10 top techniques for killer title sequences

Title sequences of movies, TV programmes, and events are often stories in their own right. Alex Donne-Johnson explains some of the techniques used in a selection of great openers.

Good title sequences give directors a chance to tell a short format story, using the context set by the full feature. This allows them to be pretty creative and abstract with their techniques and produce some really inspirational work. I'm going to analyse the concepts and techniques for some of the more modern day pieces.

01. Casino Royale - Daniel Kleinman

  • Techniques: 2D styled graphics in 3D environments, motion capture character animation, kaleidoscope card patterns

The idea behind this was to set a new tone for Bond. A lot changed when Daniel Craig was introduced in terms of the new direction for the franchise. There was a point when its predecessors started to rely too much on past conventions. They nod towards the previous Bond title work created by Saul Bass with the motion design feel but at the same time giving it a contemporary look.

This was the only title sequence ever to not use the traditional 'Bond Girls' and focused more on his masculinity. They used 2D styled graphics in 3D environments some of the character scenes were created using motion capture technology.

02. Sherlock Holmes - Danny Yount/Prologue

  • Techniques: Freeze-framing, introducing layers of illustration with ink bleeding effects

Inspired by vintage newspaper headlines, linotype printing and ink drawings. The used the technique of freeze framing shots and gradually introducing layers of illustration using various 'ink bleeding' effects.

I loved the way this was so beautifully animated with attention to details such as style of illustration often seen on currency, another plot reference from the film.

03. OFFF Barcelona 2011 Main Titles - Post Panic

  • Techniques: documentary style

Festivals have breathed a new lease of life into the title sequence. It means directors can have a fully open brief and true creative control. One thing all good creatives love is apocalyptic visions of the future. Post Panic did this incredibly well and on a tight budget, which goes to show how far you can really go if you consider something a ‘passion project’.

Everything was shot on two Canon 5Ds, and the footage was then tracked and composited with CG elements. The editing and cinematography gives this a beautiful documentary style and the final piece became a short film in its own right.

04. Kiss Kiss Bang Bang - Danny Yount

  • Techniques: Distressed vector styled graphics

So many title sequences love to pay homage to Saul Bass in varying degrees. For me this is the perfect modern twist on his work. Danny Yount was inspired heavily by 1960s detective illustrations and kept to a black, red and white palette with distressed vector styled graphics.

The overall pace creates a feeling of suspense, the same feeling being present in any good crime thriller.

05. Enter The Void - Tom Kan

  • Techniques: movie poster-inspired typography, fast editing

Psychedelically influenced onslaught of credits, this is something to be experienced rather than read through. Tom Kan created a number of typographic designs inspired by movie posters and used incredibly quick editing to a banging soundtrack by acid house pioneers ‘LFO’.

For me this creates the same feeling as a bad car accident, it hurts to look but you just can’t look away. If you’ve watched the film you know this could be metaphor for parts follow. I also love the juxtaposition between this first scene of the film being very relaxed. Oh and it’s also a type designers wet dream…

06. Girl with the Dragon Tattoo - Blur

  • Techniques: Full CG - 3DS Max and Vray, RealFlow for fluid dynamics

The idea here is to convey Lisbeth, a hacker, trapped inside of a bad dream by visualising her subconscious. Blur’s use of a black-based palette and rim lighting keeps everything very stylised throughout.

The CG was created using a combination of different 3D software including 3DS Max, Vray and RealFlow. All very high-end, which makes the production work very ambitious.

07. Se7en - Kyle Cooper

  • Techniques: Hand-rendered type, glitchy effects, live action close-ups

Se7en's sequence gives us an insight into the mind of the film's protagonist by using close-up live action shots showing only their hands whilst creating scrapbooks. The typography is hand-rendered and the pace is made erratic and unpredictable with the 'glitchy film' style of editing. Kyle's influences for this were incredibly varied: motion design, film, hand-made etc. This sequence went on to become a benchmark for a lot of people in the world of visual culture.

08. Great Expectations - Nic Benns/Momoco

  • Techniques: 3D CGI butterfly - modelling, lighting, rigging, animation, rendering

Such a prestigious title must have been hard to visualise for a title sequence, and it seemed that keeping the concept minimal and abstract was the best approach. Director Nick Benns used the birth and death of a butterfly as a metaphor for the lead characters evolution. The butterfly was created fully in CG and the use of textures and graphics gave a very unique style.

09. Quantum of Solace - MK12

  • Techniques: Trapcode plugins for sand and particle trail effects

The sequence is set in the desert to show the ‘lack of water’ as the motivation for the lead characters. In relation to the ending of the previous film 'Casino Royale' it visualises Bond's state of solitude, however re-introduces the female figure.

They shot Daniel Craig and the girls as live action and then composited into a CG desert environment. The Form and Particular plugins made by Trapcode were used heavily for things such as the sand and particle trail effects. MK12 raised the bar in terms of concept and technique with this, they also created a lot of incredibly sexy UI elements that spanned across the franchise.

10. Iron Man - Danny Yount/Kyle Cooper

  • Techniques: CG wireframe-style renders in neon colours

There isn't a lot to say about this except maybe that there is definitely beauty in simplicity. It’s basically exploded technical diagrams of the Iron Man suit, created using CG wireframe-style renders in neon colours. What's not to like?

Words: Alex Donne-Johnson

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