Creative Process Overview (Title Sequences: Function With Form) (Motion Graphic Titling)

There is no set formula on how to create an effective and successful title sequence. Success depends on a variety of factors, including objective, strategy, and the target audience of a movie.

A common tool that will help you navigate through the myriad options, keep the project on target, and avoid pitfalls is to compile a creative brief after the initial meeting with the client. This necessary document will help maintain the focus of your work and identify the best possible creative solution for a given client or project.

Every designer should compile this document at the inception of a title sequence project and have it signed by the client. In larger agencies this document is generally prepared by a creative director and then given to the creative team, so that each member can keep the big picture of the project close by.

A typical creative brief might include all or some of the following sections: client and company/designer contact information, overview/background, objective, target audience, timeline, deliverables, and budget.

For smaller projects, a creative brief of two or three pages is often sufficient.

To compile a creative brief, you’ll want to meet with the client first, learn about the project, and then do as much research as possible. Part of this research includes:

•    Watching the movie, TV pilot, or series (at least once!)

•    Reading the treatment

•    Reading the script

•    Researching the themes and topics covered in the movie (this includes thorough audio/visual research)

Doing your homework will greatly affect your creative brief and the successful completion of your project.

Creative Brief in Depth

Here is a closer look at the common sections of a creative brief:

•    client contact information. Insert the client’s name, phone number, and email address. Include the main contact person for this project; if there are multiple contact people, indicate the ultimate decision maker, the person who will sign off on your final project.

•    Project name. Assign a name to your project (e.g., “The Matrix opening and closing    title    sequence”).

•    Prepared by. Insert your name, role, company name, date, and contact information.

•    overview/background. Provide a short overview of and background on the project.

•    objective. What is/are the main objective(s) you are trying to achieve? What strategies will    you    utilize to achieve

these objectives?

•    Target audience. Describe the primary and secondary target audience. Include any relevant information regarding demographics.

•    Timeline. Insert your project’s milestones. These are due dates that need to be established at the start of the project. Generally these dates are built forward in the calendar, from the actual date to the project’s desired delivery date.

However, if there is already a set due date because of a fundraising event, theatrical release date, or other reason, an easy solution to determine your milestones is to work your way back rather than forward.

For example, if your delivery date is April 16 and today’s date is February 1, you’ll need to build all the milestones backward from April to February. That will give you a rough idea of how many days or weeks you’ll have to work on each of your design phases. Besides giving you more negotiating power before starting a project, having a detailed timeline at hand will help you by forcing you to create a realistic plan of what can or cannot be done.

Make sure that you reserve enough time for yourself or your team to complete the designated tasks. Most important, set deadlines for the client to provide feedback. A designer can do everything in her power to maintain her deliverables (e.g., three concepts for an opening title sequence by a set date), but if the client doesn’t provide feedback (such as which one of the three concepts is the best) in a reasonable or designated timeframe, the designer is prevented from completing the next deliverable by its deadline.

•    Another important step is to identify the client’s deadline to deliver you a digital file with all the credits for the title sequence. More often than not, especially in smaller-scale projects, this is a task that is overlooked or left until the last minute, which could cause delays, especially when your project files require a long render time.

•    Deliverables. Insert details on the exact deliverables that need to be delivered to the client, including file format, frame size, frame rate, color information, and video codec. Indicate whether there are any technical special instructions (such as alpha channels) or any practical instructions (for example, final deliverables must be sent to the film lab for a film-out).

•    Additional remarks. Include any relevant information or special instructions received from the client that don’t fit in the other categories. For example, you could list elements that the client wants or doesn’t want to see in this project, such as specific fonts or color palettes.

•    Budget. Indicate your compensation. This could be a flat fee, an hourly rate, or by accomplished task. When working for an hourly rate, indicate your estimated work hours per each milestone. It would be wise to also indicate the payment plan(s). Is there an advance? Will the payment happen after the deliverable of the final project? Or will there be multiple payments based on what’s completed?

Typical Workflow Overview

Now that you are familiar with what should be included in a creative brief, and before moving forward, let’s have a quick overview of a typical workflow. While creating a title sequence, a designer (or a creative team) will have to go through three major phases: preproduction, production, and postproduction. Each phase includes a variety of steps. These might be slightly different, depending on whether you are working for a company that has its own workflow in place or if you are working on a smaller-scale project on your own.

Typical steps in preproduction are:

•    Research. Perform any necessary research prior to compiling a creative brief. Research can be carried out throughout the project, especially when researching reference images or while performing a fact or scientific check.

• Creative brief (see above). After the creative brief is completed and approved by the client, the creative team can proceed in developing ideas, which will be consolidated into concepts to pitch to the client. A typical pitch might include a minimum of three different concepts. Each concept is generally presented to the client with (1) a treatment, (2) a storyboard, (3) style frames, and, optionally, (4) preliminary tests.

•    Treatment. This is a paragraph describing the story and the look and feel of the concept. It is a good rule of thumb to summarize the action as it will be seen on-screen with one sentence per scene. After the description of the action is complete, you can spend a few lines talking about the look and feel of the title sequence: the color palette, textures, characters, sound effects, music, typography, camera movement, editing, and lighting.

•    Storyboarding. A storyboard is a visual summary of the presented concept. Storyboards consist of rough visuals (generally hand-drawn) of key frames of the title sequence that summarize the story and the flow of the concept being presented. By pointing at their progression, the designer can talk through the key elements of the title sequence: how the story unfolds, the main action of any characters or talent type movement, camera movement, cuts, and so on.

•    Style frames. A style frame is a still frame that is 80-90% identical to how the final title sequence will look. It could be created in a two-dimensional software (such as Illustrator or Photoshop) or in a two-and-a-half- or three-dimensional one (such as Cinema 4D or After Effects) and then saved as a still frame. Still frames are a necessary complement to the storyboard. Because the storyboards are generally hand-drawn, clients will have a better idea of the look and feel of the title sequence being pitched if they can see frame samples. A good number of style frames ranges between 6 and 10, and ideally the frames should be picked throughout the title sequence, especially to visually represent a turning point or a change in the story visuals.

•    Preliminary testing (optional). If time allows, it is definitely impressive to present a preliminary test in support of one or all concepts. A few animated seconds are sufficient to give the client an idea of the direction in which the concept is going. If time allows for only one preliminary test, I’d recommend picking the idea that the designer (or team) feels the strongest about and creating a test for it.

•    Pitch. Once the concepts are completed with storyboards, treatment, and style frames, they are pitched to the client. By the end of the meeting, a client should be instructed to pick one concept. Often a client likes elements from Concept #1 and others from Concept #2. The task and challenge of a title designer is to satisfy the client’s request while still maintaining the original creative vision.

•    Revised storyboards. Once one idea has been picked, the creative team works on further developing the storyboard. A complete storyboard should include a frame for each cut, character or talent screen direction, visual cues to camera movements (including pan, tilt, dolly, ped, and zoom), title card numbering, dialogue, voice over, or any audio cues.

•    Preliminary testing. Prior to devoting precious hours in producing the title sequence, any appropriate preliminary testing must be done to guarantee a smooth production and post and to avoid any unexpected roadblocks. This could include testing green-screen live action keyed and composited onto animated backgrounds, any transitions that could be problematic, verifying the production and render time of particular shots, and so on.

•    Animatics. Animatics are a preliminary motion animation that give a precise idea of the timing of the animation and type on-screen. The animatics could be presented to the client for approval and can be used as a guideline during the production phase to shoot or animate shots of the desired length. It is also a great way to test the animation with a soundtrack or voiceover in place, so that you can make sure that everything falls into the desired place. The animatics could be presented in the form of animated storyboards or, even better, an animation that could include preliminary testing and rough animation of the title sequence assets. If the title sequence requires live-action performances, you should consider shooting them (even with a low-resolution camera, without the high production value of a full crew) using substitutes for the talent you intend to cast in your actual shoot.

•    Live-action shoot preproduction. Any location scouting, casting, permissions, and logistics must be dealt with around this phase of the project. Depending on the scope and budget of the project, this is a step that ideally requires a full film or video camera crew. The shoot’s organization and logistics can be delegated to a producer or outsourced to a production company so that the title designer can keep focusing on the testing and preproduction of the title sequence.


•    Additional testing. While getting ready for production, any testing that hasn’t been performed must be done by now. Any unanswered questions should be dealt before beginning the title sequence production.

•    Live-action shoot (if applicable). You should begin to film live action if your title sequence requires it. The title designer (or the art director or creative director of a motion design company) could act as director or even as on-set visual effects supervisor. It’s a good idea to bring the animatics on set; a title designer could be involved to monitor the talent’s performance and make sure it adheres to the action and timing of the animatics. Additionally, the cinematographer should have a deep understanding of the nature of the project so that he can frame, light, and compose the shots appropriately.

•    Creating and animating assets. You should begin to create assets through illustration, modeling, and/or animation, if your title sequence requires it. If the workload is divided among various animators, modelers, or illustrators, an art director or creative director will make sure that all crew follow consistent style guides and guidelines so that the look and feel will be consistent throughout.


•    Rough cut (offline editing). In this step everything begins to come together. Live action, animation, title cards—all should be combined in a rough cut. A rough cut is a rough preliminary assembly of all assets of your title sequence, including sound.

•    Fine cut (online editing). A fine cut is a refined version of a rough cut. Both editing and animation are tightened, and any placeholder assets need to be replaced with the final assets at full or “online” resolution.

•    Final deliverable. This final step involves creating the final deliverable of your title sequence for your client. It could involve delivering a digital file—a QuickTime file, for exam-ple—or creating an edit decision list to conform the video to film, or even delivering an image sequence to create a filmout. You should make sure that the final project not only is delivered but also is received correctly; everything should be working, displayed, and playing back properly. Only then is your job over and you can begin working on your next one!

Next post:

Previous post: