What Every Animation Student Should Know About Title Sequence Design

Art of the Title, an addicting resource with dozens of high-def clips, recently posted their Title Design Finalists for the SXSW 2013 Film Awards. Of the animated title sequences, The Man Who Shook the Hand of Vicente Fernandez and ParaNorman are standouts: the first for its use of vintage woodblock typeface and spaghetti western aesthetic, and the latter for its 1950s horror-inspired design. Both sequences are richly nuanced, and imply an understanding of the history of typography and graphic poster design. This applied visual knowledge is the direct result of the collaboration between animators and designers.

Title sequence design has evolved since the days of Saul Bass, Maurice Binder and Pablo Ferro, some of the most recognized godfathers of the artform. More and more animators and graphic designers are building entire studio practices devoted to title sequence design. The first (or last) fifteen minutes of any film is increasingly crucial to the overall art direction, and often seen as an opportunity for experimentation.

I’ve spoken with several young animators who still treat title sequences as an after thought. Or, even worse, they just slap on the default fonts provided by Flash or After Effects. I’ve never understood this attitude. Think of it this way: you wouldn’t spend several months working on a cake recipe, bake it to perfection, just to cover it in store-bought icing. But for animation students just starting out, executing a thoughtful title sequence in addition to animating a film can be overwhelming. Fortunately, help is usually nearby in the graphic design department, where students will leap at the chance to assist in creating a title sequence.

One of the (many) ironies of higher education is that colleges attract hordes of bright, eager students, then isolate them into separate buildings, sometimes several city blocks or miles from each another. When I was a design student at the University of Texas, the animation students didn’t even realize my department existed—and vice versa. Unfortunately, animation and graphic design departments are rarely adjacent, and it’s up to students—not their teachers—to make these connections.

So if you’re an animation student, do yourself a favor: open up your university map, locate the graphic design school, then drop by and make introductions. Not every animated film, short or feature-length, needs a complex, typeset title sequence with bells and whistles. But building relationships with graphic designers, especially now that motion graphics is a required area of study in many design schools, could yield infinite possibilities with mutual benefits.


  • http://twitter.com/whitty_remarks Travis Whitty

    Great points, Chappell. We’re mending these gaps with revised curriculum at our own institution. Symbiotic relationships, all the way!

  • Mac

    That was what was great about CalArts, you could trip over your own bong and fall onto a cross disciplinary collaborator that could last a lifetime.

  • zac leck

    I’ve always been captivated by title slates from the heyday of theatrical animated shorts, and early TV animation. So much so that I started a blog about it a while back. http://cartoontitlecards.blogspot.com/ They had so much character all to themselves and always set up what to expect in the cartoon.

    I like to think of the title card as the front door to a nice house. You don’t want to drag them through the oil soaked garage to get to the side door just off the kitchen. You want to lead them through the gate, down the path and up the steps of the porch to the big front door that opens up into the living room.

  • Matt Jones

    Here’s a neat primer on ‘the film before the film’ http://vimeo.com/60964497

  • http://twitter.com/robertkohr Robert Kohr

    Most animators are pretty terrible designers, if you are one of those hire a designer.

    • http://www.facebook.com/boxheadroundhead Elliot Cowan

      You’re right.
      Animation students are (generally) the worst designers on the planet.

  • TStevens

    There have been some great title and end sequences over the last decade… In animation alone I can think of Kung Fu Panda, The Incredibles, Wall-E, Monsters Inc, and several others. In the live action world there are dozens of newer sequences that I can think of as well… Thank You For Smoking, Riding Giants, Up in The Air, Catch Me If You Can… It seemed like titles really started to be more focused on around the time David Fincher made Seven. That opening sequence has always been talked about. However, you can’t beat the Saul Bass titles from Psycho and Vertigo.

    Lot’s of cool stuff!

  • Pedro

    I love The Art of the Title website. There’s even a few titles I worked on in there.

  • John D

    It’s the other way around. Graphic design students should be the ones doing themselves a favor and introducing themselves to the animation students/film-makers/programmers.

  • IJK

    Wait, I can’t recall many animated films that have a credits title sequence… Most if not all of them, just dive right into the story.

    Paranorman’s was a credit sequence, not a title, and a lot of animated films have had special credits (Cloudy Meatballs, Kung Fu Panda, Tangled). Aren’t they a little bit different? Titles generally have to set up a mood whereas the credits are concluding it, you can “summarize” the story in an ending credits sequence.

    • http://www.facebook.com/people/Stacy-Smith/100002872781962 Stacy Smith

      The recently released Oz had a whole title sequence. The trend is starting to come back around

  • http://twitter.com/slowtiger slowtiger

    A word of caution: a person being a graphics or motion designer is not by default a person with a grasp on typography. Typography is an art in itself, unfortunately one which tends to get neglected everywhere.

  • Brian

    I enjoy title sequences very much and have even made a few for some local television shows and film festivals. Besides SXSW’s Title Design Awards, I wish there were more venues to screen title sequences.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Robert-Holmen/562023961 Robert Holmén

    “So if you’re an animation student, do yourself a favor: open up your
    university map, locate the graphic design school, then drop by and make
    introductions…”

    Indeed, we know how great that works the other way around when a non-animator says “Hey man, I’d really like you to take time off of your own project and do something for my project. Think of the exposure!”

    Those would-be animation directors are always warmly welcomed by student animators, famous for the amount of spare time they have.

  • Rachel G

    I couldn’t agree more! Unfortunately the school I went to wouldn’t allow cross pollination of this sort between departments for fear working on another students work would deter people from focusing on completing their own work. Animation IS collaboration, and it drove me nuts trying to complete every naspect of a film myself!