Plodding, pretentious twaddle or compellingly Lynchian study of good vs. evil? Viewers will ultimately decide what to make of Carnivale, the anticipated new HBO series that centers on the mysterious doings of characters who orbit a traveling carnival in Dust Bowl-era America. But the series does have one thing going for it: an arresting opening sequence, created by L.A.-based visual effects and design shop A52. The A52 team assembled Tarot cards, iconic works of art and stock footage for the opening titles on the show, which debuted last month. The sequence uses a fittingly dreamy mix of 3-D, "2.5-D" and live-action footage to create a mood in keeping with the show's setting and surreal tone. It begins with shots of a deck of Tarot cards, zeroing in on The World card and entering the work of art on its face. Viewers are taken first into the scene on the card as images gain dimension, and then into the real world circa 1932, with live-action footage of classic Depression-era scenes. Perspective shifts backward again, with the camera moving out of another card and another dimensionalized work of art. Editor Angus Wall stepped in as creative director on the project, working with the A52 team of executive producer Darcy Leslie Parsons, senior producer Scott Boyajan, Inferno artist Patrick Murphy and designer Vonetta Taylor. The mandate for the sequence, says Wall, was to provide a bigger context for the carnival-focused show, and "convey the eternal battle of good vs. evil, which touches down in the Dust Bowl of the Great Depression."
A52 designers cut out each of the images from classic artwork sourced through stock agencies like Corbis and Art Images, separating the different elements in each painting, which were then layered using Houdini to create the look and feel of entering the painted scene. The sequences are based around paintings like Michelangelo's "The Damned," in the Sistine Chapel, Bruegel's peasants, and other works that speak to the eternal tussle between forces of light and darkness. "There is a very clear story that the images are trying to tell," says Wall. "The ebb and flow of good and evil, the balance that is struck through time." Inferno artists matched stock footage to the Houdini sequences, with each live-action clip melting into a new fantasy art scene, and with the sequence ending on the Moon and Sun cards, images of good and evil.
A52 designers Ryan Gibson and Jesse Monsour, and CG artists Denis Gauthier, Westley Sarokin and Jeff Willette also contributed to the project.