VFX Q&A – “Crimson Peak” Titles

by Joe Fordham

"Crimson Peak" titles - Cinefex VFX Q&A

Master of the macabre, filmmaker Guillermo del Toro, recently took cinemagoers on his latest foray into modern horror, unlocking the doors on a Gothic haunted house fantasy in Universal Pictures’ and Legendary Pictures’ Crimson Peak.

In the upcoming Cinefex 144, we will be delving deep into the supernatural goings-on of the film – speaking with señor del Toro, visual effects supervisor Dennis Berardi, makeup effects supervisor David Martí, special effects supervisor Laird McMurray and other key crewmembers, including artists at Toronto visual effects studio Mr. X.

Before you pull up your chair by the fireplace with your winter issue, we will set the scene – spoiler free – with Ron Gervais, creative director of IAMSTATIC, who with creative director Dave Greene and production company TOPIX realized the elegant title sequence that closes out the film.

Watch the complete Crimson Peak title sequence:

What is the typical relationship between a title design team and a feature film production, and how did that work with Crimson Peak?

The process varies from filmmaker to filmmaker and the nature of the project. There are films that use titles as cool backgrounds for nameplates, or a punch intro to grab the audience’s attention, which is sometimes all that’s needed. Alternatively, there are directors who embrace the full power of titles and use them to add another layer to their films. Guillermo del Toro is obviously a director that likes to inject meaning and substance into every nook and cranny of his work. With Crimson Peak you feel as if every element has been carefully considered and mulled over, so with these titles we wanted to try best to bring that same approach to our work.

Original storyboard for the "Crimson Peak" title sequence.

Original storyboard for the “Crimson Peak” title sequence.

Guillermo has mentioned that, stylistically, the film is a throwback to a classic style of filmmaking – when you began your title sequence design, was the film developed enough for you to get a sense of that, and how did you select visual elements that complimented the story?

When we were first approached to create a treatment for Crimson Peak, we hadn’t seen a single image. We were give a copy of the script and we found a few pictures of the actors on set via the Internet. The script really resonated with us and fortunately we were able to capture the right tone in our treatment and frames. The film has a very strong visual motif, and one of our earliest notes was that moths, butterflies and vines were key elements.  The house itself is a crucial character in the film and acts as a perfect backdrop. Combining these two elements we were able to create a guided tour through a series of vignettes that act as a concentrated overview of the story.

IAMSTATIC gathered a wide range of research material, as well as referencing actual props used in the film.

IAMSTATIC gathered a wide range of research material, as well as referencing actual props used in the film.

Your breakdown video shows that all the imagery in your sequence was computer generated – did the filmmakers provide you with elements, and did you try to capture the feel of Tom Sanders’ production design and Dan Laustsen’s photography?

Once we set off making the titles, we had only a few cleared images from the film to use as reference. Later in the process, we did have the pleasure of being shipped two large crates of movie props – everything from large drapes, beautiful wardrobe pieces, old picture and books to intricate frames with bugs pinned in them. So we were able to add to our initial designs by hand-selecting objects that would make sense for each title screen. There ended up being a large list of CG props in the end, which made it fun to arrange the set pieces.

Watch IAMSTATIC’s breakdown video of the Crimson Peak main title sequence:

To compliment the huge sets that they built for the film, Mr. X created a very detailed digital model of Allerdale Hall, inside and out – did they share that with you, and were you accurate to that layout?

Yes, we were fortunate enough to get the beautiful exterior model of Allerdale Hall from Mr. X, which made it much easier to have continuity with the film and allowed us to incorporate it into our own world for the titles. It also saved us an incredible amount of work so we are very grateful for that. The interior shots were custom built by us, and our team at Topix, so we could create our own bespoke scenes, or vignettes.  We were not as concerned with being ‘accurate’ to the actual rooms seen in the film and instead focused more on using composition and lighting to capture the overall mood of the film.

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Visual effects supervisor Dennis Berardi’s credit contains a telling story detail, which we won’t elaborate on here for spoiler reasons — but it made me wonder, did you choreograph your shots to particular credits?

Absolutely. Every object placed in our sets has some meaning and relationship to the characters, or crew highlighted in each title. The titles for Mia Wasikowska, Jessica Chastain and the other actors have strong messaging about their characters’ struggles, while costume designer Kate Hawley shows objects related to her craft, and film editor Bernat Vilaplana is paired with a wall of framed paintings. They each get wrapped with iconography from the film. As Guillermo del Toro said, “We used the titles to underline and add narrative to the film.”

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Can you take us through your animation process, and how much input you had with Guillermo and Bernat on pace and timing?

The process was incredibly smooth. We chose a “temp” music track that we felt matched the tone of the film, and used that as our guide. As we began doing previs animation, we would often sit with the director and talk about tweaks to the pacing and edit based on its relationship with the film.

"Crimson Peak" titles - Cinefex VFX Q&A

Del Toro is very well versed in the whole process of animation and CG, and it was nice not to get bogged down looking at the work in its rough state. We could really focus on making the flow of the cameras and edit match his vision. He also knows his bugs! So if we had a butterfly moving or bending in a strange way he would point that out immediately.

Wax seal lighting setup (top) and final shot (bottom).

Wax seal lighting setup (top) and final shot (bottom).

Was it normal to have so long, in this case five months, to create a title sequence?

No, I don’t think that it’s the norm, but honestly we used every minute of it. I think that knowing how much blood, sweat and tears was being put into this film pushed us to match the same effort. Often, in certain projects, things can become overworked if given too much time and revised to many times; but in this case we relished the opportunity to add a level of detail that we are not usually afforded. It was great.

As a film is ending, many modern audience members can’t seem to wait to light up their phones and bolt for the exits – have you observed if people stick around to appreciate the artistry that you put into this sequence?

We have seen the film twice and we have noticed that with any Guillermo del Toro film, most people are there to see every inch of the imagery, and they know that he would put importance on the titles craft as well. We also locked the doors so they had no choice :)

"Crimson Peak" title sequence

Crimson Peak is now playing in theatres. Look for our full feature in Cinefex 144, in December.

Thanks to Universal Pictures, Bette Einbinder, Ron Gervais, Dave Greene.

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