Raoul Marx is an Emmy Award winning designer from Australia – known globally for his work with Elastic's Patrick Clair on titles including True Detective (HBO), West World (HBO), and Halt & Catch Fire (AMC); as well as the recently launched Lost Boy with Ash Thorp & Anthony Scott Jones.
Raoul will be joining us at FITC Amsterdam this February to share the key insights he’s picked up along the way in his work creating main titles for television including his thoughts on the power of duality in imagery, and how technology is allowing a new dawn in personal production techniques.
"The piano doesn't murder the player if it doesn't like the music."
West World has been a huge HBO hit this year. The titles focus on the creation of an advanced artificial life by a more primitive seeming one – robots building androids. But you also nod to music and the player piano, a recurring theme in the show. Can you speak to the piano as an influence on the titles, and your take on it as a symbol for the show.
The show has some very intriguing visual metaphors running through its narrative. The player piano being one of the more explicit symbolic messages. I found the layered meaning in these and the other motifs endlessly interesting. We’re often using a coded visual language for titles so these kind of ideas were central to developing the credits. Jonah (Nolan) was very particular about the role of the player and the player piano in the opening titles and Patrick (Clair) had some brilliant ideas about how to translate the more literal world of the show over into the Titles’ world.
I have my own thoughts about the meaning of the show, but I wouldn’t want to state explicitly what I think the message is here. I think, The types of larger questions a show like Westworld asks are more insightful at a personal level than any kind of empirical explanation. What I can say is, working on titles for this kind of layered and densely philosophical television is a challenging but hugely rewarding task.
Speaking of digital vs analog. What percentage of your title sequences are done with and without computer software? Do you have a preference for stylistic or practical reasons?
I would say the vast majority of the work I’m involved in is digitally crafted. Theres a number of factors that influence that direction. They can vary from things as mundane as budgetary considerations through to being able to micro art direct a lick of flame in slow motion.
Although the tools we use are digital we spend a great deal of time being informed by real world phenomena. All the subtle degradations or ‘errors’ of analog techniques are strongly embedded in visual culture, we take a lot of cues from how those subtleties can relate mood or tone. Photography is the clearest influence on my practice. I’m often focused on dimensionality and light/texture. If iI want to get inspired i’ll go watch film to get my brain ticking over. Predominantly we are using a digital facsimile of photographic tools to create the images we’ve envisioned.
Inevitably there comes a project you give all your love to that doesn’t get picked up, or the pitch isn’t won. Can you tell us about the first time an idea you felt strongly about failed to make it past the pitch?
Ha, this is a tricky one! Usually the ideas that get binned never really see the light of day, so I’m a little limited in what I can bring to light. I also try to be not too wedded to individual concepts as things always seem to evolve and morph over the course of a project. At the time it can seem a strange direction but almost entirely, when I look back a few months later, those decisions make sense.
If there was anything particular that didn’t get made that I lament, that’d be more about personal projects. I often try to have one or two ideas boiling away in the back of my head, the titles I made for Semi-Permanent was one that managed to see the light of day. I love having a full schedule but it would be nice to get some time to see some more of those passion projects actually start to take form.
If you could recreate the opening sequence for any show in history, which would you choose and why?
Ahh, theres so many to choose from! And it would completely depend on whether we are talking a modern adaptation and the tone of the show. For example, Westworld the TV show had obviously evolved quite significantly from its 1973 cinema counterpart.
I’d love to do something for a Ridley Scott Alien Film. The original had such a beautiful simplicity to it. It would be quite the challenge to top that, as its such a perfect solution, but something that worked on that empty/terrifying tone of space would be great fun to work with.
I’d also love to re-imagine an opening for Akira or a number of shows from that era of animated Manga. Maybe even a modern day Max Headroom.
FITC Amsterdam // Design. Technology. Cool Shit.
Amsterdam • Feb 20-21, 2017
Or on raoulmarks.com