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Main title designs set mood for show

Emmy nominees tell a story with every picture

From sex and booze to a children’s pop-up book, this year’s Emmy-nominated main title designs are as varied as the shows they represent. Yet, according to the nominees, each team set out to accomplish the same goal: to promote a story while telling their own.

For the nominated team of “True Blood,” including creative director Matthew Mulder and main title producer Morgan Henry, the challenge came with creating an authentic look of the South while remaining true to HBO’s pulpy vampire skein.

“We wanted to saturate you with color and not be overly moody with it,” Mulder says. “The show itself is a kind of gumbo of flavors.”

The team from Digital Kitchen — an outsourced design firm — went so far as to shoot its own footage across four states in the South.

In the case of Showtime’s “United States of Tara,” the designers decided on a pop-up book design to illustrate, literally, the multiple personalities of the show’s titular character.

Brett Baer, who shares creator credit on the title sequence, explains the inspiration behind the design, saying, “We had a story to tell the audience. We needed to introduce these various ‘alters’ and the notion that they all exist within the mind of one person.”

“Storymakers” and HBO’s”Taking Chance” both use graphics that evoke the early stages of the storyteller’s art.

The former — a special aired on AMC with “Shootout” hosts Peter Bart and Peter Guber — used a storyboard concept as its final design, while telepic “Taking Chance” — the only nonseries entry of the bunch — used the idea of a journal to introduce key aspects of the movie.

“I always like a title sequence that tells a story,” says “Taking Chance” designer Michael Riley. “So we changed the concept during the process from an intellectual idea to an emotional one.”

Robert Bradley and Thomas Cobb, designers of the titles for Fox’s “Lie to Me,” also went for emotion, and for their efforts they drew the only main-title nom for a broadcast net.

Bradley, who was previously nominated for his work on “Weeds,” describes the show as “a nice balance of human emotion” and “genuine science.”

Likewise, the title design depicts closeups of facial expressions paired with their scientific descriptions. By using anonymous faces, Bradley says, the design maintains a universal appeal.

“Whether you’re an Aborigine or you live in Los Angeles, when you show contempt, you show it exactly the same way,” he says.

It’s that kind of universal appeal and overarching storytelling that Henry says all designers should strive for in their concepts.

“When we do these titles, we think about how it brands the show,” he says. “We try to look at it as a branding assignment that can live with the series for years to come.”

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