Title Sequence Style, integration, and Transitions (Title Sequences: Function With Form) (Motion Graphic Titling) Part 1

How do you transition from the opening titles to the movie, and from the movie to the closing titles? This could appear to be a simple question with a simple answer, but it is indeed more complex. The most intuitive answer is to fade out the opening titles, then fade in the end titles. Although this is definitely a viable option, you should think outside the box and explore other options that could better facilitate the transition between titles to movie.

The options and eventual decision making for transitions are defined by the following factors:

• How early in the production process the designer is involved.

Title designers who are involved at the very beginning of the project will have more creative options than those who start to work on the project when the movie is already completed and the picture locked. They will have a chance to discuss with the director the possibility of shooting extra footage to use in the title sequence. For example, simply shooting additional shots during principal photography, or even with a second camera crew, will provide additional footage for the designers to work with and guarantee that the look and feel decided on by the director of photography will carry through to the footage used in the title sequence.

•    How much rough material is available to work with. This could be production still pictures, backstage footage, stills, footage from deleted scenes, or B-roll footage.

•    How much of the budget is assigned to shoot additional footage or to create different assets. If principal photography is already completed, no additional source material is available for the title designer to use, and if the title concept that was pitched requires a video component, the title designer will need to organize a specific video shoot to get the needed footage. But that all depends on whether there is enough money in the budget.

•    How much creative/editing power the director has already in place. Maybe the director has worked out an opening scene that has already reached the locked picture stage and she wants you to superimpose titles over it. Or maybe a scene has already been cut and the editor left space for you to animate your titles. Or maybe the director knows exactly what he needs in terms of concept, style, and execution. In this case, your creative freedom is limited, yet it’s not impossible to achieve a level of quality and success. This doesn’t necessarily mean you shouldn’t pitch different approaches. By sharpening your presentation skills, you might succeed in steering the director’s opinion toward the design direction that you think best fits the movie.

The following are a few approaches to consider, whether you are thinking of transitions from the title sequence to the movie (and vice versa) or whether you are exploring different styles and creative concepts:

Match Frame

A match frame transition consists of a seamless transition from the titles to the film (and vice versa) by matching the visual composition in the frame, regardless of their difference in styles. For example, an animated title sequence could seamlessly transition via match frame into the live action of the movie. In an opening title sequence, the last frames of the title sequence will match the first frames of the film; the opposite happens in a closing title sequence. A match frame transition could be executed a variety of ways, but the most common are dissolving and masking or a combination of the two.

This approach requires the designer/animator to be involved at the beginning of the project. If they are working closely with the director and cinematographer, and sometimes the visual effects supervisor on the set, they will have a chance to get some test footage to see if their title sequence concepts will work as planned.

Consider the opening title sequence for Bad Education (La Mala Educación; 1994), a film by Pedro Almodóvar. The title cards reveal themselves, one after another, with a simple but sophisticated design and artistry. The color palette consists of reds, black, and white; the imagery presents a photographic collage look and feel, using photographs that look like they were ripped from a magazine and photocopied larger to reveal their halftone pattern and further manipulated by handwritten notes and sketches. The look and feel of this title sequence is motivated by the fact that one of the main characters of the movie is a film director who, in search of new stories to tell in his next movie, makes newspaper clippings of odd news.

At first, the cast titles are revealed, then the main crew credits. The final title card is similar to the previous ones, but unexpectedly it cross-dissolves into a full-color picture hanging on the wall. We are now gently transposed into the movie as the camera pans to the left to frame the actors in the opening scene. This transition was executed brilliantly in that the title sequence directly flows into the movie and carries the audience with it. The audience is seamlessly transported into the heart of the movie on a gentle ride, without bumps or interruptions.

Another notable title sequence is Guy Ritchie’s RocknRolla (2008). This outstanding title sequence—designed by Prologue— features stylish title cards presenting each main character in a graphical sepia-and-black color palette. The camera movements are slick and slightly jittery, and they maximize the use of depth of field. At the end of the title sequence the camera zooms in between the last two characters to frame the main character, Archy (played by Mark Strong). The graphic look slowly fades out to reveal the exact match shot of the actual Archy, and the movie begins.

Titles Over Picture

Another approach is to have a picture edit (an edited opening or closing sequence) with titles superimposed over the picture (also referred to as being composited). The opening scene might be a key prologue to the movie, so the designer will need to work with the material provided, rather than create a separate title sequence. Typically the director and editor have already worked on an opening scene, and they hire a title designer to create title cards that will be superimposed on the picture. If the picture is not locked, the title designer still might have some input on the picture edit and how it could work (or work better) with the titles.

In general, a live-action opening scene that functions as a prologue needs to come across to the audience so that they can further understand the unfolding of the movie. As a result, title cards should be simple and not too elaborate. They should not overcome the content of the footage and become a distraction to the audience.

This approach can be very elegant and effective in its simplicity. A few issues to keep in mind are readability, title placement (in two-dimensional space but also in temporal space), and the nature and quality of the footage.

•    Readability. The quality of the footage beneath a title card can affect its readability.For example, do the luminosity or color values change dramatically within one shot? To solve this issue, you can explore a variety of solutions that might enhance the titles’ readability. Some effective and quick solutions are as simple as adding a subtle drop shadow, an outline, or even a faint glow to your text.

•    Title placement. The placement of title cards over footage is quite important and deserves adequate time and attention to detail. You should examine the edited footage and determine whether there are any elements in the frame that are key pieces of information or other visual clues that need to come across to the audience. This could be as simple as an object or even the action of a person in the background. If that’s the case, plan on placing your title cards so that they don’t obscure any relevant visual information.

On the other hand, if a focal point is already established in the footage, you’ll need to decide how the type articulates on the screen. Is it complementing or contradicting it? If a title complements the focal point, most likely it can be placed close to it. If it is intended to create a tension with the focal point, it can be placed far away from it, so that the audience will have to work a bit harder and longer to decipher all the elements in the shot.

How long a title is in place is important to consider as well. If you place a title card over a picture cut, it can be both visually jarring and can distract the audience from the title card, so the title card might require additional screen time. That can also make that picture edit more evident and therefore less invisible and powerful. A good rule of thumb is to keep a title card over a picture shot without overlapping its editing point. It can be shorter than or the same length as a shot but ideally not longer.

•    Nature and quality of the footage. When you’re examining the footage of an opening title sequence, you should pay particular attention to the nature and quality of the footage. Is the footage static, jittery, or a handheld shot? Are there any major camera movements (pan, tilt, boom, dolly, track), or are there any movements in the screen (a person or a car entering or exiting the frame)? If so, you might want to explore embedding the titles in the footage so that they appear to be in sync with the picture. If the footage is jittery, the titles will be jittery as well. To achieve this effect you could use a technical technique called two-dimensional motion tracking. You might also separate the titles from the footage, so if the footage is jittery, the titles stay still and the footage shakes. If there are any major camera movements or talent movements, you could attach a title to a particular movement (see motion tracking for a twodimensional match, or match moving for a three-dimensional match) . . . or not! These are all possibilities to explore when you’re creating titles.

Whatever the case, you might need to work on each title card individually to determine the best placement (without obscuring any relevant visual information), its best typographical form (to enhance its readability, depending on the background luminosity levels, color shifts, or content of the imagery and story), and its duration and movement (to offer an easy read to the audience by avoiding keeping a title card over a picture cut, and considering embedding or molding the title into the picture when appropriate).

Alternating Title Cards and Footage

Another viable solution is to alternate title cards with the edited picture. In this case the title sequence alternates a liveaction shot, then a cut to a title card, then back to live action, and so on. This approach leaves the footage pristine and unaltered by any design or animation the title designer conceives. Each title card has a blank canvas and its own start and end time in which it can manifest as simple as static white type on black background or as elaborate typographic animations moving in and out of frame. This approach is particularly effective when a musical score is already in place, so the edits can be synced to music.

In Requiem for a Dream (2000), the transitions from the opening scene to the main title card and subsequent editing between shots of the movie and the title cards are particularly successful, especially with the amazing soundtrack composed by Kronos Quartet.

This is a solution that allows minimal manipulation of the edited picture. In a scenario in which the footage has been shot on film, the titles can be printed directly on the film (in a process called film-out), and once processed, the negative cutter can splice its negative together with the original film negative. When a digital intermediate is used, the titles can be provided digitally to the post-house, which will edit them with the entire sequence and then create a film-out.

Video-Based Title Sequence

If shooting an additional live-action sequence is a possibility, you might as well have a party. Joking aside, this is probably the most desirable situation. This option gives you complete freedom to brainstorm and sketch out a variety of design concepts to propose to your client: footage with superimposed titles, footage and motion graphics . . . the possibilities seem to be endless.

In Park Chan Wook’s Sympathy for Lady Vengeance (2005), yU+co directs a wonderful title sequence. After she has spent 13 years in prison for the murder of a boy, the heroine of the movie, Geum-ja Lee, is able to find herself a bakery job and reunite with her daughter while plotting her revenge on the man who is really responsible for the boy’s murder.

The title sequence visuals alternate shots of growing rose stems and thorns animated onto beautifully photographed white hands, extreme close-ups of serrated knife blades, and close-up shots of baking. While the title cards are composed with elegant text in both Korean and English, the main title card is created on-screen out of a light stream of blood superimposed over an extreme close-up of a hand’s palm. The entire title sequence is dominated by white, minimal blacks, and red accents. The reds play a prominent role as the red of the rose flowers, droplets of blood, and red food coloring. The last shot is a close-up of a rose leaf that dissolves into an eye; the eye blinks, revealing red makeup on the eyelid, and the camera pulls out to reveal the close-up of a woman with a stark white face shedding a black tear, which generates the last title card crediting the director. The entire sequence is delightfully complemented by a harpsichord musical theme that is later coupled with a string orchestra.

The title sequence creates a dynamic tension between dark and light themes: The first shots that portray images of thorns, red droplets, and knives immediately evoke the feelings of danger and murder that the movie later explores. But these shots are later contradicted by editing shots of a knife blade cutting a soft sponge cake, and the red—once believed to be blood—is revealed to be food coloring. The juxtaposition of the same imagery used in different contexts to evoke different meaning and emotion creates a fantastic dynamic tension—the same one that is later developed in the film itself.

For this title sequence, Art Director Synderela Peng of yU+co went as far as creating hand casts of the chosen talents, filming them, and then animating the typography and rose stems in postproduction as well as directing her own baking shoot to obtain the footage needed for her title sequence.

Case Study: Sympathy for Lady Vengeance

Motion Graphics Studio: yU+co Art Director: Synderela Peng www.yuco.com

Preproduction. When we began the storyboarding process, I was very drawn to this image of a rose on a vine tattoo drawn onto the palm of the hand. During our phone call with the director Park Chan Wook (which required a Korean-to-English translator), he mentioned that he wanted to use the colors red and white. So we went forward with that simple design directive and presented two ideas. Director Park liked the vines a lot and asked for us to marry a few of the visuals from the other idea into it. The entire sequence was boarded out in detail, and once approved, we prepared for the shoot. The storyboarding phase was about two weeks (including revisions). Once the idea was signed off on, we had three weeks to shoot, composite, and deliver final. It was a quick turnaround.

Production. Sixty percent of the sequence comprised shots of the female body, painted bleach white, with these CG vines crawling and spreading. We had to go through a casting process to find a woman with a delicate hand and (per the director’s request) a woman with eyes that matched the lead actress’s. We ended up with two actresses. We brought in Scott Tebeau, a friend who won an Emmy for make-up in Six Feet under, to create the casts and rigs that were needed to support the actor’s bodies so they could hold these long poses without trembling and twitching.

Since we had to track the CG vines onto the bodies, it was important that there was minimal movement. Obviously, with the knowledge and the technology available to us now, it would have been fine if the bodies moved. But back then we were very restricted by our 10-day postproduction schedule and had to sacrifice some of that fluidity so as to get the job completed. The rigs and casts were crucial for that.

The supporting visual for the vines on the body was the cake. Since the movie narrative greatly revolved around the lead’s experience out of jail as a pastry chef, the director wanted us to use a white cake as a metaphor for purity and introduce red for passion and vengeance. We asked another baker friend for a favor to help bake the cakes and create the white icing. There were a total of six cakes baked, followed by a lot of icing … the trick was to make sure they were heavy enough that they wouldn’t melt under the lights. So none of the baked goods were edible.

We did run into a minor challenge with the shooting of the last scene. We asked (a very tall order) our eye model to cry on camera. Most of that footage looked too messy and too natural compared to our highly stylized sequence, so we opted for a clean plate and tracked a digital tear to run down her cheek. I am satisfied with the result we got but still wished we had more time to make that scene work better.

Postproduction. Once the shoot was completed, we began doing animation tests on the red vines. We used the paint effects module in Maya to generate the flowers and the crawling vines. While that was going on, the digitized footage (shot in HD with the Sony 900) was given to an editor to cut, to a Baroque trombone piece by Vivaldi. Meanwhile we started creating vine animation in Maya, followed by compositing of the vines in Shake.

I still hold this project very close to my heart because it was a labor of love. We had a small budget to work with but managed to make it work. Ultimately, anything that involves creative prop making (cakes, for example) will make for good stories.

Animation-Based Title Sequence

In Cirque du Freak (Paul Weitz, 2009) we enter a journey in perpetual movement. A spider web holds letters by a thread; they transform into a face whose mouth leads us into a graveyard, which reveals the spider that evolves into the hands of a puppeteer (Mr. Tiny, the bad vampire in the movie) controlling two shadow-puppet boys as they become part of a chase scene through circus settings and surreal landscapes sprinkled with ominous trees, bats, and vampires. A tree trunk that becomes a waist and teeth becoming stair steps should be transformations of no surprise. “The journey of the two boys gave us a way to interweave all the characters they pass along the way, such as the Bearded Lady, Octa the Spider, Monkey Girl, and Snake Boy. The features of these characters are used as transitional devices that cleverly transform into other images to keep the action moving along from scene to scene," says Garson Yu in an interview with Videography. Yu is the Creative Director and founder of yU+co, who directed this title sequence.

All along this title sequence the letters are hand-drawn as though they were engraved in wood. The film’s credits are artfully woven into the animation of each title card; titles are engraved onto tombstones, they appear on the spider web threads, they are embedded in the marionettes’ strings, and they interact with the boy puppets. Moreover, Yu says, “I also wanted to invent a new way of seeing how the credits behave. If you see the credits as actors on stage instead of just titles in the foreground, then we can imagine them to do anything that you want them to do as long as you direct them. They can dance and they can interact with the characters. In this case, they are truly the actor on stage with the puppets.”

Black stylized graphics and characters inspired by German Expressionist woodcut prints and paintings dominate the frames, coupled with a color palette of muted blues, oranges, and green accents. Subtle organic textures such as ink splatters are orchestrated throughout the title sequence, while the camera flows fluidly from title card to title card.

The title sequence is accompanied by a thrilling orchestral soundtrack; minimal sound effects emphasize the tension, dark humor, and ominous mood of the title sequence and the film.

Other notable animation-based title sequences include those of Monsoon Wedding (Mira Nair, 2001), designed by Trollbäck+co; Intolerable Cruelty (Joel and Ethan Coen, 2003), created by Big Film Design; Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events (Brad Silberling, 2004), created by Jamie Caliri, and The Kite Runner (Mike Forster, 2007), created by MK12.

Text as character

Panic Room (2002), directed by David Fincher, opens with shots of Manhattan and slowly moves through New York all the way through the Upper West Side of the city, where the movie unfolds. Embedded in the shots of the city’s buildings appear the gigantic titles, floating in air. They hover ominously over the city while they match the adjacent building perspectives and lighting, giving the impression that they are not merely “guests” of the scenes; they have actually gained an important role in it. Not only do they look like they belong to the city’s architecture, but their prominence and stance in the frame almost suggest that they are treated as talents on-screen. Computer Cafe artist Akira Orikasa explains: “The titles themselves are constructed and fit so that they appear to be real and near but not attached to building façades. It was important to light and composite them so that the light shining on each title matches the lighting in the scene.”

Because most of the film takes place in a claustrophobic interior location—the house that gets broken into, and its panic room—this opening title sequence, which features these vast exterior cityscape shots coupled with menacing titles, not only creates an interesting contrast but visually introduces the themes of this impenetrable architectural structure where the movie will unfold, while emotionally introducing the tense mood the audience will experience in the film.

William Lebeda, Picture Mill’s creative director, explains in an interview with DVD talk: “[Fincher's] main concern was to add some scope to the film. It starts outside in the middle of the day, but the bulk of movie takes place in the middle of the night over a short time inside the house. A lot of it takes place inside the panic room. He really wanted to have a sense that it’s in New York. It ends outside as well, so he really wanted to bookend the film outside.”

Picture Mill and Computer Cafe worked together to create this powerful and elegant title sequence. David Fincher had the idea to use type, maybe floating in air. So, Lebeda digitized some of the production stills, and after importing them into 3D software, he added type in a variety of perspectives and fonts while keeping Fincher’s inspiration in mind throughout the process.

After the title sequence’s concept was approved, Fincher’s production crew left for New York to shoot the production plates, and they returned with a variety of high- and low-angle shots. The sequence was edited in a rough cut and the typographical elements had begun to be composited, but Fincher wanted to create some camera movements that didn’t exist in the original footage, so the team realized that some of the shots needed to be reconstructed in 3D. Computer Cafe utilized IMAX still pictures of the building—which were shot as a reference for the building in the background, in case they needed to be recreated—in a technique called photogrammetry. This method allowed them to reconstruct the geometry of the buildings in 3D and then move the camera around them. The final title sequence resulted in a combination of original film footage and 3D textured objects.

After considering a number of typefaces, the chosen font for this title sequence was a modified version of Copperplate because “It looked more like New York. That font fit the buildings better and didn’t take away from them. It looked important,” explains David Ebner, president and digital effects supervisor of Computer Cafe.

Figure 1.1 Title card from "Panic Room" (2002).

Title card from "Panic Room" (2002).

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