Photography

The Art of the Title Sequence

I recently rediscovered The Art of the Title Sequence site, which is a goldmine of inspiration for anyone who needs to animate type, and I’m surprised I’ve not posted about it before. Title sequences are remarkable in that they have to fulfil some important roles in a film - they’ve got to tell you who made it, who’s in it, who paid for it, in a way that complements and introduces the film (but is clearly not the film itself, so you can get all your arrangements with popcorn/noisy snacks/coughing/sneezing, etc. out of the way), and all in a short a time as possible. Those requirements provide a fertile ground for all sorts of creativity, to the extent that the title sequence becomes a genre in itself: a very specific kind of animated short; an animated infographic if you like. So we have sites like this one for people like me to trawl through and drool over lovely examples of typography, lettering and iconography. First up, one of my favourite films, Bullitt.

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Isn’t that just perfect? See it as part of the full sequence, here.

When I first saw this sequence I was scrabbling for my camera to try and get some shots of the lettering, but didn’t manage to get much worthwhile. The typeface is just beautiful, and I’ve always wanted a copy of it, but after a lot of investigation it turns out there isn’t an exact digital version of it. There’s a very, very similar one called XXII Black Block, but you’ll notice that it has slanted terminals on the E and T - almost there, but not quite.

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I love the way the lettering leaves a ‘hole’ in the current scene, which expands to show the next one.

Next up is Stranger Than Fiction, a film I’ve never seen but might get around to watching one day just because the title sequence is interesting. It looks like it could be great or dreadful, and nowhere in between. Either way, the title sequnce is great and makes playful use of type, instructional iconography and labelling to enhance the story. I like the way the labels for everything definitely feel like part of the main character’s world, his obsessions, so real to him, made visible (and real) in the world for us to see.

stranger-than-fiction

Mmm. Numbers. Labels. Sequence here.

This next one is not so much about the type. It’s not really about the type at all. In fact, I hate the type in this one. The exploded diagrams are lovely and the way they tie in with the live footage of the Farnborough Air Show is highly compelling, so to have this clumsy uninspired type stuck over it is a real disappointment and a wasted opportunity. I’m including it in my favourites because you can imagine how nice it could be if a typographer had been given a chance to polish it up before delivery:

chevaliers

Nice graphics, shame about the type. Full sequence here.

Gradually coming back to nice type with this one - I remember, years ago, playing around with analogue electronics to draw letters and simple shapes on oscilloscope screens and though it was pretty painful it was satisfying when it worked. The animations in Tron were done this way, with the flat surfaces coloured in later by hand. The end sequence for Iron Man deliberately references these very first vector graphics with these CAD-style animations, with the type done perfectly to match:

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A still from the Iron Man end sequence. Full animation here.

Next I’ve got this one which is just good solid no-frills typesetting, enlivened with great use of a close-up and, again, those vector graphics:

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It’s Hitchcock’s Vertigo. Original sequence here.

And last of all, a very satisfying and clever use of 3D to form the names and titles by constantly changing the camera angle. I imagine it would be a nice way to tell a short story, as I found myself watching it and reading the words quite comfortably. It’s paced very well, and the fascination you develop for how the letters come together makes it an entrancing experience:

le-souffleur

It’s Le Souffleur. Full sequence here.

Memory Cloud

Alas, I found out about this way too late to visit it in person, but there are some pictures of the event on Flickr. I love the way the words float, apparently in multiple planes; a rich, multilayered and compelling effect; the silhouettes of the crowd, the dramatically lit lush architecture with the bright, translucent clouds of glowing words in the centre. Maybe the photos make it seem more impressive than it was, but I’d certainly like to have been there… with my own camera.

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memory-cloud

StyleStation

There’s some lovely identity and online design work here. I found it via Graphic Exchange, who commented that the presentation style adds to the visual appeal. I have to agree. Identity work is often about the feel and weight of the physical artifacts - the headed paper, folders, envelopes - and a good way to document them is with good macro photography. You can’t feel the paper, but you can see how it might feel.

Anyway, here are some of my favourites - it’s only a very small sample and they’re scaled down quite a bit, so take a look at the full site. The UI of the site is all flash, but it’s a pretty good example of the genre. I like the way the colours change as you move through the work.

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femina
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Hong Kong Patterns

I’ve had a link saved to these pictures for quite a while, and of course they’ve been linked from countless sites over the years, but hey, they’re still worth linking to again.

The thing that I’ve noticed about them is the effect of the small thumbnails all together. You click them and in a way some of the mystery is dispelled, as the smaller size allows you to see the overall pattern. They could be microchip designs or supermarket shelves, so I put them together at a couple of sizes below. To see the details there’s an original size one too.

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The Bigger Picture

The Boston Globe’s Bigger Picture has a series of images of the Beijing Olympics opening ceremony. I missed it on TV as I was travelling, so I’ll have to watch it later, but I’ve heard a bit about it. I can’t quite remember all the hyperbole, but apparently it was spectacular, ground-breaking, amazing, mind-boggling and other great superlatives.

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This one also reminds me of the Matrix, or Gattaca, or even Minority Report. It’s all very sci-fi. (AFP PHOTO / Joe Klamar
) The only negative thing I read about it was that while it meant to represent the history of China, modern China was barely represented at all and that this omission was down to ‘lack of time’. I disagree. I think the whole thing was about modern China - the glitz, glamour, spectacle, all the money and technology poured into the event, it’s all about how China is today. Also, the very means of presentation are a clear and dramatic demonstration of what the country is about nowadays: mass production. Take a look at Edward Burtynsky’s Manufacturing series of photos and you can see what I’m on about:
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You can see his work here, though I warn you, the site is one of those idiot ones that resizes your browser for you without asking.