Responses by Karin Fong and Tosh Kodama, creative directors, Imaginary Forces.
Background: “This is an credit sequence for the Disney+ series Percy Jackson and the Olympians based on the beloved book series by Rick Riordan,” says Karin Fong. “As such, it had to appeal to a wide audience: those who would be experiencing the story for the first time, and those who were deeply familiar with the series’s every detail. Appearing at the end of each episode, this piece provides a tour of Percy Jackson’s expansive world, delivering both the credits and a roadmap of sorts.”
“We needed to tell the story of Percy’s adventures, which is uniquely American but rooted in Greek mythology,” says Tosh Kodama. “It had to feel modern and epic with a sense of whimsy. It also needed to be authentic to the spirit of the books, or else the fanbase would not embrace it.”
Design thinking: “Diego Rivera’s mural Man at the Crossroads sparked the idea of using a mural to show Percy’s epic road trip,” says Kodama. “It was the perfect medium: the era and style are uniquely American, and that made it effortless to weave together the beautiful tapestry of the US landscape.”
“We loved how murals speak to a big, glorious history with dense multiple perspectives, as well as how artists of the ’30s and ’40s immortalized people and events through this larger-than-life medium,” says Fong. “And, in the case of the Greek gods, we were really depicting immortals! Those who know the Percy Jackson story know that Mt. Olympus is actually above the Empire State Building, so we imagined our mural as something that would fit into its lobby.”
Challenges: “The initial challenge was to create large amounts of illustrations for our sequence within the time and budget,” says Kodama. “We looked into creating original pieces of art on canvas, but we quickly realized we would only get through a couple of shots using that method. Our lead illustrator Jorge Artola was amazingly prolific in Adobe Illustrator. It was almost like he would illustrate in real time. We’d give him a scene to illustrate, and the next day, it was roughly realized.”
“Jorge took our references, which ranged from Thomas Hart Benton to Erté, and drew the scenes and characters in a distinctly art deco language—and in a way that had shapes that begged to be animated,” says Fong. “One of the big challenges, but a rewarding one, was figuring out the transitions. From the beginning, animator Merrill Hall worked out a language of how the textures and shapes could do this. We’re not big fans of morphing; we think it’s more fun to play with visual puns and juxtapositions. So, our animation team really took to solving, say, how the sun could transform seamlessly into a giant roulette wheel. It’s immensely satisfying—and humbling—to work with talented people who can take your lousy chicken-scratch thumbnail sketch of highways turning into Medusa’s hair seriously and make it work.”
Favorite details: “The Easter eggs are the best part of the sequence,” says Kodama. “Fans found most of them, but they also made connections that we didn’t intend to put in. I think those subconsciously made it in.”
“Any time we could nod to this strange hybrid of Greek myth and modern Americana—like how Hephaestus wears goggles and overalls like a worker you’d see in a WPA mural, for instance,” says Fong.
Specific project demands: “Some people have asked if we used AI to illustrate any of the characters; I’m happy to say all the artwork is bespoke,” says Kodama. “It took us longer to create the illustrations, but it is really what makes this special. You can see the craftsmanship that went into every frame.”
“The demand of depicting specific characters and places in the story made each shot warrant an involved design process,” says Fong. “We had to find a line of abstraction where we got the spirit of how someone or something was depicted in the show but not show actual scenes, like how history is reimagined in a mural with abstractions, metaphor and the suggestion of something monumental. The freedom that the showrunners gave us to explore the visual style and ideas was amazing. They weren’t about being literal, and that inspired us immensely.
“Speaking of craftsmanship, there was a lot of development in the subtler elements of the painting as well—the textures, color palette and brush strokes,” Fong continues. “We hope these don’t shout at you but give you the feeling of traveling over a fresco. It was important that this felt physical—at least, as physical as a magically transitioning painting can! One of my favorite details on that end was how our art director Henry Chang ‘gilded’ elements within the mural to make it appear constructed from gold and inlaid marble at times.”
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