Pitching Blue Book

I rarely feel this way about jobs, but this one seemed like it was meant to be. Somehow I knew it was going to happen, even before it was awarded to us. It’s like the stars aligned.

[ cue creepy music ]

When I was at NAB last spring I hung out with an old friend named Chris Roth. Chris is the founder of The Other House and a very nice guy who I met in New York a long time ago while freelancing on what was undoubtedly the worst gig either one of us has ever worked on — so far. Luckily for us, we went on to collaborate on many more less-terrible jobs after that, and became good friends.

Anyway, Chris saw my Endless Scare titles and thought that style would be a perfect match for a pitch his company was putting together for A+E Studios/History channel about 1950s UFO sightings and shady government conspiracies. It sounded amazing to me right away, so once my other jobs cleared up I jumped on board and started designing styleframes and sketches for the show’s logo.

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Chris had the awesome idea to begin the sequence pushing into and through some redacted lines in order to reveal the “true story” hidden beneath. I took that as a starting point and ran with it, envisioning an overload of information that we would keep pushing through until reaching the final logo reveal at the end. To illustrate the barrage of imagery for the pitch, I threw myself even harder into creating styleframes.

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For design inspiration and imagery I spent a lot of time combing through the original Project Blue Book archives, not to mention true-believer websites, public domain NASA photos, tabloid headlines and of course, 50 year old photos of blurry pie tins flying through the air. Eventually a thick, textured collages style emerged from all that source material.

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Design-wise, I struggled a little with how to make collage arrangements look good on dark backgrounds. We’re used to seeing photos and type clippings laid out and glued down onto white pages more than dark ones, but the tone of the show and general subject matter demanded backgrounds reminiscent of the nighttime sky. So I made it work — but to my eye the photos and type never really exactly look ‘stuck’ to the backgrounds.

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In the end The Other House took a bold route and only pitched one look, which I was very happy about. Chris worked his considerable magic with A+E Studios and the network folks in the big meeting, and after a few smaller meetings plus a few tweaks to the pitch deck imagery, word eventually came down that we had won the job. It was an awesome feeling, and I’m really proud of the role that I played in the process.

One of the things that we went back and forth on at the end of the pitch process was whether to include images of the stars Aiden Gillen and Michael Malarkey within the title sequence. I designed a few styleframes, but in the end we all decided that it should look and feel historical, and using the famous actors would work counter to that. Still, I like the frames I made.

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Once we got the green light, my first official task as the director was to put together an animatic. Chris picked out a super energetic music track which we both liked a lot, and I set about creating a sequence that flew through some redacted docs and then went deeper and deeper into the dark, mysterious world. I went full blast HAM on that first animatic — it was really fast-paced and harder-cut than I had imagined originally — but the studio was not scared to let us go nuts on it.

At that point, time went really slow. I put my head down and worked like a man possessed to design and animate that dense, driving sequence. Chris was an amazing partner, letting me do my thing but always keeping an eye on the big picture. And everything I heard from the show’s creator David O’Leary was super positive and encouraging.

I’m telling you, it was meant to be. Check it out on History and … see if you can spot the easter eggs in the opening sequence[s]!

And for more information about the actual Project Blue Book story, check out this excellent article from the NY Times.