Feature: DK’s True Blood – The Making Of

If you’ve seen Alan Ball’s new show on HBO, you’re familiar with the work of Digital Kitchen. For this opening title sequence, DK takes us on a turbulent ride through the darkest reaches of the south. Take a look at the full title sequence here.

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Beginnings: When Alan Ball approached us to work on this sequence, he introduced two concepts that stuck with us through development and production. First, Alan had covered the serious and self-conscious drama in Six Feet Under. With Trueblood, he very much wanted to break from that and express a pulpy romp that was entertaining and unmannered. Second, Ball tweaked Charlaine Harris’s original stories, on which the show is based, to parallel the vampire-as-social-outcast characters in Trueblood to the very real racial, sexual or social outcasts in America. In short we were to expose the soft pink underbelly of rural stereotypes to find what could be just under the surface. – Matt Mulder, Creative Director

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Sex, Death, Religion: After dipping ourselves in southern gothic, from Powers Boothe in Southern Comfort to digesting a pile of Harry Crews novels, one of the biggest ideas we latched onto was the whore in the house of prayer. This delicate balance of the sacred and profane co-existing creates powerful imagery. Editorially we collided the seething behind-the-curtains sexuality of the south into the fist pounding spirituality of Pentacostal healings to viscerally expose the conflicts we saw in the narrative of the show. Holy rollers flirt with perversion while godless creatures seek redemption.

To house these juxtapositions we created an arc to the sequence. The piece extends from morning deep into the night, and as it does so it’s rhythms and content crescendo into increasingly darker and more aggressive territory. In the end, regardless of what kind of evils, sins or vices that were perpetrated throughout the night, there is a redemption through a midnight baptism. It is a cathartic release that allows both sinners and saints to begin the next day anew and is intimately tied to the core of several belief systems in the south, from Christian mysticism to voodoo.

In addition we wanted to explore pairings of religious and sexual themes with implied violence. During a healing a white preacher wraps his hand around the throat of a black woman. Flashes of writhing naked bodies could be lovemaking or rape. A woman thrashes violently, and is restrained, while in the (death) throes of the Holy Spirit. Another woman suggestively wraps and constricts a man with her legs at a bar… the whole sequence is peppered with moments like this and depending on the viewers perception they will have a different gut feeling in response to them. – Rama Allen, Lead Designer

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Shooting: We shot almost everything you see ourselves (the exception being some of the wildlife footage). Everything else we shot on location in Louisiana (4 day road trip in an RV), at a church in Chicago, in a dive bar in Seattle, and a stage also in Seattle.Matt Mulder, Creative Director

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The Edit: Shawn Fedorchuk knew he wanted the edit to rumble through the swamps, wilderness and cultures of the south to eventually reach into the hearts and minds of it inhabitants. This voyeuristic look into the psychological landscape of the story of True Blood would allow its viewers to see a patchwork quilt of images stitched together by the fervor of religious fanaticism and repressed sexual energy. Eventually boiling over into an animalistic lust, our human elements take on beast-like qualities invoking the shows supernatural themes.

To create this rumbling edit, Shawn would cut the footage of humans, animals and insects into tiny slivers, dropping out frames so their movements felt jittery, jarring and beyond their conscious control. He wanted the actual cuts in the edit to create a seething feeling intended to be a paradoxical state of simultaneous rotting and rabid breeding. By colliding quick jerking movements with smoother slower ones, he would create a beautiful kind of lunging staccato effect. On top of this he would spatter nearly subliminal frames of blood drops throughout the edit as a visceral reminder of the shows foundation.

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Typography: “True” was inspired by the hand made lettering that you would find on a roadside in the rural south… specifically, crude makeshift signage. Since those sign-makers are “naive” in a way, their innate, unrefined style is sort of like a boiled-down essence of their culture – in the same was as a local dialect. I looked at a lot of post-Katrina signage as well. It had a sense of urgency and honesty that made it compelling.. but the element of simultaneous anger and fear is what made it feel especially connected to the story of True Blood.

I made the type by hand, with simple tools, and scanned them in to create the True family of fonts.. 8 in all. I ended up using “True Gothic” and “True Blade” for the show, both of which have 2 weights and alternate characters for each letter… helping it to retain the nuanced variations and flaws that make vernacular typography so beautiful.

Ryan Gagnier developed a great treatment for the final logo reveal – a sort of pulsing, skin-peeling, visceral experience.. He approached it with the same kind of crude, DIY attitude – so I think it compliments the type and the imagery very well. - Camm Rowland, Type Designer

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Alan Ball on DK: “What I like about Digital Kitchen’s creative approach is their intuitive ability to depart from the status quo. We first worked with DK on the titles for ‘Six Feet Under’ and the opening for True Blood is equally thrilling,” said Alan Ball, creator/director, True Blood. “This vivid title sequence so effectively evokes the spirit of the show. It immediately transports the viewer into the True Blood world where the conjured thematic images of sex, death and religious fervor blend into a gripping crescendo. I’m enthralled every time I watch it.”