Stephen Fry has always loved America; in fact he came very close to being born there. Now his fascination for the country and its people has seen him embark on an epic journey across America, visiting each of its 50 states to discover how such a huge diversity of people, cultures, languages, beliefs and landscapes combine to create such a remarkable nation.
Fry’s account of his adventures is told in Stephen Fry in America, a new six-part series produced by West Park Pictures for the BBC. Framestore’s design team created both the digital title sequence and the hand painted travel maps that are used throughout the series.
JP Davidson, director and producer of the series, whose credits include the Michael Palin journeys among many others, initially met with Framestore Designer, Sharon Lock in May of 2008. The show had been shot and the editing process had begun. “The brief to Sharon was to create a series of about 30 maps in a distinctive style that did not resemble current affairs or Google maps,” says Davidson, “And which would float elegantly over the travelling backdrops. I was keen to have a simple hand-painted watercolour of the USA as the base which could then be used for each section and Sharon was extremely skilful at creating both a visually compelling map and one that was easy to manipulate for all the sections.
The maps appear throughout the series, knitting together the stages of Fry’s journey in time-honoured fashion. They were created by Lock using a strictly non-digital starting point. “My college training was in conventional illustration,” she says, “So when they made it clear that they wanted a distinctly ‘handmade’ (not too ‘computery’) look to the map elements, I rather impulsively offered to paint America. It was bigger than I thought”.
Using watercolours, Lock spent over a week creating the background maps, which contained essential geographical features such as mountains, lakes and so on, to which she subsequently added digital features such as towns and routes using Photoshop and After Effects.
The starting point for the titles was the fridge magnet collection that Stephen Fry had amassed as he journeyed across the US, each in the shape of the individual States. Among the rushes was some footage of Fry laying all the magnets out on the bonnet of his taxi, fitting them together jigsaw-wise. That seemed to be a perfect image to encapsulate the series, so it was that towards which Designer Anthony Gibbs started working.
Gibbs worked in Maya to create a set of digital fridge magnets which flip and flutter through the air as if whirling in a Kansas cyclone. Landing and sorting themselves into the familiar 50 States, the tiles were choreographed by Gibbs to work effectively with the title music, whilst retaining their magnetic characteristics.
“The Framestore team fully realised the germs of our ideas without fuss and better than we imagined they would be.”
JP Davidson, Director
“It’s a small world, but I wouldn’t want to paint it.”
Production Company: West Park Pictures
Series Producer & Director: John Paul Davidson
Producer & Director: Michael Waldman
Written & Presented by: Stephen Fry
Title Design: Anthony Gibbs
Map Sequences: Sharon Lock
Producer: Simon Whalley