Design and Motion Leaders Devise Powerful Main Title Sequence for PBS Documentary 'Half the Sky'
This week, millions of PBS viewers will witness the broadcast premiere of the latest documentary project from production company Show of Force for PBS's Independent Lens: Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide.
Inspired by the groundbreaking book from Pulitzer Prize winners Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn, the new film introduces some of the most courageous individuals of our time, who are all doing extraordinary work to empower women and girls everywhere. The broadcast event follows key advance screenings of the film over past weeks, and kicks-off a new series of follow-up screenings to occur in communities everywhere. All efforts aim at activating new discussions about these issues, engaging communities, and finding direct ways to create new solutions for girls and women in America and worldwide.
For the film's opening titles, the principals of renowned design firm Chermayeff & Geismar (C&G) joined forces with award-winning design and digital production company Thornberg & Forester (T&F). The result is a :75 sequence that introduces the presentation very thoughtfully: by first drawing viewers into still images showing some of the harshest realities females face, and then unveiling motion scenes showing positive progress. T&F co-founder, principal and director Scott Matz led his team in this latest creative collaboration with C&G partners Tom Geismar and Sagi Haviv, as well as Show of Force's filmmakers, including the film's director (and Show of Force founder) Maro Chermayeff, producer Joshua Bennett, and series producer Mira Chang, among many others.
C&G's creative briefing presented T&F with a number of technical and artistic challenges. "Their big idea was to be realized through one, 'simple' :75 camera move," Matz explained. "The sequence is split into two halves: The first includes a continuous push-in to different scenes representing the oppression of women, and the second is a continuous pull-out that evokes a sense of hope and inspiration. We instantly felt that Sagi's idea of having the camera reverse direction in the middle of the piece was truly brilliant. For us, main tasks were building ultra-high-resolution 'still' composites for the camera to fly through, and creating fluid transitions into and out-of the three different live-action scenes that anchor the narrative."
As storyboarded by Haviv himself, the sequence's poetic visual journey begins with a live-action shot of a baby crawling through the frame. "I was not present for the live-action shoot, but I sent shooting notes to the set requesting they shoot at 24 and 60 frames per second," Matz offered. "This allowed us to manipulate the speed of the footage in our edit."
A second live-action scene appears about 32-seconds in, showing students in a classroom in Kenya. "That was shot by series producer Mira Chang," confirmed Matz. "We asked her to shoot as steady and wide as possible to allow for us to incorporate the footage into our 3D camera set up, and it worked beautifully."
In between those two scenes and a final live-action one (the colorful dancing scene at the end, which was filmed in Somalia) all the other images are still photographs. To make them feel dimensional and immersive, T&F's artists built ultra-high-resolution still composites for their 3D camera to fly through.
"The middle and end shots became the most challenging for us to work with," Matz said, while also acknowledging that the original storyboard changed quite drastically through the course of production.
"We became responsible for creating full images that didn't exist," he continued. "Each scene became its own piece of art to us. Additionally, we built several thousand pixels of 'extra' imagery around each running shot. For months our team worked diligently to create new images from an array of sources, doing everything from shooting our own still elements, degrading architectural structures and designing outdoor markets, to tracking and matching in-camera moves and creating appendages to crop into and out of limited source material."
Finally, Matz emphasized the importance of the project's incredible music track from John Legend and Magnetic Man, and shared his thoughts about one of the sequence's most magical moments. "We worked hard to line up an impactful 'beat of hope' that strikes 32-seconds into the music track," he confided. "The photography transitions into live-action and a powerful moment occurs, symbolizing the change from oppression to freedom and hope."