A Look Inside: The Prank Panel Titles

When our friends at Funny or Die needed a show logo, opening titles, and graphics package for their TV pilot Prank Panel, with Trevor Moore, we were more than excited to lend a hand. Our clients were the development executives at Funny or Die, as well as the team behind Prank Panel: executive producers Adam Small and Fax Bahr (who cut their teeth on In Living Color, and created the hit sketch show MADtv) and host Trevor Moore, star of the cult IFC sketch show The Whitest Kids U Know.

Jesse Benjamin, one of our go-to creatives, took lead on the design and animation, with Ogmog principal Jacob Reed creative directing. Now that the dust has settled, we took some time ask Jesse about his process.

Ogmog: How did you kick off this project?

Jesse: It started as more of an informal conversation with the show’s star and executive producer Trevor Moore and Ogmog’s principal creative director Jacob Reed. We sat down at a picnic table in the backyard of the Funny or Die offices and just got to talking about the challenge at hand: Creating a cool look for Trevor’s prank show. The twist was this prank show was couched in a late night talk show format, with panel guests and a dedicated set. Our job was to find a way to bridge the gap between the assumed “off the wall” and “anything goes” nature of a prank show, with the comfy and cool style of a late night show. There are a lot of very formal steps that happen when working with any client. For me, the dream scenario is what happened withPrank Panel: sitting at a table with the important folks I need to talk to and having a conversation – especially for a project like this, which has to capture Trevor’s personality. You can learn so much more by listening to someone than by reading over a belabored network brief.

On set: guests Erin Gibson, Pete Holmes, and Eric Andre with host Trevor Moore

O: How did you come up with the aesthetic and specific visuals?

J: In addition to some preliminary edits sent to us by Funny or Die, I remember one really helpful thing was when I asked Trevor what kind of music he heard when imagining the opening theme. More often than not, this can help nail down the tone of show titles super quickly. He mentioned Queen of the Stone Age’s “Go With the Flow” and immediately I thought, “Okay. I get this.” So the first part of my research was listening to that song over and over again and thinking, “What kind of talk show would have this as a theme song?”

Additional research was pretty typical in that I looked at opening titles from all the big late night shows. Surprisingly, there wasn’t that much I could pull from as references, as most of these shows have very lackluster design, or skew to a much older crowd. I’d have to say Rob Ashe’s fantastic titles for Conan were the only ones that felt inspiring, flat colors that lived mostly in a dusk or sunset hue, subtle textures, big confident type. That was my launching point.

O: You’ve worked on multiple motion graphics projects for us. How do you tackle a TV show, as opposed to a web show or other motion graphic job?

J: I come from a TV background, having previously worked in Comedy Central’s On-Air promo department, so I have to assume TV is my default way of thinking. Show packaging is my first language, working on anything else requires some translation. If I’m being honest though, I’d say the consideration I bring to a web project vs. a TV project is specifically not treating them any differently. There’s a tendency for designers to think, “This is for the web, so I can kind of get away with half-assing it.” I try to go into every project assuming hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of people are going to be looking at it; there’s no reason every aspect shouldn’t be designed. Also, at this point, is there a difference between web at TV? Those lines are going to be blurred into extinction sooner rather than later.

O: The Prank Panel titles have a unique combination of stylized grunge with sleek, modern forms. How did you achieve this specific visual style?

Here’s a little (completely fake) story I heard about the Ramones once that I think perfectly encapsulates my design philosophy. Whoever was teaching Johnny Ramone guitar taught him the four basic chords, and, when this teacher was ready to move on to other stuff, Johnny said, “No that’s all I need.” It’s an insane story that’s completely a lie (I read Johnny’s auto-bio; he’d hate anyone saying he was a simple guitar player), but I love this story because it’s a good design philosophy. Do a lot with a little. Be unique with the simple tools you have available. Also, I’m no virtuoso with design. I like to keep things simple and punchy, not unlike a Ramones song. This is all to say, I didn’t use anything you don’t already have when you first open After Effects.

Main title before and after light leaks

As far as breaking down the actual design: we kept the sexy dusk colors, but also needed to find a way to make it feel a little filthy and grungy. The light leaks were a great way to add an organic element to contrast the slickness of late night talk shows, but also didn’t feel like we were painting this a “Punk Rock Talk Show,” which is a nauseating idea. The the word bubbles turned out to be a great design element to carry the weight of moving us around and supporting all the typography. It also worked in the context of a panel show, where some of the biggest laughs came from Trevor and his guests – great comedians like Pete Holmes – talking about the pranks he had done, which honestly were funny enough on their own.

O: In addition to the opening titles, what were the total deliverables created for the show?

J: The deliverables were pretty standard for a TV pilot. In addition to designing the show logo, we created the opening titles, lower thirds, transitional bumpers, mortise, etc. What was unique about Prank Panel was the talk show element; the opening titles would need to include different celebrity guests each episode, which meant we weren’t delivering just a rendered .mov file. Instead, the final deliverables included a complex After Effects project with layers and drop zones that could be updated by someone else, possibly someone on the network side. This meant keeping our internal file structure as organized and clearly labeled as possible. The big difference between a professional and amateur motion designer is looking at how organized his or her project is on the inside. A great way to make enemies is to have a bunch of layers labeled “Layer 12 copy.”

O: How many revisions were necessary before reaching the final concept?

J: Here’s a funny story about the pitch process for Prank Panel. Typically, Ogmog’s process is to have an initial consultation and brainstorm session with our clients, after which we present three distinct design approaches, and revise as necessary. In addition to the development executives at Funny or Die, the main team we were pitching to were the two EP’s [Adam Small and Fax Bahr] and Trevor. We all gathered in the conference room at Funny or Die, and, after Jacob and I presented our three concepts, one of the EP’s said, “Well I think it’s pretty obvious what the winner is.” Trevor and the other EP agreed quickly. What happened next was kind of a designer’s nightmare and dream come true – each one picked a different approach. Three guys in charge, three directions to go in. I can’t imagine a more flattering situation for a designer, or a more harrowing one. They had a chuckle over it, but in my head I’m going, “Oh crap, I have to find a way to melt all of these ideas down into one.”

Various stages of the Prank Panel titles

Of course, that happens from time to time and, in the end, we took elements of each design and combined them into the final titles. I’m really happy with how the whole project came together and think Trevor and the EP’s made a lot of smart decisions on how to package the show. They also put a tremendous amount of trust in Ogmog, which is a real gift for any design firm.

Prank Panel graphics package
Creative Director: Jacob Reed
Lead Designer/Animator: Jesse Benjamin
Original Music: Daniel Walter 

Want to see more? Check out the Prank Panel stills in our portfolio.

Jesse Benjamin is an illustrator and animator. You can check out his doodles and pictures of his dog, Maggie on instagram.

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