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'True Detective': How the opening titles came together, what they mean

Images used in the pitch for the opening title sequence of
Images used in the pitch for the opening title sequence of "True Detective."
Images used in the pitch for the opening title sequence of
Images used in the pitch for the opening title sequence of "True Detective."
Images used in the pitch for the opening title sequence of
Images used in the pitch for the opening title sequence of "True Detective."
Images used in the pitch for the opening title sequence of
Images used in the pitch for the opening title sequence of "True Detective."

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The hit HBO series "True Detective" starring Matthew McConnaughey and Woody Harrelson wraps up this weekend, and the first thing viewers will see — as they have for the previous seven weeks — are the haunting titles of the show.

Fans of the show have been looking for clues to this Southern murder mystery in the title sequence, an eerie montage of characters from the series laid over powerful images of the Louisiana landscape.


The sequence was directed by Sydney, Australia-based Patrick Clair, the creative director of the company Elastic, which has also done the title sequence for "Game of Thrones" and "The Americans." 

RELATED: 'True Detective': The Handsome Family performs the theme song live on KPCC

For the latest installment in KPCC's series Hollywood Jobs, Clair told KPCC's Take Two what it took to create the great title sequence.

Interview Highlights:

On how he got into producing opening titles for film and TV:
"I wanted to be a filmmaker from when I was pretty young. I knew that's where I wanted to head. As I kind of got older, I got more and more involved in design, and I guess it sort of became a natural evolution that title sequences where you get to combine filmmaking and storytelling with design and animation and that sort of ended up being something I'm pretty passionate about. It's pretty interesting. I feel pretty lucky to be working in this area and it's lots of fun."

On the trend of having highly stylized opening titles: 
"It starts with a very functional purpose of trying to get those credits up there before we get into the actual show and give the audience an impression of who is making it, and I think it evolved from there. Giving a chance for the show makers to set a tone for the story they're going to tell. I think in the last 10, 20 years as animation techniques — especially with the advent of the digital industries — they've gotten much more complex, much more expressive, and we're able to carry so many more different styles of design and art onto the screen that it's made sense for the title sequence to become like a real chance to express the character of a show in a more visual and abstract way."

On the threat of the DVR to the title credit business:
"Well I think the biggest compliment you can tell to a titles designer is that your sequence is one of the ones I don't skip. Certainly I skip plenty myself, and I totally understand it."

At what stage of the show/film he gets brought in to create the titles:

"It always varies, but we get brought in once the show is off and rolling. Usually they've started shooting the show or they're about to start shooting the show. It's confirmed to go to air, and that's when they start getting us in and giving us a bit of material to give an idea of what we might want to do with the titles, where we could take it and how we can help the showrunners introduce the show to the audience." 

On what materials he got to work with to create the title sequence for "True Detective":
"I got three scripts in my inbox one day, just nothing else, kind of like, 'We're making this new show; it's about some detectives; three episodes attached here.' I remember sitting and reading them all that afternoon, and they were good scripts, really, really good scripts. It was exciting. We had no visuals at that stage."

"Before we started getting into the development, we had good chat with [creator] Nic [Pizzolatto] and [executive producer and director] Cary [Joji Fukunaga]. ... Those guys had a really clear idea of the symbolism that they were using to tell the show, really clear idea of the characters, and really clear idea of how they wanted to engage the audience. ... From there we were able to be really creative with the visuals, we could go off and do whatever we wanted and build upon the storytelling that they were setting up."

On the imagery in "True Detective" and how he crafted the idea: 
"One of the really interesting things about what the show is doing is using Louisiana at that time as a way of talking about characters. It's a really poisoned landscape, and they're really poisoned characters. It's a landscape that's been really ravaged by time and experience. That's exactly what's happening in the characters' lives. ... Just after hearing the showrunners describe it that way, we got off the phone and immediately realize that we could build portraits out of literal images of those landscapes and do something in a design sense to reflect what they were doing in a dramatic sense."

On how much control he has over the design process:
"It always varies from project to project, but in this case, we were really lucky in that Nic and Cary had a really clear idea of what they wanted to do and the story they were telling, but they let us have freedom on the imagery. What happened as the process evolved is that they were really supportive of us pushing that to the edge."

On which part of the sequence posed a particular challenge: 
"That great shot of the stripper's heels. At one stage we had scoured the Earth looking for the photographer that had taken that shot, and we had to give up and remove the shot from the sequence. it was really Nic and Cary coming in and saying, 'Hey, that shot's important, that's really telling a lot.' They pushed us to go back and look again."

"We ended up tracking down the photographer in Russia, getting him some money via Western Union, and at the 11th hour securing the rights to that shot so that we could get it into the sequence. I think what you actually see in the sequence is a somewhat three-dimensional digital recreation, which kind of takes it to that next level."

Original Pitch for Title Sequence from True Detective by scprweb