Over the last several years, conference openers have joined music videos, film titles and visual essays as ideal showcases for ambitious motion designers and visual storytellers.
Many of these openers strive for an aesthetic that can only be described as “epic,” and certain tropes have emerged over time: sweeping digital landscapes, mysterious floating objects, cryptic narrative sequences and, of course, tiny typographic elements that underscore the massive scale of the visuals.
The opening titles that Block & Tackle created for the 2015 installment of F5 are, like the conference itself, an attempt to overturn these nascent conventions in the name of experimentation and in hopes of eliciting a genuine emotional response from audiences.
Block & Tackle is a design and animation studio formed in 2014 by industry veterans Adam Gault and Ted Kotsaftis, who had already been working together for many years under the name Adam Gault Studio.
In the past, the studio has taken on huge, complex projects — like rebranding CNBC last year — as well as more bespoke campaigns (their series of bumpers for FX’s Animation Domination comes to mind). The F5 titles called on all their design, animation and editorial sensibilities in equal measure.
Love, a sculptural process
The theme for the 2015 incarnation of F5 was simply, “love.” That single word was also the entirety of the creative brief given to Block & Tackle by F5’s director, Ventura Castro, for the opening titles. The only other rule: no one on the F5 team was to see the titles until the day of the event.
Letting sound lead
Eschewing the obvious romantic interpretations of love, Block & Tackle wanted to explore other permutations of the concept — from pleasant to shocking to banal. They decided to let music guide this exploration, initially inspired by Henryk Górecki’s “Concerto for Harpsichord and String Orchestra Op. 40.”
“We liked that parts of it went on just a little too long,” explained Block & Tackle Co-founder and Creative Director Ted Kotsaftis. “It’s got all this tension, especially in the second movement (around 4:30 in the above clip). We wanted to work with that feeling.”
Block & Tackle approached Fall On Your Sword, a music production studio who’ve scored film, commercial and interactive art projects from their Williamsburg location since 2010. With the Górecki track as reference, Fall On Your Sword crafted their interpretation: a bracing, ecstatic fury of dissonance and resolution, climax and release that defies expectations.
After minor tweaks, Block & Tackle dropped the track onto a Premiere timeline and got to work.
Anything goes, as long as it fits
Block & Tackle’s general approach could best be described as sculptural: a large body of imagery was placed tentatively on a timeline, where it was whittled and carved to fit the soundtrack. The resultant sequence — and its missing pieces — inspired further whittlings and carvings until gradually a finished product emerged.
“We thought of it as an experimental narrative, with Love as the central theme,” says Block & Tackle Co-founder and Creative Director Adam Gault. “We’d watch down the rough cut and then let our gut reaction to the holes in the edit inform what we made next.”
Virtually every technique for crafting moving images makes an appearance in the F5 title sequence: live action, stop motion, composited visual effects shots, traditional, vector and CG animation. Every clip was created by Block & Tackle — some culled from family vacation footage, some shot in the studio, some animated from scratch.
“We even went as far as setting up a back to back to back shoot day with over 30 actors for some of the more intimate moments of the piece,” says Block & Tackle Managing Director Michael Neithardt.
Typography and preciousness
Throughout the title sequence, speaker names flash on screen in giant, flickering type overlaid on footage. While most title sequences treat typographic elements with a kind of pristine reverence, Block & Tackle treated them as part of the editorial process.
“We wanted to treat the type more as a textural element rather than being super precious with it,” explains Gault. “We were thinking, ‘We know there’s going to be a booklet, there’s a website — everyone knows who’s speaking.’ The names were a formality. What we really wanted to do was set the tone for the festival.”
“I feel like the names being huge and really in your face — it just fits with the edit and doesn’t actually distract from the visuals much at all,” added Kotsaftis.
Breaking the rules?
With its frenetic imagery, discordant music and irreverent approach to typography, Block & Tackle’s title sequence could be seen as intentionally breaking the “rules” of conference titles.
“I think it’s less about consciously breaking the rules and more about not necessarily following the rules,” says Gault. “Or maybe there are no nules. Anyway, we were doing what felt in our gut to be right.”
Given the carefully designed and precisely executed work that fills Block & Tackle’s portfolio, it’s tempting to conclude that this gut-first approach to the F5 titles was an aberration for the studio, that it was not their “normal” process.
Not so, says Gault.
“I think we work like this on all of our projects. You’re often sort of meandering, trying to find the right solution, and that makes you feel self-conscious, because you think you should have this eureka moment, where you just know what the right thing is to do,” explains Gault. “But I don’t think that’s usually the case.”
Comfortably outside the mainstream
Block & Tackle’s studio is situated in the unlikely neighborhood of Long Island City, an industrial area of Queens giving way to towering residential buildings looking over the East River towards Manhattan. Literally and figuratively, this puts Block & Tackle outside the flocks of studios sprinkled throughout SoHo and Downtown, where agencies are accustomed to grazing for talent.
“It’s not necessarily intentional,” says Kotsaftis. “It was originally a matter of convenience, since Adam and I both live in Queens too. But it’s also afforded us some flexibility. We haven’t done a lot of work that’s just for the check. We’ve been lucky to work on projects that we like and are fun to do.”