From the roaring lion of MGM to the genre-defining appearance on-screen of the words STAR WARS, the opening title of a film has come to set the tone for the movie-going audience. It whets their appetite for entertainment and tickles their desire for total cinematic immersion.
Although technically a practical device to introduce the main feature and credit the key talent, the movie title sequence is now an art form in its own right. What can you learn for your own credits?
Golden age of Hollywood
The first title sequences were hand-painted glass plates, filmed and inserted into the edit to capture imaginations from the start. Looking at them now, they play such a key part in the mood and romance of that golden era of cinema. They marked out the cinema experience as something to be celebrated. Relying on strong typography and a rich monotone palate, early Hollywood titles accompanied by a melodramatic orchestral score captured the zeitgeist of the time.
In the 50s, once production technology (specifically animation techniques) were up to speed, graphic design came to the forefront of packaging film. The same visual ideas used for creative expression in movie posters were used within the film itself. With the ability to experiment with colour, tone and image, designers quickly became specialists in title design, directing sequences in their own right. In the same way that composers and actors formed long-standing collaboration with Hollywood studios and directors, title designers became integral to the team behind the vision.
James Bond and beyond
Famously, Saul Bass and his work with Alfred Hitchcock set the precedent of cinematic excellence. Still to this day, his influence is clearly seen in both print and animation design. A second cinematic style guru to set a clear visual for years to follow is Maurice Binder, whose groovy 1962 titles for Dr. No featuring the gun barrel point of view set the tone for all 24 Bond films! Unforgettable, un-PC, but utterly iconic.
Today, with CGI and motion graphics, the title sequence is a production and award-winning visual feast in its own right. Prologue Films, and its founder Kyle Copper, continue to amaze audiences in sequences for both films and games. From the titles of Se7en, I knew that the film was going to be pretty dark – and every film in the genre has followed suit. They did it with Iron Man too, which set the standard for all graphic novel movie adaptations. Amazing!
My personal favourite? I’ve always loved a bit of Kubrick, and the opening titles to The Shining are a perfect example of how to set up story, tone and visual style. The odd thing is, the titles themselves are secondary. They’re almost an afterthought, a subliminal extra that sits alongside the glorious sweeping views following the Torrance’s family car. Sure, the great title sequence has a practical purpose, but its creative one is paramount. It leaves you feeling completely on edge… Welcome to The Overlook Hotel!
Even TV, with its repetitive, episodic nature, has managed to create visual treats that gear up the viewer for 27 or 55 minutes of pleasure. Just look at The Simpsons. With over 500 episodes, the titles still mark a special moment for it’s avid followers. It allows them 30 seconds to adjust their focus from a world outside The Simpsons to one very much on the inside! The stroke of genius is the ever-changing final scene – the reward for watching the titles all the way through… again!
Here’s an absolute classic. It forms a narrative completely unconnected to the main story itself – it’s purely a flight of fancy for the creators!
You’ve only got seconds to encourage your audience to keep watching your film. What’s shown in the first couple of minutes could be the difference between them watching or not.
The creative team at Outlook work hard to get our clients and their businesses noticed. First impressions DO matter and, whether it’s a pitch or promo, you’ve usually got one chance to get it right! Let us help you to get your introductions right, making sure that your credit is where credit’s due! Read more about how Outlook can help with promotional videos.
What if the Video team here at Outlook were the stars of a new comedy sitcom? Here’s Ed’s very own sequence to keep you watching: