The Queen's Gambit (Carlos Rafael Rivera)


Premiering on Netflix in fall of 2020, the seven-part mini-series "The Queen's Gambit" became a streaming sensation. The timing, releasing half a year after most of the world went into lockdown from the COVID pandemic, and many were trapped at home with nothing to do, certainly contributed to its success. But overall the show connected with a wide audience, and it was praised for its lavish period production design and costumes, and in particular the captivating lead performance by Anya Taylor-Joy. Based on a book by Walter Tevis, and written and directed by Scott Frank, the series tells the story of Beth Harmon, a fictional young chess prodigy as she rises to the very top of the game, while facing her own demons, including dealing addictions to alcohol and pills.

Joining the team was composer Carlos Rafael Rivera, who had previously collaborated with Frank on his previous two projects. Though still relatively early in his career, this show certainly brought much attention to his music, earning him an Emmy in the process. Frank originally wanted a sparse piano score, but Rivera ended up expanding the scope of the music dramatically over the course of the show to chart the character's journey. The score features elegant and neo-classical piano and strings, yet can become incredibly propulsive, reflecting the moods of Beth's brilliantly strategic, but also tortured, brain. The score was one of the first major productions to be affected by pandemic quarantine rules, as most of post had to be completed at a distance. For the music, this meant a large orchestra could not be recorded together, rather Rivera had to use a synthetic base, and then individually record soloists in isolation to patch things over (a technique no doubt familiar to ultra low-budget composers, but one that major Hollywood productions were not ordinarily used to dealing with). To my ears, the score sounds fantastic, despite all the limitations, and it was a major contributor to the show's success and one of my favorite scores of that year. 


The comprehensive soundtrack album features a solid ninety minutes of music, and in 2022 Mondo Music released a 2-disc vinyl edition of the score as well. This was a fun project to explore, as I just loved the overall look and style of the show--we'll call it a tribute to the radiant Anya Taylor-Joy. I present a total of twelve new covers, stripped of the obnoxious "N" Netflix logo. My first step was recreate the official title logo, which was a simple job of finding the right font, and then manually editing it to match (the Q and ' are changed from the base font). Covers 1 - 7 are all using official promotional artwork, while 8 - 12 use various fan-created pieces of art.

I'll rush though all the edits, as some were fairly simple, though most of them required AI upscaling to enhance the artwork for hi-rez. I'll lump the paragraphs together based on the rows of artwork above.

For #1, I just had to cut out the characters, then stretch the sky upwards and paint in the gaps to allow space for the title up top. For #2, I had to patch together a wider wallpaper (which cut off right above her forehead) with a taller poster which had the rest of her head, I just had to then paint in the missing corners of the background. 

For #3, I edited together the official album cover, a wallpaper and the audiobook's cover to create the fullest and cleanest art to them make my own version. I toyed with recoloring the background to a green shade to try to contrast with the red/brown hues, and make it a little more distinct... but in the end I left it as is, I kept toying around with how yellow or how blue to tint the green, how dark, how saturated, but I could never get it to feel quite right. For #4, I wasn't able to find the exact font used on the poster, but I found one that was similar enough, and manually edited some details on it to replicate the original style a little bit closer. #5 required little editing, I just thought the alternate logo structure worked better with the space.

For #6, I had to manually clean up the image after enhancing, as it was very grainy and artifacty. Looking up close, there some pretty glaring errors in the artwork that I tried fix, as well as overlaying a better image source for Beth. For #7, I combined together three different promo posters into one, overlapping the various images and adding the black boxes here and there to maintain the same look. I was somewhat limited in that I didn't have the original images for these, so I was stuck with mostly keeping everything locked in place and struck in certain patterns, rather than creating a custom build of it from scratch--in the end, it feels a little random and cluttered, but I think it functions, and I like the difference in style from all the other covers.

#8 uses a piece an Abdelrahman Khaled Hosni, which I mostly just needed to shift the text and add wider side spacing. #9 uses a piece by Anqi-Art, which I find really stunning, and has a great 'Alice in Wonderland' rabbit-hole style. #10 uses a piece by Iaroslav Koshosov, which adapts a publicity pose of Anya, over which they added the chess crown. For my edit, I had to find the original publicity photo, match it to the final piece, and use this to be able to paint out the overlaid text, and then have a clean version to be able to expand the background and move some of the blurry chess pieces.

#11 uses moody digital art by Jose Buz√≥n, which I mostly left unedited, other than moving one of the white chess pieces at the bottom further up in the image. Finally, #12 uses a great piece by Lucas Tetrault, which I had to compress the space vertically. This meant having to cut the image into various slices, moving the bottom foreground chess pieces up significantly, and then having to shift around a few of the green pills to fit better into the available space, then paint out all the burned-in text, find a similar font, and then make sure that all the green background texture blended all together smoothly after moving things around (which disrupted the gradient). 

Hope you enjoy, let me know your favorites, and which you think best captures the tone of the show and the music!


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