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Black on Black: Blur Studio’s Opening for ‘The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo’ Reinvents the Title Sequence

Blur Studio worked with longtime collaborator director David Fincher to create the opening title sequence for his The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, a film based on the books in Swedish author Stieg Larsson’s Millennium Trilogy.

“All that I’m asking you to do is reinvent any expectations of what a title sequence could be,” was the project’s creative mandate directly from Fincher. With that, Blur co-founder Tim Miller, the title sequence’s creative director, began working with Fincher to cull key moments in the trilogy that would lend themselves to abstract imagery and visual metaphors. Along with that process, the Blur team compiled concept art establishing a liquefied, black-on-black look.

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo opening title sequence
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“From the beginning, David’s goal was to tell the entire story of the trilogy in two and a half minutes,” says Miller. “Once our design direction was established, David drove the process with a desire to convey ‘a buried story, a fever dream covered in black primordial ooze’ through the visuals.”

The Blur team broke the trilogy down into quintessential moments that could be translated through iconic imagery from the books—a pressed flower, an intricate tattoo, a wasp and elements bursting into flame. Those moments were distilled into vignettes that could be expressed visually. A total of 26 independent vignettes were approved by Fincher to build into the sequence. Each one is a mini-story built entirely in CG, told from a variety of camera angles.

During the editorial, Blur shuffled the deck, allowing the vignettes to play out in a frenetic, nonlinear clash of concepts by employing the hard-hitting, fast cutting style established by Fincher in the first trailer. Both the first trailer and the titles were cut to “Immigrant Song,” a Led Zeppelin song covered by Karen O with Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross for the film. There are 252 shots in the two-and-a-half-minute clip; each cut lasts a mere 24 frames or fewer.

The sequence was built entirely of computer graphics to allow for “in the round” storytelling, allowing each event to be viewed from multiple camera angles and offering the best compositions, vantage points and extreme close-ups. The final clip used 3D scans of the film’s leading actors along with elements, including the dragon and phoenix tattoos, designed and modeled for the film and title sequence by Blur.

The most technically challenging part of the project was adding the computer-generated fluid simulations to nearly every element in the spot. Black ooze comes flooding, dripping, clumping, spurting, jetting and pouring in and around everything in frame.

The computer simulations required to build such realistic liquids were very complex and took hours and sometimes days to run. Blur tapped fluid effects specialists Spatial Harmonics and Fusion CIS to help bolster Blur’s internal team of 20 artists working on the job. The sequences were then carefully lit in CG with an artful eye to provide a very natural, real-world look as if the sequence had been filmed in live action.

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