Steven Soderbergh, the director of Erin Brockovich, Traffic, Magic Mike and Contagion, recently – like many big-time directors these days – has turned his skills to TV. His murder mystery for HBO, Mosaic, isn’t your typical TV series though. Ahead of its screening on regular TV (in the US in January and imminently in the UK) it was released as an interactive mobile app, where users could choose how to follow the story, allowing them to see the narrative from varying perspectives and learning more clues via extra features, such as news clippings, police reports and emails.
Having filmed the series, starring Sharon Stone and Garrett Hedlund, the team was mid development on the app but “weren’t totally in love with it,” describes Bobby McKenna, a creative director who was then brought in to improve it. “I pitched Steven some ideas and he pretty much let me run with it.” Bobby’s idea was to bring in a crack team of his favourite illustrators and artists to create portraits of the series’ characters, which would interweave with the story. “Art features heavily in the story of Mosaic, so it seemed like a natural fit. Plus it was the perfect excuse to collaborate with artists I’d been itching to work with.”
The list of contributors is impressive: Braulio Amado, Robert Beatty, Patrick Kyle, Karan Singh, Lorenzo Gritti, Niv Bavarsky, Leesh Adamerovich, Brandon Land, Naya Cheyenne, Boris Pelcer, Dan Christofferson, Luis Dourado, Jon Todd and Will Laren have artwork featured. Bobby himself is a graphic and product designer, based in Brooklyn, whose previous credits include being the first designer at Vine. Now freelance, he works on everything from book covers to branding, and worked closely with PodOp – the company that made the Mosaic app – to add his illustrative flair. He commissioned the work, and added a few of his own illustrations too.
These artistic touches were created to inject personality, and “emphasise the viewer’s power to choose their own path,” Bobby says, serving as key anchors of the interface. Each chapter begins with a portrait of the character featured in that portion of the narrative, so the artworks highlight and divide the chapters.
Each artist was given a loose colour palette, different for each character, and a synopsis of the overall story, particularly the chapter they were working on. Otherwise the brief was open for each illustrator to play with, apart from the vital caveat that the character had to be “more or less recognisable”.
Pushed to choose a favourite, Bobby picks out Braulio’s “trippy” illustration of Joel, played by Garrett Hedlund. “There was one iteration we were especially into, but the distortion on the character’s face made the nose look a little cartoonish, which didn’t feel quite right. He toned it down a bit in the next round, and then ratcheted the crazy back up for the final.”
The collaboration has been so successful, Bobby is soon starting work on a similar project with the same team. “It was a thrilling experience. The chaos of working with so many people simultaneously was a small price to pay for the end result.”