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Contenders for Title Design Emmy Set the Stage and Conjure the Mood

Philip K Dicks Electric Dreams American
Courtesy of Sony Pictures Television/FX/Netflix

No matter how much the contenders for this year’s Emmy for main title design jam-packed their sequences with imagery subtle and sometimes not-so-subtle foreshadowing, it seems there was always room for more.

Designer-director Kyle Cooper assembled an edit of the nightmarish title sequence for FX’s “American Horror Story: Cult” that had everything from a dead dog and bugs to people wearing Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton masks and all manner of creepy clowns.

Cooper didn’t have much of a blueprint going in. He just knew the series focused on a woman whose phobias were triggered by the 2016 election. “I’m just trying to have these nutty shoots with a relatively low budget and figuring out what I can do in the time I have,” says Cooper.

Design director Nic Benns of design house Momoco had a bit more to go on before he set out to craft the titles for the Amazon sci-fi anthology series “Philip K. Dick’s Electric Dreams.” He was given two scripts and a rough cut of an episode for reference, along with theme music composed by Harry Gregson-Williams.

“The chosen direction was a POV sequence,” says Benn. “I wanted the audience to wander through a mad world, glimpsing surreal moments, finally catching a reflection of [the late author Dick],” who turns to reveal he is a cyborg.

The main titles for the Netflix animated series “Big Mouth” explore another kind of horror: puberty. The sequence takes the viewer from swimming sperm and a bra with budding breasts to armpit hair that morphs into a tree that casts a shadow of the Hormone Monster upon the show’s two seventh-grade male protagonists. Like the show itself, “the titles have a lot of meta moments,” says “Big Mouth” art director Otto Tang.

The main titles for HBO’s “The Deuce” gives a more adult take on sexuality with a collage of Times Square in the early ’70s cut to the 1970 Curtis Mayfield track “(Don’t Worry) If There’s a Hell Below, We’re All Going to Go.”
“Once we chose the Mayfield song, it just took off, ” says Matthew Booras, post-production editor for “The Deuce.” “The trick was to highlight our stories and themes without giving anything away about our main characters.”

(Pictured above: Title design for “Philip K. Dick’s Electric Dreams,” “American Horror Story: Cult”and “Big Mouth”)