How Damon Lindelof and Title Designer Garson Yu Crafted an 'Intimate Epic' for The Leftovers' Opening

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In the beginning, series creators Damon Lindelof and Tom Perrotta needed a title sequence, and they said, let it be inspired by Renaissance art. He and designer Garson Yu of yU+co (Silicon Valley, Life of Pi and Epic) discuss how they made it happen.

From the start, Lindelof knew he wanted a Renaissance-inspired credit sequence. "Tom and I had pitched using Renaissance art in the title sequence, but we weren't quite sure how to use it," he recalls. For the execution, the show went to design studio yU+co which came back with the idea of using contemporary figures and vignettes. "That suddenly made the sequence feel less pretentious, more irreverent and most importantly, original," says Lindelof.

The task was right up the alley of Garson Yu, creative director of yU+co. "Damon was really looking to take a big risk and that was encouraging," says Yu. "What we've done is anchor the idea of a Renaissance fresco in reference to Michelangelo's Sistine Chapel. We built a sequence based around a fresco that's in this fictional cathedral context."

Nailing the emotional expressions in the vignettes was paramount to Lindelof. "The intent was to create an intimate epic," he says. "The fresco is certainly biblical in scale, but the focus had to be on the pain and grief the people who weren't ascending were experiencing as their loved ones got yanked away from them."

"It's really not about how they mysteriously disappear, but about the most human story, how people are holding on," says Yu on how his team directed its focus. "People are drifting apart despite their efforts to not be apart." Both men credit the music for rounding out the sequence. "Max Richter generated a score that played both the emotion (that haunting violin) and the wrath (the choral voices) to tie it all together," says Lindelof. 

As for his favorite of the vignettes, Lindelof demurs. "This is like picking your favorite kid... if all your kids were in horrific existential pain," he points out. "That said, I'm a huge fan of the weeping woman whose baby is floating away.”

Yu worked with Rhode Island-based painter Jon Foster for the vignettes. "His painting style and skill in capturing emotion is so right on," he says. The dome, the crackled fresco texture and the final composition were created by Yu's team, as was the camera movement that reveals the paintings are along the cathedral's dome.

Yu explains specific imagery in greater detail: 

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A dad is raging on a teen. The wife is holding him back, and the daughter is pulling him away. It looks like the kid is praying but he's actually asking for forgiveness. 

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With the orgy scene, I wanted to have something provocative. When Michelangelo painted the Sistine Chapel, the reason there is so much nudity is because he wanted depict people as equal. The whole theme of what we're trying to do is to be inclusive of all walks of life. Different types of people, different races, different sexual preferences. It's all about humanity. One thing you might notice is there is a very subtle animation to give additional dimension to the surreality of the piece. There's a purple hand, at the bottom of the frame that symbolizes the idea of death. You can see the fingers moving – it's a calling for death.

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I really like at the end, the father and son shot. The father tries to hold on to the young boy and he's falling back into the space. It becomes a blur of what is ascending, what is descending, what is falling and what is rising. The boy seems to be falling, but really he's rising up to heaven and that action motivates the camera to start pushing in and reveal the whole cathedral. It's a very simple camera move and hopefully, the audience will feel this immersive experience.