How Artjail created the controversial HBO Scientology doc Going Clear's surreal graphics

New York-based VFX studio Artjail was enlisted by documentary filmmaker Alex Gibney and Jigsaw Productions to create a revealing title sequence and animations, titles and graphics for the HBO documentary, Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief.

The documentary, which includes claims that former members have been harrassed by the church, is HBO's second-most popular documentary ever in the US – but may not be broadcast in the UK due to inconsistent libel laws.

You can watch the film’s 'Xenu' sequence above, which uses stock footage, CG and 2D elements - and narration by L Ron Hubbard himself. The titles are below.

Gibney brought Arjtail onboard early to help visualise the overall look he had in mind for his film, and the studio got involved in working on many important aspects of the documentary.

“Working closely with Alex and his team, Artjail was responsible for giving vision to the filmmaker’s ideas,” said Arthur Portnoy, Arjtail executive producer. “We created a simple, elegant visual language for a film featuring a complex story spanning many years, many themes and many characters, both famous and not."

"There was a lot of collaboration in terms of how the type, graphics and animations looked and worked in the film until everyone was satisfied we had hit the right notes. In the end, it was well worth the effort.”

In the 'Xenu' sequence, the animated footage is layered, creating a surreal and bizarre set of images that serve as a visual interpretation of Hubbard’s strange, sci-fi explanation for how the world was created.

Impressionistic imagery was used throughout different parts of the film to illustrate some of the strange rituals and circumstances in which featured church members found themselves.

These shots were filmed by Artjail creative director Steve Mottershead over a two-day shoot using Phantom and Bolex cameras. 


“After our first meeting with Alex I came away feeling like we really connected,” said Mottershead. “It was the type of project that allowed for a lot of experimenting with different looks and techniques, which is always fun and ultimately rewarding."

"We are very pleased with the final film and glad we had the opportunity to play such a big role while working closely with such an insightful director.”

 Artjail also worked on additional short animations, titles and graphics found throughout the film, as well as treating a vast number of archival still photographs.

All in all, the studio executed eighty shots in the film, helping provide the work with a unified look and feel.

 In particular, the studio designed the film’s important and impactful opening sequence.

Artjail shot live-action footage and created the type design for the sequence, which drew viewers right into the mysterious inner world of of Scientology by depicting its peculiar 'auditing' process. 

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