How the main titles of ‘Hawkeye’ helped tell the story of Kate and Clint
The team at Perception crafted different title sequences for each episode of the show.
With Hawkeye, Perception continued its regular collaboration with Marvel on title sequences, crafting a series of silhouette-filled storytelling frames for the series’ opening titles and main-on-ends.
Here, John LePore, principal and chief creative director at Perception, and Doug Appleton, creative director at Perception, share the process of designing and making the Hawkeye titles with befores & afters.
b&a: What were the very early conversations that Perception had with Marvel and the showrunners for these titles?
John LePore: The team at Marvel invited us to lob some ideas at them for how it could be approached. We explored a few different approaches. There was one in particular that I think is pretty directly translated to what the final product was. But I think the real key twist to it was that the team at Marvel, particularly Trinh Tran and Brad Winderbaum, saw it as an opportunity for the title sequence to carry a little bit of narrative weight, and to actually set up a little bit of backstory and establish some concepts, as opposed to being purely a sort of mood piece around the mood and the tone of the show.
And so, pretty early on in our development of the concept and the designs and the animation style and techniques that we would be using, it was decided that, particularly for the first episode, we would have something that would establish the backstory behind Kate Bishop and her character, and use the animated motif of the title sequence.
Doug Appleton: Which was a really fun opportunity to be a part of because I think we rarely get a chance to help create the backstory of a character. So it was a lot of fun, working out, how do we tell that story? The first thing we see from her at the beginning of the show is her talking to her mom saying, ‘I need a bow and arrow.’ And then the next thing we see is her with a bow and arrow knocking down a bell tower at her school.
So, how do we fill that gap and fill it in a way that it’s a training montage without being too much of a training montage, where you don’t really care what’s happening anymore? But you still want to build that story of her getting better and failing and getting better. And then also building in some of that story with her mother, where her mother’s been a part of her life, now that she’s a single mom. We worked really closely with Trinh and Brad, and also the editor of the first episode, Terel Gibson, to help kind of build out this story on who Kate is.
John LePore: It’s also very important to note that they also had the writers of the show develop bullet points of, ‘Well, this could be something that happened during Kate’s life as she was growing up, and there could be this and there could be this.’ And we pitched a few ideas as well. It ultimately came down to, what were the concepts and ideas that could also be displayed and depicted in what is a pretty minimalistic style. It’s lots of silhouetted characters. It’s lots of very simple graphic forms at times.
We were comparing it to a classic Saul Bass title sequence in its simplicity or level of detail, but still trying to find ways to say, ‘Well, how can we, through these simple forms, these graphics, convey complex story points?’ And even just simple things like years of training can be distilled down into seeing Kate’s trophy shelf.
b&a: How did you approach each sequence in terms of differentiating them?
Doug Appleton: Episode one is very much a Kate montage title sequence up front. Episode two to six is a main-on-end. And that is totally different because now Kate and Clint have met. So it becomes less about the Kate story. And it’s the Kate and Clint, Hawkeye, buddy comedy kind of story. So episodes two to six are more about them together. We have them training together and running around town. And it’s also more about the show that we’re watching and a recap, well, not necessarily a recap, but the vibe of the show that we’ve seen.
John LePore: Episodes two through six do have a little more of a traditional kind of mood piece of a title sequence. However, if you watch closely in certain episodes or after certain key events, you will see that mood or that tone has been altered in ways that are subtle or very dramatic.
b&a: I wanted to ask you about the graphic nature of it. I love the silhouettes.
Doug Appleton: The silhouettes were a great way of selling locations. We could very quickly and easily make all these different locations. We didn’t have to worry about photoreal renders of New York City and then out in the suburbs and then in a dark alleyway. We have a lot more freedom to play when we do that. But it was also, I think, one of the first times when we’ve done one of these where they’ve really wanted to lean into, ‘Hey, this show was a comic book at one point. Let’s see what we can do with that.’ In the past, we’ve done things that felt very different. And this was one that wanted to embrace that nature of it.
John LePore: The show as a whole is unmistakably informed by the Matt Fraction and David Aja run of the Hawkeye comics. And that was certainly an enormous catalyst and inspiration for the work that we put into the title sequence. David Aja is , himself, an incredible comic book artist, but also has a strong graphic design background. And throughout the comic book run, there are different covers, and there’s different motifs throughout the comics that had a very design-driven approach to them. So it was very much our goal to take that and extrapolate that a little bit into the slightly more cinematic space that the television series occupies.
b&a: When you are presenting concepts to Marvel, could you talk about that process a little bit? Because I almost feel like the final result must be so close to what you could have presented to Marvel. Whereas if it was a much more 3D with huge camera moves etc, maybe there you’d be presenting just key frames.
Doug Appleton: There are some frames where the boards were just like, nailed it on that board. Let’s animate it. And then there’s also times where it was, all right, let’s go back and kind of rework it.
John LePore: It’s worth noting that even when we do something that’s much more elaborate and 3D based, usually when we’re pitching the ideas, we’re usually getting pretty close to that fidelity or establishing some of the techniques, even while we’re just coming up with the ideas, which can be challenging.
It is visually simple in that there’s a restrained color palette and the forms and the shapes are very simple, but there’s a huge number of challenges. And a lot of our own internal iterations and cycles and revisions were just around, how do you tell complex bits of story or plot? Or how much can you pack into these simple shapes and forms without there being lots of textures? How do you imply lighting when there aren’t gradations of color that you can use? And how do you create depth while working all only with silhouettes?
Our artists were able to create some really interesting points of view, where we’re looking up at buildings, or looking down into the crevices of an alleyway and feel that depth and that immersion while it’s still almost like a singularly flat color presented on screen.
Doug Appleton: And in terms of presenting these ideas to Marvel, we always come with a few different things. What we like to do is, we never just say, ‘Here’s the idea, take it or leave it.’ We come with our ideas, and then we really want it to be a very collaborative process. When we were talking to Trinh and Brad, and when Terel was getting involved, it was a very cool collaborative process, to not just talk about the story, but the look and the feel of this entire sequence. We always knew from the beginning, once we had a direction, that the direction was going to be based on these silhouettes and this limited color palette.
It’s not really simple, because when you look at it, yeah, it’s flat, but then you run into things. If you have just a photo of a person, you know what that person’s doing. But once you turn that into a silhouette, that’s like a blob. And so you go, ‘All right, well, let’s move the body in interesting sort of contorted ways.’ You can tell there’s an arm pulling back a bow and arrow, or you can tell it’s the silhouette of say, Jeremy Renner.
b&a: In the end, what sort of tools are used to illustrate, animate and composite these frames?
Doug Appleton: A lot of the illustrations were done in Photoshop and Illustrator. Our main go-to tools are Cinema 4D for any of our 3D work and After Effects for 2D animation and compositing. The bulk of this was Photoshop, Illustrator, After Effects and Cinema 4D when we wanted to have a little more depth. There are several shots where we’re taking these illustrations and projecting it onto 3D geometry. We can move cameras around it in more dynamic ways while still keeping that flat style.
b&a: What kinds of conversations did you have about the shades of purple and pink used here?
Doug Appleton: Well, one thing that we stumbled upon pretty early on though was that Kate is always purple. So every time we get to these silhouettes, Kate’s always purple. Other characters might be different shades, but she’s always this purple color.
b&a: One thing I loved is that you don’t go crazy with the Christmas theme, but it is alluded to, clearly.
John LePore: In the first episode’s more narrative sequence, there’s a lot less Christmas, because we’re trying to kind of focus on a pretty long period of time that’s condensed between, ‘Mommy, I want a bow and arrow,’ and her being a college student. But with the main on end sequences, there’s a good bit of Christmas lights and snow and whatnot. A lot of that was also informed by the music. Once we heard the final music track, that allowed us to calibrate on the Christmas metre where we wanted to be.
A little Christmas content can go a long ways. It can be so potent and so iconic. So we were also looking for ways to, anytime we touched on stuff that was along those lines, that it had a little bit of extra grit or edge to it. The episode two main-on-end sequence, the first thing you see are Christmas lights. And then a moment later, a bunch of the lights start getting smashed. I think there’s something fun about thinking about years from now in the month of December, we’ll revisit Hawkeye, the streaming series…
Doug Appleton: Well, it’s in the grand tradition of Die Hard and Christmas action movies.
b&a: Tell me about the title treatment, I mean, particularly for ‘Hawkeye’.
John LePore: We have an almost default way that we end up doing it on every single sequence, which is that there’s already logos that exist for marketing purposes and whatnot. Often we try to ingest those and then tweak them. And often a lot of the time, it involves toning it down. Marketing logos are meant to be very bold, very vivid. And usually we’re trying to bring a little more cinematic sophistication to them. Now, in this context, I think we’re pretty much effectively using the same exact marketing logo, which again, is a direct lift from the Matt Fraction-David Aja comic book run. I think it always felt appropriate. It’s kind of a hunky typeface that feels a smidge retro.
Doug Appleton: I think it’s not totally an exact lift. I think Aja did some custom type on there. If you look it, any letter that he has that goes below the line becomes a capital letter. So it’s not a direct lift, but it is very much inspired by that.
I think their marketing logo is a big 3D Hawkeye that has a big target behind it, which doesn’t really fit with our flatter, more silhouetted aesthetic. So we’ve taken the spirit of that and toned it down to fit with what we’re doing.
b&a: Do you work with music for each title sequence? I’m so curious about that, whether you really have to work in isolation or if you have the music available?
Doug Appleton: For this one, we had a temp track that we were working with. We knew the feeling and the vibe of this. We worked to that, but this is a show where every title sequence has a different track to it, and that gives every title sequence a totally different vibe and feeling.
John LePore: It’s interesting, the way the editor chooses to slap the viewer in the face with the title sequence is often a very intentional statement that is happening. And it’s not unusual that there’s a music hit that accompanies that, as a way of just signalling, ‘All right, wait until next episode.’
The temp music that we work with, it always gives everything a natural rhythm. And that usually means that when the temp music is removed and different music is applied, it can still flow with it, as long as it was established with a rhythm.
I mean, we’ve done it almost every different way. We’ve been fortunate in some scenarios, where we choose a temp track, and then all of a sudden the studio says, ‘We’re going to license that temp track, because it’s perfect for this. We can’t imagine it another way.’
We’ve had instances on where Danny Elfman has composed a score to our animation. And when a certain character appears on screen, when the villain appears on screen, the music takes a twist towards that. And we’re just like, ‘Oh, my God, Danny Elfman was watching our thing while composing music. This is amazing.’