The opening for The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power, the original Prime Video series, is one of the most visually striking titles to premiere on television this year. Over the course of 90 seconds, a series of wispy veins of granite, pebble and ichor morph and flow across the screen in a grid of intricate symbols inspired by JRR Tolkien’s writings, merging into a series that feels both ancient and timeless. its implementation.
The sequence, co-directed by Katrina Crawford and Mark Bashore of Seattle-based film studio Plains of Yonder, was one of five ideas pitched to the showrunners by their team.
“It was directly connected 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 built from the world of sound?'”
To achieve this, Crawford, Bashore and their team drew inspiration from cymatics, the study of sound wave phenomena and their visual representation. The most common and best-known iteration of cymatics, devised by 20th-century naturalist Dr. Hans Jenny, is the Chladni plate, a device invented by the 18th-century German physicist Ernst Chladni to visualize modes of vibration.
“The concept [of cymatics] was much loved,” Bashore told Polygon. “But of course we had several moments of panic in the beginning as we were trying to figure out how to make this. So we started at the kitchen table. Katrina put this really basic science rig put together from cheap parts and an iPhone, and we’d put sand on this rig and play different tones through it. Gregorian chants, angel music, rock and roll – you name it. And the sand would shift and move according to the sound. When we looked at the footage, we knew we were onto something.”
The opening title sequence took a total of seven months from the first proposal to the final edit. The result is a combination of live-action visuals and CG animation with an emphasis on emulating the imperfection inherent in cymatics themselves.
“True cymatics is a bit hectic, a bit fizzy and almost wild looking. And we [were] always putting that together again and again,” Bashore told Polygon. “Even on the most CG-heavy shots, we tried to bring back more of that flawed, wild motion.”
Crawford cited a lyric from Leonard Cohen’s “Anthem” – “There is a crack, a crack in everything / That’s how the light get in” – as another inspiration for the opening title sequence. “We love that quote, and it fits well with what we wanted from the series as well as with the Middle-earth creation myth. It almost feels like a Tolkien reformulation. There’s a discord that’s worked into the music alongside the harmony exists. That’s how you build things; there are these different sides, and that duality is what beauty brings. We loved that.”
Of course, any title sequence worth remembering is inextricably linked to the music score; that’s especially true for someone designed to visualize sound itself. Unlike the series, whose score was composed by god of war composer Bear McCreary, the title theme of 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 powerThe opening hours are heavily steeped in the lore of Tolkien’s universe, with Crawford directly citing the divine Ainur as an influence bridging the gap between the series’ true inspiration and the world of the series. “If you read the origin story, Tolkien writes very clearly that you have Eru Ilúvatar, this divine father who made the Ainur and who tells them to use their powers and put their own kind of personality and things in the universe. They build and harmonize and weave the universe through songs. So that sense of awe and wonder is really cool and that really inspired us to think about how we could portray that in the series.
The concept of resonance happened to come up in the second episode of the show, when the dwarf princess Disa talked about it with Elrond about the dwarf’s ability to conjure meaning from “songs” sung by the mountains of Khazad-dûm. These parallels, as eerie as they may be, were not planned.
“That was just a happy coincidence; we didn’t see anything during the making of the series,” Crawford told Polygon. “We saw no scripts, nothing. We based all our ideas mainly on Tolkien’s writing itself.”
Crawford sees parallels between the title sequence and the opening of Episode 4, “The Great Wave,” in which Númenórean Queen Regent Míriel dreams of destroying her homeland. “That whole scene about transitions and impermanence fits right in with the theme of our series and the theme of Tolkien’s writing. We form something, and then it is immediately crushed, and something may have taken ages to form, but there is always a bend to the universe. Something can be ‘forever’, but it’s not permanent.”
Anticipation for every aspect of the show, including the title sequence, peaked in the days leading up to the premiere of The rings of power. So much so that a montage of the series’ characters, taken from an Entertainment Weekly cover story, went haywire before opening and went viral.
“Someone sent us that then it caught fire and became this big humorous thing,” Bashore told Polygon. “And it’s hilarious. The best I saw was someone who described it as a walk through downtown Portland at 11pm. If they ever make a Lord of the Rings comedy series, that would be an excellent main title.
In the end, Crawford and Bashore are relieved and delighted to receive the actual title opening. “We finished this thing a while ago because it needs to be translated into 60 languages and so on,” Bashore told Polygon. “So it feels good to finally have it for real.”
Ultimately, what Crawford and Bashore are most proud of is creating an abstract and artful opening for such a high-profile television series, especially one with such a rich and established history as The Lord of the Rings.
“We try to be very respectful of the fact that the public can press that ‘skip intro’ button. We want to respect that existing intelligence and knowledge when it comes to a show like this,” says Crawford. “There are people who come to this show with no knowledge of Tolkien, and there are people who come to the show who are professors in Tolkien’s world. Do you feel a sense of epic currentness as you watch the series? Are you ready when the show actually starts? If that works, we’ve done our job.”