From the galloping horse to the dancing robotic tools to the passionate embrace of two unfinished lovers, the “Westworld” main title design is a work of beauty. It captures the essence of HBO’s amusement park run amok, re-imagined from the late Michael Crichton. Created by design studio, Elastic, these spectacular titles even surpass last year’s Emmy-winning “The Man in the High Castle.”
The challenge, of course, was doing justice to the sweeping aesthetics and moral tone of the Jonathan Nolan-directed sci-fi/western mashup. “As I learnt more and more about the way the show had been put together, I could see that the bar was going to be high,” said Patrick Clair, Elastic’s creative director. “I loved the design sensibility of the world they were building, and how smart the underlying concepts were.”
Building the Wild West DNA
The early concepts explored the show’s construction process and found an abstract and poetic aesthetic that worked (classical framing built around symmetry and negative space). But Clair wanted to push it further: he felt that the story of the main title design “needed more soul — more humanity and drama — to make some fundamental statements about consciousness, intelligence, and the human experience.”
“So we started to create these hosts in moments of humanity,” said Clair, “two lovers stealing a moment of passion together, the exhilaration of riding on horseback across the plains, the sadness of a piano player playing his final notes. I wanted each tableau to have all the iconic Wild West DNA that it could, while simultaneously feeling disrupted, exposed and grotesque — built by the robotic arms, but really kind of ‘dissected’ by them.”
Clair was inspired by the sci-fi rawness and sexuality of his favorite music video, “All is Full of Love,” by Chris Cunningham. The team also studied organ printing, robotic arms, android fanart, fine art, anything to do with broken human body parts or the interaction of liquids and human forms.
Closing the Loop
Clair also had long discussions with Nolan about the philosophical predicament of the robotic hosts and the possibilities of this strange combo of western and sci-fi creations colliding together. “Eventually, we nailed down that this key scene had to be about closing the loop — about this being, the host, facing his own redundancy and mortality… like ashes to ashes, dust to dust — from milk he came, to milk he must return,” said Clair.
The horse and rider scene captured the essence of the Wild West and the American landscape, while the robotic arm swept through the world with the grace of a ballerina. From there, they used the orbiting tendon to weave the elements of the beast.
However, the sculpted lovers were imbued with sadness, their forms hidden by a central glow. “In fact, it’s just their front surfaces that are finished human skin, but everything on their back sides are quite grotesque… half formed organs, jutting bones. My hope was that would be quite unsettling,” Clair said.
Animating the Horse and other Figures
The organic modeling team crafted the horse and each of the figures in ZBrush, basically sculpting the forms in a virtual space to get natural curves and very high levels of detail. Jose Limon and Jessica Hurst worked under the supervision of Kirk Shintani, the head of 3D.
Meanwhile, Raoul Marks, the 3D lead, set up a GPU-based render solution that harnessed multiple parallel processors to exploit the power of new rendering techniques that allow rapid feedback for lighting and camera position.
“This allowed us to explore many configurations for each scene before we found the ideal solutions,” said Clair. “The hardest part was definitely finding the balance between pacing and story. Main title sequences are an unusual form of storytelling – they need to hit the story beats in a way that grabs the viewer, but also play out with the grace of musical structure, so that you can rewatch them week after week.”