Oz The Great And Powerful's Opening Titles: An Exclusive Look Behind The Scenes
In the opening credits for Oz The Great And Powerful, there's a moment that takes about half a second, and happens only in silhouette, that nearly didn't make the cut. The title sequence, designed by Garson Yu and his Yu + Co to emulate the old-fashioned anaglyph 3D technique, shows James Franco's Oscar traveling into the land of Oz, meeting and dancing with MIla Kunis's Theodora… and briefly, very briefly, throws the silhouette of a witch's hat on the wall behind them.
"That moment is really two frames, on the witch, [but] we had to get clearance on it," says Yu, speaking by phone from his Los Angeles office. Like the rest of the team making Oz The Great And Powerful, Yu had to steer clear of any imagery too closely linked to the 1939 The Wizard of Oz, whose rights are owned by Warner Bros. and MGM, not Disney. But Yu was also in the tricky position of telling the story of Oz, and hinting at surprise developments later on, without spoiling anything to come. The elaborate opening credits in Oz, which are presented in the same limited aspect ratio and sepia tones of the film's early scenes, not only set up the mood of the 1905 Kansas carnival where we first meet Oscar, they suggest the spectacle that comes later in the film-- and contain richer and deeper 3D than anything we'll see until we actually land in Oz.
As Yu explains it, "Our opening sequence needed to set up this sensational 3D journey, up front, so that the audience kind of expects the whole entire film is going to be an adventure fantasy film. We purposely wanted to embrace every single trick in stereo, to make sure that the audience really enjoys the idea of this stereo journey." When his company made the pitch to director Sam Raimi and other members of the production team, everyone had to don old-fashioned red and cyan paper 3D glasses to see the presentation-- even though they had made a film utilizing the most modern 3D techniques possible. "We presented in the most old-fashioned and traditional way, which Sam really appreciated," Yu says. "He has kind of this nostalgic approach to film."
And nostalgia was precisely what Yu was trying to evoke, with his team looking back to the films of Georges Melies for inspiration-- "the first Cinemagician," they call him-- and referencing old circus posters, silent film title cards and even circular "phenakistoscope" panels to create the look of the opening titles. Below you can see their references sheets (click for larger hi-res versions):
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