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The Talk: 10 Title Sequences Every Designer Should See

Updated: Nov 8, 2018



Title sequences have come a long way from the days of sitcoms like Family Matters, when actors would appear doing some prototypical activity (playing with a dollhouse, waxing a car) and stop what they were doing, look at the camera, and greet the audience with a smile and a wink. Today, a main title sequence is both a branding endeavor and a sophisticated art form. It is the sole, consistent, and iconic moment that carries through a show’s lifespan and puts moviegoers in their seats. If done properly, it is what you remember most.


In this series Creative Director, Tiffany M. Carpenter has partnered up with one of our brightest Motion Designers, Nicasio Coppola to talk titles and bring some of their favorite pieces old and new to the table.



Six Feet Under


We begin with a look at the work of one of my personal heroes, Danny Yount and his team at Digital Kitchen. The season finale of Six Feet Under laid to rest the story of the Fisher family in the most moving six-and-a-half minute finale in television history, but for those who followed the series from its debut in 2001, the title sequence carried with it as much significance as the final fade to white. Yount created a beautiful, seamless pairing of reverence and fascination while guiding the viewer through a theme of inevitable loss.

The music by Thomas Newman, is a mellifluous ambient breeze of a song that shuffles horns and percussion combined with a lilting clarinet, that inspires an intriguing sense of the familiar. Closeup vignettes of bodies and landscapes mingle with parting hands and universal metaphors for death and the passage of time as the camera hovers with a gentle curiosity.


A cold and muted color palette hangs over the sequence and muffles the warm imagery of clasped hands, framed memories, and the living. And yet, despite the presence of death in nearly every frame, beauty and wonder emerge. The final image, the lone tree on a hill, initially a glaring reminder of the cycle of life and death, has now become one of the most iconic images in television history.


Contributor: Tiffany M. Carpenter



The Fall


Scored to Beethoven’s Symphony No. 7 In A Major, the opening title sequence for Tarsem’s The Fall is a rare and beautiful thing. Like the film itself, It is sacrosanct. It is surreal, extravagant, and a world singularly Tarsem.


Set in 1920’s Los Angeles and shot in black and white slow motion, the sequence is best described as a prologue, it tells the story before the story hinting at an event that gives reason for the character's plot. The music compliments the sense of chaos in the visuals and controls the viewer’s emotion. Whether it's a shot of running water, a man yelling, or the steam of a train; the scenes demand your attention. The bridge becomes a stage, the caballus curtain rises, the sequence concludes and the story begins.


“It is a dream, and we are Dorothy, remembering the players.” - Wim Goossens

The sequence ends with the text, "Los Angeles, Once Upon A Time." From this text, the audience is expected to grasp two things. First, the setting: Los Angeles in what appears to be the 1920's, going by the silent film style of the opening sequence. The second is the perspective. The story is told through the eyes of a child. For this entire journey, the audience follows and experiences the story of a five-year-old named Alexandria.

Filmed for 4 years in 28 countries, the film itself is a gift. It is a fall from reality into uncharted visual realms. There will never be another movie like it.


Contributor: Tiffany M. Carpenter



The Night of


HBO strikes again, onboarding Method Studios to produce a monochromatic title sequence for new miniseries The Night Of that achieves the not-insignificant task of putting New York cityscapes in a noirish new light. The miniseries, Directed by Steven Zaillian, follows a Pakistani-American man named Naz (Riz Ahmed), who takes his dad’s cab out one night so he can attend a party in the Lower East Side of Manhattan. Instead, he ends up picking up a passenger, a beautiful young woman named Andrea (Sophia Black-D’Elia), and the night seemingly turns into a romantic story. And then a twisted story. And then a really dangerous, scary, confusing story.


Method’s design team devised a concept for these titles that involved shooting original New York City photography, building fully CG animated elements and utilizing strong images from the series. Alluding to but not revealing key details, the sequence prepares the audience for the the dark, mysterious, messy streets of New York City.


Contributor: Nicasio Coppola



Westworld


A blazing sun rises over the sierra of the American West—or is it an industrial lamp shining across the rib cage of an android skeleton? In Westworld‘s unsettling opening credits, it’s hard to tell. And that’s the point. This polysemous image, the first of many in the HBO show’s title sequence, welcomes you to a world in which things feel very much out of place.

The show, about a Western theme park populated with humanlike robots, unnerves as much as it excites. The nearly two-minute intro sequence escorts viewers through the creation of one of these androids, from the 3D-printing of its bones, delicate tendons, and muscles until the final touch, when it’s submerged in a milky substance, ready to be dressed like a cowboy. If that sounds like a lot to squeeze into the opening credits of a TV show, well, it is. But that, too, is the point. The opening sequence for Westworld is a sophisticated, meticulously crafted short film created by Patrick Clair and the gang at Elastic (also responsible for True Detective, Game of Thrones and The Leftovers to name a few). Clair’s team for Westworld included roughly six designers (led by Paul Kim), five modelers (who built all the individual elements—the horse, the robotic arms, the piano—that later get animated), and then four animators who brought all the pieces to life at the very end of the process (a team led by frequent Clair-collaborator Raoul Marks). The sequence’s most stirring moment, one that feels as cinematic as any actual scene of the show, is when an android rider, atop a pale, mechanical horse, raises her six-shooter revolver, as if riding into the heat of a gun battle. This visual is aided by composer Ramin Djawadi’s tremendous score, which transitions from a Philip Glass-like piano tune into a sweeping orchestral composition. It’s a scene we’ve watched in countless Westerns over the years, but we’ve never seen it in this strange, charcoal world, being assembled, guided, puppeteered. Perhaps more important than any single image in the opening credits is the more general feeling it instills in its watchers as they prepare to enter Westworld. A good title sequence will reorient your thinking. It’s a bridge from one world to another.


Contributor: Tiffany M. Carpenter



Hannibal


A short, sharp, and unsettling title sequence, designed by Emmy and BAFTA-winning design studio Momoco, takes us on a 20-second sink into the depths of Bryan Fuller's Hannibal. Red liquid splashes over a white background. Dissonant music plays underneath — four pulses of metallic string, each searching for their tone — and the liquid finds purchase on an invisible throat, running up to reveal the surface of a face. The blood (or is it something else?) fills more faces, unrestricted by capillaries or veins, revealing hints of familiar characters. Will Graham (Hugh Dancy), the existentially lost empath; Jack Crawford (Laurence Fishburne), the fisher of men. Finally, as form and familiarity begin to outweigh abstraction, we are shown a final face in full portrait: Hannibal Lecter (Mads Mikkelsen), the man who it’s all about, before a blurred title card quickly shifts into focus.



The best horror fiction is intelligent and sends us into a free fall and the NBC adaptation of Thomas Harris’ novel Red Dragon, is as dark and as smart as it gets. To watch Hannibal is to plummet through fearful uncertainty, searching for verification, hoping that the worst-case scenario is just a figment of your imagination. But, Hannibal is the voice on the other end of the line, telling you it’s time to kill your family. He is the reason you happily fed your own face to a pack of dogs. Just like in the show it introduces, Momoco’s title sequence gives us splashes of implication and innuendo before we land from our free fall and terrible clarity is forced upon us. The wine was blood. There was a monster at the window. The truth is always as horrible as it seems in the brutal and beautiful nightmare that is Bryan Fuller’s Hannibal.


Contributor: Tiffany M. Carpenter



Trainspotting


The opening title sequence for Danny Boyle’s supercharged heroin drama Trainspotting is a lengthy, haphazard affair featuring narration, a roll call, several scenes, and a chase. As Iggy Pop’s “Lust for Life” barges in and Ewan McGregor’s voice narrates, author Irvine Welsh’s characters are introduced at breakneck speed, hoofing it down Princes Street in Edinburgh.

Upon its release in 1996, the film was met with hype and hysteria and not a little scorn. It was condemned by critics and Daily Mail crusaders who deemed it irresponsible and accused it of glamorising drug use. But Trainspotting is a horse of a different colour, a film that uses electrifying style, unflinching empathy and coruscating language to give voice to a generation trapped in the margins. The opening narration became a kind of mantra, made even more famous thanks to promotional posters. The phrase at the start — “Choose life” — was first popularized by English design icon Katharine Hamnett, appearing on oversized t-shirts worn by members of pop acts like Wham! and Queen throughout the ’80s. For Hamnett, the statement was a political one, a rejection of consumerism. Trainspotting takes the phrase and builds upon it, laying out a list of choices — the typical dangling carrots of capitalism — and then pushes it all aside in favour of heroin and nihilism. Trainspotting ignited a massive fanbase and came to represent a specific time and place, becoming the voice for an alienated generation and an attempt to contextualize addiction and disease as by products of an ecosystem. Of course, it also became the film most quoted in American college dorms. At least, until the release of Fight Club, three years later.


Contributor: Nicasio Coppola



Mad Men


There is something visually stunning about the title sequence of Mad Men. The aesthetic of the entire series is built upon perfecting every set piece, wardrobe and prop. Unsurprisingly, the opening is no exception to Creator Matthew Weiner’s obsessive perfection, and has the look and feel of the times.


The viewer follows a black silhouette of Don Draper as he enters his deco styled office and sets down his briefcase. After a few seconds the room crumbles, sending the entire contents of Don’s office, including Don himself, cascading into a downward spiral of smiling ladies, slogans and advertisements that coincide with his life and in some part represent the American dream: a family with kids, wedding ring, and an attractive female. Additionally there are ads of liquor and sex. Visibly noticeable is an ad for a Kentucky Bourbon called “Old Taylor 86” which comes with the tagline “Enjoy the best America has to offer.”

The sequence ends with the iconic image of Don sitting in a chair with a cigarette in one hand and what I like to imagine a drink in the other. This image of Don has come to represent the entire series. It depicts the buoyancy that Don is capable of and the reason viewers came back each week to watch. No matter how crazy things in Don’s life became-Betty divorcing him, the agency being bought out, the death of Anna-he always bounced back gracefully.


Contributor: Tiffany M. Carpenter



Gone Girl


Gone Girl is a movie about the disappearance of a man’s wife and the world believes him to be the killer, no matter how hard he denies it. The Director, David Fincher, captures this in the opening title sequence with different techniques. The uses of sound, shot types, setting, text and dialogue all come together to set tone for the film.

A distinct eerie, droning music plays over the production company titles and throughout the opening title sequence. This use of non-diegetic sound captivates the movies suspicious atmosphere, leading the audience into a state of suspense.

Within the most effective title sequences the narrative is restricted but gives enough subliminal hints to keep the audience engaged and hooked, to watch the rest of the film. In the Gone Girl sequence, fade transitions and animations are used to foreshadow the disappearance of the wife in the film. The darkness between fades suggests that when she disappears no one knows anything and that there is an emptiness.


Contributor: Nicasio Coppola



Daredevil


Elastic’s main titles for Daredevil, Marvel’s hardboiled foray into the world of episodic television, announce the series in grand fashion. Viewers are introduced to the violent, murky New York City that blind lawyer slash masked vigilante Matt Murdock calls home. An insidious, corrupting force is set upon the world, seeping out into the city, blood red, trickling down from the highest towers like hot wax, drowning the streets below. It’s there that a figure emerges, the Devil of Hell’s Kitchen, shaped by the city, formed by all that fear and ill intent — a part of it but compelled to oppose it. Echoing the sloshing Chianti of Hannibal’s all-too-brief main titles and the raging black ooze of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, Daredevil’s blood-soaked opener serves as memorable calling card for the series. John Paesano’s minimalist main title track also leaves an indelible mark, the melancholy notes of a piano, like the show’s hero, are an island in a sea of darkness. Head bowed, horns out, a great weight washing over his shoulders. Good, bad, or something in between, this place makes you what you are.


Contributor: Nicasio Coppola



Moonrise Kingdom


The opening sequence to Wes Anderson’s Moonrise Kingdom is a gorgeously intricate, moody, and playful introduction to a family apart. The boys kick it off by playing a record featuring the theme from The Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra, a narrated introduction to various families of instruments. Simultaneously, the camera pans around the dollhouse-like set, establishing the characters as the elements form a rhythmic symmetry. We take turns peering in at the boys, their mother, their father, their sister Suzy and her binoculars, rinse, repeat — everyone under the same roof but in their own little worlds. Suzy’s unrelenting binocular gaze mirrors our curiosity back at us in a recurring nod to great Canadian painter Alex Colville and his work To Prince Edward Island (1965). Suzy is the only one looking out of the house, at something in the distance, at us, while we’re looking at her. The meticulous framing and attention to detail is evident in every aspect of the film, from Robert D. Yeoman’s cinematography, to Kris Moran’s set decoration, right down to the typography designed by Jessica Hische. This elegant and warm lettering features graceful curves and friendly swashes that ultimately became a large part of the film’s distinct identity. Though grounded in a refined typographic tradition, the credits of the main cast alternate from yellow to an array of bright colours, giving the lettering an air of modernity and mischief.


Contributor: Tiffany M. Carpenter


The Wrap


For more great title sequences from the best in film, television and video games, stop by our YouTube channel.


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