You don’t see any parrots, peg legs, or eye patches in the main titles for Black Sails, the new Starz series from executive producer Michael Bay that depicts the lives of a brutal band of pirates running an island in the Caribbean in 1715. Avoiding the many clichés of the genre, much like the show aspires to do, the moody 90-second sequence directed by Karin Fong and Michelle Dougherty via creative studio Imaginary Forces reveals pirate life—in all its bloody glory—through a series of sculptural setups involving Baroque motifs, Gothic architecture, and Rococo style.
Fong, who has since left Imaginary Forces and joined Wonderland Sound and Vision as president, credits Imaginary Forces lead designer Alan Williams with coming up with the idea of creating a pirate world out of classic sculpture during a brainstorming session. “He was like, ‘What if you had this wild pirate civilization but rendered in the language of what would have been the European style at the time—a lot of Baroque and Rococo?’” Fong recounts.
Both Fong and Dougherty agreed that it would be interesting to see the dark lives of the pirates shared through such a beautifully ornate art form, and they also realized the approach would offer them more freedom in depicting the nastier aspects of pirate life.
Inspiration for the sculptural figures featured in the Black Sails titles ultimately came from many sources, including the work of Auguste Rodin and Gian Lorenzo Bernini as well as countless anonymous sculptors whose work is found on ship carvings, crypts, and gravestones. The creations of contemporary artists such as Kris Kuksi, known for his surreal sculptures, and photographer Pablo Genovés, who floods beautiful settings in his photo collages, were also influential.
While the detailed alabaster and bronze sculptures, including pirates, ships, skeletons, horses, and a massive octopus, that populate the Black Sails titles convincingly appear as though they are indeed hand-carved works of art, it is all computer-generated imagery, of course, produced in about three months. “We worked with an illustrator, and we composed each shot, and then we created those in CG and textured them so that they felt like physical objects,” Dougherty explains, noting of the characters, “We really labored to get their expressions just right so when you saw them in that frozen moment you felt this emotional connection to them.”
Water—also computer-generated—is another major element in the titles. It floods some of the scenes, creating “an impending sense of doom that is in line with the tone of the show,” Fong says.
As history shows, it didn’t end so well for real pirates, though the fictional pirates of Black Sails will be with us for a while: Starz ordered a second season of the show months before the first season premiere on January 25.