10:24am PT by Tim Appelo
Secrets Behind 'Game of Thrones' Opening Credits (Video)
Angus Wall of the company Elastic got Emmy noms for Big Love's and Rome's title design and a win for Carnivale, plus a Social Network editing Oscar. But what's hotter now is his genius opening title sequence for HBO's critical smash Game of Thrones. HBO wanted something like the map that begins books like The Lord of the Rings. "We wanted to do something different from the standard tropes for fantasy maps," Wall tells THR. "So we came up with the idea of a world inside a sphere."
The sphere idea came from a '60s sci-fi space station with terrain inside -- yet it had to look nonfuturistic, to evoke the Middle Earth-ish setting of George R.R. Martin's book. "It had to look like it was made in that time, so we immediately referenced Leonardo da Vinci's machines," says Wall. "We wanted it to look like a real place photographed with a real camera."
The computer-illusion "camera" swoops from kingdom to kingdom, focusing on the family crest that sits atop each place -- the "sigil." "The sigil becomes the main cog that triggers the animation" -- the da Vinci device, full of interlocking cogs. "So the model of the place emerges out of the floor of the map and comes to life." Like the show itself, the title sequence strives for realism within a fantasy setting. "In the shadowed areas beneath the surface of the map, there are cogs in there. If you look carefully, you'll see they're all working with the cogs that are exposed above the surface of the map."
And is this cog-filled da Vinci war engine a metaphor for the many hidden, interlocking machinations of the show's families fighting for the throne -- the Houses of Lannister, Baratheon, and Stark? "Absolutely!" says Wall. "And the map reflects the attitude of each place. Winterfell is a lot more rustic." Kind of like the Shire in Tolkien? "Yes. And each place has its own climate. Southern Westeros is more temperate.To the East, Essos is almost Mediterranean. As you go north, Winterfell gets harsher, and further north, The Wall is a continent-wide wall of ice."
If you watch the title sequence attentively, you'll see the the feuding families' backstory told in pictures. "In the middle of the sphere there's the sun, and in the middle of the sun there are bands around it, relief sculptures on an astrolabe which tell the legend of the land," explains Wall. "We cut to those three times in the title sequence, so you actually see a history of Westeros and Essos. The third time we see all the animals [representing] the different houses bowing down to the Baratheon stag, which brings us to the present, where there's a Baratheon king [played by Mark Addy]."
Got that? George R.R. Martin's 15 million readers are likelier to get it than casual viewers. Wall is bowing down to them, the way he bowed to scholars when he made the Rome opening titles, which were full of authentic graffiti from ancient Rome. "We wanted to be very, very faithful to the book because we knew there would be a large fan base that will be looking at this very carefully," says Wall. In The New Yorker, Laura Miller writes that angry Martin fans call themselves "GRRuMblers," and Martin tells her, "If I f--- it up...they'll come after me with pitchforks and torches."
Even if you're a peaceable newcomer to Westeros carrying no torch for Martin, Wall thinks the title credits will help you get oriented. "It's not necessarily important that the audience explicitly understands every detail at first. But you always have a sense that there is an internal logic. Title sequences are a weird art -- to function, they have to have that logic -- their own clockwork, as it were."
"It's a map that's constantly evolving," says Wall. "We have four different versions. Episode two has a different title sequence, and there are later episodes where we go to two new locations -- The Eyrie and The Twins." But Wall won't say what clockwork wonders await you there. "Those are treats to come." The two-year Thrones experience was a treat for him. "It's one of the most fun projects I've ever worked on."