Creative Review: What kinds of trends have you seen emerging within title design for film and TV over the past year or so?
Will Perkins: One of the biggest recent trends in title design has been the death of the main title sequence in feature films. When was the last time you saw one in a movie? Save for a few recent examples like Godzilla, elaborate opening title sequences have all but disappeared from mainstream cinema. The only place you ever see opening titles now is on television. It’s kind of sad when you consider the great history of film title design, but it’s TV’s gain I suppose.
The disappearance of the opening title sequence does mean that we’re seeing a lot more type over scene openers. Credit typography is getting a chance to shine in a way that it hasn’t in a very long time. Think of the type-based intro to Guardians of the Galaxy, the home movie-style opener to Amazon’s Transparent, or the neon typography that introduces Inherent Vice.
CR: In your AotT review of 2014 you revealed that the year’s most popular post was on the titles for True Detective. Why has this particular piece of work proved so popular, do you think?
Lola Landekic: That feature’s success came from a perfect storm of amazing television, incredible motion design, and great timing. It’s rare that we’re able to work on a feature and publish it at the exact moment that the desire for it is at its peak. With True Detective, we were able to get the ball rolling early enough to publish the feature right when interest in the series started to skyrocket. Plus, it’s an absolutely beautiful title sequence, of the type rarely seen on television.
Ian Albinson: There was also something about that show, with those two actors in particular and the slowly unraveling storyline, that drew people in. That, combined with the surreal dreamlike quality of the titles, in which you discover new things every time you watch it, led to its popularity on the site. We’d never really seen anything like that before.
CR: There are only two title sequences for films from 2014 in your list of most popular posts of the year, mainly they’re on work created for TV. How do you account for this and what do you think it says about work currently being made for TV?
LL: For one thing, there’s the steady movement across many mediums to mimic, or take inspiration from, the aesthetics of cinema. Film is really where the title sequence, as an art form, comes from. This has been going on for decades – in video games, music videos, television. There’s also now a strong desire among viewers for more high quality storytelling on TV. Technologies like widescreen TVs, on-demand, and streaming services have made it easier for people to have amazing viewing experiences at home, so networks and producers are developing content accordingly.
CR: The titles for Se7en are also in your list of most-read posts in 2014. The film is 20 years old this year – why do you think it has remained a touchstone for fans of title design?
LL: Se7en has endured because, despite how dark and violent the film is, it’s so meticulously directed and the writing is so strong that it has become a classic in its own right. In terms of title design, it kicked off a resurgence of the art form. It revitalised title design, which had been in a bit of a slump through the late 80s and early 90s.
That opening was a particularly striking and unsettling way to start a film and David Fincher knew exactly what he was doing when he brought Kyle Cooper, Angus Wall and Trent Reznor together to create it. Fincher threw down the gauntlet and other designers responded. We hear over and over how that opening woke a lot of people up, alerted them to the idea of a title sequence and inspired them to enter the field of motion design. Se7en ignited a spark, creating a new wave of designers and title design.
CR: Are the new ways of watching both TV and film (streaming, Netflix etc) starting to have an influence on the development of title sequences? If so, how? And are there any examples you can cite?
LL: Well, the clearest examples are that streaming providers are developing their own content. What HBO started with The Sopranos and its cinematic title sequence and original writing has now spurred an entire wave of networks itching for subscribers and pumping out their own original content.
One thing that’s interesting is that we see a lot of people ‘binge-watching’ TV series and then complaining about having to watch a title sequence multiple times in a row. They’ll watch four, five episodes in a row and sit through the title sequence each time – that’s generally not how a TV title sequence was intended to function!
I saw the complaints happening most prominently with House of Cards. That title sequence features a slow, sort of meandering float above Washington DC. It sets a great, sombre tone for the show. Now, do you need to see that over and over while you’re binge-watching to understand the tone and context? Not necessarily.
With something like Game of Thrones, where its title sequence physically provides a new context – the map in the opening is changed based on each episode’s locales – that makes sense as it serves a deeper purpose. It makes sense to watch that each time, if you’re marathon viewing, because you’re getting new information. So, the whole television experience is changing, and how titles are designed is changing with it.
IA: The delivery of content is also changing too, where services like Netflix will begin to skip the titles of a show you’ve watched multiple episodes of. That’s useful of course, but it also might affect the design of sequences in the future.
CR: What for you have been some of the stand out uses of music and/or tracks in recent title sequences for film and television?
LL: Bear McCreary’s theme for Da Vinci’s Demons is amazing – it’s a great, unique theme but it’s also palindromic. It was composed so that it could be played forwards or backwards, echoing Da Vinci’s inventiveness and his mirror writing. He would write personal notes using a mirror, so they weren’t immediately readable to others. Translating that idea into music is its own form of genius.
WP: A theme song can really make or break a title sequence. We saw that recently with the opening titles for Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey. It’s a fantastic sequence, but it doesn’t totally work since Alan Silvestri’s fusty, old fashioned score is all wrong for it. We were lucky enough to get to post the ‘designer’s cut’ of the sequence on the site. The team at Big Block used an M83 song from the movie Oblivion as a temp track during production and it just works so much better! The sequence goes from good to great with that music.
If you want to talk about music that works though, the first thing that comes to mind is Trentemøller’s electronic theme for AMC’s Halt and Catch Fire. It’s a perfect example of a piece of music and a title sequence coming together in a really special way. Not only does the track suit the glitchy subject matter, it really helps set the tone and bring viewers into the world of the 1980s tech industry.
And I think we can all agree that Tegan & Sara’s unfairly catchy song Everything is Awesome took The Lego Movie’s end titles to the next level.
IA: I loved Alexandre Desplat’s driving score for the titles of Godzilla. There’s a major trend these days to delegate film titles to the end of the movie, so it was very enjoyable to see a full main title sequence again.
CR: Whose work as title designer have you been enjoying recently?
IA: Patrick Clair’s work is outstanding. He, and Raoul Marks of Elastic, are really kicking ass in the title design world today.
WP: I think it’s fair to say we’re all big fans of what Elastic has been doing recently. They’ve turned out some of the most memorable TV title sequences of the last five years: Game of Thrones, True Detective, Halt and Catch Fire and The Man in the High Castle. All fantastic pieces that have really made a mark on title design.
CR: Finally, can you tell us more about the crowdfunding campaign you’re running via Patreon? How does it work and what do you hope to achieve with it?
LL: The idea with the Patreon campaign is to make Art of the Title sustainable, so that we can keep championing this art form, uncovering the hidden gems and publishing great work. Our team is small – there’s just three of us – and we’ve been working on the site while maintaining full-time jobs and sometimes even personal lives for many years. But the site and its needs have grown so much over the past year that it’s now in jeopardy of overwhelming us. We never want to plaster the site with ads and ruin the experience of the content, so we’re looking to our fans and readers for support.
IA: We’re trying to find a balance of monetary support for the site so we can keep doing it. We opened the site to sponsorship about a year and a half ago, and have had tremendous support from companies like Adobe Typekit and Maxon, but it’s still nowhere near enough to allow us work on the site full time. We’re hoping Patreon, over time, will be able to get us closer to that goal.
Art of the Title publishes four in-depth features on title design for film and television each month at artofthetitle.com. More details on its Patreon fundraising campaign, where supporters can help the site on an ongoing basis, can be found at patreon.com/artofthetitle