Created by Liz Flahive and Carly Mensch (the team behind Orange is the New Black), GLOW is a drama inspired by the hit TV show Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling, which ran in the US from 1986 to 1990, and the creation of the women’s wrestling league.
The series has received some criticism – some writers have questioned how successfully it sends up sexism and stereotypes – but it has been met with largely positive reviews and features a great sound track and production design as well as some gloriously retro opening credits.
The series captures the aesthetic of the 1980s – from the cars to the spandex aerobics wear and high-waisted jeans, as well the glamour and theatrics of women’s wrestling – but it avoids full-blown kitsch or pastiche.
The soundtrack, for example, eschews the super hits that have become a staple at weddings and family parties in favour of less obvious song choices such as 4-3-1 by The Jetzons or the Go-Go’s We Don’t Get Along. There are some more famous tracks – Queen’s Under Pressure and Tears for Fears’ Head Over Heels are both featured – but these are often used at unexpected moments or as background music in clubs and diners. (You can read a feature on the music in Pitchfork here).
The title sequence, too, combines retro visuals with slick animation to create something that feels of the era, without looking like it was made using 80s equipment.
The sequence was created by directing collective Shynola (Jason Groves, Chris Harding and Richard ‘Kenny’ Kenworthy). The London-based trio has created opening credits for Channel 4 comedy The IT Crowd, Chris Morris and Charlie Brooker’s scarily prescient sitcom Nathan Barley and Scott Pilgrim vs the World, as well as music videos for Hot Chip, Tiesto and Coldplay.
The animated sequence features silhouettes of female wrestlers in the ring, their outlines resembling neon lights. It combines popular animation effects from the era with type reminiscent of the kind seen in 80s computer games – but the end result is much more sophisticated than credits created at the time.
“It had to be the right side of badly made,” explains Kenworthy. “We did toy with the idea of completely de-resing the whole thing, as if we’d found this title sequence and uploaded it from a VHS tape, but that’s not really what the show is like,” he explains.
“The show is sort of like a refined, sophisticated version of the eighties … it’s not pastiche, it’s quite respectful, and it’s shot on modern cameras and looks beautiful, so we couldn’t do something that looked it was filmed on a potato. We had to find something in between – something that felt genuine in exactly the same way as the show felt genuine, but also modern.”
Shynola was approached by the show’s producers before filming had begun and given a copy of the script for the first episode. They read the script and pitched the idea of creating something “that looks like it’s in 4K but other than that, could have come straight from the original show,” explains Kenworthy.
Shynola watched hours of title sequences and idents from the era. They also studied 80s computer graphics and rotoscope animation from the period and made a showreel of their favourite footage to share with the producers.
The biggest source of inspiration was Pro Bowlers Tour – a tenpin bowling show that aired in the US in the 1980s. “It had this massive razzle dazzle title sequence, with all this rotoscoped bowling and was given all these crazy effects – the sort that just wouldn’t be allowed on any other project,” says Kenny. “It looked really cool, sort of Norman McClaren mixed with 80s, over-the-top glam.”
The animated sequence incorporates wrestling moves and characters from the original GLOW series. As Shynola weren’t cleared to use actual footage from the show, they had to work with archive material from other sources. The end result is based on the real series but also incorporates material from other wrestling leagues.
“This made things quite difficult, as the original GLOW had a very particular look – not just in terms of race, but shape, size, dress [costumes],” explains Kenny. “All of the women had their own individual characters, whereas everything that came after GLOW was a bit homogenised.”
Shynola made a first edit of the sequence and finessed this before meticulously rotoscoping it. Rotoscoping is a challenge at the best of times but Shynola also had to ensure that lines were all the same thickness so they would resemble neon lights. This meant that rotoscoping had to be drawn in After Effects instead of by hand.
Light trails were also complex to create – the team had to animate fastidiously in between frames to ensure a smooth transition. “We wanted to have these long trails where you have echoes of the action, which is a very late 70s, early 80s thing to do,” adds Kenworthy. This presented several challenges – “if a character was turning, for example, it was difficult to make arms disappear behind body shapes and come back around the other side,” he says.
The end result is a sophisticated sequence that offers a modern take on 80s TV graphics and brings to mind the neon lights and bright, bold colours that were seen in everything from fashion to album art. It might look simple but the sequence is deceptively complex and was a process of trial and error for Shynola. “There was no tutorial on how to do this and no help file … so we just had to kind of get on with it and suffer the cuts,” explains Kenworthy.