Southern Gothic


You Ask

Investigation Discovery came to us with an awesomely dark and macabre promo concept and edit in hopes of elevating it with art direction inclusive of a custom color treatment and graphics toolkit for their series Southern Gothic. With a name like that and our dynamic writer/producer and senior designer duo hailing from the South, we couldn’t wait to get the wheels turning.

We Answer

We began this project thinking about the American South as the context of this show. Many areas of the South are often dismissed, forgotten, and alienated places left to the ruin of time. With this in mind, we looked at old photography, heavily layered illustrations, bold wood block letterpress prints, spliced layouts, and even Southern authors like William Faulkner to help inform our art direction.

Collage of old photography, prints, and books from the south

After discussing our treasure trove of mood boards, we realized how the very tall, bold and distressed wood block letters gave us a sense of intensity and age. They also reminded us of the tall loblolly pine trees and church spires in the South. We were also struck by the texture and contrast of old tintype photography with its subtle variations.

All of these elements informed the tone of our design directions. We decided on two concepts, both photography based. The first concept used the distortions and texture of old tintype photography methods, and the other a dense rural environment of the South.

We started first with designing title lockups to see how we could better inform the show title's Southern context within them. We went through about 14 iterations before we landed on our final vertical stacked version. We tried several ways to incorporate symbols of an arrow pointing south ultimately landing on a mix of a compass arrow overlaid on top of an inverted church spire cross.

Next, we developed several methods to create the look of our tintype photography for our first concept. By layering textures in Photoshop of photo plates, dirt, color correction, and out of focus bokeh we finally arrived at the right mixture of elements.

Poster type image of Southern Gothic; All New Series; Monday, April 27th 10 PM / 9 PM Central
ID; Investigation Discovery logo
Poster type image of Southern Gothic; All New Series; Monday, April 27th 10 PM / 9 PM Central
Poster type image of Southern Gothic; All New Series; Monday, April 27th 10 PM / 9 PM Central

In the end the client felt the tintype concept worked the best with the tone of their cut so we developed this further. After some early client feedback, we ended up combining this mixture with a very eerie shot of a house in the woods at night from show footage to give our look a proper setting. We revisited the title lockup as well, landing with a design that gives both words in the title more equal hierarchy. Our inverted cross and arrow symbol ultimately worked nicely as the center of our title lockup tying together the typographic components. We also heavily treated our title lockup design with old newsprint, distressing the edges in photoshop so it felt more natural.

Poster type image of Southern Gothic; All New Series; Monday, April 27th 10 PM / 9 PM Central
ID; Investigation Discovery logo

Working closely with the client, we created an end page and ID button animation that simulated the development process of an old tintype photo. Slowly, unnatural colors wash over the frame as if it were in a bath of chemicals with the true colors eventually resolving the eerie house footage as it comes into clarity. This was lots of fun to simulate the wild inverted chemical colors that are seen in a traditional photo development process. After Effects also made the heavily layered timing of this ‘developer’ very easy to control. All of these elements composited together with our animated title lockup helped to add the ominous sense of dread in ID's edit.

With our animation concept locked by the client, we simultaneously began to explore inspiration for our color treatment. While we knew the color treatment would complement the tintype graphic execution, we wanted to avoid the more expected black and gray or black and sepia color palette. Writer/Producer, Kristen Edgell, evoked childhood memories of ancient sprawling oak trees and tendrils of Spanish moss slowly swaying in the wind. We also analyzed the cut shared by ID Producer, Ki Yi, which was full of gritty, dark scenes and horror inspired quick edits.

Collage of tree bark and trees

While exploring imagery of Spanish moss laden trees we found ourselves gravitating toward the variations of minty greens. This unexpected color inherently embodies a ghostly and unsettling feeling that elicits the haunting feelings that the edit masterfully develops through its stark ‘Southern sounds’ driven audio bed and cliffhanger of a soundbite. Secondary to the minty green palette, shades of a dark greenish-brown to near-black, help to provide contrast and build on the overall dark vibe of the spot without being overtly black or gray.

Image of graveyard with color palette below it to match

Once the cut was brought into DaVinci Resolve, colorist Justin Kanner, began achieving the haunting look we were after by lowering the overall contrast and isolating any natural greens, such as leaves on the trees or grassy fields, present within the shot. These greens were brightened before shifting them to the mint color to help them stand out. Shots were also given an overall greener, desaturated and gritty feel to deliver on the defined art direction.

Together, the custom graphic look and color treatment give the final spot a remarkably ghastly look and feel worthy of the series title.

Fun Fact

Southern Gothic originated as a subgenre of gothic literature focusing on the grotesque and transgressive thoughts or impulses with a characteristically dark humor.