Evoking the Image

By Grace Kirk/ Film and Television
Patrick Clair is an LA based screen director who specialises in motion design, music visuals and information graphics. He directed the 90 second main title sequence of HBO’s True Detective, which won him an Emmy Award for outstanding main title design last year.


The first season of True Detective hit the screens in early 2014 to great success. This HBO American crime drama starring Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson was a powerful and sometimes gothic thriller set in the ominous backdrop of Louisiana.

Like many HBO shows, True Detective was very popular, very quickly. Many of you have probably seen it and maybe without even realising it you would immediately recognise the evocative imagery of the main title sequence.

Watching it again after talking with Clair, I was struck, as I often am, with a sense of excitement. Firstly, I thought I was about to watch an episode of the show, and secondly I noticed in more detail each image that sat in the outlines of the actors or like the still taken above, of the trucks inside the woman’s eyes.

There is simplicity in the image, but also extreme detail that instantly shows the audience the nature of the television show and the place in which it is set.

The powerful images and the music are all poured into a 90 second sequence to outline the theme of the entire show. It is sinister and evocative, immediately taking the audience to the Deep South setting of Louisiana.

It clearly shows “what’s unique about this world and the characters and the choices they face”.

The introduction shows the outlines of the protagonists, whose internal picture is made up of powerful scenery of the South – religious fanatics, industrial desolation and prostitutes wearing patriotically American attire.

The image clearly captures the identity of the characters and the series.

A still from the main title sequence of HBO television series True Detective

A still from the main title sequence of HBO television series True Detective

I asked Clair what inspired him, as a creative director in the making of this title sequence. The answer is essentially good research.

“In the case of True Detective, I read a couple of scripts and I had a conversation with the showrunners and we looked at some of the reference material that was inspiring them visually, and that’s what we had really, to come up with ideas for the main title.”

“In terms of our actual ideas we just try and find something that I can feel expresses something compelling about the characters emotional journey.”

Capturing the essence of a series in a few seconds is a difficult challenge.

“I think with my experience certainly the best main titles come out of the greatest possible understanding of the show itself”. However, it must be difficult to know the show without actually seeing it.

What better gratification for creative work in this industry then winning a Creative Arts Emmy. Clair says that winning the award “certainly changed the kind of work that was available to me and the momentum we got from that is kind of why we are based in the states now”.

Creative director Patrick Clair (right) with animator Raoul Marks and producer Jennifer Sofio Hall winning Emmy for True Detective introduction

Creative director Patrick Clair (right) with animator Raoul Marks and producer Jennifer Sofio Hall winning Emmy for True Detective introduction

Fans of True Detective will have already seen season two starring a whole new set of faces – Colin Farrell, Rachel McAdams and Vince Vaughn in the big city crime backdrop of LA. Clair has delivered another powerful introduction of evocative imagery and mesmerising music.

In the past Clair has been the Creative head of Antibody based in Sydney. However, since his success with the True Detective introduction he is now solely represented by Elastic in America.

Despite his move to LA, he believes with the capability of technology today, one does not have to leave Australia for work.

“These days I think with the reach of the internet and the way technology works in the industry internationally, it is very possible to be working with clients anywhere in the world and be doing it from Australia,” he says.

Clair started his career with a Bachelor of Arts in Screen production from QUT where he specialised in live-action directing.

“Way back when QUT trained me as a live action director, I was only 20 years old and there wasn’t much work in Brisbane at the time, so I sort of moved into design and worked exclusively in animation for a time.”

“I got more interested in storytelling, which became more about documentary and journalism work that was all kind of supported by the ABC.”

In particular he praises his time working on ABC programs, such as, Chasers War on Everything and HungryBeast, which allowed him to develop ethically charged stories, including an expose of Wikileaks and the computer virus Stuxnet.

Clair’s work on these shows allowed him to “look at the world through a prism of ethical responsibility”.

“I think I have to give the credit to ABC who had the guts to fund programming that gives you the freedom to look at those kinds of things.”

In particular Clair is “fascinated by stories about how technology challenges us as human beings… challenge us on an emotional level or an ethical level”.

Clair says, “Whether it’s about how technology is changing the way we interact or the way we fight a war… that was really what I found to be the area I got the most compelling stories from”.

An example of a story with a technological and ethical message is the following video Stuxnet: Anatomy of a Computer Virus, which Clair developed in 2011. This video breaks down the theory behind a lethal computer virus and ironically went viral itself.

Stuxnet: Anatomy of a Computer Virus from Patrick Clair on Vimeo.

Clair explains how for years his work, such as, the Stuxnet video was about information driven storytelling, but since his success with True Detective it’s less about infographics and “more photographic or evocative emotions”.

His advice for aspiring directors is viable to any creative practitioner:

“It’s a tough industry and economic opportunities are few and far between. But at the same time, in the last ten years since I’ve started my career, the world’s become a very small place.”

“All of a sudden opportunities that once seemed physically very far away are actually very accessible now if you’ve got the kind of will to track that down.”