My Affair with Movie Title Sequences

In about a decade, I plan to have a midlife crisis, during which I will undergo a bunch of plastic surgery, quit my job, and move to Los Angeles to work as a movie title sequence designer. Also, I will live in a refrigerator box because LA is expensive and I’ll have spent all of my money on a red sports car.

My first love in graphic design is print design—the interaction of type and image on a tangible surface. But if, during my midlife crisis, I were to dump print design for something younger and sexier, movie title sequences would be a great rebound. Title sequences take type and image, then add the elements of time, motion, and audio. So many elements have to work perfectly together to succeed, and when they do, they are truly memorable. I’ve posted a few noteworthy examples below.

Frequently, title sequences are designed by firms that specialize in the medium and that are completely removed from the production of the film. Sometimes this results in a marked difference in quality between the titles and the rest of the film. The Island of Dr. Moreau is a famously terrible movie, but it’s well-known in design circles for its excellent title sequence created by Kyle Cooper of the firm Imaginary Forces.

The title sequence in the movie Catch Me if You Can created by the firm Kuntzel + Deygas tells a story in a visual voice completely different from the rest of the movie, but it works because not only is it visually interesting, it evokes the era in which the film is set and sets the appropriate pace for the rest of the movie.

You can tell that the designers at Shadowplay Studios who created the titles for Thank You for Smoking had fun with the project. The sequence doesn’t attempt to tell a narrative story (as with Catch Me if You Can), but rather uses the unique visual vernacular of cigarette boxes to set an appropriate tone.

One of the most famous title sequence designers was Saul Bass, a graphic designer and film maker who died in 1996. His work influenced (and continues to influence) a generation of designers (you’ll certainly see his influence in the Catch Me if You Can title sequence). Friend of IBD Brian Trosko turned us on to the above video, “Star Wars Versus Saul Bass,” which is the result of a school project in which student Brian Hilmers sets the titles of Star Wars in the Saul Bass’s unique visual voice. (For real Star Wars nerds, it’s essential to watch this video reply, which adapts this spoof to the remastered Star Wars.)

For those of you who are really into this sort of thing, check out the site Art of the Title. There’s enough there to keep you busy for countless hours that might otherwise be spent on work or family.

3 thoughts on “My Affair with Movie Title Sequences

  1. i was just tonight showing the movie ‘Prince of Egypt’ for youth group, and admiring the dvd menu special effects. Bruce Almighty is another one that comes to mind with a creative dvd menu. I really like it when people get creative (as long as it’s thematic) with these things that could easily be left out of the movie-making process. I appreciate them.

  2. I have experienced my mid-life crisis and it is really overrated. It happened for me when I made the move from front line interpretation to administration. It has taken years off of my life and there was no red sports car. Red was a color option on my mini-van but I chose white as not to be seen as hungry or pretentious. I’m also pretty sure that the years I spent following the Dave Matthews Band in college, living with Sebrena, and a diet based around cereal have all added to my decreased life span.

    I love movie title sequences too. It really bothers me when they are bad and hard to read. The Catch Me if You Can sequence has been one of my favs for years. One thing that title sequences have that print doesn’t is the introduction of movement and audio. The interaction of the three elements makes the possibilities endless and also creates a recipe for disaster. I was preparing a different post for this week but to keep this topic going I will prepare a new post on a topic that I had on the back burner.

    For the record, “real Star Wars nerds” don’t refer to the updated films as the “remastered” versions. They are officially known the Special Editions. The word “remastered” is an oxymoron in and of itself and creates the assumption that the original releases were less than masterful, which just isn’t the case. I really don’t know what George Lucas was thinking.

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