On 31st October 1996, three former colleagues of film production and design company R/Greenberg Associates began a journey that would not only change their lives but totally transform the world of Motion Design. Peter Frankfurt, Chip Houghton and Kyle Cooper co-founded Imaginary Forces (IF).
An industry powerhouse, they have managed to both nurture talent and produce game-changing work with unparalleled consistency, for over two decades.
In fact, Halloween 2020 marked 24 years since the inception of this now legendary creative company. To celebrate, we asked IF to take us through their favorite project from each year of their existence.
1996 – SE7EN
“Se7en launched Imaginary Forces. It was a project that brought main title sequences back into the cultural foreground.” – Peter Frankfurt
1997 – DEAD MAN ON CAMPUS
“One of my favorite title projects was an MTV comedy called Dead Man on Campus. How to combine the ideas of suicide, college, and comedy for this feature from MTV films? Why, with an S.A.T. – Suicide Aptitude Test – of course.” – Karin Fong
1998 – BLADE
“Blade was a movie that I had been developing for a few years and was greenlit the same week Imaginary Forces was founded. I had to do two things I’d never done before: I’d never produced a big, effects-laden action movie, nor had I run my own company. That was quite a challenge obviously, but having Chip and Kyle as partners made it possible.” – Peter Frankfurt
1999 – BALTIMORE RAVENS SCREENS
“At the end of our Sphere main title presentation film director Barry Levinson asked if we liked NFL football. We thought it was a trick question. It wasn’t. He introduced us to the owners of the Baltimore Ravens and IF created the screen experience for their brand new stadium. Two years later the Ravens won the Super Bowl.” – Chip Houghton
2000 – CHARLIE’S ANGELS (MT)
“We can’t resist a juicy reboot, especially one with such iconic qualities. And fantastic split screens. McG’s Charlie’s Angels was emblematic of the time. Pop music, pop graphics, cheeky humor, modern martial arts and … Cameron, Lucy, Drew. More was more. Those all important silhouettes combine into a triptych that carries on and builds upon the original. Dare we say almost 20 years later, it’s a classic like the TV show . “Good Morning Angels”…” – Karin Fong
2001 – MINORITY REPORT
“We used the interface design that had been developed by John Underkoffler, who had done gestural interface design as his thesis at MIT Media Lab. We worked closely with John and the production designer, Alex McDowell, who had developed an “Almanac of the Future” for Spielberg to determine how technology might behave in a not quite dystopian future.” – Peter Frankfurt
2002 – WORLD TRADE CENTER DESIGN CONTEST
“Chip and I are both from New York, so when 9/11 happened, it was a personal kick in the gut for both of us. Imaginary Forces was invited, by Greg Lynn, an architect compadre we had worked with on previous projects, to join in a pop up company, United Architects to answer a worldwide call for entries to redesign Ground Zero. IF, along with 5 other digitally advanced architecture firms, threw our hat in the ring, never thinking for a moment we’d be seriously considered. United Architects was named as one of the 6 finalists in the competition. We didn’t win, but it was a crazy, thrilling, and enlightening episode in our careers. We also helped pioneer filmmaking pre-visualization for what architecture could be.” – Peter Frankfurt
2003 – MoMA SCREENS (first installation)
“MoMA had gone through one of it’s periodic enlargements and was reopening again. They wanted to have a paperless experience – a very dynamic reception / welcome screen to show current exhibitions, wayfinding and upcoming events. Everything a visitor might need. Our solution still makes me smile.” – Peter Frankfurt
2004 – WYNN VEGAS
“A lake with over 4000 bulbs. A screen that’s a waterfall. Large scale puppets that rise above the screen, portraying everything from bullfighter silks to dancing tribal masks. And if that wasn’t all, a 26 foot mask that rises from the lake, constructed to be projected upon. Along with director Kenny Ortega, lighting designer Patrick Woodroffe, production designer Michael Curry, IF came to define the Lake of Dreams at the brand new Wynn Las Vegas resort and casino. A series of shows projected onto the exterior space entertains the crowds with a blend of both cinema and theatre. A bullfight, a film noir piece, a jungle dance were among the custom musical acts.” – Karin Fong
2005 – LEXUS HOLOGRAM
“We created an experience in Times Square where people could look into what seemed to be a car showroom of the future to see a car doing impossible things. We created a holographic installation with graphic interventions where spectators were able to interact, rotate and change the hologram’s color. It was so successful and created such a scene, the police had to intervene and do crowd control because it was stopping traffic on the sidewalk.” – Peter Frankfurt
2006 – HBO SHOP EXPERIENCE
“With architecture firm, Gensler, we came up with an elegant space and shelving system for HBO’s Shop at its headquarters on 6th Avenue. It was mediated with dynamic media throughout. It’s a premium retail experience in the way that HBO is a premium viewing experience. It won the Retail Design of the Year award and continues to be a successful shop for HBO.” – Peter Frankfurt
2007 – MAD MEN
“Matthew Weiner had a distinct point of view for the opening of the show that was very compelling: A man walks into an office building, enters his office, puts down his suitcase and jumps out the window. He described it as though shot on film. We pitched him the notion of doing his idea as a graphic sequence – a man’s life disintegrating, falling through ads in a Saul Bass-inspired world of the late 50s/early 60s. The final image of the silhouette of Don Draper’s back on the Eames sofa actually appeared earlier on in the storyboard, but when Weiner saw it he said “That’s my show! – that frame right there.” We moved it to the end! It became an icon of the show and was subsequently used as a signature in several seasons’ marketing campaigns.” – Peter Frankfurt
2008 – GOD OF WAR
“God of War was a journey, starting with God of War III, we used distinctively graphic sequences inspired by Greek art. Fast forward to the next game in the series: God of War Ascension, where we built upon a more fluid 3d language for the cinematics. And then, the Super Bowl Trailer that announced the Sony Playstation Game— we created a full live action spot that would depict the God of War’s humanity.” – Karin Fong
2009 – GOOGLE CHROME
“Google invited us to participate in a project to launch their new browser. They had a logo but didn’t give us a brief, they said “do what you want”. We asked ourselves what would Google Chrome would look like if it was represented as a 3D object? Brian Mah came up with this idea: an incredible, magical object that lived in an art gallery that demonstrated everything Google Chrome could do for the user as it seemed to invite gallery goers to interact with it.” – Peter Frankfurt
2010 – BOARDWALK EMPIRE
“We love that HBO tasked us with doing something provocative for their tent-pole series of 2010. The era of prohibition was one of big change but one thing in the story remained constant: Nucky Thompson – the gangster & politician that controls Atlantic City’s fortunes. We filmed him on a beach in New Jersey and then depicted his vision of hundreds of bottles of bootlegged liquor rolling towards the shore. Strange and surreal, the metaphor took on even more meaning as the series progressed.” – Karin Fong
2011 – TROPICANA FLIP BOOK
“We asked everyone at the Studio to take photos of sunrises. We also tapped into submissions from Tropicana’s popular Facebook photo competition. Originally, we tried to create the effect practically: print out photographs, build a flip book and then capture it in stop motion. However, the smooth and unencumbered look created in CG allowed the photos to shine the most.” – Ronnie Koff
2012 – DOLBY ATMOS
“Part product demo part brand anthem, this was a great opportunity to let our imaginations go….it was also a great collaboration with the team at Dolby.” – Peter Frankfurt
2013 – MARVEL THEATRICAL RELEASE
“The challenge with updating this iconic animation was to keep what people loved about the flip book idea but also evolve it in a way that was unexpected. The process of editing hundreds of images choreographed to the 3D animation was also a challenge. It was a constant iteration after iteration but loved being part of this team.” – Tosh Kodama
BONUS: IF’s 2002 animation for Marvel that this animation was based off of.
2014 – SHOOTING SONIC SEA
“SONIC SEA, IF’s first feature-length documentary, took a village to make. NRDC, IFAW, Diamond Docs, Heitor Pereira, Google Ocean, Discovery and an all-star cast and crew came together to save the planet’s oceans by making this multi-Emmy winning film. The fight continues!” – Chip Houghton
2015 – MANHATTAN
“Sam Shaw, the show’s creator, had a really interesting idea for the show: the daily lives of the men and women, and their families, who came together to do one of the most important things in the world at that moment – the development of the atomic bomb. The idea was to take some of the most simple illustrations of daily life (making breakfast, taking a dance class) and combine them with complex diagrams of the physics of splitting an atom and developing it into a weapon. The result was an elegant and clever juxtaposition between complex science and the banality of suburban life.” – Peter Frankfurt
2016 – GOOGLE TIMES SQUARE
“Google launched the largest outdoor screen in North America in Times Square. Our job was to create programming that ran twenty-four hours a day to showcase Android’s product line. We created a system that made use of the large space that took an entire city block.” – Tosh Kodama
2017 – SXSW GAMING AWARDS
“The animations for the previous two SXSW gaming events were challenging but were created using conventional methods. This time we wanted to enter uncharted territory,” said creative director, Jeremy Cox. For 2017, it was equal parts gaming hardware, NASA’s space photography, retro sci-fi book covers and Kubrick’s 2001.
2018 – COUNTERPART
“It’s Go Time. ‘Can you escape the template of destiny?’ So asked showrunner Justin Marks. Counterpart pushes our tradition of hybrid imagery- work that is both analog and digital- as we took the dystopian view of a world split on two parallel paths. With access to the show’s cold war-styled set, we shot footage then built on visual motifs that ultimately folded into the metaphor of a Go-game. Would the moves you make be predetermined, no matter how you played them? Maybe we’ll never know, but in this case they did award IF the Emmy for Outstanding Main Title Design.” – Karin Fong
2019 – SEE
“We decided from the beginning that the sound design would take the lead in telling the story. Talking with Joe Strechay, the show’s blindness consultant, was a really interesting part of this project. We took the idea of echolocation and tested what typography would look like in a dark void, revealed only where there was sound. We wanted to make a title that was barely there, readable for only the most fleeting of moments. A sense of the vast world beyond sight.” – Karin Fong
2020 – VS MACHINES
“Our main creative challenge was to take the all-too-common reality of toxic expectations faced by all women – not just Takahashi and Matsutomo – and repackage it in a way that made the viewer see it with new eyes and truly feel it. Through the poetic language of human-turned-robots and a towering kaiju, I feel our team did just that.” – Alan Williams
So, there we have it—an incredible playlist of some of the most magical moments from the team at Imaginary Forces. To survive and thrive for twenty-four years in this industry is a testament to the power of adaptability. Imaginary Forces continue to inspire with their distinct concoction of styles, mediums, formats, and clients.
Binging IF’s sequence of brilliance left us not only wanting more but asking, “how did they do that?” To answer this question, and to kick off our brand new series, Open Archives, we take a deeper look into the process behind six of Imaginary Force’s masterpieces.
Open Archives is a biannual series in which Motionographer will partner with a legendary studio or artist, unfolding over six months. We will be given unprecedented access into their archives, unpacking the most iconic or interesting projects, and producing a monthly episode to share the story with our incredible community.
So Happy Birthday, Imaginary Forces. We look forward to ringing in a quarter of a century with you.
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