From fast-paced animation to creepy stop-motion and everything in between, this year’s main title design has been simply breathtaking. Projects have featured everyone from walkers to freaks, pirates to political pundits, examining a household dynamic or the universe at large.
Sometimes as brief as 15-20 seconds, opening titles are tasked with telling the story of an entire hour of programming ahead, which are often complex narratives with much to explain. As television ups its game, opening sequences follow suit, and some of broadcast and cable’s most recent projects have been their best.
Brief attempted to narrow down this year’s impressive list to its top 10 favorites, and after several tries, gave up, instead enlisting yU+co.’s creative director and president, Garson Yu, for help.
Below are Brief’s 10 favorite main title design projects from 2014, with help from Yu, one of the masters of the field.
American Horror Story: Freak Show:
Freak Show, the fourth iteration of Ryan Murphy’s American Horror Story anthology, is on the top of Yu’s list for its “unusual concept and unique execution,” he said. He chose this project because of its “stop-motion Dynamation style in a contemporary TV show open. It reminds me of watching a classic Ray Harryhausen film.”
The main titles were created by Prologue’s Kyle Cooper, who told Adweek that he chose stop-motion for a creepier feel (he thought live-action circus performers might be too sad).
Brief has added yU+co.’s main titles for HBO’s Mike Judge comedy, Silicon Valley, for its risk-taking, detailed, very short open. Animation is uncommon among main titles this year, which makes this project’s strong connection to the storytelling even more solid.
Earlier this year, Yu told Brief that his team was inspired by Judge’s background in animation, having created Beavis and Butthead among other hits. He said that the very quick rise and fall of startups in Silicon Valley naturally coincides with the show’s fast-paced feel and comedic take – all in 11 seconds.
Elastic’s opening for HBO’s True Detective was the 2014 Emmy winner for Outstanding Main Title Design, beating out other front runners Black Sails, COSMOS, Masters of Sex and Silicon Valley.
“I like the design device of using the character’s silhouette as a window to depict scenes from the show,” said Yu. “The song and imagery complements the tone of the opening.”
Translucent characters serve as the subject and backdrop for the opening titles, which use eerie landscapes and a powerful melody by The Handsome Family to reflect the show’s troubled cast of characters.
Christian Langlois of mémoire liquide directed this opening sequence to the series Nouvelle Adresse (New Address) to evoke a melancholy feeling with images of nature, forming the words of the show with falling hair. The show, on ICI Radio Canada television, deals with themes of fatality and shifting moods, so its opening slowly introduced those ideas with an emotional overtone.
The Walking Dead:
The Walking Dead, still one of the most-watched shows on television, kicked off its fifth season this fall on AMC, and yU+co.’s show open continues to hook old and new viewers alike.
The sequence follows an unknown walker through scenes of the show, interweaving the group’s movements and mementos in a stark series of photographs. Previous seasons of the show’s open provided hints at the group’s location, using imagery of a farmhouse or prison, but this year aims more at possible storylines than locales, reminding fans where everyone has already been and how far they have to go.
Imaginary Forces brought the Starz pirate drama to life by circling an intricate pirate ship made entirely out of computer graphics.
The team wanted to portray how it felt to be part of that era through the open, not necessarily filled with swashbuckling pirates walking the plank. The 90-second open zooms in on a pirate ship, sinister from afar but filled with everyday problems once one looks closer.
Marta Fernandez, SVP of original programming for Starz, told Brief earlier this year that the show open is “representative of the series in that they’re both very unique and challenge the viewers’ expectations of what they think they’ll see from a pirate show.”
COSMOS: A Spacetime Odyssey:
Big Block Design Group worked on Fox’s science-based series this year starring Neil deGrasse Tyson, which made its debut in 181 countries this March.
At PromaxBDA’s Conference in June, Big Block Creative Director Curtis Doss said that he settled on the human eye as the focus of the opening sequence “as a way to bookend the spot,” also helping to bring enormous, galaxy-sized ideas down to eye level. “I like the storytelling,” said Yu. “It takes us on a voyage that juxtaposes the micro and macro in our universe. The journey seems to be taking us through a complete cycle.”
Last Week Tonight with John Oliver:
John Oliver’s debut as an HBO show host began with a style of wit to match his own: plenty of intelligent humor with some education thrown in.
The main titles, designed by Trollbäck+Company, introduce Oliver at the center of a very large and complicated world he’s setting out to cover on a weekly basis. The educational bit includes “Damnus Dirtius Ape,” “Machina Libertatis” and, of course, Oliver himself as “Hostus Mostus.”
Imaginary Forces strikes again, this time with the second original drama on WGN America, Manhattan, set in 1940s Los Alamos, where its team faced the challenge of combining family secrets with national secrets.
Appearing like plans in a notebook, the opening sequence shows every perspective of the town: household worries, career concerns and governmental problems. Peter Frankfurt, co-founder, managing partner and creative director at Imaginary Forces, told Brief that it all stemmed from one idea: “What does that community look like that’s being created in a Petri dish?”
Rio de Janeiro-based design studio BEELD used water colors to portray the drama in telenovela Alto Astral. Colors blend together to form characters, their surroundings, their enemies and love interests in this sequence that starts as a close-up and ends in an all-encompassing overview.