The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power, the original Prime Video series, is one of the most visually stunning title sequences 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 into a complex pattern inspired by J.R.R. Tolkiens' writing, coalescing into a sequence that feels at once ancient and timeless in its execution.
The film sequence, directed by Katrina Crawford and Mark Bashore of the Seattle-based film studio Plains of Yonder, was one of five ideas pitched by the showrunners.
Bashore said in an interview with Polygon that the film was glued directly to the Tolkien universe, stating that sound and music are fundamental to his world. One of the first things we asked showrunners when we showed them some pictures was, What if we made a title sequence from the world of sound?
Crawford, Bashore, and their colleagues drawn their inspiration from the field of cymatics, the study of sound wave phenomena and their visual representation. The most common and best-known iteration of cymatics is the Chladni plate, invented by Ernst Chladni in 18th century Germany.
The concept [of cymatics] was very well-known, according to Bashore. But we did have several moments of panic early on while trying to figure out how to make this happen. We would place sand on this rig and play various tones through it. Gregorian chants, angel music, rock and roll, you name it. And after seeing the video, we realized that we were on track.
From the first idea to the final edit, the opening title sequence took a total of seven months to complete. The result is a mix of live-action footage and CG animation with an emphasis on emulating the inherent flaws in cymatics.
We [were] always recompositing that back in over and over again on the most CG-heavy shots, and we were pushing to bring more of that flawed, wild motion back in.
Crawford used a lyric from Leonard Cohens Anthem as an additional inspiration for the opening title sequence. It's a great compliment to Tolkien's creation myth of Middle-earth. There's this duality in everything that's created.
The Rings of Power's title theme was created by Howard Shore, well-known for his work on Peter Jackson's The Lord of the Rings trilogy.
The opening images for The Rings of Powers are heavily influenced by Tolkiens' universe, with Crawford directly citing the godlike Ainur as an influence that bridges the gap between the sequences' real-life inspiration and the world of the series. So that sense of awe and wonder is very cool and that very much inspired us in considering how to portray it in the sequence.
When the dwarven princess Disa speaks to Elrond about the dwarven ability to interpret meaning from songs spoken by the mountains of Khazad-dum, the notion of resonance arose. These parallels, however strange, were not planned.
Crawford told Polygon that it was a happy coincidence; we saw nothing while making the sequence; we saw no scripts, nothing. All of our ideas stemmed entirely from Tolkiens' writing.
Crawford notices similarities between the title sequence and the opening sequence of episode 4, The Great Wave, where Numenorean queen regent Miriel fantasizes of the destruction of her homeland. That whole scene about transitions and impermanence connects directly to our sequence and the theme of Tolkiens' writing. Something may be forever, but its not permanent.
In the days leading up to the premiere of The Rings of Power, anticipation for every aspect of the show, including the title sequence, reached a fever pitch. So much so that a montage of the series characters, originating from an Entertainment Weekly cover story, became viral.
When it kind of caught fire and became this hugely humorous thing, Bashore told Polygon. And it is hilarious. The best one I saw was someone describing it as walking through downtown Portland at 11 p.m. If they ever make a Lord of the Rings comedy series, that would be an excellent main title.
Crawford and Bashore are both relieved and excited by the reception of the actual title opening. We finished this job quite a while ago, according to Bashore. This is why it has to be translated into 60-something languages and so on.
Crawford and Bashore are most ecstatic about imagining an abstract and artistic opening for a major television series, especially one with a long history as The Lord of the Rings.
We try to keep the fact that audiences can skip the intro button very respectfully. Crawford says we want to respect that existing knowledge and knowledge when it comes to a show like this. 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 of the Tolkiens world. Do you feel an epic timeliness when you watch the episode? If so, then we did our job.