After cleaning up at this years’ Golden Globes, Amazon’s Mozart in the Jungle has been renewed for a third season. The return date has yet to be announced, but the real question is, how will producers Roman Coppola, Jason Schwartzman, and American Pie director Phil Weitz follow up on the playfully majestic, 10-part chain of main title sequences that graced Season 2?

Different every episode, the titles were designed and animated by Teddy Blanks, co-founder of Brooklyn’s CHIPS Design Studio, and set to different variations of a classical arrangement of Phoenix’s song “Lisztomania.”

Blanks became acquainted with Schwartzman while working on the film Listen Up Philip, for which he designed the titles and marketing materials as well as a series of vintage fake book jackets that appear during the movie. When asked to pitch on the Mozart titles, he proposed a series of animations inspired by classical music album covers of the ‘40s and ‘50s, such as the works of Alex Steinweiss. The aesthetic of those early covers “has a warmth to it that the show also has in the way that it’s shot, the setting of New York City, the classic look of the theater they perform in,” Blanks told Brief.

At the same time, the show also has a “playfulness and craziness” to it, which Blanks captured by selecting otherwise ordinary geometric shapes, then assigning each one its own instrument within the score.

Each time an instrument sounds, its corresponding shape moves in sync with that particular strain of music, playing off all the other shape-music pairings around it to create a kind of living painting on the screen. The movements feel unpredictable, yet their guidelines were surprisingly rigid. Through phone conversations with Schwartzman, Blanks settled on a system of rules that dictated each object’s motion, and the way each object entered the screen and exited. Whenever a horn sounds, for instance, a circle expands until the trill is completed, then collapses:

And whenever woodwinds play, thin, tall ovals open from the center then fly away by jumping off the top of the screen.

Dealing with 10 different animations set to classical music was, not surprisingly, daunting for Blanks, but having a system “kept me sane as I continued to burrow into these,” he said. “If I had, say, a harp, no matter where I put the triangles on the screen, I knew how they came on and how they went off, and I knew how long they stayed. Those rules helped me as I tackled each new composition.”

They came in especially handy when, halfway through the process, Blanks found himself unable to discern what one of the instruments was on the score for episode 5, and so wrote the titles’ composer, Roger Neill, to ask if he could supply the individual tracks for each instrument.

“He wrote back immediately and was like, ‘boy, do I,’” Blanks said. “He sent me the stems for all of the music, so suddenly I had each instrument isolated out. When I listened to those for the first time, I realized there was way more going on than I had originally thought. So if you watch the intros chronologically, you can tell they get much, much more complex as they go along. I went a little crazy making sure each sound was represented by a visual thing happening on the screen.”

Animating in After Effects, Blanks had to set aside an entire day to complete each episode’s title sequence – and for some of the more complex sequences, such as the rousing opening for episode 10, he had to set aside two days.

“It was a lot of careful listening, and also a lot of making markers in the animation timeline,” he said, “I would go through a piece and listen to, for instance, only the woodwinds, and make a little marker each time a note was played.”

Through that method, he was able to figure out the exact amount of shapes he needed to animate and then line that animation up to happen on its corresponding instrument’s mark.

“So I would animate one instrument at a time,” he continued, “Once I was done with the woodwinds, I would go back and animate all the strings. I began working on each opening with a vague idea of how all of these various movements would interact, but I wouldn’t know for sure until I played them all together. I would then go back and adjust something if any of the shapes were colliding with one another in an awkward way.”

The process was arduous but ultimately instructional.

“My background is as a graphic designer and I’ve done a lot of title sequences,” Blanks said. “I have had to therefore learn animation to some degree, but this is by far the most complex animation project I’ve embarked upon. As such, I got a lot better at working in After Effects, especially with animating vector shapes and managing projects with an absurd amount of layers.”

Blanks’ other works in film and television include the titles for HBO’s Togetherness as well as for movies ranging from the Brian Wilson biopic Love & Mercy to the comedian documentary Tig. Seasons 1 and 2 of Mozart in the Jungle are currently streaming through Amazon Prime.


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