In the 1970s and ‘80s, R/Greenberg Associates was at the top of its game when it came to main title design. With a specialization in computer-assisted graphics and credits that included Superman, Alien and The Untouchables, it’s no wonder some of the greatest main title designers of the era came from this studio.

In fact, one of the most prolific and well-known creative studios of the past 40 years also sprung from R/Greenberg Associates: Imaginary Forces.

Imaginary Forces was founded by Kyle Cooper, Chip Houghton and Peter Frankfurt – all of whom had worked at R/Greenberg Associates under Richard and Robert Greenberg at its West Coast division, RGA/LA, before they bought out the Los Angeles office in 1996. The design studio/production company now consists of more than 70 creatives across its two offices in Los Angeles and as of 2001, in New York as well.

“Bob Greenberg was really interested in digital and technology at the time, but it was a tough moment in the economy, and they got a bit over-extended,” said Frankfurt, the co-founder, managing partner and creative director at Imaginary Forces. “We were just interested in storytelling and design, primarily, using digital and technology if appropriate.”

Frankfurt began at R/Greenberg Associates as a PA while still in school at Columbia when the studio was just gaining its footing.

“I immediately was just blown away by them and their aesthetic, and what they were trying to do,” said Frankfurt. “I got a job working with them between school years in college, and then really never left.”

Inspired by the Greenberg brothers’ work with computer graphics using animation in main title design, Cooper, Houghton and Frankfurt went on to create some of the ‘90s most well-known and larger-than-life title sequences, including Se7en, Mission: Impossible and Donnie Brasco. Frankfurt calls the title sequence for Se7en “the project that launched us.” He says that it established Kyle Cooper “as a design superstar, and reinvigorated the idea of title sequences for design storytelling - it just created a huge amount of buzz for the company. It was like getting shot out of a cannon - created a huge amount of momentum for us.”


Frankfurt says that everything started happening very quickly for them after that. The studio began working on feature film title sequences, television projects, broadcast design packages and eventually advertising.

“That’s when Madison Avenue came looking for us,” said Frankfurt. “They wanted some of that for their graphics in commercials, or purely graphic-based commercials. Timing really worked out beautifully. There was this Internet economic bubble and we were new, interesting, sexy. Just felt like lightning in a bottle.”

According to Frankfurt, Imaginary Forces started off “incredibly hot” in the late ‘90s thanks to those Madison Avenue contacts. They led to big clients such as IBM, which led to entertainment clients such as Lifetime Television. How did this all come down so quickly?

“We were curious and ambitious and undisciplined,” said Frankfurt. “Research, trial and error.”

In the early 2000s, Imaginary Forces helped Lifetime drop its signature tagline “Television for Women” in favor of a more universal and inclusive “My story is on Lifetime,” extending the broadcast package to the overall on-air and print campaigns. Frankfurt says no matter what the critics said, he knew it was a success because it was soon parodied on SNL. Since then, Imaginary Forces has worked on more than 25 network branding projects.

One TV brand the studio maintains a steady relationship with is MTV, having worked on the network’s Movie Awards since 2012 as well as several other projects. This year, Imaginary Forces created a cinematic look for the awards show that focused on the most overlooked part of movie posters: the billing block.

MTV Movie Awards 2014: Best Villain
MTV Movie Awards 2014: Best Villain

Playing with the general cliché of movie posters, Imaginary Forces’ graphics package centered on making the least exciting bit of posters the most cinematic part, with each nomination spot resembling its own poster, all surrounding the theme of “a giant burning popcorn asteroid crashing towards Earth.” Not cinematic enough? Fire, flames and lava swept through the awards show and made its way onto the set design as well, culminating in a giant fiery bucket of popcorn onstage. Frankfurt says this was his favorite part, and what Imaginary Forces has become known for: combining the broadcast package with on-set design and a “live-ish theater experience” for an overall design experience.

The studio and production company has mostly become known for its main title design, however, winning the Emmy for its 2008 opening sequence for Mad Men – quite possibly one of the most recognized main titles of the past decade. In 2010, Imaginary Forces claimed three of the five nominations for Outstanding Title Design for Human Target, Nurse Jackie and The Pacific (HBO’s Bored to Death won that year).

Most recently, Imaginary Forces created the main titles for WGN America’s second original drama, Manhattan. The series is about scientists and their families in 1940s Los Alamos, where secrets are key and information is compartmentalized at best. Director Dan Gregoras and art director Jeremy Cox put together a title sequence for the show’s July premiere that juxtaposed everyday family life with one of the biggest science experiments of the century.

Before beginning the project and before anyone could pitch anything, Frankfurt’s team met with showrunner Sam Shaw about Manhattan’s ideas of war, secrets, conspiracy and socialization.

“It didn’t matter how much time they had, which wasn’t much, or how much money they had, which wasn’t enough,” said Frankfurt. “I was able to go back to the team and get excited about the themes he was trying to get across.”


The end result seamlessly merges those themes into one blueprint for a social community that, to the rest of the world, didn’t even exist. According to Frankfurt, it comes down to the question: “What does that community look like that’s being created in a Petri dish?”

So, almost 20 years later, Imaginary Forces is expanding (beyond its existing mastery of TV branding, main title design, feature films, game marketing, commercials and experience design).

“In order for us to be good, we want to risk. We want to be a little bit provocative,” said Frankfurt. Right now, that means working on an app called SeePolitical that seeks to educate the voting public on upcoming ballot propositions. The studio created short animated videos to help explain various issues on a bipartisan mobile app.

While the platforms the studio works with may have changed and the technology along with it, at its core its technique is still the same.

“Yes, there’s a lot of intuitive skill and approach that we take, but there’s also some strategic and intellectual underpinning in what we do. I think that we really do lead with an idea,” said Frankfurt. “We’re not stylists per se, but we really try to think of that brilliant idea first and then a beautiful way of expressing that idea.”


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