For the first time, the Daytime Emmy Awards (taking place on May 5) has split its title sequence category in two—outstanding main title and graphic design for a live action program, and outstanding main title and graphic design for an animated program, and the latter is dominated by SVODs. Amazon Prime Video and Netflix managed to snag two and three nominations, respectively, blocking out any other broadcasters from the category—even though both of those platforms give viewers the ability to skip over that exact feature. So what are these platforms doing to keep viewers tuned in?
Amazon Prime Video is up for two different shows in the category, including DreamWorks Animation’s The Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle and Prime Original Little Big Awesome (pictured).
“In the streaming world you have to factor in the little button that’s going to allow customers to skip the title,” says Aaron Davidson, kids’ programming executive for Amazon Studios.
Despite the fact that people skip, it’s part of the tradition in animation and there’s value in creating a unique, watch-worthy intro, he says. The tradition harkens back decades in the TV industry, including everything from Ren & Stimpy to the iconic SpongeBob opening titles. Often those sequences were used not just to introduce the show when viewers tuned in, but also as an early form of promo that served as a summary for viewers, points out Davidson. Amazon has been trying to weave in those elements to its own opening sequences and add catchy songs and little couch gags that change every episode to keep people coming back for more.
Overall, he says a strong title sequence part of making a show standout from all of the other content currently in market, and something he considers for every show as an executive.
“It ties very closely to our broad creative mandate of being fresh and unique, doing something different,” says Davidson. “We’re going to push the intro the same way that we push our scripts or animation or our music and sound design.”
One of the main techniques Davidson loves to employ to make Amazon’s title sequences pop is the cough gag. Coined by The Simpsons, the couch gag specifically refers to the rotating sequence of the series’ end-of-intro-song couch scenes, which changes in each episode. Many shows employ the same rotating intro technique, from Bob’s Burgers, which swap the businesses in each title sequence, or even something as grand as Game of Thrones, which creates a different moving map each episode to show the locations that will be featured in the episodes.
Amazon first tested this format with its original series Danger & Eggs by having the characters do something different (such as fan each other or patch sprinkler holes) underneath the title card. Comedy tends to lend itself to couch gags, says Davidson, so he tried it again with 13-episode animated preschool series Little Big Awesome, where at the end of each intro the characters hug a different animal each week.
To create Little Big Awesome‘s sequence, the team brought in Elliot Lim, an outside animator, who created the opening sequence for FX’s Man Seeking Woman. Bringing in this outside player allowed Little Big Awesome‘s opening sequence to be “very much in the spirit of the show, but the characters are just a little different in their modeling and their movements so it really feels like a stylized and interpretative title sequence in some ways,” says Davidson. Lim worked with Amazon’s production partner LA-based studio Titmouse, to make the title sequence, which also brought on Eban Schletter (SpongeBob SquarePants) as the composer.
“It was that combination of forces that came together and made something unlike anything that I’ve ever worked on,” says Davidson. “And hopefully that stands out in the marketplace.”
To account for the additional cost of creating new, unique sequences, Amazon earmarks some of the budget so when creators are two-thirds of the way through making the show and understand the characters a little better, then they can grab those funds and get to work on the intro. But, you have to have the forethought to factor that into the budget and know roughly how much you’re going to need, says Davidson.
While he wouldn’t share the exact cost of each sequence, he says that in animation it’s custom to pay by the second and title sequences, though brief, can be quite involved and can get pricey. Ultimately, however, if it means there’s more to hook viewers to your show, or make superfans happy with a different couch gag episode, or even earn you an Emmy nomination…well then it must be worth it.
“We do live in a strange world where some people are just going to be watching the title sequence because the remote is too far away and it’s literally a mistake,” says Davidson. “I guess the way that I think about it is, I want to reward that person.”
Tune in tomorrow for part two of the title sequence series with DreamWorks Animation.