Howard Nourmand and Mary Pearse, the design team from agency Grand Jeté, set out to create an opening sequence for BET’s hit comedy series Twenties to match the show’s groundbreaking and unique feel. The duo wanted to embrace elements of old Hollywood as the show itself is influenced from the 1950 film classic All About Eve. Nourmand and Pearse wanted their main title design to echo the modern tone of the show while also embracing the elements that are associated with Old Hollywood. According to Nourmand, “The design is a mashup of old Hollywood, 90’s R&B, and contemporary-type animations” that compliments amazingly with the fast-paced sequence of music that varies though different episodes.
Nourmand and his team are no strangers to main title designs, as he’s responsible for the title designs for HBO’s Girls, TBS’ People of Earth, and Hulu’s Wu-Tang: An American Saga. Nourmand took inspiration from his past projects and injected a new flair for Twenties that’s just as funky and fresh as the show itself.
Awards Daily spoke to Howard Nourmand about his process of creating the main title for Twenties, how he got his start in Hollywood, and the giant leap he took that led him to his current career as a designer.
Awards Daily: How did you get involved with animation and title design?
Howard Nourmand: I was one of those kids who didn’t know what they wanted to do. I just liked cool stuff. I was always drawing anything that had a cool design. As a kid, I was into cars, music, fashion, even shoes! Things that were just fresh. Of course, my parents were nervous about that. I ultimately chose a profession that didn’t have to be just one thing. There were a lot of different mediums I was interested in, and what I do has a lot of different things I love – it has music, it has a little bit of photography in it. It has a fashion component, a production component. I crave so much variety, so for me I chose a business where I didn’t have to be constrained. There’s a lot of variety being a main title designer, so I don’t feel the need to be doing the same thing every single day.
AD: You created a graphic design/animation company Grand Jeté that’s responsible for the main title design of Twenties, as well as the main title design for HBO’S Girls and Hulu drama series Wu-Tang: An American Saga. The translation of Grand Jeté is “giant leap” – what were you taking a giant leap toward?
HN: I got to a point where I was really sad and discouraged being a struggling actor for a good chunk of time and I was feeling that hurt. I was a cautionary tale, that cool kid in high school where everyone thought I’d easily succeed and that just wasn’t the case for me in Hollywood. I wanted to be a successful actor doing all these cool movie and television projects and that just wasn’t what my life was. I wasn’t earning a living, despite booking commercials here and there. I grew up in Beverly Hills to very successful parents, so I think it was magnified by the contrast of having a family of individuals – my sister’s a doctor and my brother is a successful real estate mogul – and I was the artist, the Fredo of the family. It was very disheartening. My parents are in real estate, so I figured the natural route was real estate, or I’d try to do one more thing creative which feels more realistic or practical than being an actor because the odds of becoming an actor are slim. It’s a harder job than what people give actors credit for.
Grand Jeté was a metaphor for what I wanted to do with my business. I had no business background, and I had no real background in design, despite going to design school. I didn’t have any clients yet, I’d never run a business. So Grand Jeté was a giant leap where I was taking a chance and I was going to operate from a place of faith and see if I could get this thing off the ground.
AD: It’s been about 17 years and it seems like that giant leap worked out for you!
HN: I’d say so! I’m an ambitious person. I’m always going to want to do more and do more ambitious projects! It’s a good feeling to be able to look at your work months later and say, “We did that!” We re-watch things and think of the stories and different layers that happened that come together to make any given project happen because they’re never ever what you expect them to be in the end since the creative path isn’t a linear one.
AD: The main title design is often one of the first things viewers see when watching a show. I watched the Twenties pilot and the main title design was shown within 30 seconds of the show starting, so your work sets the tone of the series. I instantly gravitated toward the main title. It was different, it was expressive, it was multifaceted, and there was so much going on in such a short amount of time. How did you get the opportunities to create this main title design for Twenties?
HN: We worked on Girls, which was unique and stood out because it was like Twenties in a way. It was bold, hard-hitting, fast, colorful and when we did Girls, a lot of people came to us for the impactful, short design that still has the juice and flavor of a longer sequence, but still compressed. We worked on a project after Girls – a lot of our clients came from seeing our work from that – one of those people was Lafe Jordan, a producer on TBS’s People of Earth. The Twenties title design is similar but very different to our prior title designs in terms of format: short and hard-hitting that gets your attention quickly. You know, it’s hard! How do you get the name of the show to capture the personality of the show? Girls, People of Earth, Twenties, and a lot of other things we’ve done have been successful in that.
Lafe, I believe, recommended us for Twenties. At first, we were going to do a very static card but then it grew out. Then we experimented with doing explorations and different motion tests. Where we landed was a halfway point between something that was static and was not moving and something that was like James Bond, full sequence design.
AD: There are 10 sequences during the main title design filled with different color palettes, textures, mixtures, and it’s very in your face. How did you correlate the vision of the main title design to sync up with the vibe of the show?
HN: Luckily they sent us the pilot, which is always a good thing! Sometimes we just get a script. But with Twenties, we got to see and hear it. We were able to see the actors. This show is very, very fresh! It feels different, it feels unique, it doesn’t feel derivative. It has layers, its inspiring and funky! You can tell it’s its own thing, and it’s funny. It breaks a lot of rules because it doesn’t have any rules. From a design standpoint, those are the ideas we really ran with. Funkiness is one of the greatest design sensibilities in anything! When you own it, it’s like you’re breaking rules. We didn’t have any rules creating this design for Twenties, things didn’t have to fit together. The equation for us to solve is how do we create a container so all these things that are so different still connect? We did it through color, through animation, through form, through scale. We somehow found a way to put all these things together that are fundamentally different.
AD: The title design does all that! After seeing what the title design was, it gave me a glimpse into what the show was going to be able to do. It sets the tone and gave the show an added touch of flavor that it already had. Its very complimentary.
HM: I grew up watching MTV and the bumpers for MTV were great! I could never get enough of them! MTV bumpers came on and you thought of it apart of the content, not commercials. How many ways can they flip this logo? That was one of my main inspirations as a title designer and I think this show does that, too. You’re flipping this title for the show in so many different ways; there’s no end to what you can do and it’s a recipe for something that’s really, really fun!
Twenties is now streaming on BET.