The Art of the Title

The first few minutes of a film will often either leave the audience full of excitement and eager to see how the story of the movie will play out, wondering what hints they were shown in the opening credits to what they’re about to watch. Sometimes these opening moments are grander than the film that follows them. Sometimes you talk to your friends about the notebooks instead of the head in the box, or the silhouetted men running around more than the prodigy delinquent. Ian & Alex of The Art of the Title Sequence are two curators of a collection of title sequences best described as fine art.

With the amount of media we are shown every day, to be willing to sit down for two hours and say to the film makers “alright then, you have 120 minutes of my life” is no small feat. Not to mention that we have conditioned ourselves into jumping from topic to topic, idea to idea, advertisement to advertisement, resulting in diminished attention spans.

So when that 120 minutes starts up, the first three or four might be some of the most important. If the opening credits to a film bore us, we would be forgiven for feeling the whole film will be boring. If they’re exciting and manage to push our cart to the top of an emotional roller-coaster, then there we’ll be, sitting at the edge of our seats, strapped in, waiting to be thrown around.

Ian Albinson and Alex Ulloa are two who enjoy that roller-coaster and have the discussions about the notebooks. The two behind the immensely addictive site The Art of the Title Sequence have a passion for those opening moments and regularly show some of the best to have been created.

They were kind enough to give me a few moments of their time and provide one of those interviews you wish never really ended.

What is it that good title sequences share?

A: They are original in a way that is either daring and challenging, or clever and wonderful. They are always thoughtful; even those with raging adrenaline and nervy force have a thoughtfulness to them.

I: Almost all tell a story, however straightforward or abstract they may be.


The now legendary opening sequence to Se7en.

It seems like title sequences are to Se7en as branding is to the FedEx logo (and it’s white-space arrow) – why do you think the opening credits to Se7en serve as a suitable gateway drug to explaining the world of title sequences, as the FedEx logo does to explaining branding?

A: Because they were both lucky and smart. Have you seen Man on Wire (note this: much of life relates back to Man on Wire)? When the physicality of Philippe Petit stretches and lays amongst the clouds in actual manifestation of a man realizing-and-soaking-in-and-being-playful-with His Dream we understand—once we’re over the drunken thrill of this incredible moment—that this man was smart, but he was also lucky enough to have existed at a moment in history where twin monuments were being built. So goes the opening title sequence for Se7en (the film itself being the rare example of every collaborative element, which is to say the whole of it, was executed to perfection), this new standard in title sequences equalled the film and the film delivered the brilliant tonal darkness promised in the sequence. That sequence and the classic example you provided in the FedEx logo have a depth and thoughtfulness to the ‘communicative attributes‘ within. Thank you for the question; because of it I revisited a posting I hadn’t thought of in years.

This new standard in title sequences equalled the film

I: The Se7en title sequence is visually unique, yet fits within the film’s world. It delves into the core of the story without revealing too much, and its placement within the film (after we’ve been introduced to both Somerset in his apartment, and later Mills) gives it tremendous power.

In general, what do you think works better – strong typography that is a dominate feature of a title sequence or typography that sits to the side and is secondary to illustration?

A: If the placement of the typography is a living, expressive thing to the artist and lingers in just the right way then my opinion does not matter. Would I compare the typography of Le Souffleur with Halloween?

I: Every situation is unique, so you can’t really measure it that way. There’s no recipe book.


Letters gracefully dance and float and twirl in the opening sequence
to Le Souffleur, a truly beautiful sight.

Who are a few motion studios whose names keep popping up as producers of quality work over and over? Any favorites?

I: It’s hard to look at just studios since for me the individual work comes first. Obviously Se7en. The Island of Dr. Moreau is also a favorite [both by Kyle Cooper], as is Bullitt [Pablo Ferro]. Cooper‘s work is wonderful, and continues to be. Armada and NuFrame‘s work on the TV show Brat Bratu was really inventive. It’s gratifying running this kind of site because there’s so much amazing work to discover.

The site has a high level of standards – all the clips are of exceptional quality. What is it that makes an opening sequence exceptional enough to be listed on The Art of the Title Sequence?

A: Standards are a funny thing. Is it interesting enough to revisit and examine the little things? Have a good idea and work on the little things and Ian and I will probably yak ’til we’re bleary. We posted the sequence for Control and took some heat for it and now, at times, when people link to our site (thanks!), they’ve been using the contact sheet for that film more and more. Love that.

We want the site to be an experience

I: In terms of what makes it on the site, well, it’s just a gut feeling and an agreement. We try to get a feel for what’s new, what’s classic, what might fit with our current mood. We want the site to be an experience, not just a weekly update, both for us and our viewers.

Looking at the title sequences you’ve featured, do you think there is one genre that has better title sequences over another?

A: My gut response is no. After scanning the titles on the site however, it seems the darker material gets a lot of attention from designers. Interesting.

I: Again, it’s always different, that’s what makes it so wonderful and satisfying.

Are there any trends that you’ve noticed emerge, depending on the genre or decade?

A: A question better answered by a master of the form. Or by researching a master who has shuffled on.


An exquisite crafted opening sequence to
Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events

And lastly, the obvious question – what are a couple of your favorite sequences and what is it about them that you like?

A: I love Durval Discos because of its laconic intellectualism. It’s a remix of an idea in perfect measure. I adore Brat Bratu because it makes me want to take my newborn son on a road trip that sports a cardboard reality like some weightless racquet-ball session with the frenetic gypsy sensibility of Emir Kusturica; but I will tell you, my opinion changes with the seasons. There’s a lot of goodness to be expressed and I’ll be happy to see as much of it as I can. I’ve been reading Roger Ebert‘s latest offerings so I’ve got some recently fostered ideas.

I: Rediscovering Soylent Green was a real joy for me. Having seen the film as a teenager through a different pair of eyes, I never really knew how beautifully poignant it was. The shadow play in Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events is another gem. And has afforded me the opportunity to use terms like “shadow play.”

REFERENCES & LINKS

Interviews
Two great articles written on the The Art of the Title Sequence can be found at The Boston Globe and Seven Days.

Prologue
The site of Prologue, the studio of Kyle Cooper, who designed the opening credits to such classics as Se7en, Spider-Man, Spider-Man 2 and Dawn of the Dead.

Imaginary Forces
The folio site of motion studio Imaginary Forces who produce beautiful work. Make sure you check out their archives.

Published on the 9th of December, 2008 in Interviews

One Awesome Response

    John Churchman

    Please contact me re: re-publishing this interview in our eMagazine. Our target audience are k-12 teachers and administrators of TV/Video/Film. I think they would be very interested. Thanks

I would be so delighted if you were to contribute