Creating an Emmy Award-Winning Title Sequence
Eric Demeusy Shares His Process for Designing and Animating the Title Sequence for “Stranger Things” Using Adobe After Effects
Animator and director Eric Demeusy likes to keep things old school. But when the title animator of Eric’s favorite movie of all time—Star Wars—sat down beside him to give him some advice, he took it to heart.
At the time, Eric was scurrying around Hollywood, looking for an optical printer so that he could practically create the title sequence for the Netflix series Stranger Things, which is set in the 1980s. Instead, he crossed paths with Dan Perri, the award-winning film and television title designer who created the title sequence and logo for Star Wars.
“I showed him the title sequence we were working on for the show, and he explained to me how he would have to re-shoot the Star Wars title sequence over and over because the camera shook, or there was a piece of dirt on the lens,” says Eric. “And here I was trying to film the title sequence optically, and he told me to just do it digitally and then figure out how to get the look I was after.”
Eric managed to give it the 80s treatment with a contemporary execution, thanks to Adobe After Effects. The result led to a Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Main Title Design.
Eric was in high school when he began producing short films based on the Star Wars series. To create lightsabers, he used Adobe Premiere to export a film strip into Adobe Photoshop. From there, all of the frames would open up, and he would review the file and rotoscope the lightsaber blades into each frame.
It wasn’t until he began an internship at a local television station that he learned there was another, less tedious way to achieve this. “The guy I was interning under told me I could create lightsabers much more effectively in Adobe After Effects,” says Eric. “He would give me little projects to work on in After Effects so that I could learn the program.”
He hit his stride with After Effects after arriving at film school in Los Angeles, where he learned to create motion graphics and titles. He put together a reel that included his visual effects, cinematography, and editing work in the hopes of landing a job—any job—in film when he graduated in 2006.
It worked. He got his first piece of work as an animator for a grocery store commercial. From there he went on to work on music videos, and eventually landed at some of the industry’s top creative houses. He has since built a portfolio of opening credits, main titles, and end titles for film and television hits including HBO’s Game of Thrones, Tron Legacy, Justified, and Pacific Rim. He uses After Effects for all his work.
“You can use After Effects in its basic form, or you can add plug-ins and extension and do all sorts of things with them, like expressions,” he says. “Now you can even integrate After Effects with 3D animation. The possibilities are endless.”
It was while Eric was at the production company Imaginary Forces that he used Adobe Illustrator to create all the letters for the Stranger Things titling sequence and then made vector images that he could enlarge in After Effects.
“Instead of creating a rasterized version of types, we just used live types, so that we could move stuff around, scale it down, or blow it up early on in animation testing,” says Eric. He spent a lot of time experimenting with the movement and letter forms. “It feels like a bunch of shapes and lines at the beginning, but gradually, it gets farther away until you finally reveal the letters, which spell the title of the show,” he says.
To properly reflect the show’s time period, Eric studied title sequences from the 80s. It was during his review that he came up with the idea of filming the letters practically, instead of digitally. He filmed a number of tests that revealed details, such as the grain in the letters from his red gel filter and variations in how the light bled through the logo he’d printed on acetate. Then he met Dan, who helped him remember that he already had the right tools in place to create these desired effects.
“There hasn’t been anything I can’t do in After Effects, and the title sequence of Stranger Things was no exception,” he says. “It’s just like an extension of myself.”