By Aly Semigran
February 21, 2012 at 01:00 PM EST

Each year, the Oscars recognize A-list talent we regularly see on-screen, on the red carpet, and in tabloids. But the Academy Awards also reward those who work behind the scenes: the writers, editors, costume designers, and others who help create trophy-worthy movie magic. This Oscars season, we’ll be toasting those off-screen artists by delving into the hidden secrets that helped create the on-screen magic that we — and the Academy — fell in love with. For more access backstage during this Oscars season, click here for EW.com’s Oscars Behind the Scenes coverage.

David Fincher is known for regularly delivering thought-provoking, stylish films that often stay with you for weeks, but the director is not given enough credit for his artistic touch on the opening credits for his films, which often play out like moody short films in and of themselves. Couldn’t sleep for a while thanks the chilling ending of Se7en? Those creepy, foreshadowing opening credits probably didn’t help you get a wink either. The manic opening for Fight Club set the stage for the cult favorite, while Zodiacs haunting puzzler made viewers inevitably go back for a second (or third… or fourth) look. And, this year, the Oscar-nominated adaptation The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo boasted an opening to join the pantheon of great Fincher credits.

EW spoke with Tim Miller, the Creative Director of  Blur, the design studio responsible for those dark and thrilling Dragon Tattoo opening credits, on how Fincher approached him for the project, how the two-and-a-half-minute sequence was made, and why moviegoers have reacted to the sequence the way they have.

Tim Miller and David Fincher’s working relationship actually began before The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo. “David and I have been friends for a while. Somebody sent him down here for a project four or five years ago and we just got along. [Blur is a] very artist-driven studio and David really likes that,” Miller explains. “When he made the decision that he wanted to do something that was completely CG [for the opening credits of Dragon Tattoo], he didn’t want to shoot anything. [He] wanted to do everything photo-surreal, instead of [using] traditional film effects.”

“He called and said, ‘You’re doing the titles, f—er’ and that was kind of it. Believe it or not, I tried to get out of it at first [because] we don’t do titles normally and I said, ‘There are a lot of great companies in town that do that for a living,’ but I think he knew what he wanted and knew we could do it. David had a very precise idea of what he wanted but he points you in a direction, instead of pushing you in a direction,” Miller says. And if you thought the opening credits appeared inspired by those starring a certain British spy, you’d be right: “The first time we talked about it he said, ‘Imagine James Bond if he was a 22-year-old bisexual cutter’ and I think that was his vision for the [Lisbeth Salander] character.”

Next: The making of the opening credits and moviegoers reactions…

With that image in mind, Miller and his Blur team began work on the titles over a four-month period. “There were a few big mile markers from the start, one of which was the song,” Miller says. “We knew it was going to be Trent Reznor and Karen O’s ‘Immigrant Song,’ which really drives the whole process in a very specific way because we knew we weren’t going to do long, dreamy storytelling cuts. It was going to be every f—ing second cut, cut, cut, cut, because that’s what they had done with the trailer and that’s what the song demanded. David said right up front, ‘I want to do the whole story of all three books in two-and-a-half minutes.'”

Miller, who had read all three of Stieg Larsson’s best-selling books before beginning work on the project (the creative director admits the stories weren’t necessarily his style, as they are “so unpleasant and misogynistic and really uncomfortable stuff”), explains the initial plan for the look of the credits: “We were going to search for sort of, a visionary artist like [H.R.] Giger did for Alien, but that didn’t really work out and what we wound up doing instead was gathering a f—load of references from all over the world. And we all looked at it together and we all kind of gravitated towards black on black look and David said, ‘Yeah, lets do it all blacker.'”

From there, Miller had to delve into the technical nitty-gritties: “‘How shiny should the black be? What kind of lighting can we get away with? Should it be rim lit? All while we were doing some initial fluid test at the same time. Some parts of the process inform other parts behind it, linearly. I was literally writing some of the vignettes while some of the vignettes were moving into 3-D stage for primitive versions of the shot.” As Miller puts it, “It’s an organic and ongoing process that sounds kind of chaotic and kind of is.”

To help create their “abstract vignettes” of the computer generated sequence, Miller and Blur “had 3-D scans of Rooney [Mara] and Daniel [Craig] from the movie and then we went and got some other ones for some of the secondary characters and characters that weren’t in the movie that David let us kind of cast, like her father.” Miller, who had names for all 32 of Dragon Tattoo’s opening vignettes, cites the “Hot Hands” moment as one of his personal favorites of the final product. “The hands come up and caress her and they just melt into her face and her whole face melts. There are some frames in there that are just beautiful,” says Miller. Get a closer look at the “Hot Hands” vignette below:

Miller, who also made the official music video for “Immigrant Song,” said that while he’s surprised by the overwhelmingly positive reaction the credits received from audiences (“When people say its better than the movie, its like “Are you kidding? The movie was brilliant and it was beautiful”), he has a theory on why the intense sequence may have struck a nerve: “Maybe it tapped into some sort of communal nightmare? Drowning in black liquid?”

Watch the opening credits for The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo here:

Read more:

EW’s Oscars 2012 coverage

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