Plains of Yonder's Katrina Crawford and Mark Bashore returned to create the main title sequence for Season 2 of HBO’s The White Lotus. The black comedy/drama from creator/writer/director Mike White follows the guests and employees of the fictional White Lotus resort chain, whose stays are affected by their various psychosocial dysfunctions. Season 1 was set in Hawaii and now Season 2 takes viewers to an exclusive Sicilian resort, where the exploits of various guests and employees span a week. The show was recently renewed for a third season.
Plains of Yonder (www.plainsofyonder.com) helped set the stage for Season 2 by once again partnering with White and HBO to create the opening title sequence. Season 1’s main intro featured clue-ridden wallpapers that represented a journey of abundance and indulgence, all presented as intricate and alluring Italian frescoes. Crawford and Bashore spent seven months working on the sequence for Season 2, with stories and themes hiding in plain sight. Over 40 painted hidden meanings and themes connect directly to the script and the various storylines of the characters and show.
Crawford and Bashore describe the series as a “bedroom drama with teeth,” with snares of love, lust, jealousy and loss set everywhere within the scenes of the show’s intro. Some are funny, some are beautiful, while other are tragic or profane. Viewers are presented with an introduction that begins with the best of romantic intentions. But as the sequence progresses, a more primal force takes hold. Finally, as a castle in the distance burns, goats and man alike are overcome by desire. Even the architecture becomes erotic. A hunter takes aim at a wild boar, bodies flail, knives are bloodied, and a garden fountain can contain itself no longer. The sequence finale culminates with several grand scenes, including an architectural frieze of a lotus garden and fountain, and a grand ceiling work depicting naked beauties, monkeys, butterflies and birds.
The Plains of Yonder team worked in lockstep with music by Christobal Tapia de Veer and Kim Neundorf. The sequence moves from Italian romantic to beat-driven lust across :90.
The actual artwork in The White Lotus’ main title sequence, created by Bashore and Crawford, spanned centuries and blended vintage frescoes with modern paintings and digital artistry. Paintings that were hundreds of years old, new paintings, recombinations and modern creations helped create entirely-new narratives that reflect contemporary themes.
Plains of Yonder’s Season 2 intro drew inspiration from one of the show’s standout locations – the opulent Palermo-based Villa Tasca.
“The villa really ignited our creativity in designing the art for the opening,” explains Bashore. “Literally meaning ‘trick of the eye,’ these are classic fresco paintings that depict outdoor scenes in areas that traditionally had no windows – they are essentially ‘windows to other worlds’ [painted] on the walls.”
“Mike White immediately saw a clear connection to our wallpaper concept of Season 1,” notes Crawford.
“Our first thought was, ‘How do we take a few rooms of old paintings and make a sequence that is fresh, absurd, profane, erotic, funny-tragic, profound and perfectly tailored to the show,” the duo continues.
In beginning, the team asked themselves what scenes would need to create from scratch, and how should they augment or paint over scenes in a believable way?
“Most importantly, how do we create entirely-original scenes that could pass for actual historical Italian works?”
Bashore and Crawford then began to work with the images to form a story. Crawford started by pouring through the season’s script to pair several potential themes for every actor.
“The scripts served heavily in our decision making on what imagery to curate and create as originals for the sequence,” Crawford and Bashore both note.
The villa paintings made an excellent basis for the sequence, but Bashore and Crawford knew they would need to significantly augment them, as well as create original, full-frame scenes to give more edge, story and connection to the show. The first thing the Plains of Yonder duo realized was that they needed high-resolution images of the foundational paintings themselves, which existed in the villa. To capture those visuals, Crawford and Plains of Yonder’s still photographer Dan McComb traveled to COVID-restricted Palermo to capture imagery, spending a three-day period finding narrative seeds, before returning to Seattle. Painting new people, animals, architecture and landscaping on top of existing historical paintings was a legitimate challenge for the team.
“We not only added to the paintings in countless ways, but we recombined many people, structures, animals from the paintings and put them in new settings or removed them outright,” Bashore recalls.
Lastly, Crawford composed and their illustrator digitally painted completely-original scenes that needed to exist side-by-side with the historic work. Animals specifically played an important role in Plains of Yonder’s opening sequence for the show.
“The animals were often stand-ins for characters or aspects of their personalities,” notes Bashore and Crawford. “A painted animal can be very compelling. They can be lovable and innocent, yet still illustrate that some trouble is brewing.”
Jennifer Coolidge is the only main recurring character from the first season. In Season 1’s titles, her credit was a monkey frolicking happily in the jungle with a flower being its ear. For Season 2, the monkey is now chained and captured as a pet. A blond woman appears equally imprisoned in her tower, topped with a hidden lotus design.
“The monkey is an extraneous little story arc of its own within the sequence,” notes Crawford and Bashore.
Photo: Artist Lezio Lopes
The directors also served as editors, working in Adobe Premiere Pro.
“Rather than cutting between each scene, we concocted a new technique for Season 2 whereby we scanned across an existing scene, sometimes magically connecting scenes that actually are not connected,” they explain. “The music was an important guide to the edit, creating a journey from operatic, classic Italian ‘awe,’ then gaining momentum and weirdness through to a sweaty and debauched night club beat finale.”
The animation in this season’s title is quite minimal. There is already a lot to take in within the paintings, so the team used motion only when they felt absolutely necessary to boost the energy or to evoke an emotion.
Also a returning to work on The White Lotus open was illustrator and textile artist Lezio Lopes, whom Crawford and Bashore worked with on Season 1’s title and sought to collaborate with once again.
“We have a shorthand and a synergy with Lezio,” says Crawford. “He immediately experimented to find a style that fit perfectly with 16th century paintings. We placed tests into the historical backgrounds and we were immediately struck with how legit it could look. Lezio’s style with animals was also exactly what we were after. It all has a wonderful storybook quality that is hard to define.”
The White Lotus is available on HBO Max.