind. What are the morbid thoughts that Wednesday’s having?” he says.
A typewriter, cello with a knife, spiral staircase, spider, cemetery, guillotine, and a Venus fly-trap — all accompanied by Danny Elfman’s harpsichord-flavored theme — provide a macabre opening for the Netflix series.
Katrina Crawford and Mark Bashore (along with their team at Plains of Yonder) are nominated for two series: “The White Lotus” and “The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power.” For Season 2 of “White Lotus,” they took the Hawaiian wallpaper concept from Season 1 into a new direction: 16th-century art on the walls of an Italian villa, but with a 21st-century spin on some of the characters featured.
“Jennifer Coolidge was a monkey in Season 1, so we brought over one animal — no longer free in the jungle, this monkey’s on a chain,” says Bashore. “Whole scenes were painted with new subjects, some inspired by ancient myths [such as] Leda and the Swan. And there’s a big boar hunt, a representation of naked masculinity,” adds Crawford. “Then there’s a dog lifting his leg on a statue,” says Bashore with a laugh.
The process for “Lord of the Rings” was different, says Crawford, especially because of the secrecy that initially surrounded the project. Showrunners, she says, “told us that it should be simple, elegant and stark, and also encapsulate the world.”
Following J.R.R. Tolkien’s concept that the spiritual Ainur sung the universe into being,
they used the science of cymatics. “You’re seeing sound visualized,” she explains, as grains of sand form fascinating patterns— many of them referring obliquely to moments in the history of Middle-earth — set to Howard Shore’s (also Emmy-nominated) music. “It was a big science experiment for nine months,” she adds.
For “Guillermo del Toro’s Cabinet of Curiosities,” directors Mike Schaeffer and Chet Hirsch drew on their interest in magical realism and the occult and combined it with historical research into real “cabinets of curiosities,” which date back to the late 1500s.
“We did a ton of exploration as to what space that would be, what mattered thematically,” says Hirsch. “Quickly this idea took hold: the further in you went, the harder it became to tell where you were, whether the laws of physics applied, what size you might be and if you might ever be able to leave.”
Schaeffer recalls “furiously writing down Guillermo’s suggestions” as to what the cabinet might contain, especially the Fiji mermaid, a weird combination of monkey and mermaid. Included are an exploding skull, red coral, “Jungian archetypal imagery” such as elegant keys, and still more creepy items, says Hirsch.