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.