The Ever-Changing Magic of Silicon Valley’s Title Sequence
The title sequence for HBO’s Silicon Valley is by far the most efficiently entertaining thing on television. In its scant 10 seconds, it manages to be at once satire, in-joke, and charter of tech culture’s shifting corporate landscape—while packing the screen with blink-and-you’ll-miss-it sight gags. And just like the world it lampoons, the sequence is always changing: each new season has brought with it a new version with a new crop of easter eggs.
Yet somehow, it started as an afterthought. When co-creator Mike Judge was working on the pilot in 2013, he tells WIRED, it wasn’t until late in the editing process that somebody reminded him that the episode needed titles. “I was actually relieved to hear that we only had about 10 seconds,” he says, “because I thought I needed that time.”
So Judge and co-creator Alec Berg sat down with Los Angeles design firm yU+co to toss out ideas. “The first thing I responded to was this building that looked like a corporate office shaped like the letters of Silicon Valley,” Judge says. “And they had another idea that was a cluster of corporate logos.” Blending those two images together with Judge’s idea of “a building under construction in time lapse” created the foundation of the sequence.
What debuted with the pilot was a Technicolor representation of the business landscape that Richard Hendricks and Pied Piper navigate on the show, featuring around 20 different companies. “When you have to watch something over and over again,” Judge says, “it’s good to load it up with eye candy.” There are titans like Google, Facebook, and Apple, which goes from a small store to its hypothetical Loop Campus. There are also reminders of technology’s mercurial nature: the rise and fall of a Napster balloon; buildings emblazoned with Netscape, MySpace, and Silicon Graphics, Inc.
In keeping with that spirit, Judge and Berg decided early on to chart the game of corporate musical chairs in Silicon Valley, and kept track of big company progress and headline news while they researched subsequent seasons. When the second season came around, the title sequence reflected Facebook’s acquisitions of WhatsApp and Oculus, as well as Uber’s giant rising balloon taking the place of Napster. Garson Yu, the founder of yU+co, had the idea to shift the Yahoo building at the end to instead feature the Alibaba logo. And most subtly, inspired by an actual Oakland incident where protesters blocked and vomited on a Yahoo bus, there’s a tiny re-enactment in the upper left corner of the screen just as the sequence ends. Judge says that there have been plenty of extraneous ideas that ended up not making the cut. “At one point Space-X was in there,” Judge sayd, “but then I decided that was in L.A. and really had no connection other than Elon Musk.”
The third season takes things even further. Amazon drones deliver champagne bottles to a rooftop party. Soylent trucks roam the streets to deliver flavorless nutrient drinks to tech workers. And people leap from atop the Twitter logo only to be saved by golden parachutes. Google now includes parent company Alphabet; Tesla makes its first appearance. And maybe most cheekily, a Lyft balloon inflates to collide and compete with Uber.
As the series has progressed, the title sequence has expanded in scope to include more fantastical ideas from the tech world, while still being constrained to a glorious 10-second spout of reference humor. It helps that each iteration has been a relatively easy production. “Now that yU+co isn’t starting from scratch, they just add to what they have,” Judge says. But they’re not done yet: with Silicon Valley already renewed for a fourth season, Judge and Berg will go in for another round of title changes later this year. Will that version feature Apple’s new favorite rideshare company, Didi? Snapchat? Netflix? Only time will tell, but one thing is guaranteed: you’ll need more than one viewing to catch all the jokes.