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MK12 Has a Blast with 'Quantum' Main Titles

MK12 discusses going Bond with the iconic title sequence and other graphical goodies and with exclusive clip.

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Working with Quantum of Solace director Marc Forster for a third time on opening credit sequences, Kansas City-based studio MK12 went for a sunset, retro look. Courtesy of MK12. All images and footage courtesy of Eon Prods. 

Kansas City-based motion graphics company, MK12, which previously created the opening credit sequences for Marc Forster's The Kite Runner and Stranger than Fiction, was also tapped by the director to work on the 22nd James Bond movie, Quantum of Solace. In addition to creating the latest twist on the franchise's celebrated title sequence, MK12 also designed the crucial motion graphics for MI6, the evocative title card for the Port-Au-Prince, Haiti location and the graphics for the famous gun barrel sequence.

VFXWorld spoke with three members of this nine-person artist collective: Tim Fisher and Ben Radatz (two co-founders) and Shaun Hamontree. They discussed the challenges of the title sequence, which, this time out, boasts retro graphics, a silhouetted Daniel Craig firing a Walther PPK and a slo-mo bullet traveling with a trail of dust into the desert, lots of curvaceous sand dunes and the reintroduction of the discretely naked ladies.

Bill Desowitz: Let's begin with how you artistically approached the Quantum title sequence.

Tim Fisher: Originally, we were brought in to work on all the motion graphics for the film. We were in London for preproduction for that and we spent time working on a couple of pitches that we showed and talked with EON and Marc throughout the course of production. So it was an organic way of starting the conversation. There was no specific brief, constraints, thoughts. It was about taking the information and opening up a dialogue with the producers and Marc, and getting the download of their mindset and what their thoughts were conceptually about the character and the story.

BD: The title sequence conveys several images associated with the franchise and with Daniel Craig's conflicted emotional state here.

Shaun Hamontree: Our contributions to the title sequence were actually our narrative to the outlining story, and adding our own bit of story and aesthetic. You're dealing with locales that have their own unique aesthetic that are great elements for us to use.

Ben Radatz: I think the one thing that was fortunate for us was that the locations they chose in the film, intentionally or not, were very parallel to Bond's mental state: his soul searching, thinking about his role and the future of becoming an agent, if that's what he really wants to do.

BD: Right, Marc said the desert symbolized Bond at his most desolate. And Daniel said that his "quantum of solace" was discovering his place in the world and learning to trust his allies.

TF: One of the key features is taking these large thematic elements from the film and being as subversive as you can and not take away the entire thing within the first two minutes. And taking larger themes and squashing them down as the base foundations for what they tell within the story.

BR: I think also that the interesting thing about past Bond title sequences is that a lot of them are actual microcosms for the film itself. So we were trying to be mindful of that as well but not be too obvious or give away the plot of the movie.

TF: At the same time, it's playing a bit of homage to the previous designers: [Maurice] Binder, [Robert] Brownjohn and [Daniel] Kleinman. To make it fit within the great canon.

Bond's journey through the desert symbolized him at his most desolate. 

BD: Without the classic gun barrel sequence at the beginning, it was really a nice consolation to at least see you playing with the interlocking circles.

TF: Yeah, this is the first time it has been [saved for the end] and has been greeted with a bit of controversy by the Bond fans. But I think it was a very wise decision since it calls out to people that this is the first direct sequel. It feels like you should watch [Casino Royale and Quantum] back-to-back.

BD: But you got to creatively mess around with the design of the barrel sequence, which symbolically closes the book on Bond's rite of passage.

BR: It helps in working with Marc that he is such a connoisseur of modern design and architecture because he is so aware of the historical relevance of the franchise. And I think in a lot of ways how we approach our projects where we push ourselves technically and creatively but then we also like to keep a foot in the past and pay homage the title sequences that Tim had mentioned. So, it was a very good partnership with Marc.

BD: What was it like working with the main title song, "Another Way to Die"?

TF: After the debacle with Amy Winehouse, who signed on and then had to back out for personal reasons, Jack White and Alicia Keys were brought in a bit late and that slowed down the process. But, for the most part, the title sequence was designed with the track in mind. We had a good idea of what the tempo was going to be, so during pre-production we were working with a general understanding of the musical direction.

The color palate of a sunset, with oranges, reds and pale blues, were used also as a metaphor for Bond's journey through the film. 

BD: Let's talk about the style and narrative.

BR: Essentially, when we started thinking about the title sequence it was as a self-contained short story and we set it over a particular time frame: It begins at sunset and the core of it happens during the evening and toward the end we have the sunrise, which, I think works both as a color palette and also as a metaphor for what we were hoping to accomplish. So we chose a lot of colors that were twilight based: oranges and reds, pale blues.

SH: With a lot of high contrast.

TF: It feels like a parallel, yet gives the emotional state of Bond, which is very [complex] with the loss of Vesper.

BD: And it's really nice how you incorporated the return of the naked ladies again after a break in the Casino Royale title sequence.

BR: That's an homage to the past, obviously, but I think thematically it works really well with his emotional state and his reaction to them. The conceptual basis for this is this weak environment that kind of turns on him, and his relationship with women, whether it's M or Vesper or any new girl, what have you.

An homage to the past, MK12 re-introduced the subtle naked women into the sequence. 

BD: How long did you work on this?

TF: The process was essentially about a year, mainly with us thinking in terms of ideas and doing presentations and coming back and making the rounds. In terms of actual production, about a month-and-a-half to put it all together.

BR: It was a pretty fast schedule once we hit the ground running.

SH: We had a four-day shoot and one day, which was all practical fan effects. Two days with our female talent and a large sandbox to spend the day with Daniel. And then the rest for post-production on top of finishing all of our visual effects work.

BD: And how did you come up with the title design itself?

TF: It was something we chose ourselves and was inspired by the dot motif of the barrel sequence: and just having a very strict, rigid, formal font that we could manipulate easily within that style of animation, which was an original Binder animation with the dots that follow and the introduction of James Bond. And actually the [Helvetica-like Grotesque] font came after that as we were developing the idea of how that should work. So, it's got a little bit of a retro throwback with a bit of an update.

The font for the titles themselves was inspired by the dot motif of the gun barrel sequence, easily manipulated by the animation. 

BD: What software did you use?

BR: Primarily After Effects, Maya, Photoshop.

SH: We also worked a lot with a particle program called Krakatoa [made by Frantic Films] for all the sand-related stuff that couldn't be shot practically.

BD: And the Maya-based CG?

SH: For wider landscape shots we did extend those out with CG background set additions and matte paintings and things like that. And we also developed a CG Walther PPK where Bond sort of falls into the eye and the gun follows him. It was much easier to control that than using a [real] gun.

BR: I like Marc's description of the movie: he wanted it to feel like a bullet shot from a gun and you keep moving at a constant rate.

BD: You've just described the essence of your title sequence, too.

BR: Right.

MK12 used Maya-based CG to add a Walther PPK where Bond falls into the eye and the gun follows him. 

BD: Now what about creating the UI that MI6 uses: the smart wall and table?

TR: Yeah, we actually did all of the moving images on a screen, whether it was a PDA, cell phone or the hydrogen moniker on the dashboard of one of the cars.

BD: And what kind of software did you use for this?

SH: Primarily After Effects and Illustrator.

BD: So you've basically replaced Q in this movie in being able to unify every MI6 device with such high-tech proficiency.

BR: Yeah, I think that's one of the interesting aspects of this: the [touch screen] gags that they have in there that almost everybody has experienced, but what we ended up doing with the graphics is add a hyper-real feel to it, which feels like the same kind of stuff that Q would introduce. You can see John Cleese come into the room and say, "This smart table will do blah, blah." It's a really interesting way to portray that character without actually showing him... by doing these impossible things with these realistic devices.

Bill Desowitz is senior editor of VFXWorld and AWN.