When the Emmy nominees for Outstanding Main Title Design were announced last month, Elastic earned four of the seven nominations—for Prime Video's Carnival Row, HBO's Watchmen, Apple TV+'s The Morning Show and Netflix's The Politician.
Elastic has long designed some of most compelling title sequences in the industry, including those for Game of Thrones—the 2011 and 2019 winner in the Emmy category. So, while perhaps not entirely surprising, the four nominations nonetheless confirm Elastic's ongoing position at the forefront of the craft.
The main title for The Morning Show is particularly captivating. Designed by creative directors Angus Wall and Hazel Baird, the sequence features colorful dots bouncing, swerving and jostling their way through different scenes—a fun and flexible visual abstraction of the office politics permeating the Apple TV+ show. The approach is gender neutral, spoiler-free and visually arresting.
Originally trained in graphic design but moved to motion graphics early in her career, Baird was part of the Prime Focus team whose work for The History Channel's World War II From Space won an Emmy in 2013 for Outstanding Graphic Design and Art Direction.
Baird spoke with Muse about The Morning Show's main title. Our conversation has been edited and condensed.
Muse: Congrats on the Emmy nomination!
Hazel Baird: Thank you, yeah, it's amazing. Incredible.
Take us back to the beginning of the process. Did you have any initial direction or thoughts from Apple?
We didn't meet with Apple until way late in the process. It was all showrunners. Angus knew [Morning Show executive producer] Michael Ellenberg, who used to be head of drama at HBO. I think they worked together on The Leftovers. Elastic did the title for that, so that was the connection. Angus and I had a phone call with Michael Ellenberg and [director] Mimi Leder and Kerry Ehrin, who's the showrunner, the main writer, and they talked about how it was very female-led. As they were filming the first season, the #MeToo thing had happened, so they did change it slightly so it was reflective of that. That was the initial idea—it was about strong women in the workplace. They talked about dolls quite a lot initially. Angus and I came back with five concepts, and they ended up going with the spheres and circles because it was abstract and colorful, and it was ambiguous.
How did you and Angus get to this idea of artful spheres?
When we were doing the other versions, we had similar themes. It was all going to be about chaos, going against the grain, and office politics, human behaviors. When Angus mentioned circles—I'm a huge fan of Saul Bass and a huge fan of Paul Rand, so my mind went to that style, and I knew we could do something really cool graphically with those elements. I have a degree in graphic design, so I'm really into that kind of thing, and composition, and the way things look in color. It happened really quickly. I think I did it in a day. And then I showed two or three frames to Angus, and he just got really excited and was like, "Yeah, this is it. This is how we're going to go." So it went from there.
Those are older, classic reference points from 40, 50 years ago.
Yeah. Every motion designer talks about Saul Bass a lot. Paul Rand was more graphic design, but Saul Bass obviously is really famous for his main titles with The Age of Innocence, Psycho and The Man With The Golden Arm. He's very prominent in that era. I looked at Paul Rand's colors. I just knew that to make this work, certain colors go together. The whole look of it was easy, for me anyway, to come up with, and it felt very comfortable. I felt like I was back at college.
Could you dig into the color choices for me? There's the black sphere and then there's reds and yellows but no greens.
Green's a hard color. Wven though it's more of a secondary color, it's hard to go with red. It kind of clashes. It doesn't look very good and it looks very old-fashioned. Obviously, we had influences. We still wanted to have a fresh take on it so we did make things brighter, like some of the backgrounds are a pale white or an off-white or a cream color because we wanted to make it warm. And we had to avoid pink. So it was just a matter of matching colors together, so that the black sphere could stand out, because we're following its journey. At first we weren't following it but we had these scenarios and didn't have a structure, so we decided we would have this black sphere and we'd follow it. It just made sense because people's eye would go to it more.
The title is a succession of different set pieces or scenes, with a narrative for each one that's quite abstract.
Yes. Every one of them has a meaning but we also wanted to leave it up to the audience so they could decide as well. A lot of people have completely different takes. I've read quite a lot online where people are like, "This is what it is," and they're arguing with each other. And it's like, "Well, you're both wrong but I love that anyway!" It's really interesting because some of their interpretations work as well.
At first, we just had still frames and then the hard process was, "Right, what are these behaviors going to be?" Some things never changed. In the very, very beginning, there's the three spheres just go from left to right. That represents sun, early morning. It's an homage to old breakfast shows that usually have the sun appear as a motif. We wanted to show it in a graphical way.
And then the falling down into this grid is supposed to be like everyone just going the same way. And it's just monotonous and you're following people in the street, you get on the lift and you're going up to your office. So the whole beginning bit, where you see that grid and Jennifer Aniston and Reese Witherspoon's names comes up, that's when the black sphere comes and goes, "I don't want to do that. I want to go a completely different way. I'm not going to follow the sheep like you all are. I want to be different and I want to go in a different direction." And then we go into all the other scenarios that are all connected to each other.
Did you work with the showrunners on those other scenarios around particular conflicts, or was it not as literal as that?
It wasn't as literal as that. We asked them to describe each character, and we watched three or four episodes. But the characters' descriptions were really good, but we were very adamant—and Angus was very adamant about this—that it should not relate to any one character. Just for the simple fact that people change, and there'll be a Season 2, so want to find ourselves in a bit of a rut going, "Oh, that person's not in it anymore." So we needed to keep it quite ambiguous.
The soundtrack is "Nemesis" by Benjamin Clementine. What was the process of choosing that?
Well, there wasn't one, really. We got that two weeks before we finished. It wasn't composed to music. We did change some of the scenes around to fit it, but mostly it already worked. We were working with temp music before that, and sometimes you fall in love with temp music a lot and then you get the real music, and you're like, "Oh, man, it's just not as good." But this was kind of perfect for it.
Music drives things emotionally so much.
Yeah, absolutely. When you're designing main titles, you pray that the music is good, because I think it's a big part of it. Sometimes they'll ask you, "What do you think we should use?" You'll get that, but ultimately it's not at the forefront of what you're doing. I'm doing a title at the moment and I've got the music already, and we've not even started on the style frames. But that's unusual.
Do you have any favorite moments from the piece?
I like the beginning, and the way sphere falls down and it feels like we're starting a storyline. But I think my favorite, because it's a very kind of James Bond moment, when the sphere goes over another sphere and it's like X-ray, and you can see the sphere is actually scared. If you pause it at that moment, compositionally it looks really good.
The response has been pretty fantastic. Was it better than you expected or hoped?
Oh yeah, absolutely. What was kind of nerve-racking and difficult was during the whole process in the studio, all of the designers were coming up to me saying I was going to get nominated, constantly. And that was quite hard, because I was like, "I don't know. I don't know." But I heard that a lot, so I was really pleased when we did. It's an amazing feeling.
More generally, can you talk about the role of main titles for a show?
I used to work for Prologue and Kyle Cooper, and he does a lot more film. It became such a famous thing, the introduction of the film. And then lately things have slightly changed, where a lot of filmmakers just want to get straight in, and they have the title at the very end. So, like Wonder Woman or Captain Marvel, you get elaborate main on ends. But as they talk about the golden age of TV and streaming services like Netflix, the main title has become rejuvenated, in a way. For a TV show, you kind of need a title before it starts. You just can't have the logo and then it starts. I think sometimes they feel as if they need something. So yeah. It's important. It helps the audience get into the mood. When I watch the title, I know exactly what I'm going to watch here, and it sort of sets the tone.
Are there titles you've worked on that you're particularly fond of, or classics you admire?
I really like Kyle Cooper's Seven titles. The other one was a Saul Bass, The Age of Innocence, which was directed by Martin Scorsese. Those two titles really influenced me in wanting to do this as a living. And then, one of my favorite ones that I did was Velvet Buzzsaw. That was the Jake Gyllenhaal film for Netflix, which I really enjoyed because it was really illustrative and colorful as well.
I always liked the Mad Men title. I thought that was so artfully made.
Yeah. Have a really great title for a show that's really successful always helps—like Stranger Things, Game of Thrones, Westworld, The Crown. When you do a sequence that you love and then the show's really popular, it's just a bonus.
Does it frustrate you when some streaming services let you skip over the main title?
It doesn't bother me. After a while, I skip them tooi, eventually! If you just want to get into watching it, I will not take offense.