Kwaidan by Sean Freeman

Inside Criterion / Criterion Designs — Oct 30, 2015

The particular challenge of designing covers for anthology films like Kwaidan lies in finding a way to represent the set without favoring any one piece over the others. Fortuitously, we found a perfect point of departure in Kobayashi’s own elegantly composed opening credit sequence for Kwaidan, in which ghostly swirls of black ink are suspended in liquid and float across the screen, providing an exquisite lead-in to the tales that follow.

We asked Sean Freeman, founder of the design studio There Is, to draw on Kobayashi’s ink-in-water technique when creating new imagery for our release. “We got very inspired by the original title sequence,” Sean told us. “It has a physical interaction that I found mesmerizing and loved playing with—fluid dynamics being a big love of mine throughout my work.”

First, Sean and his creative partner Eve Steben experimented with the title. “We were drawn toward long, bold sans serif fonts to enhance the linearity of the title,” Eve said, “as well as making it look somehow mysterious and menacing at the same time.” The design that ultimately won out also incorporated “a Japanese calligraphy twist, with a few photographic brushstrokes integrated in key spots.”

Kwaidan cover process
Kwaidan cover process
Kwaidan cover process
Kwaidan cover process


Then the fun really began. Sean and his team set up what he called “a day of beautiful experimentations; mixing inks, paints, and cream in water”—and then they photographed the results. “Playing with densities and photographing ever-evolving swirly patterns, we ended up with a huge image library.”

Kwaidan cover process
Kwaidan cover process



Kwaidan cover process
Kwaidan cover process
Kwaidan cover process


From the dozens of images created in that session, Sean explained, “we selected a series we felt had the richest volutes and details to communicate the ghostly feel we were after.” Then they combined all the elements and created a selection of possible cover designs:

Kwaidan cover process
Kwaidan cover process

Kwaidan cover process

Kwaidan cover process