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Designing the Visual Identity of 'Girls'

We talked to creative director Howard Nourmand about working with Lena Dunham on 'Girls' and 'It's Me, Hilary: The Man Who Drew Eloise.'

Grand Jeté

The title sequence for Girls is simple but distinct: a single frame of bold typography. Though Lena Dunham's HBO series nearly kicked off with an intro reminiscent of Requiem for a Dream's iconic scene of people getting high. An earlier idea, creative director Howard Nourmand tells The Creator Project, was to build a montage of mundane daily routines in the form of macro shots of a clogged drain, toast, coffee, and teeth flossing. “Up close and personal,” he reads from the pitch description. “This short and sweet portrait captures the daily routine of various girls in the show.”

Lena Dunham wanted the branding for the show to be mature, not too feminine, and to capture the feeling of a “weird and intimate space.” Collecting adjectives and visual snippets from clients like Dunham, helps production house Grand Jeté find perspective and direction early on, and it's an integral part of the process for any project they take on. Creative director Howard Nourmand compares the preliminary research stage to the movie Weird Science, in which teenage boys feed a computer images to build the perfect woman. “I ask my clients to point to visual references which speak to them on a gut level and I use those as clues," says Nourmand. "They give me insight about what strikes a chord. I then find common patterns and connections and formulate my designs based on what they are responding to.” 

After digesting the prompt, Nourmand and his team began drawing different typographic treatments that ranged from ornate and art deco-inspired to bold and sleek. From this batch, Dunham gave further direction, and they continued to massage and refine the identity. “We created countless templates,” says Nourmand. In the end, the idea she went with was the Girls logo dead-center and girdled. “Even though it was so simple—there was no real movement to it—the idea was that every episode would be customized so that the color combinations of the graphic would change in relation to what was going to happen, foreshadowing the mood of that episode.”

This wouldn’t be the last time Grand Jeté worked with Lena Dunham. The team recently created all the animations for the Dunham-produced HBO documentary about Hilary Knight, illustrator of the beloved children’s series Eloise, which debuted this past Monday night. “There was no existing graphic or illustrative work when we started on Girls; it was a blank slate,” says Nourmand. “With the Hilary Knight documentary our goal was to align and support Hilary’s work and the legacy around it. We had to find a way to compose his material to a different medium—from print to film.”

It's Me, Hilary: The Man Who Drew Eloise (HBO Documentary Films) from Grand Jeté on Vimeo.

The moodboards for the project were filled with Knight’s drawings. The director Matt Wolf specified that the visuals shouldn’t feel "high-tech." "He wanted the animations to remain flat on the page,” elaborates Nourmand. “He did not want the audience to feel like they were moving through multi-dimensional planes.” In order to breathe motion into Knight’s work without turning it into a cartoon, they decided on a timelapse-inspired animation that created the illusion of the works being drawn in front of the viewer’s eyes.

In addition, Grand Jeté created the visual brand identity for A Casual Romance, Dunham and Jenni Konner’s new production company. Dunham and Konner talked about how they wanted it to invoke “friendship,” have a “washed out” look and a “polaroid feel—but fresh,” while still being eye catching. They spoke about the El Royale Sign and the Swatch logo. 

“You have to respect your process... and that requires patience and discipline,” states Nourmand. “You want your best idea to be your first idea, but that’s not the way usually works.” He’s found this to be true even as he’s working on more personal projects such as an upcoming photography book and a documentary about his father.

Nourmand hopes that people who notice and experience Grand Jete’s works, whether through the Eloise documentary or the branding on the side of A Casual Romance pen, realize that even the tiniest details are decisions that have been thought through many times over. And it would never be possible without a healthy dose of pressure, fear and creative risk-taking. 

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