The new HBO series The Leftovers asks questions about the meaning of life, the existence of God and the future of the human race. The show’s main title sequence does the same, for which show creators Damon Lindelof (Lost) and writer Tom Perrotta turned to yU+co and creative director Garson Yu to create a concept that matched the ambitions of the show.
According to Lindelof, he knew he wanted a Renaissance-inspired title sequence, but wasn’t sure how to use it. YU+co came up with the concept of using a traditional fresco painting style (modeled on Michelangelo‘s Sistine Chapel) to visually depict the forever-changed world imagined in The Leftovers.
“That suddenly made the sequence feel less pretentious, more irreverent and most importantly, original,” said Lindelof.
The Leftovers takes place in the aftermath of a rapture-like event, where 2% of the world’s population suddenly vanished. The show centers not on the people who were taken, but on the ones left behind, specifically those living in the hamlet of Mapleton, New York.
“Frescos are like visual history lessons and for this title sequence I wanted to use the look of a classic fresco painting style, but create images that relate to the new dramatic event that is the basis for the show,” said Yu.
Set to Max Richter‘s ominous, mournful orchestral score, the title sequence slowly reveals itself as a series of haunting images that juxtapose shots of people floating helplessly away toward the heavens with those left behind, depicted as grieving, angry and confused. One of the shots shows a newborn baby floating toward the heavens as his father reaches out for him with one hand, while also consoling his crying wife with his other.
YU+co’s camera work slowly pans the fresco in such a way that it is often unclear who is being taken away and who is left behind. The sequence ends on a heightened dramatic note as the camera pulls back to reveal the visuals are all part of an immense fresco on a domed church ceiling.
“The more you watch it, the more you discover the religious symbolism and hidden meanings in it,” Yu noted. “The camera movement helps add to the tension because viewers are never quite sure who’s descending or ascending, and that’s the magic to me. I hope viewers will discover new meanings each time they watch it.”
To create the authentic fresco look of the title sequence Yu turned to Rhode Island-based painter Jon Foster to compose the basis for the vignettes. Yu worked closely with Foster to insure that all of the subtle facial expressions envisioned for each painting were represented. For Yu, it was crucial that those expressions reveal something deeper behind the characters.
From there, Foster’s images were digitally rendered in layers to give it a heightened sense of depth, and then composited onto a 3D animated dome that was designed by yU+co in painstaking detail to look just like a classical Italian Renaissance cathedral dome. “The combination of the images and the characters depicted, coupled with camera movement, helped create an immersive point-of-view that is also strikingly intimate,” said Yu. “Damon (Lindelof) describes it as an ‘intimate epic’ and I think that is particularly apt.”