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yU + co Draws on History for ?Into the West Opener

Studio Employs Authentic Native American Imagery & Historical Artifacts (July 14, 2005)

In creating the main title sequence for the current TNT mini-series Into the West, premiere design studio yU + co was tasked with capturing the essence of its epic tale of the making of a new nation from the distinct and often competing points of view of two peoples. Employing archaic flags and maps, Native American artwork, glass photography and other elements, the studios design team fashioned a richly textured opener that reflects both the triumphs and the tragedies of one of the most significant chapters in American history.

The Into the West main title is presented in a unique, episodic format. While retaining the same structure, the title sequence ?evolves over the course of the series six episodes, mirroring the course of the story and its depiction of the dwindling fate of Native Americans in the 19th Century. ?Episodic titling was a concept that was employed occasionally on television in the 1980s, but has rarely been seen recently, explained yU + co creative director Garson Yu. ?We have updated the concept and placed it into a modern context and design. We found it very useful way to involve viewers, intellectually and emotionally, in the story.

yU + co designers also sought to comply with a mandate from Steven Spielberg, one of the executive producers of the series, that the title sequence be balanced, that is that it represent the colonization of the American West from the viewpoints of both Native Americans and white settlers.


The sense of balance is beautifully evoked in the montage that opens the sequence which presents a series of circular images?a spiral galaxy, a wagon wheel, a painted Native American history called a ?winter count?that contrast Native American spiritual values with settlers desires to embrace the frontier. ?Its about heaven and earth, said Yu. ?It suggests Native Americans belief in nature, and the settlers struggle for survival. Our intent was to fairly present both sides of the story, just as the series itself does. Yu noted that the montage ends with another circular image, the sun, an image of hope.

Among the imagery that follows is an archaic map of the American frontier. The details of the map change from week to week to reflect the progress of settlers in colonizing the West and the shrinking land mass described as ?Indian Territory. The evolving map echoes one of the series central themes with special poignancy.

?We also used an American flag to suggest the growing hegemony of the colonists, said yU + co art director Martin Surya. ?The image of the flag is slightly different with each episode, the star square becomes larger, more imposing.

Into the Wests large cast is introduced through a series of templates in which a ?glass photographs of the actors frame clips representative of their characters. The featured actors vary with each episode to conform to the changing make-up of the cast.

?Because the cast is so large, the producers felt that it would be helpful to viewers to not merely present the actors names in typography, but also to identify their characters, to show their faces and to suggest their place in the story; explained yU + co executive producer Claire OBrien. ?The template accomplished all of those objectives in the context of a single image.

The production of the sequence involved a close collaboration between yU + co and the producers of Into the West. Marek Dobrowolski, the series production designer, worked with the studios design team in refining the concept of the title sequence and the look of individual design elements. yU + co artists were also given access to the huge library of books, documents, artwork and artifacts amassed by the production as part of its own research. An expert in glass photography was brought in to advise artists in recreating the look of that technique. A cartographer assisted in the creation of the map. Contemporary Native American artists were enlisted to produce artwork used in the opener, including the winter count paintings applied to buffalo skins.

?The producers were obsessive about the historical accuracy of the series and we were equally committed to getting it right in our work, said Surya.

Ultimately, the impact the title sequence is in how well all of the pieces fit together. Viewers should be unaware of the technique involved in the creation of the many elements, but rather should simply experience the message they collectively impart. ?What we are most proud of is how expressive the title sequence is, the way it emotes, said yU + co visual effects supervisor Mark Kolpack. ?There is a lot of emotion tied to these images and they compliment each other very well. When you put it all together, it tells a heartfelt saga.

Credits for yU + co go to Garson Yu, Creative Director; Claire OBrien, Executive Producer; Mark Kolpack, Producer; Ryan ?Reno Robertson, Associate Producer; Martin Surya, Art Director; Joel Ashman, Nick Baquero and Hiroshi Endo, Animators; Edwin Baker, Otto Tang and Jerry Bingham, Illustrators; Ryan Miller, Editor.

yU + co is located at 941 N. Mansfield Ave., Hollywood, CA 90038. For more information, call (323) 606-5050.

 


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Related Keywords:yU + co , TNT mini-series Into the West, Garson Yu

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