“Stranger Things” and “Anne with an E” wouldn’t appear to have much in common. But both Netflix series boast iconic and impactful opening sequences created by the same design studio.
Imaginary Forces creative director Alan Williams, whose company earned lauds for its minimalist title design for “Stranger Things,” reached out to Netflix again when he learned that the streaming service was adapting the novel into a series, “Anne with an E.” Like many, Williams grew up captivated by Anne Shirley, the heroine from author Lucy Maud Montgomery’s book “Anne of Green Gables. The lonely orphan had an indomitable spirit, wild imagination, and affinity for the natural world that she brought with her to Green Gables, where she finally found a home.
READ MORE: ‘Anne With an E’ Review: A ‘Breaking Bad’ Producer Adaptation of ‘Anne of Green Gables’ Dares to Darken Its Cheery Outlook
“One huge thing for her was her fascination with nature and the way that she even talked to the trees,” Williams said. “What I was, as a kid, criticized for with Attention Deficit Disorder, whatever they tried to name it. Anne celebrated it. She loved being lost in her head and seeing things, childlike with wonder. And so I felt connected to her.
“I think the second thing was the fact that she was both extremely sensitive, the way that she could look at just the blossoms of a cherry tree and build something from that. But at the same time she was extremely bold and blunt and strong. You could have both of those two things.”
Trying to sum up Anne’s complex personality in the context of her world was no easy feat, but the series’ opening sequence sets up that mood. In under a minute, the main titles for “Anne With an E” allow viewers to feel just like the show’s protagonist: filled with wonder at witnessing something breathtaking.
Take a look at the main titles:
Showrunner Moira Walley-Beckett (“Breaking Bad”) and executive producer Miranda de Pencier wanted the main titles to encompass nature and Anne’s imagination. They sent the pilot episode to Williams as a reference and mentioned that some influences were Joe Wright’s “Pride and Prejudice” and Terrence Malick’s films.
“We began to look at the idea of seasons initially, thinking about Anne’s past,” Williams said. “In the series, it goes a little bit darker with actually looking at some of the details of her upbringing a little bit, some of the abuse and the asylum and some of the former families that took care of her. And so we wanted to look at the seasons beginning with winter. And then as we move into like, spring and summer and fall, it goes into that transition, the beauty of her finding Matthew and Marilla and what Green Gables brought.”
“We thought to ourselves, because Anne is such a grounded, character-driven drama, we didn’t want this to feel like some cheap, trendy CG or something that would look, 10 years from now, dated,” Williams said. “So we wanted to make sure if we were going to do something that was somewhat abstract, it would have to feel authentic and human. And that’s why we were bypassing Photoshop artists, and I really wanted to look and find someone who was actually doing this on canvas to get that human, real touch to it.”
Years earlier on social media, Williams had stumbled upon some of artist Brad Kunkle’s work, which features images of sylph-like women amidst leaves and trees. “The fact that he uses gold and silver leaf in his work creates this gorgeous reflection,” Williams said. “The way that light actually hits to canvas and actually interacts with the environment that it’s in spoke so much to what we were wanting to do with doing it in cameras, and using reflections in nature and the way that a dewy leaf can fall out of focus and look magical. What he was doing artistically was exactly what we felt like we needed.”
Aleen Kim, head of production at Imaginary Forces, reached out to Kunkle, who was already well aware of Imaginary Forces’ previous work. “I was such a fan of the opening titles for ‘Stranger Things,’ that had looked up who did the titles, and so I knew who Imaginary Forces was,” said Kunkle. “And then two months later, I get this email from them.”
“Leaves actually slowly kind of came into my work over the course of a couple years,” said Kunkle. “Leaves themselves are just a sort of symbol of nature, but then it becomes this bigger thing… the leaves became this symbol of nature guiding us to our truths. And then eventually it just became this idea of letting that consume you, and letting that cover you. And so that was the concept in my work, and it also came out of this idea of the mistral, which is this sort of this heavy, dusty wind that has a lot of particles in it, that flows across easily in the Mediterranean. And it just all seemed to tie into Anne and the character.”
At one point, the leaf motif becomes a practical effect when Kunkle actually gilds a real leaf. “We didn’t know quite how we were gonna pull it off,” he said. “And then I actually found some leaves up here, upstate, and actually gilded them for that little section there.”
The animals featured in the sequence were native to Prince Edward Island, where the story takes place, but were also chosen to externalize certain characteristics of Anne.
“The red fox, just on a objective outward level, has got the color of Anne’s classic hair,” said Williams. “Then we liked the idea of it being like a loner, by itself as the shot opens at the beginning. In that very dismal, isolated, cold season, we see it by itself, looking up at the moon.”
Continue for more animal imagery, Anne’s quotes and The Hip theme song