In my exploration for this post, I found a lot of interesting typographic work in movie title sequences. This post will explore the progression of title sequences throughout the 20th century and focus on the ways typography is used in title sequences.
Some of the earliest movie title sequences were nothing more than a title card that was shown on screen at the beginning of the film, like the one pictured below.
These title cards usually featured large decorative type for the movie title and was supported by simple or less busy sans-serif type. As the film industry developed and animation became more popular, designers began to use this as a form of introduction to movies.
Some of the most influential title sequence design comes from Saul Bass. Saul Bass often relies on the importance of the typography in relationship to his bold and unique imagery. This title sequence for the movie It’s A Mad Mad Mad Mad World features type that works in a playful and fun way to highlight the humorous and exciting tone of the movie.
Saul Bass made movie titles throughout his entire career, and each one is influenced by the unique qualities of each movie. This hour long video shows all of Saul Bass’s movie title sequences and is great inspiration for playful type and how type can complement image.
Saul Bass worked on title sequences as iconic as Psycho, which featured type interacting on a black background with horizontal grey bars that gave an eerie and psychological feel to the movie. His work showed the impact a title sequence can have on setting the tone of the movie.
Another great title sequence using typography is the opening of Alien. This sequence, designed by Richard Greenberg, uses type to create a suspenseful and mysterious introduction. As the title sequence is playing out, the very spaced out shapes at the top of the sequence begin to piece together to spell the word “Alien”. In doing this, the designer creates a sense of creepiness and suspense. The letterforms are so spaced out that the viewer has to wait in suspense to get the reveal of the movie title. View this movie sequence here:
The above website is also a great resource that has a collection of movie titles and features the work of many designers, typographers, and animators.
Jumping ahead several years, another very famous title sequence created by Oliver Kuntzel and Florence Deygas is the title sequence of Catch Me if You Can. This titie sequence features a sans-serif typeface that is incorporated by extending the ascenders, descenders, and stems of the letterforms to animate the sequence. This creates an interesting and eye-catching relationship between the text and the imagery, without making the typography illegible or hard to read.
As movies and design aesthetics evolved over the 20th century and into the 21st century, the typography in many movie title sequences typically became very simple as to put more focus on the animations or film visuals, evident in another design by Saul Bass for the movie Casino, which was his last title sequence before his death in 1996.
As film evolved, more opportunities for playful typography also became more common. This can be shown in the typography for the 2004 film Napoleon Dynamite, in which the typography is incorporated as food, notebook sketches, and other high school-themed imagery. The typography in this film emphasized the odd, tacky, and slightly awkward nature of the film.
Another contemporary example of unique typography in film sequence is Juno, which features hand-done type in a style that resembles notebook doodles and marker drawings. This type works very well with the illustration qualities of the title sequence and complements themes and visuals that are in the movie. This typography is also applied to other aspects of the film’s visual identity and can be seen on promotional items and branding of the movie.
I will end with a recent example of title sequence that branches out from the genre of film. Video games have become increasingly more detailed and immense in the last several years, and some have even adapted the cinematic qualities of film and incorporated it into the gameplay. For example, The Last of Us is an action role-playing game that was released in 2013 that has been critically acclaimed for its story, its gameplay, as well as it’s design. This game is essentially an interactive movie, and featured at the beginning of the game is a movie-like title sequence. Designed by Henry Hobson, this title sequence invokes the dark, post-apocalyptic nature of the game and is complemented by his use of very simple typography that is contrasted by a very busy background.