If you look straight into the Deadlights and don't go absolutely insane from the experience, you just might catch a glimpse of realities that almost were.
In several of those dimensions, the opening title sequence to Hulu's Stephen King drama/mystery/thriller, Castle Rock, looks a lot different from the one we ended up getting in our universe.
Luckily for SYFY WIRE, the company behind said sequences, Imaginary Forces, was able to reach through a thinny and pull out a few alternate designs that went unused for the hit show, which was recently renewed for a second season.
"From our initial conversation with [creators] Sam [Shaw] and Dustin [Thomason], they explained Castle Rock as taking place in the rooms and spaces off camera, or to the side of the Castle Rock that Stephen King had created," Art Director Max Strizich told SYFY WIRE. "Also, the town has a sense of doom, it is a run down, forgotten place and is as much a character as the actors. It was important that the look of the title sequence was visually distinct from the show, but captured the tone and hinted at the Stephen King universe."
For example, take a look below at some logo ideas that didn't make the cut. The one they settled on is almost like a ransom note, the letters cut from the pages of different King books.
As for the opening titles themselves, viewers catch glimpses of famous King excerpts from books like The Shining, It, and The Green Mile.
However, the good folks Imaginary Forces went in an entirely different direction on the first go-around, previsualizing what Strizich described as, "a rollercoaster through Castle Rock, transitioning through its spaces in a single camera move." This was ultimate scrapped due to the fact that, "it wasn’t visually distinct enough from the show and felt too removed from King's source material."
These unused designs featured locations and elements from the series itself like a cell block at Shawshank or Warden Lacy's car sinking into the murky depths of Castle Lake. Other references were also supposed to be scattered throughout (e.g. Georgie's yellow raincoat hanking on a hook).
"To me the initial design direction was a really strong piece," said Henry Chang, one of the project's main designers. "It was a little more trendy in the way that we rebuilt the scenes in CG ... These scenes were built in a way that you could sense there were violent events that happened but you didn’t see any human figures. That gave us the chance to see the town and it’s 'evil' without the presence of people. Through the constantly pushing back of the camera it almost feels like you were being sucked out of those places and finally ended up on a bird's eye view of the town."
Here's an image from that original sequence:
Now back at the drawing board, the artists and designers began to focus on physical copies of King's books, mainly those from the '70s and '80s, which today, would be yellowing and dog-eared. This was similar to how IF approached the titles for Stranger Things.
"In looking at the paperback King books there was a sense of nostalgia," Strizich said. "Notes in margins, dog-eared pages, all the wear and tear found in a well-read book. Based on this we developed a system to showcase King's reference to Castle Rock the town using an exploded view of the Castle Rock title as the vehicle ... Throughout the process, I found myself re-reading passages while looking for references of Castle Rock. It felt like an investigation, pulling all the pieces together. It was a trip seeing fragments of all these amazing stories floating around."
"We had researched and worked with Sam and Dustin to come up with a spreadsheet of every story that had taken place in the town Castle Rock," Chang added. "We would keep going back to the same list to pick the ones we thought were interesting to work into our spot ... Simply, we thought it made sense to first use common references to draw peoples’ eyes, knowing once the viewer realized those writings on the paper actually had meaning, they would pause and pay more attention to other clues in the piece."
Collecting as many old school King publications as they could, the team scanned and photographed certain pages (also adding handwritten notes over the text) that eventually made it into the finished product, but even then, the "book snippet" opening titles went through two different versions before everyone was happy.
According to Strizich, the entire endeavour took around 7 months to complete and while Mr. King was not directly involved, he was providing input via conversations with the show's creators, Shaw and Thomason.
When the show finally dropped in late July, fans were quick to find all of the King-based Easter eggs in the title sequence and in the show itself. That being said, this scavenger hunt concept (at least for the intro) was not meant to be overbearing or cloying for the viewer.
"We did not want the Easter egg aspect of the concept being carried away by the colorful and visually interesting cover-art," Chang said. "That's why in the finished piece you can barely recognize most of the covers. It ended up to be more of an atmospheric element that gives you the dated print feel of the paperbacks."
And while he is a fan of the original title artwork, Chang feels that the final, book-inspired title sequence was always part of the show's destiny.
"It is also worth noting that even at this early stage we were talking with Sam and Dustin about the possibilities of hiding Stephen King references in those scenes," he said. "I think we were all super excited knowing that hidden messages can be a huge thing in this particular title sequence. Castle Rock is the perfect show to do this because of the town’s importance in other of King’s stories. Looking back it feels like the thinking of the final design was already living in our minds even way back then."
Head on down to the gallery below for a deeper look into the evolution of how Castle Rock's opening title sequence came to be...