The show’s first season, starring Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson, followed two detectives hunting a serial killer in rural Louisiana in the 1990s. The series was a huge success, winning a BAFTA and a Writers’ Guild Award as well as Emmys for casting, directing and Adam Arkapaw’s brilliant cinematography (the whole series was shot on Kodak film, save for a memorable six-minute tracking shot).
It also received an Emmy for Outstanding Title Design: created by Elastic and Antibody, the show’s lavish opening sequence paired images of lead actors with bleak shots of industrial estates, desolate swamplands and abandoned playgrounds.
As creative director Patrick Clair explained in an interview with Art of the Title, the sequence used double exposure to portray the idea of characters being shaped by their surroundings and struggling with internal conflicts.
Titles were inspired by the work of photographer Richard Misrach, and made using digitally slowed footage from rushes to create a surreal and dream-like effect. The muted colours and ominous soundtrack (it’s set to Handsome Family’s 2003 song, Far From Any Road) perfectly captured the eeriness of the show and its setting.
The opening sequence for series two, which aired last night, uses the same double exposure effect but features new imagery and a chilling new soundtrack from Leonard Cohen.
The saturated colours have been replaced with bold reds and blues, and swamplands with bleached cityscapes and sunny California desert (the new series is set in a fictional Californian city, and stars Vince Vaughn, Rachel McAdams and Colin Farrell).
It’s a long sequence – at 90 seconds, it’s bound to annoy some viewers as the show goes on – but it’s beautifully made, and Elastic have done a brilliant job of creating an entirely new look for the series, while retaining many of the same visual effects from season one.
The landscape isn’t quite as eery, but the shots of forest scenes and dark roads, coupled with the blood red used throughout, create an equally unsettling effect. Episode one has so far received mixed reviews, but the new titles don’t disappoint, and it’s great to see such a cinematic approach to opening credits on TV.
True Detective is aired on Sunday nights on HBO in the US, and on Mondays on Sky Atlantic in the UK.
Design Studio: Elastic
Creative Director: Patrick Clair
Lead Animation and Compositing: Raoul Marks
Design: Patrick Clair, Paul Kim, Kevin Heo, Jeff Han