A52 recently completed the main titles for HBO's new series CARNIVÀLE (debuting Sept. 14, 2003), creatively juxtaposing famous works of art and iconic footage.
"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 evil over all of time," explained A52's senior producer Scott Boyajan, who collaborated with creative director Angus Wall and the other artists.
The CARNIVÀLE main titles required unprecedented scale on the part of A52, uniting 3D, design and vfx. The sequence 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 title artwork.
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 300MB file for each one.
Designer Vonetta 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 visual effects supervisor/inferno artist Patrick 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 to build the piece from beginning to end," said Boyajan. "In creatively assembling great artwork and footage to address specific feelings of good and evil and to relate them to history."
Murphy and visual effects supervisor/inferno artist Simon Brewster, together, oversaw the piece's final color-grading and online assembly. Online editor Ben Looram conformed the finished project.
CARNIVÀLE is exec produced by Ronald D. Moore, Daniel Knauf and Howard Klein. In addition to co-producer and post-production producer 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 CARNIVÀLE 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.
Project colorists included Tim Masick at Company 3 in New York City, Dennis Cardamone at Ascent Media in Burbank, California and Tim Bono at Bono Film & Video in Arlington, Virginia.
Established in 1997 as a home for the very latest high-end photoreal vfx technologies and the industry's most talented graphic design artists, West Hollywood-based A52 (www.A52.com) creates award-winning imagery for visually ambitious commercial and music video projects.