The scene opens beneath murky swamp water, where a potentially prehistoric sea creature patiently lingers. Rising above the surface and backed by a bluesy guitar riff, the camera moves through the bayou and transitions to a dryland highway and the small town South, where the environment and buildings grow more human, but the primeval sense remains. This is a world where the conflicting ecstasies of religion, sex, and bloodlust share striking similarities. This is True Blood, where “doing bad things” has never felt — or looked — so very, very good.
The latest brainchild of writer/director Alan Ball (American Beauty, Six Feet Under), True Blood premiered on HBO last Sunday September 7, and the scenes described above are only the beginning. Conceived and created by creative studio Digital Kitchen (www.d-kitchen.com), the show’s opening title sequence shows a chaos and mixing of cultures, races and social strata, where whores and churchgoers commingle in a region with many influences and a town of many characters and mindsets.
“What I like about Digital Kitchen’s creative approach is their intuitive ability to depart from the status quo. We first worked with DK on the titles for ‘Six Feet Under’ and the opening for True Blood is equally thrilling,” said Alan Ball, creator/director, True Blood. “This vivid title sequence so effectively evokes the spirit of the show. It immediately transports the viewer into the True Blood world where the conjured thematic images of sex, death and religious fervor blend into a gripping crescendo. I’m enthralled every time I watch it.”
The True Blood project originated with a creative brief to launch the development stage; the brief asked for DK artists to contribute their ideas, with a particular focus on finding what techniques or imagery could best express the dirty, messy collisions of ideas in a contemporary northern Louisiana town.
The concept that stood out the most was the work of Digital Kitchen creatives Rama Allen and Shawn Fedorchuk. “We were super excited to be working on such an interesting project,” says Allen. “Shawn and I had several extended conversations late into the night, and we quickly discovered we were on the same page as to how we could make this opening exceptionally cool. I came up with a set of storyboards with a loose, linear progression that juxtaposed the type of images I wanted. Shawn is also the editor on the project, and he created a very complex edit, based on found footage, that communicated stylistically how we wanted things to play out on screen.”
“From the start, I loved the idea of images of Americana linked to scenes of lonely, stark places,” says Fedorchuk. “When I worked on my initial edit, I gravitated toward a point of view of a supernatural, predatory creature observing human beings from the shadows, almost stalking them. We wanted to convey a feeling of bloodlust, together with a vivid hyperreality. Stitching together these contradictory, yet strikingly similar worlds of sex, death, and transcendence was a major influence. We were after a frenzied effect, a cathartic crescendo, and an apex of emotion linked to the possibility of redemption and forgiveness.”
Based on the “Sookie Stackhouse” novels written by Charlaine Harris, True Blood stars Academy Award winner Anna Paquin (The Piano, X-Men) as a feisty waitress in a southern town populated by religious fanatics, redneck bigots, and vampires. As evidenced by a billboard announcing ‘God Hates Fangs,’ the show explores the vampires’ sense of oppression and outcast as much as it shows the humans’ fear of them.
FOUR DAYS IN LOUISIANA
In the interests of the raw mood, Digital Kitchen Creative Director Matthew Mulder deliberately steered the project away from computer- aided effects, opting instead for live action footage and striking physical transition effects involving Polaroid photographs.
“We’re particularly proud of our analog work,” explains Mulder. “The transition effects have an eerie, tactile quality because they were created with Polaroid transfers, water, and airguns. The resulting transitions feel almost like scorched skin.”
Developed by designer Ryan Gagnier, the Polaroid transfer technique uses chemicals to separate the emulsion in a Polaroid from its backing. The resulting image has the quality of thin plastic wrap, which is then placed on a wet glass plate, then is blasted with canned air and water to create a violent effect.
“For those transitions, we took the last frame of a cut and the first frame of the next cut, blew them up, and shoot a Polaroid of them together,” explains Mulder. “We then put the Polaroid in a chemical bath to separate the transition, manipulate it on another camera, shoot it, and place it back in the edit. It made for some great transitions.”
The True Blood titles themselves are rendered in an original font created by Digital Kitchen. Some of the fonts were created using an exacto knife and other hand tools; Camm Rowland developed the font for the show credits based on southern-style road signage.
This very literal “hands-on” approach also took the Digital Kitchen creative team on a four-day Winnebago odyssey through Louisiana, during which they shot footage of anything and everything they felt would be appropriate to the True Blood mood:
“We would drive along and jump out when we saw something cool,” says Allen. “I saw a wrecked schoolbus in somebody’s yard, so we knocked on the door and ended up getting approval to shoot all over his property, even inside his home. There’s a scene of a man in a rocking chair, and he was just a good guy who invited us over for beers. We met all kinds of people and shot more footage than we could possibly use, but it was an incredible experience. We threw ourselves into this project literally, artistically, and physically.”
And Mulder isn’t kidding about that last part. Several Digital Kitchen staff members make cameos in the opening scenes. A shoving match in a rough-looking bar involves Digital Kitchen Executive Producer Mark Bashore, who also volunteered for a particularly rousing dance with a female bar patron. Digital Kitchen’s office assistant and an assistant editor portray a couple of weeping religious women, while Bashore’s sons make short, messy work of some blood red berries. The climactic scene of a very wet night baptism involves a young Cajun woman flanked by a line producer and Producer Morgan Henry.
“We had a lot of fun working on this project, and we hope that shows,” says Henry. “This is the kind of work Digital Kitchen is best at. There are no tried-and-true techniques used on the True Blood opening. The way we decided to gather imagery was entirely new to us, and we wanted to celebrate that adventure. The practical shooting in unfamiliar territories is philosophically and psychologically what Digital Kitchen is all about.”
The True Blood project adds to Digital Kitchen’s portfolio of main titles work; DK’s opens created for Dexter and Six Feet Under both were recognized with Emmys. True Blood premiered September 7 on HBO.
About Digital Kitchen
Digital Kitchen (www.d-kitchen.com) is a creative agency that focuses on film production, experiential design, motion graphics, brand identity, and interactive work for marketing and entertainment. DK people make brands, spaces, spots, sites, products, and shows feel powerful, look great, and otherwise get sexy and influential. DK is high gloss and matte finish, persuasive and complete.
DK’s skills stretch from strategy and messaging to concept development and execution in just about any medium – including skywriting. The creative studio excels in the expanding media spacescape by harboring creative thinkers who are agile, inventive, and dedicated to their crafts. From its studios in New York, Chicago, Seattle, and Los Angeles, DK has created experiential campaigns for Target and Microsoft, broadcast spots for hundreds of leading brands, interactive work for AT&T, Budweiser, and Mercedes, the Emmy Award-winning main titles for “Dexter” and “Six Feet Under,” a series of manga comic books for Nike, and the live show content for The 2008 Webby Awards.
CREDITS: Client: HBO Creator/Director: Alan Ball
Agency: Concept: Rama Allen, Shawn Fedorchuck Creative Director: Matthew Mulder Designers: Rama Allen, Ryan Gagnier, Matthew Mulder, Camm Rowland, Ryan Rothermel Editor: Shawn Fedorchuck Compositors: Ryan Gagnier Live Action Direction: Rama Allen, Morgan Henry, Matthew Mulder, Matt Clark, Tevor Fife Producers: Morgan Henry, Kipp Christiansen, Keir Moreno Executive Producer/Head of Creative: Mark Bashore Executive Creative Director: Paul Matthaeus
CONTACT: Eric Eddy double E communications 39 West 19th Street (between 5th and 6th Avenue) Suite 611 NY NY 10011 212-941-7590 (office) 646-283-6528 (mobile)