Entertainment and design company Imaginary Forces (IF) recently created the opening title sequence and end titles for Universal Pictures' summer blockbuster, "The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor." The elegant and majestic end title sequence encapsulates the film's story, but paints it on a different canvas.
Karin Fong and Steve Fuller of Imaginary Forces set out to immortalize the film's tale in a stylized, mythological way. Director Rob Cohen sets the third installment of the "Mummy" films in China, where trouble-seeking father-and-son duo Rick and Alex O'Connell (played by Brendan Fraser and Luke Ford, respectively) unearth the Dragon Emperor.
Fong and Fuller drew inspiration from the filmmaker's attention to detail to portray an accurate and historic China. The sequence is a gorgeous brushstroke painting that comes to life, using a palette of stark and contrasting colors. Viewers take an epic journey through the adventures and landscapes seen in the film, from the Himalayas to the desert, bridged together by Chinese calligraphy of the five elements -- water, wood, earth, metal and fire.
"On 'The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor,' I turned to Imaginary Forces because I knew that the main-on-end titles needed artistry of an unusual nature," says Director Rob Cohen. "I had hoped for lyrical and visually graphic animation that would sum up the journey of the film. Karin Fong and Steve Fuller came in with the most beautifully detailed boards and, although there were other bidders, it was a slam-dunk from the first presentation. Their execution was impeccable and dealing with them was a pleasure. It would be difficult to imagine a more forceful and elegant experience."
"Rob shot much of the film in China," explains Fong. "The sets and cinematography are gorgeous, on a scale that is just stunning. This inspired us to look at Chinese classical art in setting the tone. So for example, we turned to master calligrapher T.Z. Yuan for the ink brush writing. There's a level of authenticity we were going for, while still including the stuff that makes it a fun movie - like a giant Yeti - in the sequence. This is a majestic retelling of the story in a form that makes it larger than life."
IF composed scenes similar in style to a graphic novel, building tension and transitions using brushstroke silhouettes of recognizable characters from the film, with 3D models provided by Rhythm & Hues and Digital Domain. The IF designers also shot real paint splatters and brushstrokes to stay true to a hand-painted aesthetic. Exercising restraint by staying away from slick animation helped to capture the mythic nature of the sequence.
"We played around with the idea of creating a legend from the story," adds Fuller. "A stripped-down version using Chinese painting as the medium instead of glossy fully-rendered elements. A brushstroke painting is so beautiful in its simplicity. A single stroke can represent a man or an action. Our appreciation for that one gesture drove everything. We wanted to people to relive a simplified, raw version of the story they just experienced. This was the elegance we were going for in our design."
"Having the confidence and support of the director is key to designing a sequence like this, since we are retelling the tale so stylistically," concludes Fong. "Rob always liked the abstract stark power of the Chinese ink and we remained true to this idea. He fully encouraged how we sought to turn the film into folklore, as we went about imagining the grand adventure as an epic painting."