thoughts on art, interactivity, technology, design, culture & life

Growing up as a Yankee the south was a far away place where the pace of life was slower, the weather was hotter, the guns -- more liberal than people and a place where everyone praised Jesus (hallelujia). Quite frankly if it weren't for my grandfather (a card carrying member of the NRA), moderately conservative father and the non-judgmental values I was raised with I might have grown up to either dislike or be completely indifferent to the idea of the south. Instead for me...the south...the DEEP south has always had a certain mythology wrapped up in it's existence. I'm not sure why this is. It could have been reading books like Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil by John Berendt, watching Gone with the Wind, the French classes where we learned about New Orleans, A Streetcar Named Desire, or any number of occasions I (with my limited geographical experience in America) was exposed to the plethora of stories about the American South.

As of today I still have not traveled farther south than Washington D.C. (a city I would not consider southern) in this country, and like all things which are unknown the south remains a mysterious place for me. I, of course, sometimes choose to feed my curiosity with television. I started watching True Blood when the pilot first aired, knowing it took place in Louisiana and when the pilot for FX's series Justified (a show about a US Marshall in Kentucky) aired I watched that too.

The first thing anyone sees when they watch a TV show is the opening title sequence, these sequences set the tone for the show -- it's an opportunity to set expectations in the minds of the audience. Having now watched opening sequences for both Justified and True Blood...I am lead to believe that the south either has a certain aesthetic. An aesthetic which storytellers and designers are possibly intent to maintain.

True Blood

CREATED BY: Digital Kitchen



The Similarities

The similarities between these two titles are both obvious and extreme...both are beautiful pieces employing rustic type, high contrast, colorful, mildly polaroid-esque photograpy coupled with some jerky cuts.

Justified stills on left, True Blood stills on the right:

Why True Blood Does it Better...

As far as aesthetic quality goes, for me both title sequences are beautiful. The typography is thoughtful, the imagery is well executed, and the editing/pacing of these pieces seems to work nicely with well chosen music. While I have a preference for the visuals used in the True Blood sequence as I think the attention to detail in that sequence is better -- from a purely technical standpoint for me they stand on fairly equal ground.

Where the True Blood sequence really leaps in front of the Justified sequence is on a thematic and story-telling level. While the Justified sequence alludes to the idea that the show will be about a cowboy in a small town who works to fight crime the story told and mood created does not even come close to approaching the depth of the True Blood sequence.

The True Blood sequence can essentially serve as an establishing shot for each episode. It establishes not only the setting of the show (a fictional town in Louisiana called Bon Temps1 ) but also the themes and moods worked into each episode. Digital Kitchen did this by drawing on the issues and dichotomies upon which the show is built. Pulling from these dichotomies allows the sequence thematic contrast and tension (ex: life/death, carnality/piety, light/dark, day/night, intimate/public) which, served up with some gorgeous visuals, smart motion and well chosen music creates one seriously kick ass title sequence.

The Origin?

The True Blood sequence was created a full 2 years before the Justified sequence. This simple fact leads me to believe that Elastic was likely inspired by Digital Kitchen's work on True Blood. I'm not sure I would call the sequence a rip off as some have suggested. Good work always inspires derivatives, this is a simple fact of life in the advertising and design community. We can't all be original all the time and at the end of the day...original ideas and executions are rare. There's always some sort of origin or source of inspiration even if it's subliminal.2

Of course Digital Kitchen had to gain their inspiration from somewhere right? They did. In fact the first nine seconds of the sequence are seemingly based directly on a movie called Searching for a Wrong-Eyed Jesus. Digital Kitchen talks in their case study for the sequence about the effect the film had on their creative process.

We also give big thanks to the wonderful film Searching for a Wrong-Eyed Jesus. It gave us the courage to dig deeper into the swamps and back alleys where the real color can be found.3

Searching for a Wrong-Eyed Jesus stills on left, True Blood stills on the right:

Moral of the Story?

Great works inspire good work. The question you want to be good (inspired by the derivative) or great (inspired by the origin)?

  1. Wikipedia Article: True Blood
  2. For more information on how we can be 'subliminally inspired' check out this Subliminal Advertising experiment from Mind Control with Derren Brown
  3. Digital Kitchen: True Blood Case Study

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