The opening The Lord of the Rings – The Rings of PowerPrime Video Original Series ‘”is one of the most stunning title sequences that have premiered on television in this year. A series of pebbles, granites, and ichor flows across the screen in a 90-second sequence. This creates a network of intricate symbols inspired J.R.R. Tolkien’s writing, coalescing into a sequence that feels at once both ancient and timeless in its execution.
Katrina Crawford of Plains of Yonder (Seattle-based film studio) co-directed the sequence. This was just one of five ideas their team presented to the showrunners.
“It was glued directly to the Tolkien universe, with sound and music being fundamental to his world,” Bashore said in an interview with Polygon. “One of the first things we said when we showed the showrunners some images was, ‘What if we made a title sequence that was built from the world of sound?’”
Crawford, Bashore and their team took inspiration from the field cymatics. This is the study and visual representation of sound waves phenomena. The most well-known and widely used form of Cymatics was the Chladni Plate, which Dr. Hans Jenny (a 20th century natural scientist) invented to visualise vibration modes.
“The concept [of cymatics] was really well loved,” Bashore told Polygon. “But of course, we had multiple moments of panic early on while trying to figure out how do we make this. The kitchen table was our first stop. Katrina created a basic science rig using cheap parts and an iPhone. Then we could add sand to it and make different tones. Gregorian chants, angel music, rock and roll — you name it. You could hear the sounds and the sand would change according. When we looked at the footage, we knew we were onto something.”
From the first idea to the final edit, it took seven months to create the opening title sequence. This combination of live action footage and CG animation is what the final result looks like. The emphasis was on capturing the inherent imperfections in cymatics.
“Real cymatics is kind of frenetic, kind of buzzy, and almost feral-looking. We are a cymatics. [were] always compositing that back in over and over again,” Bashore told Polygon. “Even on the most CG-heavy shots, we were pushing to put more of that flawed, wild motion back in.”
Crawford cited a lyric from Leonard Cohen’s “Anthem” — “There is a crack, a crack in everything/That’s how the light gets in” — as another inspiration for the opening title sequence. “We love that quote, and it ties both right into what we wanted out of the sequence and to the creation myth of Middle-earth. The quote almost feels like Tolkien being rephrased. There’s this discord that’s incorporated into the music that exists alongside the harmony. That’s how you build things; there’s these different sides, and that duality is what brings beauty. We loved that.”
Of course, any title sequence worth remembering is inseparable from its musical score; that’s especially true for one designed to visualize sound itself. This is not the case with the series. God of WarBear McCreary was the composer. The Rings of Power was written by Howard Shore, known for his work on Peter Jackson’s The Lord of the Rings trilogy.
Aside from Shore’s score and the concept of cymatics, the visuals for The Rings of Power’s opening are steeped heavily in the lore of Tolkien’s universe, with Crawford directly citing the godlike Ainur as an influence that bridges the divide between the sequence’s real-life inspiration and the world of the series. “When you read the origin story, Tolkien very clearly writes out that you have Eru Ilúvatar, this godlike father who created the Ainur and is telling them to take their powers and put their own kind of personality and things into the universe. They’re building and harmonizing and weaving together the universe through song. So that sense of awe and wonder is very cool and that very much inspired us in trying to think about how we could represent that in the sequence.”
The concept of resonance happened to come up in the second episode of the show, when the dwarven princess Disa speaks about it to Elrond about the dwarven ability to conjure meaning from “songs” sung by the mountains of Khazad-dûm. These uncanny parallels were not intended.
“That was just a happy coincidence; we saw nothing while making the sequence,” Crawford told Polygon. “We saw no scripts, nothing. We based all of our ideas primarily from Tolkien’s writing itself.”
Crawford sees parallels between the title sequence and the opening of episode 4, “The Great Wave,” where the Númenórean queen regent Míriel dreams of the destruction of her homeland. “That whole scene about transitions and impermanence ties right back into the theme of our sequence and the theme of Tolkien’s writing. We’re forming something, and then it’s immediately being crushed, and maybe something took eons to form, but there’s always a flex to the universe. Something may be ‘forever,’ but it’s not permanent.”
In the days before the premiere, anticipation for all aspects of the show reached fever pitch, even the title sequence. The Rings of Power. So much so that a montage of the series’ characters, originating from an Entertainment Weekly cover story, was confused for the opening and went viral.
“Somebody sent that to us when it kind of caught fire and became this big humorous thing,” Bashore told Polygon. “And it is hilarious. One person described it as “walking through downtown Portland at eleven p.m.” If they ever make a Lord of the Rings comedy series, that would make an excellent main title.”
Crawford and Bashore feel relieved, and even elated at the opening of the actual title. “We finished this thing quite a while ago, because it has to be translated into 60-something languages and so on,” Bashore told Polygon. “So it feels good to finally have it actually out there.”
Crawford and Bashore were most proud of creating an artistic opening for high-profile TV series such as The Lord of the Rings.
“We try to be very respectful of the fact that audiences can hit that ‘skip intro’ button. We want to respect that existing intelligence and knowledge when it comes to a show like this,” Crawford says. “There are people who come to this show with no knowledge of Tolkien, and there’s people who come to the show who are professors of Tolkien’s world. Is there an overwhelming sense of timeliness that you get when you look at the sequence? Is it possible to be ready for the start of the show? If that works, then we did our job.”
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