Over the past six weeks I have been enjoying the TV program “The Durrells” on ITV. This has been (in my opinion) perfect Sunday evening TV, gentle and beautiful to watch.
For those of you who don’t know, it is based on The Corfu Trilogy, an autobiographical book series by the naturalist Gerald Durrell. The story is of when his widowed mother suddenly decides to move her family of four children to Corfu in search of a better life for them all. They struggle with language difficulties, lack of electricity, no money, and cultural differences. But this post is not really about the TV series. It is about the TV titles.
Image by kind permission of Alex Maclean of Rupert Ray
The tiles of the program have had me mesmerised. In fact, I was inspired to try and find out who had created them. The company behind the titles is Rupert Ray, and the particular designer is Alex Maclean. The full title sequence can be seen here.
So why do I like this title sequence so much? I have been thinking about this and have identified some of the reasons.
Firstly, the style is so evocative of the story and the era in which it is set (1935). The strong, bold, and flat colours remind me of the railway and travel posters of the 1930s. I now know that these posters were part of Alex Maclean’s references for the titles. It was nice to know that my interpretation of the imagery matched with what he intended.
Secondly, the title sequence is full of character and storyline references, as well as contextual information about Corfu. There are lots of hidden details not necessarily observed at first sight. We see different activities from the story (such as Margo sunbathing and Leslie shooting), also items or ‘props’ that we can identify (such as Larry’s typewriter and the pink bicycle). There is so much character and personality in the people we meet in the titles. And as the TV series progressed I was able to see and understand more items that I had previously missed.
Finally, it was the overall flow of the titles. Rather than being a series of more static images, the ‘scenes ‘ flowed into each other with a lovely sense of almost being on the journey with the Durrells. It was an amalgamation of different events. Not necessarily correct in terms of storyline timescales, but really effective at creating the feel and the ambience of the program. While some scenes were very literal (the sunbathing) many were combinations of different events or character traits. And I especially loved Roger the dog bouncing through them.
To find out more about the ideas behind these titles, you can see some of Alex Maclean’s developmental work here, and also visit his development board on Pinterest.
Why has this TV title sequence been important to me as a designer?
As part of the Make Art That Sells course there was a brief to illustrate a children’s book. I struggled with this and am not happy with the work I produced. But I did not really know why. Analysing these TV titles has helped me to understand why. I focused on one scene from the story, I was too literal in my interpretation. I did not pay enough attention to creating the whole context and feel of the story, putting in all the little extras that would help to create the overall atmosphere and visual interest. My focus was on creating the characters, and I am pleased with what I did there. But now I start to realise that the visual characters are only the start. They need a context rich world to inhabit and to make them ‘come alive’. Yes, Lilla told us that, but it took Alex Maclean’s work to help me realise and understand it. Thank you Alex.