From the moment of the first public performance of cinema, there was a requirement to introduce the ensuing drama via title and dialogue cards...
What went before
From this humble beginning, the design of titles for cinema and later television developed into one of the most exciting and inventive art forms of the 20th century. The following selection of graphic designers excelled in this area at differing stages of the genres development.
The late great Saul Bass is acknowledged as the grand daddy of modern feature film title design. He transformed it from the unimaginative, often static world of cards, ruched satin backgrounds or page turning books, into a dramatic graphic landscape, setting up the viewer for the excitement that was to unfold before them.
Main titles for The Man With The Golden Arm 1955
Main titles for Bonjour Tristesse 1958
Main titles for Anatomy of a Murder 1959
Main titles for Psycho 1960
The effect of his early ‘The Man With The Golden Arm’ (1955) changed titles forever. Looking at that sequence now, it is astonishing to think that what took Bass weeks of stop frame rostrum shooting and painstaking editing, can now be done in a matter of hours, if not minutes, on a laptop while drinking a caffe latte . But Bass did it first, and for four decades was at the top of the pile collaborating with the very best directors from Alfred Hitchcock - who had himself, started out as a tile card-lettering artist to Martin Scorsese.
Bernard Lodge's Dr Who opening titles 1967
Meanwhile in the 60s, another designer was making waves in the smaller arena of television. Bernard Lodge was experimenting at the BBC with randomly generated electronic patterns, which, along with theme music composed by Ron Grainer, became the title sequence for ‘Dr Who’.
Back across the pond R/Greenberg Associates long-term title designers were ditching their analogue equipment to put all of their eggs into the digital basket with the resulting title sequences for Superman 1978 and Alien 1979 and a constant stream after that.
Matin Lambie-Nairn's Channel 4 identity 1982
In the 80s it was another pioneer of the digital form, Martin Lambie-Nain who startled us with his design for the original Channel 4 multi coloured fragmenting animated logo. He later went on to mastermind the BBC2 suite of characterful logos investing a sense of wit and personality into the world of television identities, which until that point had been rather tame territory.
In the 90’s Kyle Cooper, a fresh face kid out of Greenberg’s kindergarten arrived on the scene to create the biggest impact since Bass, with his highly acclaimed title sequence for Se7en 1995. No one since has come anywhere near to its inventiveness and disturbing dramatic impact.
Tomato's opening titles for Trainspotting 1996
For a short time in the 90s, the London-based creative collective Tomato shone with their unconventional and immediate way of working. They often incorporated abstract imagery, ambient music and distressed type woven into a diet of titles, promos and commercials, which became a style in itself but eventually was submerged into a sea of imitators.
With many software packages available today, the surprise of CGI titles is no more. In this age, it is normal to see type appearing out of a cluster of stars or evaporating into liquid mercury. But for all the intensely skilful use of technology, with its dazzling smoke and mirrors, there is nothing more pleasing that a simple idea, wonderfully executed. And for me Stephen Frankfurt exemplifies this in his design for the classic title sequence for To Kill A Mockingbird 1962...
Simply shot on a tabletop set up using macro lenses, it has never been surpassed for its sheer beauty, pace and elegance. It perfectly echoes the ethos of the book which celebrates its 50th anniversary this very year. To see those titles and judge for yourself here. And you may like to listen to an interview I recorded with Kyle Cooper a couple of years ago. For that click here.