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Angus, first off we wanted to congratulate you for the well deserved Oscar for your hard work alongside Kirk Baxter for The Social Network. It’s a shame Fincher couldn’t have shared in spoils of the victory as he also completely deserved the award in my humble opinion.
Thanks. I couldn’t agree more. We had a wonderful time that night until we found out David didn’t win. He’s a master filmmaker at every level, so he frankly deserves a fair share of our award as well.
Before we get into the Game of Thrones credit sequence, I wanted to get a little background on the triumvirate that is a52, Rock Paper Scissors, and Elastic. How did all three come to form the symbiotic production/editorial house?
It developed very organically. Our growth has always been based around the needs and desires of the individuals in the company. Rock Paper Scissors started in 1992 to do creative editorial, a52 in 1997 to do visual effects, and Elastic in 2008 to do what we broadly call “design” (really a catch-all for making things…hence the name.) Each one grew out of the desire or need to do more, to integrate more capabilities, to add tools to the tool box. We are now a medium sized studio filled with some truly wonderful people capable of doing excellent work on a variety of fronts. It makes it a lot of fun.
How collaborative are the 3 in terms of taking in projects and passing off duties that each specialize in?
Very collaborative, depending on the project. Some of our clients choose to work with one department, a la carte. But increasingly, we work in an fully integrated way–starting with an idea and ending with the delivery of finished work.
How do you envision the future evolution of your 3 companies?
Further integration and growth into creating content in various areas.
Do you foresee delving into original content and developing any passion projects? If so can you elaborate on any that we can look forwarding to seeing?
We are developing projects now for TV and film. These are certainly passion projects and draw on every skill we have as a company.
Moving along to Game of Thrones. How did the project come in to Elastic and what were your initial thoughts on how to tackle such an ambitious undertaking?
I had a conversation two years ago with Carolyn Strauss, who we’ve done several main titles with at HBO. David Benioff and Dan Weiss had written a title sequence for their pilot in which a raven flies from King’s Landing to Winterfell. Carolyn identified the need for a legend–or master map–for the series. We produced some sketches for the raven concept and soon thereafter created moving map elements for their pilot. They used these map shots every time the show cut from place to place. This helped explain the geography of the world, but was somewhat disruptive to the narrative. So when the series was picked up, we put all that information into the title sequence.We knew that we would need to create everything in the computer, but wanted to make something that looked and acted real. Using maps drawn by George RR Martin as our foundation, we had the rare opportunity to create a world practically from scratch…so we would need to create a tremendous amount of detail as well. Fortunately, we had an amazing team of artists to do this.
What were your initial goals and aspirations with something as exciting as a project as this is?
It was important to do something different, something that hadn’t been seen before. Creating a flat parchment map with some animated ink was out of the question. Not only has this been done before, but it’s been done very effectively. We needed to come up with something truly unique.
Could you walk us through the initial stages of concept and design? Did HBO come to Elastic with a specific vision or did they let you and your team experiment with how it could play out?
The creative development consisted of a series of pragmatic decisions. We looked at flat maps and globes and they both presented a problem–what happens when you shoot beyond the map? What’s there? You can’t tilt your camera up very far because you end up shooting beyond them–so it became apparent that the surface of this world should have a different shape. We did a test using a bowl-shaped map, which was promising, but still raised the question of what’s beyond the edge. So it simply made sense to wrap the map onto the inside of a sphere. Doing so eliminated the edge issue and allowed us to show more information as we moved around, since you would see what was ahead of you as you moved forward. Lighting, similarly, was a pragmatic choice. Putting the “sun” at the center of this world made sense. Where else would it go?HBO was very open to what we were doing and stayed involved in every step of the process. I am always amazed by how supportive they are, with both creative ideas and enthusiasm.
With a project as dense as this I am sure the team consisted of members from all three of your companies. Could you elaborate on the size and roles of the team and what the process was like when moving from preproduction to production pipeline?
After figuring out the shape of the world we were going to make, we had to figure out how much detail we needed to show. We started doing previs and concept design simultaneously, sending final concept sketches to our model makers as they were finished. We based the design of each model on the locations of the show, but the modelers added an amazing amount of detail as they went. It clearly became a labor of love for these guys. As CG models of each location were finished, they were integrated into the previs. Previs was refined accordingly until we were ready to render out, composite, and color correct. We ended up making four versions, each showcasing the locations visited in the individual episodes.We had an amazing team that drew on the strengths of every part of the company. Hameed Shaukat was our producer. Rob Feng was our art director. Kirk Shintani was the CG/animation supervisor. These are three amazingly talented people who are also simply amazing people. We literally thought about this night and day for half a year. And there was a team of about 20 concept artists, modelers, animators, and compositors. I cannot stress enough how much everyone put into this project.
Working as a director for all three facets of your company, how hands on were you with each department in the project?
The only time I sat down to operate a computer myself was to edit the piece. But it’s critical to oversee every phase of the project, otherwise you don’t learn. Ironically, it’s usually only at the end of the job that you finally know how to do it. Most of the time, you’re inventing a way through it–that’s the fun part.
Could you give us an idea of how long this project took to complete from the day the job came in the door to the day you delivered it to the client?
Production lasted about six months, but between that initial conversation and final delivery was about two years.
The title sequence is absolutely beautiful, chock-full of detail. Obviously a lot of love was poured into it. Can we look forward to seeing more title sequences from Elastic?
Let’s hope so! Titles are a very rare art form, and one I truly love. They can take you on a journey or tell you something the show itself cannot. The goal with this one was to do both of these things.
Thanks for taking out the time to talk with us Angus, we look forward to seeing more from you and your incredible team.