The Art of Film and TV Title Design

PBS’ web series Off Book talks to artists work­ing hard, whether they’re doing so in the street, in tat­too par­lors, on Etsy, or on film and tele­vi­sion title sequences. In the lat­est install­ment above, Karin Fong and Peter Frank­furt dis­cuss their now-icon­ic Mad Men title sequence, as well as their ear­li­er and more trou­bling open­ing cred­its for David Fincher’s Se7en. Ben Con­rad explains how his title work inte­grat­ed into the phys­i­cal world of Ruben Fleis­cher’s Zom­bieland, allow­ing zom­bies to ram­page right through float­ing let­ters announc­ing things like “Colum­bia Pic­tures” and “Pro­duced by Gavin Polone,” and spelling out the num­bered rules of post-apoc­a­lyp­tic sur­vival even as the pro­tag­o­nists observed, bent, and broke them. Jim Hel­ton tells the sto­ry of his back-and-forth with direc­tor Derek Cian­france in design­ing the titles for Blue Valen­tine, which take explod­ing-fire­work imagery and aes­thet­i­cal­ly uni­fy it with the scat­tered mem­o­ries that make up the movie. All of them face the chal­lenge of simul­ta­ne­ous­ly invit­ing audi­ences into a sto­ry, reflect­ing its sen­si­bil­i­ty, and on top of that, mak­ing an orig­i­nal con­tri­bu­tion to the pro­duc­tion as a whole.

Though the meet­ing of design, film, and tele­vi­sion has nev­er been more enthu­si­as­ti­cal­ly exam­ined than in this era of inter­net video, this line of work has a rich his­to­ry. After this episode of Off Book’s end cred­its, the inter­vie­wees all give props to title design­er Saul Bass — “Saint Saul,” Frank­furt calls him — who, if you believe them, ele­vat­ed title sequences, cor­po­rate logos, and oth­er pre­vi­ous­ly plain and straight­for­ward means of visu­al com­mu­ni­ca­tion into art forms unto them­selves. Watch Bass’ cre­ations in North By North­west, The Man With the Gold­en Arm, and West Side Sto­ry, some of the ear­li­est title sequences to show­case the for­m’s capac­i­ty for impli­ca­tion and abstrac­tion, and you’ll under­stand his impor­tance to these mod­ern-day design­ers. Per­haps this brief visu­al intro­duc­tion to Bass’ designs, pre­vi­ous­ly fea­tured on Open Cul­ture, will inspire you to get into the busi­ness your­self.

via Kot­tke

Relat­ed con­tent:

For­get the Films, Watch the Titles

Cin­e­ma His­to­ry by Titles & Num­bers

Col­in Mar­shall hosts and pro­duces Note­book on Cities and Cul­ture. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall.

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