Rushes’ title sequence, logo and ad-break bumpers for ITV1 show Demons take viewers on a gothic-inspired trip across London, and then deep into the bowels of the city.
If there’s any type of project worth sinking your creative teeth into, then the opening titles of a new primetime TV series is certainly a candidate.
Demons – a six-part show that began airing on ITV1 in January – delivers a modern-day take on the mythology surround Dracula and the Van Helsing family, and visual-effects studio Rushes needed to deliver opening titles, logo and ad-break bumpers with bite.
The show’s title sequence reflects the journey a vampire would take as they fly through London and into the underground tunnel system that serves as their lair.
AP Design’s Matt Curtis created the initial storyboards that formed the basis of Rushes’ work. “The series is set in London, and the titles needed to show that very clearly,” says Curtis.
“The demons travel around under the streets via the Victorian tunnels and sewers. I wanted to highlight the contrast between our modern world and the demons’ lair deep within a labyrinth of tunnels, so we start on the bright and shiny London cityscape and are drawn quickly into the green-lit, dim and gothic world below.”
Drawing on a collection of graphic novels for reference and inspiration, Curtis set out to recreate the sense of brooding and darkness that he says is a hallmark of a good graphic novel – allowing the viewers to imagine the worst, according to Curtis.
Once Curtis had handed over a detailed storyboard that outlined basic timings and style to Rushes, the team created an animatic with a basic 3D environment, enabling title timings and pace to be experimented with.
Initially Curtis wanted the sequence to begin with an interesting aerial shot of London to establish location, but both budget and time constraints meant that a bespoke filmed shot wasn’t an option.
Creating the opening city scene was the first challenge for the team says Rushes’ head of motion graphics, Matt Lawrence. “It became apparent that we had to find a 2D solution to the city fly-through sequence,” says Lawrence.
But, with no footage to work from, and no budget available for a helicopter shot, the team had to get creative with a digital SLR camera.
“Jonathan Privett, head of Rushes 3D, spent an evening taking photographs of London at night, which I then took into Photoshop and broke down into layers of foreground, mid- and background buildings,” says Lawrence.
“These were animated using After Effects by transitioning from a wide shot into a close-up of the Gherkin. This close-up shot, made of the split-layer PSD file, was then animated on planes to create depth and timed to the camera move of lead animator Seb Barker’s 3D sequence.
"We added twinkling city lights and aircraft flying in the air, and put a CG crane in the foreground. Mist was then put in as a final layer to help bed all the layers together,” he explains.
After Effects was used to create the titles layer and the opening city sequence. Lawrence says that After Effects’ ability to import layered Photoshop files for quick changes to the layered city scene was a vital feature.
Photoshop was also pressed into service, creating hundreds of textures for the second half of the sequence, set in a twisting CG sewer system.
The second part of the title sequence is entirely CG, starting with a dramatic drop past a skyscraper, which was constructed and animated in Maya. An entire labyrinth of underground tunnels was needed and – after creating and approving an animatic that outlined the camera’s path and timing – work began on constructing the vast, crypt-like sewer system.
“With a limited timeframe, every step had to be carefully planned in order to make the most of the little we had,” says Rushes lead animator Seb Barker.
“Renderman was used for the shading and rendering phase, and this made it possible to reach a far higher level of polish and realism than would be otherwise obtainable.”
Final renders where eventually split into many passes, and then composited in Shake allowing for otherwise time-consuming 3D adjustments to be made quickly and efficiently in 2D.
The team created models from photos and then projected textures onto them to create a crypt. Lighting was strategically placed, to give the scene a murky realism without resorting to an otherwise essential, if time-consuming, occlusion pass.
“Lighting played a massive part in giving the scene the demon-like atmosphere Matt Curtis desired,” explains Barker.
“The final render was split into many passes and composited within Shake, and this gave a huge level of control that would not have been possible if we had to wait for time-consuming 3D renders to have been processed. A big help for this project was to composite the 3D myself – you can constantly say to yourself ‘Could I achieve the same effect more quickly in 2D?’ More often than not, the answer was ‘Yes’.”
A key element was the creation of the Demons logo that, in order to match Matt Curtis’ vision, needed to have an extruded-stone treatment – and that needed to be created in 3D.
“The reason we used Cinema 4D was because I was also creating the titles layer working predominantly in After Effects,” says Lawrence.
“Cinema 4D works really well exporting both cameras and lights plus all the passes directly into the comp, giving maximum control to the final imagery. The AE renders were then comped back into the Maya renders using Shake where the whole sequence was graded and output to a hard drive as a cineon sequence.”
The crypt that serves as the demons’ lair was built in CG. It was then scattered with a significant amount of debris and rubbish to add the sinister detail the shot needed, while also helping to avoid the need for an occlusion pass.
The team placed 3D ‘buildings’ over still images of real buildings to create the illusion of a camera swooping over the city.
With 3D buildings layered over real-life buildings, it was possible to place credits between the layers, as though they’re hovering in mid-air.
Project: Demons titles, logo and ad-break bumpers Client: ITV1, Shine Productions
Agency: AP Design
Studio: Rushes, www.rushes.co.uk
Software: Adobe After Effects, Adobe Photoshop, Apple Shake, Autodesk Maya, Maxon Cinema 4D, Pixar Renderman