When watching Netflix’s hit series Wednesday it only takes seconds for the delightfully dark opening title sequence to set the perfectly ooky, spooky mood. Viewers are pulled into a twisted journey deep into the peculiar mind of Wednesday Addams (played to perfection by Jenna Ortega). It is impossible to look away as we are enticed to explore the shadowy corners of the type of imaginative world we have come to expect from Tim Burton. While the main titles last only about a minute they make a lasting impression, preparing viewers for some of the oddities that lie ahead for them in Nevermore.
To pull off this unique task, a team of artists at Los Angeles’ Filmograph production studio worked tirelessly to develop main titles fitting of the iconic Addams character. Creative Director, Aaron Becker spoke with Awards Radar about all that went into making this haunting title sequence. As a long time fan of both Burton’s work and Danny Elfman (Burton’s long time collaborator who scored the titles and series), the exciting opportunity was a natural fit.
“It killed a lot of birds with one stone and in a sense, being Tim Burton’s debut in TV and being a project that is Addams Family related,” said Becker. “We know, we read, and heard from them directly that he (Burton) had always wanted to do an Addams Family thing. Me personally, I always wanted to do an Addam’s Family thing, on a much more anonymous level, not the Tim Burton level. To have this happen, working with Tim was a dream come true, because he was my favorite director growing up.”
That organic connection with Burton’s work allowed Becker and his team to hit the ground running. “It’s one of those things where it’s right place, right time, skill sets aligned. My age may have helped me, with my Tim Burton obsession and my having been well-versed in some of his films, and kind of going back to the drawing board with the team and researching films and finding the right reference material to build a concept pitch of two different storyboard directions that I think really got them excited.”
The collaboration started early with Burton providing some direction, but also enough creative space to make this title their own. “It was around that time that Tim Burton shared a really nice storyboard with us that was that was hand drawn,” Becker recalled. “It was only featuring the end section of the piece, where we pull out from the moon and the clouds parting. You realize that the moon is actually kind of encapsulated within the eye, as the clouds part, and she’s then peering over, over the Wednesday name. That part was developed by Tim and then we reverse engineered everything from there to fill it in the first 50 or the first 45 seconds of the sequence.
The goal was always to tap into the spirit of Wednesday while still remaining its own creative entity, not a carbon copy of the series. Becker explained the challenge they faced when creating the sequence. “How can we make this sequence feel not exactly like any one scene from the show, but make it feel like it is within the world of this series, but expands our mind in such a way that you can’t tell how directly referential we’re being, but you can feel that you’re on this psychic kind of journey through Wednesday’s mind. Because, ultimately, she does have this power to envision certain things.”
He continued, “So that was our goal, to figure out a way to create this almost surrealist slash German expressionist kind of way of, I think relating to Tim Burton’s body of work in the past, but also connecting it very much to a modern piece so it doesn’t feel too stodgy in any old school Addams Family kind of way. We cherry picked easter egg symbolism from various episodes throughout the season that we found to hold certain significance.”
The biggest challenge came from their own ambitiousness and desire to capture a true Tim Burton-esque feel. “The camera is just one continuous pullback, which was really really important to me personally, because I had seen some of Tim’s work in the past and I felt that it was the right way to express her journey in a hypnotic kind of spiral like fashion so that it felt like almost a mesmerizingly dark you know, traveling through a tunnel almost.” The results speak for themselves in a title sequence that flows so well it entrances from start to finish.
To pull it all off the Filmograph team used “a combination of 3d in 2d design and animation,” Becker detailed some of the process. “So a lot of matte painting work was used to create the landscapes and the sky stuff to give it the feeling of something bigger, but also it almost feels like Transylvania – kind of like an old shot from Dracula or something.” He continued, “We were looking at a lot of those a lot of Tim’s older work work to like Sleepy Hollow, the way that the way that things are layered very cleverly. So, pretending for a moment if we use CG for for foreground and middle ground pieces, but the sky needs a matte painting like as if it was blue screen or green screen. Thinking about making it as if it was shot really helped us, as if it was actually shot live action or as if it was shot stop motion. If we go into season two, I would love to make it even creepier if they let us.”
Tying together all the ominous visuals is the perfect musical accompaniment, an original piece composed by Danny Elfman. In a series full of surprises one of the biggest was learning that the visuals and music were created separately. Becker recalled the reaction of this team when first listen to Elfman’s vital contribution. “We immediately got on a call together, and everyone was just like, ‘Did you hear the music yet?’ And some of the people hadn’t heard it and we shared the experience, live on Zoom,” said Becker. “And everyone lost it. I mean, everyone lost! It immediately felt like it was a real piece.”
Even then, the production process continued, Becker explained, “There were a couple of things that we changed that we tweaked the timing on ourselves once we heard the music but a lot of it was done with no music yet. We were just working with the ideas for a while until probably the third act of this journey where we finally got to hear stuff. Then you can imagine at that moment, you asked about the Danny Elfman and Tim Burton like marriage. On paper. I mean, what is what else is there to say?”
Becker did have much more to share about his team’s work on Wednesday. Listen to the complete interview below, where you can watch their Emmy-nominated work as well as view pre-production storyboard art. The first season of Wednesday is streaming exclusively on Netflix.
FULL AUDIO INTERVIEW
EXCLUSIVE ‘WEDNESDAY TTLES STORYBOARD ART
FINAL ‘WEDNESDAY TITLE SEQUENCE‘