If you hit that Skip Intro button on either The White Lotus or The Lord of the Rings: Rings of Power, you deserve a time out. Put those opening sequences next to one another, and you may never realize that they were created by the same artists. For Katrina Crawford and Mark Bashore, they focus on the basic concepts of what makes each series great, and it’s their job to yank you in before the credits finish rolling.
As if these sequences weren’t stunning enough on their own, my jaw dropped when I found out that Crawford and Bashore used Adobe Premiere Pro, After Effects & Photoshop for both title designs. I can barely create a PDF, so there is hope!
I don’t know about you, but not only was the theme of the second season of The White Lotus popular where I live but so were the opening titles. A gay bar I frequent in the Midwest would play the theme in its thumping rotation when the newest season was airing, and I didn’t realize until later that the main title sequence would also play on televisions on the dance floor. When was the last time a main title design had such a cultural moment?
“You can never predict something like that,” Bashore begins. “Sometimes things come together with the picture and the audio. The song is so good and the picture adds to it, so it can become its own thing. You start to glue together things in your brain and they become the inner logic of the show or the brand of the show. You have to have a great show for anyone to care at all, so it’s all riding on the coattails of a fantastic show. It was a little terrifying to get that track, because that song is a dance track on the back half. We had, for both season one and season two, titles that are, essentially, stills. It could’ve been a disaster. It was a challenge to keep up with that music when you have images that don’t move. We solved it with vulgar and promiscuous imagery like goats or blowjobs under rocks, but the images going off the rails helped with the beat.”
“What Mike White does so well is capture these human truths that you recognize so deeply,” Crawford says. “The music had that too with these big chapters that were helpful for us. There was a sense of awe in the beginning with the operatic cue. It’s juicy and exciting before becoming totally unhinged at the end. You’ve gone on this journey that, hopefully, makes you feel like you’ve gone through something. It gets you riled up.”
If you watch the opening credits over and over, you will notice that Crawford and Bashore include a throughline of water as it progresses. Between the first season taking place in Hawaii and this season having a literal death in the water, we should’ve seen it all along.
“There’s subtler things too,” Crawford says. “If you follow the water through the beginning, it’s still at first but then it animates more and more. We had this exploding fountain at the high point of the sequence, and it’s flooded at the end.”
“It’s a porn movie basically,” Bashore adds with laugh.
“It’s a deluge, and you may not know what’s happening to you until it’s too late,” Crawford warns. “It’s fun to allude to things without giving things away with no clear answers. This show is basically a whodunnit, so we need to make sure it’s cheeky.”
As we watch the show, audience members could have wildly different interpretations of what the artwork represents as the season progresses. When you walk through a museum when you are twenty years old, you will have a different interpretation from, say, your grandmother or even your parents. It doesn’t even have to tie into the story itself sometimes, because the images are meant to elicit emotions from you.
“We love to try to keep it as open as possible, and there are suggestions in there,” Crawford admits. “This show is so rich. You can think of 12 scenarios for every character depending on the different aspects of their personality. All of them are meaningful to the themes of the show. It can indicate misogyny or desperation–it’s represented in the images. We have an image of Leda and the Swan, so that is a literature reference but it makes sense in terms of the show. It’s very open. If you know about them, it would be from someone who might just be picking up on how it’s overtly sexual and disturbing. For us, that’s much more fun. If someone asks why there is a monkey next to Jennifer Coolidge’s name, I would probably say, ‘It’s so many things…but also not so many things too.'”
I expressed to these artists that my favorite image was, surprisingly, the necklace being tossed aside.
“We created a lot of original artwork, but there’s a lot from the villa that we altered to make different,” Crawford says. That woman exists and there is an island with guys in a boat in the original. They went away and we changed the look on her face as well as the gesture of her arm. A lot of things are gestural. That’s a good example, because you can think of Michael Imperioli’s character buying that necklace for his wife to get back in her good graces. It doesn’t matter since we are really hinting at the interplay of people in relationships. It’s important how it makes you feel.”
When we think of Lord of the Rings, we conjure thoughts of epic battles on horseback, magic, and swords being drawn. When you begin the first season of Prime Video’s astonishingly lavish series, you may be surprised that Crawford and Bashore brought the idea of the main titles to a miniscule, small place. It instantly makes us curious. It’s mythical and magical.
“Time and space are so critical to Tolkien’s narrative, and here we are doing a prequel that is legions of time before the stories we are more familiar with,” Crawford says. “The timeline is just huge, and his worldbuilding is incredible with so many different races of people from different lands and islands. You needed to have this eagle eye perspective to look back at this entire journey. No matter what book you are reading, you are going through something. They asked for simple and for us to surprise them. Our creative director, Anthony Vitagliano, was a neophyte to this since he never saw the movies before going back to understand the world. It all came back to Tolkien’s creation myth where the world was created through sound.
Since this is about forces that are unseen and Tolkien is talking about the scientific phenomenon of cymatics is visualizing the patterns made by sound, we knew we needed something based on that science. Real behavior. The idea of transformation and nothing is the same and it’s always changing alludes back to time. I’m talking eons. You may start small, but the Ainur, these angelic beings, are singing the world and layering their voices to make it more and more complex.”
“The idea that things fall apart as things are being formed is a very deep idea,” Bashore says carefully. “That phenomenon feels like thousands of years passing as a concept is something that the producers pounced on when we showed it to them.”
“Tolkien was also very into sacred geometry, so it was about making these beautiful symmetrical designs while showing light versus darkness and good versus evil,” Crawford adds. “It feels very much like forces battling.”
There is an image of a cube with lines coming from each point. Slowly the ground rumbles, and everything falls apart. It conjures up so many images of colossal events in history. They might be working on a small scale, but its quietly epic in scope.
“We did that repeatedly by compositing in live action to create flaw too,” Bashore says. “Sometimes computers can do these things but they look too clean. Or too pretty. It’s pleasing to the eye, but we worked really hard to make it look more feral and wild and unpredictable. That’s what the sound vibration in that material does. We wanted it to be perfect but imperfect at the same time.”
“We worked in a lot of live action, and we shot real sand on cymatic plates and composited all of that in with it,” Crawford says. “We wanted a rise to glory but fall to ruin.”
The White Lotus is streaming now on Max and The Lord of the Rings: Rings of Power is streaming now on Prime Video.