On Our Radar: Grand JetÉ
July 11, 2017
Behind the title cards for HBO's Girls
The Los Angeles studio Grand Jeté specializes in design and motion projects for film and television and was the creative force behind the assertive full-frame title card for HBO’s Girls, which just aired its sixth and final season. The text-based opening titles appeared for only seven seconds per episode but made a big impact, with colour combinations differing based on that episode’s tone.
Howard Nourmand, executive creative director at Grand Jeté, talked to us about his studio’s work with Girls.
AA: Can you discuss the typeface you created for the title card? What was important for you to convey with just those five letters alone and how does your typeface accomplish that?
HN: From the start Lena [Dunham, the show’s creator] expressed that she wanted Girls to be bold and relate to the weird and intimate spaces that were the backdrop for the show. She also mentioned that she had an affinity towards art deco typography. Ultimately, what was featured in the series was not a traditional deco font, however the cross-stroke of the characters in the logo do retain that wide round feel, which is often a characteristic of deco type.
The main title design for Girls was primarily inspired by the typography on the signs and buildings of architect Richard Neutra, known for his modernist designs and sharp sense of irony. We used Neutraface as a base and then redrew and developed it further—dialling in the details, massaging the letterforms, symmetry, weight, scale, colour, spacing, until it felt perfect in its context.
Since Lena wanted the titles to be hard hitting, we took advantage of the fact that Girls is a relatively short title. In other words, we could scale it up much more than we could have if the show had a longer title. All these variables coupled with the idea to change the colour, pattern and design treatment for each episode resulted in a title presentation that would call attention to itself.
The title cards make playful use of colour combos…were all selected with purpose, i.e. were any tied to the episodes themselves?
All of the title designs were custom choices intended to foreshadow the theme, mood and tone for each episode.
What did the show want for the finale that they didn’t have before? Tell us about the process of developing the animations with the producers.
For the finale, the production team had something temporary in place before we even started, but Lena and Jenni [Konner, the showrunner] were interested in seeing what we would come up with and were open to exploring new directions.
It is rare that you are able to rethink your design work after a show has already aired. But since the concept for Girls was to have an ever-evolving design, it could be re-conceptualized over and over again. With it being the last episode, we saw it as a special opportunity.
The only considerations from the get-go were that the timing needed to remain consistent (only seven seconds) and somehow we needed to communicate that this was a “best of” sequence. We started off by sourcing every card from the entire series, thinking that ripping through them with fun transitions would be an approach worth investigating. We quickly discovered that ripping through them all (full frame) was far too over-stimulating.
In order to streamline the sequence, we omitted many past iterations. Then we came up with a new set of fresh designs to represent the final episode. Using Adobe’s Creative Cloud, we integrated various motion graphic techniques to blend different animation styles. This included using the onion-skinning tool for cell animation, as well as frame-by-frame stop-motion in Photoshop and After Effects. With a tight turnaround, these animation applications enabled us to apply movement to the colourful patterns very efficiently. Once we stitched it all together, we presented our first pass to Jenni and Lena.
Watch the first pass below:
Jenni (who directed the finale) loved the direction and the way the animations were reading, but wanted to see if we could somehow come up with a solution that would incorporate these animations and still showcase every variation of the title card that had ever aired. Appropriately, she and Lena felt that in doing so it would feel more clearly final.
We knew that using a mosaic of cards was a very efficient solution because they had mocked one up while they were editing the final episode. And we all agreed that by presenting this way, the intent would become immediately clear to the viewer.
Since we wanted the audience to have an opportunity to see the new animations independent of the previously seen designs, we kicked off the sequence on a tightly framed shot of the new animation and slowly drifted the camera back to reveal the grid.
Watch the final version here:
What was the reaction to the finale titles on social media, from your peers, etc.?
Girls has enormous fan base and as a result, our work was countlessly reinterpreted on the internet. People made memes, GIFs, screensavers, YouTube videos, social media posts and heaps of fan art. There was even an art installation in New York for Girls, which celebrated various aspects of the show including the branding and identity system.
Most importantly, Lena and Jenni were thrilled with it. Questlove from The Roots (who drew an illustration for the first episode of season six) gave the piece lots of love on his social media. The Girls fans obviously embraced the title designs and I think curating it all together like a retrospective for the final sequence made for a strong ending.
What’s next for Grand Jeté?
I love Grand Jeté because of the diverse nature of the work we do. It’s fulfilling to always be bringing a familiar creative process into new applications. In addition to our graphic design work for film and television, we are now creating original content—developing and pitching ideas, some of which are now in preproduction. With the birth of my first child this year, I’m discovering a whole new level of motivation/inspiration.
A shorter version of this article originally appeared in the July/August 2017 issue of Applied Arts magazine.