• A52 Masters Fate in New Main Title Sequence for HBO's Carnivàle
    Tito A. Belgrave, Friday, 12 September 2003

    HBO's dramatic new series Carnivàle is set to debut on Sept. 14, and the opening titles that will open each episode embody some of the most powerful visual magic the artisans of Clio-winning Los Angeles visual effects and design company A52 have ever conjured.

    Early this year, the strength of the company's reel afforded A52 a chance to pitch their ideas on the series' titles to a group of executives that included Carnivàle co-producer and post-production producer Todd London. For that meeting, after being briefed on the objectives of relating time period, history and selling the Carnivale, project creative director Angus Wall, executive producer Darcy Leslie Parsons, senior producer Scott Boyajan, Inferno artist Patrick Murphy and designer Vonetta Taylor presented their pitch on behalf of A52.

    "Basically, A52 took our concepts, added their own and brought the ideas to life," explained Todd London. "In the end, we thought their pitch was the most creative and felt it was right for the show."

    "We're very proud to have expanded our design department this year in support of this project," commented Darcy Leslie Parsons. "We're thrilled with the Carnivàle main titles and feel they reflect our artists' intense creativity and passion for their work."

    The Concept

    Describing the team's approach, Boyajan said, "Our goal was to create a title sequence that grounded viewers in the mid 1930s, but that also allowed people to feel a larger presence of good and evilover all of time."

    Boyajan then went on to describe the unprecedented scale of A52's effort, uniting 3D, design, visual effects and finishing efforts that crescendoed in a piece that has drawn this praise from HBO executive vice president of original programming Carolyn Strauss: "What's clear from the screen is that A52 did a magnificent job. What's unseen is what a pleasure they were to work with."

    The sequence itself begins with a deck of Tarot cards falling into the sand. The camera moves in on the "The World" card illustrated with a world-famous work of art. The camera delves into the picture, finding footage from several iconic moments in history, then moves back out of a different card ("Ace of Swords"). Repeating this approach in using Tarot themes and renowned artwork, scenes from some of history's greatest triumphs and challenges are presented. At the end, the wind blows away the last two cards ("Moon" and "Sun") to reveal the Carnivàle title artwork.

    Here's how the :90 high-definition piece came together at A52 at the hands of Angus Wall, visual effects supervisors and Inferno artists Simon Brewster and Patrick Murphy, Vonetta Taylor, Scott Boyajan and A52's in-house CGI team.

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  • The Making of an Extraordinary Title Sequence
    The famous pieces of artwork were identified using several key researchers, then ordered as transparencies from agencies that included Art Images and Corbis. Because of the HD finishing requirements, each transparency was scanned by PowerHouse Imaging at extremely high resolution, producing a 300 MB file for each one.

    Taylor worked with A52 designers Ryan Gibson and Jesse Monsour to cut out each of the images, separating background from foreground elements in Photoshop. From there, A52's CGI team of Denis Gauthier, Westley Sarokin and Jeff Willette got to work assembling all the 2D imagery into layers in Houdini to create the 2.5D artwork exploration sequences. Those sequences were rendered using Renderman, and then exported to Discreet Inferno.

    Each of the piece's stock footage clips were carefully compiled by Murphy and Taylor in Inferno to match an introductory Houdini sequence. The end frame of each clip then segued into another Houdini sequence that traveled back through layers to reveal a different piece of artwork - and its appropriate Tarot card.

    Many researchers and stock agencies also helped to secure motion stock after it had been identified at the National Archives in Washington, D.C. Telecine sessions in Washington, Los Angeles and New York transferred the original film footage into two 24p D5 passes, one low and one high pass. The high passes were used in all the transitions to the Houdini artwork sequences.

    "Our entire team worked together very closely on this project to build the piece from beginning to end," said Scott Boyajan. "In creatively assembling great artwork and footage to address specific feelings of good and evil - and to relate them to history - Angus, Vonetta, Pat and I really put a lot of thought into resolving any problems that occurred to us as we sought the best way to move through the cards."

    Patrick Murphy and Simon Brewster together oversaw the piece's final color-grading and online assembly. Online editor Ben Looram conformed the finished project.

    "When we saw the finished product, we were blown away," said Todd London. "I think everyone involved think it's a great sequence. Main titles can have a tendency to be a nightmare, and I thought A52 never gave up and they always dealt with us in a nice, classy way." Carnivàle is executive produced by Ronald D. Moore, Daniel Knauf and Howard Klein. In addition to Todd London, additional post- production credits include post-production supervisors Shane Keller and April Rossi, and post-production coordinator Beth Tashjian.

    A52's project team also included managing director Rick Hassen.

    The live action footage of the Carnivale title artwork in the sand was supervised by Patrick Murphy and Vonetta Taylor and filmed by director of photography James Glennon on location in the Santa Clarita Valley.

    Absolutely Archives in Maryland did much of the research, and Susan Nickerson of Nickerson Research provided additional stock footage research support. Stock imagery was provided by Amistad Research Center, Art Resource, Corbis, Freer Gallery of Art, The Mary Evans Picture Library. Original imagery was also commissioned by illustrator Jimmy Yamasaki of LA's 88phases. Motion stock footage was provided by CMG Worldwide, FAST Images, Film Archive, Grinberg Images, John E. Allen (JEA), Inc., Streamline and the UCLA Film & Television Archives.

    Project colorists included Tim Masick at Company 3 in New York, Dennis Cardamone at Ascent Media in Burbank and Tim Bono at Bono Film & Video in Arlington, Virginia.

    The music was composed by Wendy Melovin and Lisa Coleman and final audio was mixed and engineered by Richard Davis.

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