PRODUCTION NOTES: REELING FOR THE EMPIRE
This is a main title sequence based on a short story by Karen Russel, in which Japan’s Meiji-era silk industry exploits women in a very surreal and disturbing way.
As the art director, I took several things into consideration as I began developing the overall look for this project. The story is set in Meiji Japan, a late 19th-century time period in which Japan was stepping away from its feudal isolationist traditions, shifting in its politics, society, and technology. It is a setting ripe with artistic possibility: with the story’s eerie sense of oppression, magic, and personal transformation, the plot development is drawn from the aching isolation that the women endure. The story also is necessarily very involved with the production of silk, so I needed to reference the process of traditional silking, from the moth to larvae to cocoon to reeling.
I prepped images in Photoshop, then animated everything in After Effects. The most time-consuming element was the “flying” in and out of the mulberry leaves: the only technique which would give them the 3-dimensional quality I was after, was to use processor-heavy ray tracing in After Effects. Each original image was carefully edited to match my color palette, and to give the impression of turn-of-the-century hand-tinted photographs.
I chose music by Harry Gregson-Williams, which I edited liberally to give the effect I was after: a general “Asian” sound quality, unsettling sonic beds, and the dulcimer’s cyclical, mechanical, yet delicate repetitions felt appropriate for the story.