American Gods title sequence Antibody .jpg
A still from the American Gods (Bryan Fuller and Michael Green, USA, 2017–present) title sequences. Image via antibody.tv
Stories & Ideas

Fri 25 Sep 2020

From True Detective to Westworld: the art of Antibody’s title sequences

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Maria Lewis
Maria Lewis

Assistant Film Curator

After almost disappearing in the early 2000s, creative title sequences made a serious comeback with prestige TV. Maria Lewis speaks to Antibody, the company responsible for some of the most iconic.

Title credits used to be a staple of television, with the jaunty tunes and graphics of iconic programs like I Dream of Jeannie and The Brady Bunch firmly embedded in the pop culture consciousness. The art of opening a series shifted and evolved, with the 1990s feeling like a glowing time capsule thanks to the success of shows like Friends, Buffy The Vampire, Xena: Warrior Princess and The X-Files deploying them in prime-time slots. Yet as television evolved and a new century began in the 2000s, less and less shows featured opening titles, let alone memorable ones. With broadcast restrictions and time limits, the medium all but disappeared … until HBO started the renaissance with the back-to-back impact of The Wire, The Sopranos and True Detective.

“There’s this idea of golden ages for various forms of media,” says Patrick Clair, co-creator of True Detective’s now fabled opening titles. “HBO really established the idea of opening titles as being a mark of a really high-quality television show in that era.” Australian-based motion graphics studio Antibody has helped redefine and resurrect title credits as we know them, with not just the trend-setting True Detective opening sequence but Daredevil, Luke Cage, Iron Fist, Westworld, The Night Manager and Halt and Catch Fire among their credits. Founded by Clair and Raoul Marks, the pair are pioneers in the artform and their work has been foundational to the genre of title sequences for prestige television.

Antibody's iconic True Detective opening sequence via title sequence creative director Patrick Clair's Vimeo channel.

Yet their route to get there wasn’t the most conventional one, with Clair calling it “circular”. Studying live-action filmmaking at the Queensland University of Technology (QUT), he received a Master of Arts: Film, Television and Digital Media at the Australian Film Television and Radio School (AFTRS). “It had ‘title design’ in brackets and my family would ask ‘what is title design?’,” says Clair. “There was no job really for title sequences at that time. I thought I’d just be doing graphics for marketing.”

Cutting his teeth on Andrew Denton’s Hungry Beast, which aired on the ABC from to 2009 to 2011, Clair also worked on government explainers and several other digital media projects before founding Antibody with colleague Marks. “I was always yearning to do something more soulful I guess,” he says. “I love the idea of being able to combine design with storytelling techniques.” The duo were approached by a US-based company whose previous credits included the title sequence for Game Of Thrones and who offered to represent them in the American market. The first series they pitched for was HBO’s True Detective and the rest, as they say, was history.

“Raoul and I were both in Sydney and the fact we would even get to pitch on an HBO title sequence was surreal, let alone that we’d get it,” says Clair. “You never really know who you’re pitching against and you don’t really want to. You’ve just got to try put together the best ideas that you can in a document that explains it most clearly and get on the phone and argue about why you think that’s the best [approach] most passionately.”

Antibody's Westworld credit titles via title sequence creative director Patrick Clair's Vimeo channel.

True Detective was a crime noir told over multiple time periods, enlisting an award-winning cast of Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson, as well as directors such as Cary Fukunaga. The team collaborated on bringing the creative vision of Nic Pizzolatto to life, who not only created the series but served as writer and executive producer on all three seasons. “What I love about working with showrunners is often they come from a writing background – some have come from a directing background, but most were writers first,” says Clair. “I love working with them, giving vision to their expression with words and concepts; whether that’s Andrew Denton on Hungry Beast or Nic Pizzolatto on True Detective.” With Pizzolatto “obsessed with symbols and philosophical theories”, Clair and Marks pitch was all about interpreting that idea of layered meaning.

With unfinished footage from the show’s first few episodes, they worked with photographer Richard Misrach and combined licensed images to achieve the final result. “The benefit was they already had the music,” he says, referring to The Handsome Family’s track Far From Any Road. “They say a picture is worth a thousand words, but with music it’s a one hundred thousand. That idea, plus the music, made it one of the easiest pitches of my life, to be honest.” Recently rediscovering his physical notes taken during a 6AM conference call with Pizzolatto, Clair says they contained scribblings about crosses, crossroads and crucifixion, which all ended up making it into the sequence. “There was one thing Nic said that stuck with me: ‘we’re trying to use the exploited, polluted landscape of 90s Louisiana as a metaphor for these broken, exploited people’. From that line alone I had a clear idea of what I wanted to do almost straight away. It doesn’t usually happen like that, or at least it hasn’t since.”

Antibody's American Gods opening sequence via title sequence creative director Patrick Clair's Vimeo channel.

The True Detective title sequence became a landmark moment for Antibody, winning them an Emmy and leading to a legion of imitators still to this day (there was even a Key and Peele parody, the ultimate measure of pop culture infiltration). It led to them being able to get jobs based on “reputation alone” says Clair, as well as establish their place in a very small but very competitive industry mostly based out of Los Angeles. “Luck and timing was also a big part,” he says, with Antibody also creating the sequences for True Detective season two and three. “The double exposure thing we used was floating around on blogs and there can be a lot of trendy design techniques, but it’s about using them at the right time, on the right project, for the right reason. We weren’t doing it to look nice or look cool: with True Detective we were using it to say something about that world and those characters. That’s what gives something longevity outside of a trendy digital technique.” Catching lightning in a bottle is a thing that only happens once, however, with Clair and Marks working to establish a clear pitching process with companies in the US as they moved forward on other projects. They always have scripts of the series to read – sometimes a whole season – and often a rough cut of the first episode. Working off the same reference material as the showrunners and art department is also key, says Clair.

Since their breakout with True Detective, they have expanded their creativity by working on shows across all different genres such as The Terror, The Man in the High Castle and The Crown. A series like American Gods saw them able to push boundaries creatively – “We thought they would think we’re crazy, but instead the showrunners were like ‘crucify an astronaut? Sounds great!’” – whereas the first of the three Marvel Netflix series they worked on, Daredevil, had a complex 55-year old comic book legacy they had to compress – “rather than try to be inspired by the world of Daredevil we wanted to be a link further down the chain: what is this show trying to bring to the world of Daredevil? Justice, crime, themes of corruption”.

Yet Clair says Westworld is probably their most recognisable title sequence in the current climate and his personal favourite job from conception to completion. “I’m a big Michael Crichton fan and a lot of his themes repeat themselves again and again,” he says. “I’m also a big fan of the films of John and Chris Nolan, I’m fascinated by families who work together, so I really, really wanted it and the process of making it was such a joy. They’re such a smart team to work with.”

– Maria Lewis

Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. Video of the Key and Peele intro that riffs on Antibody's True Detective title sequence. Video via YouTube.

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