ArtsATL > Art+Design > Behind the Scenes: Designers at Atlanta’s Primal Screen take “Mad Men” into the psychedelic ’60s

Behind the Scenes: Designers at Atlanta’s Primal Screen take “Mad Men” into the psychedelic ’60s

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AMC’s Mad Men inaugurated the first half of its final season with a new trailer that featured a hallucinogenic fantasy of botanical images and references to lead character Don Draper’s vices. The trippy tapestry — which so cleverly evoked the flavor of the ’60s that permeated the show — is the work of Atlanta-based animators Primal Screen.

BehindTheScenes_HiResPrimal Screen, which employs a full-time staff of 26, is one of the Southeast’s most respected motion graphics companies. Clients for its broadcast and cable 3D and 2D animation include Nickelodeon, Family Channel, Cartoon Network, PBS, PBS Kids, HGTV and, now, cable network AMC. Doug Grimmett, Primal Screen’s president, is a leading voice in Atlanta design — a past president of American Institute of Graphic Arts (AIGA) Atlanta and an active advocate for the Museum of Design Atlanta (MODA). (Disclosure: I serve with Grimmett on the board of local nonprofit Good Thinking Atlanta.)

Yet, Grimmett says that being asked to design a trailer for one of his favorite television shows was one of the most exciting opportunities of his career. “When AMC contacted us to generate concepts for Mad Men‘s final season, it was like a shot of energy serum,” he says.

“We were asked to create a promo that was animated, or not. That featured the show’s characters, or not. That referenced Mad Men‘s iconic open, or not.”

Doug Grimmett, president of Primal Screen
Doug Grimmett, president of Primal Screen.

Primal Screen won the assignment in a competitive pitch that included the best motion design firms in the country. Initially, it presented a half dozen design concepts that included ideas for music.

Bob Dylan by Milton Glaser, 1967
Milton Glaser’s 1967 album cover

“The looks referenced some of our favorite late ’60s to early ’70s artists and designers such as Peter Max, Bonnie McLean, Heinz Edelmann, Andy Warhol,” says Grimmett.

“But one in particular, inspired by Milton Glaser’s early work, captured the attention of AMC.”

That image featured the silhouetted figure from the show’s now-famous title sequence standing before an open door emanating the multicolor tendrils of Glaser’s iconic 1968 album cover for Bob Dylan.

Mad Men creator Matt Weiner believed the ’60s look captured the era and the rudderless mood of the show’s seventh and final season. AMC asked Primal Screen to expand the look into an entire promotional campaign that would be used on air and online. The design was unveiled in the promotional lead-up to the broadcast of the first episode and continues to appear in broadcast and cable advertising.

Primal Screen brought to life Glaser’s look by using the undulating, swirling, DayGlo drawings to trace the footsteps of the silhouetted figure now bearing the unmistakable profile (the past image was a generic graphic of a man) of Don Draper, whose mind journey is captured by David Bowie’s 1970 track “The Man Who Sold the World.”

After hiring Primal Screen to develop the animation sequence, AMC commissioned Glaser, still active at 84, to create an illustration in the style that launched his career. That image is featured in the show’s outdoor and print campaign.

Glaser was not involved in the animation design — he saw it only after it was completed — but Jon Hamm, who plays Draper, was. Primal Screen used green-screen footage of the actor on a treadmill to create his silhouette.

John Hamm in front of the green screen.
John Hamm in front of the green screen.

Primal Screen set the stage with its graphics, but don’t ask Grimmett about the final act. He has no idea.

“Absolutely nothing about the show is revealed to anyone, including the AMC creative department,” he says. “Your guess is as good as anyone’s. My guess is some main characters are going to die.”

Preproduction credits for the trailer

CREATIVE DIRECTION AND COMPOSITE: Rick Newcomb

STORYBOARD: Lauren Fundora

PRODUCER: Ashley Davis

EXECUTIVE PRODUCER: Hunter Matheson

ANIMATORS: Joanna Davidovich, 
Fumi Yozawa, 
Rob Shepps, Rob “
Vegas” Shetler, 
Kevin Ridgway, 
Jonathan Brown, 
Joe Kubesheski, 
Matt Rinehart

FOOTAGE CLEAN-UP AND KEYING: Teresa Cloud

MUSIC EDIT: Steve Mank

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