The Indian Art Director Who Co-Created The Iconic Narcos Title Sequence - Homegrown

The Indian Art Director Who Co-Created The Iconic Narcos Title Sequence

There’s nothing quite as captivating as a great opening sequence. For most people it reflects the essence of the show and most of the time it comes with an immovable earworm that keeps you coming back for more. Nobody understands this phenomenon better that Harshit Desai, a Los Angeles based art director from Mumbai who was part of the genius team behind the Narcos title sequence. Today that combination of carefully curated original footage set to the hypnotic sounds of Tuyo by Rodrigo Amarante is emblematic of how the world rediscovered the secret underbelly of Pablo Escobar.

Some may think it inconsequential, that the success of a TV franchise lies solely in the quality of its content but Harshit knows better and the title sequences he creates are works of art in their own right. His journey began in 2010 when he moved to the US for a master’s degree at Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD). Though he majored in Animation he found himself drawn to the world of Motion Media Design. He moved from there to an Atlanta-based design firm and then on to L.A. where he took on Art Direction full time at Digital Kitchen and is now the associate creative director at InSync Plus, focussing on social and digital media campaigns for film and television.

Though today Narcos is a worldwide phenomenon, Harshit is more than ready to take on some new challenges. He hopes to start work on his own short film and has been toying with the idea of reinventing his MFA thesis film. Though L.A. has become a home base, he wants to expand his horizons and work with some of the incredible talents he was recently introduced to in India. That doesn’t mean you have to say goodbye to his cinematically stunning titles, there’s definitely space for them on his cards and he goes so far as to say “In a utopian future, I would only design main titles!”

We spoke to Harshit to find out more about his work and the life of a creative director in Hollywood.

HG: How were you first introduced into the world of design and what made you want to make it your career?

HD: My dad bought our first PC in the summer of ’98. I was hooked and by winter I had prescription glasses. My brother noticed my interest and signed me up for a random animation course which opened my eyes to the world of design. The course ended, but I wanted to learn more so I enrolled at Symbiosis Institute of Design (SID) and recieved a bachelor’s in Communication Design. The courses at SID were very diverse and covered everything from graphic design and illustration to animation and film making. Looking back, the breadth of my education helped set me up for a well-rounded career in art direction and motion design.

My education helped set the foundation of my design career, but the real motivation behind my work stems from the joy of creating. I want to evoke emotion, empathy, and curiosity within my work and strive to make something inspiring for my audience.

Could you tell us about the Narcos project and how you went about creating the sequence?

HD: I think one of the best projects I’ve had the opportunity to work on is the Narcos Season 1 main title. I worked with an amazingly talented team and learned so much from the experience. I had a chance to be involved with the project from beginning to end. We started with extensive research, moved on to designing the pitch frames, went into production and filming some of the shots and finally the compositing, animation and post work.

One of the big challenges on the sequence was that it is a period piece and had to be delivered in 4K. Most of the overlays, graphics and photographs from the time exist in very low resolution so we ended up recreating most of it. Many of the archival shots were re-scanned for higher resolution and non-existent footage was shot and made to look like the particular era. Apart from the creative, I actually ended up making all the cocaine bricks myself! (Its all baking soda!) Working on it made me fall in love with title design.

Click here for a look behind the scenes.

HG: What do you feel are your key inspirations or the hallmarks of your style?

HD: Visual metaphor is something I return to time and time again in my projects. The idea of portraying a very straight-forward graphic or shot with hidden meanings & deeper layers is phenomenal to me. Its subtle but potent.

Lately, I’ve found a lot of inspiration in process videos-particularly of intricate objects or traditional artistry. The amount of effort, commitment and total devotion that is given to the craft is so motivating. [Here are some of my favorites: Urushi Craftsmen, Making Japanese Food Samples, Kokeshi Okajin, How was it made? - Kundan Earrings]

And of course, movies. I really admire the work of directors like Christopher Nolan, Sam Mendes, Darren Aronofsky and Anurag Kashyap.

HG: What do you feel are the most notable differences between working in India and L.A?

HD: Indian film-making and art is a reflection of our culture. Its vibrant, colorful, loud, extravagant and everything is heightened for the senses. Artists and film makers in India often appeal to the emotional and artful side of it’s audience while American film is a bit more varied. The creative industry in the US is formed by people from a variety of backgrounds and cultures, causing a diverse landscape of art being produced. That being said, Indian film is changing and bringing in more progressive concepts. With the age of the Internet, ideas are being spread more easily and worlds seem to blend. There is great art and design being made in both the East and the West, and it seems our creative community has become even closer.

Check out more of his work on his Website and Instagram page.

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