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Title Design: The Making of Movie Titles


Perri: GOOD TITLE DESIGN
SHOULD BE EVOCATIVE, IT SHOULD EVOKE EMOTION
FROM THE VIEWER. IT SHOULD REFER TO THE STORY, ALL THE CHARACTERS,
ALL THE SETTING, AND ALMOST INCIDENTALLY,
INTRODUCE THE TITLES AND IT CAN DO
A LOT MORE THAN THAT. I FELL IN LOVE WITH LETTERS WHEN I WAS ABOUT 12 YEARS OLD AND I STARTED SIGN PAINTING. I HAD A TERRIFIC
LITTLE BUSINESS AT IT WHILE I WAS IN HIGH SCHOOL. I WAS PAINTING SIGNS
FOR SUPERMARKETS AND, YOU KNOW, DOING
“POTATOES — 49 CENTS A POUND,” AND THEN I STARTED DOING
MORE SHOW-CARD GRAPHICS FOR RESTAURANTS. I LEARNED ABOUT SAUL BASS
WHEN I WAS IN HIGH SCHOOL. I LEARNED THAT SAUL’S OFFICE
WAS RIGHT HERE IN L.A. SO I SOUGHT HIM OUT, AND I BEGAN KIND OF
ALMOST STALKING HIM. EVENTUALLY, HE SAW ME,
AND HE STARTED ENCOURAGING ME. AND HE BECAME MY MENTOR. I STARTED DOING
DOCUMENTARY TELEVISION SHOWS. AND THEN, ONCE I GOT
A FEW SAMPLES ON FILM, I COULD SHOW FEATURE PRODUCERS. “THE EXORCIST” WAS MY BIG BREAK,
AND, ALONG WITH THAT, FRIEDKIN FAVORED ME. AND HE ASKED WARNER BROS.
IF THEY WOULD ALLOW ME TO DESIGN THE ADS. I FIRST CONSULTED THE FILM AND PULLED A LOT OF FRAMES
OUT OF THE FILM. AND I DID POSTERS
IN SIX LANGUAGES AND T-SHIRTS AND ALL KINDS
OF COLLATERAL DESIGN WORK. SO I BECAME KNOWN
FOR DOING GRAPHIC DESIGN, TOO, WHICH, OF COURSE, IS
WHERE I CAME FROM. I’M USUALLY BROUGHT IN
AND ENGAGED BY THE DIRECTOR. AS A TITLE DESIGNER,
YOU’RE PRESENTED WITH A LIST OF CREDITS
THAT HAVE TO BE ON THE FILM AND IN A CERTAIN ORDER
USUALLY — PERCENTAGES
OF HOW BIG THE TITLES MUST BE RELATIVE TO THE MAIN TITLE. AN ACTOR HAS TO BE
50% OF THE TITTLE, THEN HOWEVER BIG
THE TITLE IS, YOU MEASURE — YOU ACTUALLY HAVE TO MEASURE. I’LL SEE THE FILM,
AND I’LL JUST KIND OF FEEL AND VISUALIZE CERTAIN
TYPE TREATMENTS IN MY HEAD. I KNOW HUNDREDS
AND HUNDREDS OF TYPE STYLES, MOSTLY BY NAME,
BUT BY THEIR CHARACTER, THEIR SHAPE OF LETTERS,
AND SO ON. FONTS THAT ARE BIG
AND BOLD ARE MORE POWERFUL THAN SOMETHING THAT IS GRACEFUL AND THIN AND SOFT-EDGED. OKAY, THIS IS MY STUDIO.
THIS IS WHERE I DO ALL MY WORK. WELL, HERE I DO SKETCHES
AND THINGS ON PAPER, SO I’LL OFTEN CREATE
THESE THINGS BY HAND AS A SKETCH JUST TO ILLUSTRATE
WHAT I HAVE IN MIND. EVENTUALLY,
I’LL COME UP WITH SOME IDEAS THAT ARE COMPREHENSIVE ENOUGH
AND FORMED ENOUGH THAT I CAN BRING THEM
TO THE DIRECTOR. THIS, FOR EXAMPLE,
ARE ALTERNATE DESIGNS THAT I SHOWED TO GEORGE LUCAS. AND THIS IS EXACTLY
HOW I BROUGHT IT TO HIM. AND IT’S USUALLY THE ONE
THAT IT CAME TO ME ORGANICALLY FROM MY EXPERIENCE
WATCHING THE MOVIE. I’LL USUALLY WORK ON A FILM
FOR TWO OR THREE MONTHS ON AVERAGE. THERE HAVE BEEN OCCASIONS
WHERE I WORKED WELL OVER A YEAR. WHEN I WAS DOING
“DAYS OF HEAVEN” WITH TERRY MALICK, IT WAS A SERIES
OF STILL PICTURES THAT DISSOLVED
FROM ONE TO THE OTHER. BUT IF YOU WANTED
TO CHANGE ONE OF THEM, YOU HAD TO SHOOT
THE WHOLE THING OVER AGAIN. SO WE SHOT IT PROBABLY 30 TIMES. PRIOR TO THE DIGITAL REVOLUTION, I USED LITERALLY A PEN
AND PENCIL AND PAPER. DIGITALLY ALL THAT’S STILL DONE,
BUT JUST IN A DIFFERENT WAY, BUT YOU HAVE TO KNOW YOUR TOOLS. THAT’S THE SECRET. HOW BIG WILL IT BE?
WHAT COLOR WILL IT BE? WILL IT BE OUTLINED?
WILL IT HAVE A SHADOW? THOSE DECISIONS ARE SMALL
IN THEMSELVES, BUT COLLECTIVELY
THEY MAKE AN IMPACT. WHEN I DID SCORSESE’S FILM
“AFTER HOURS,” IT WAS THIS WILD, CRAZY NIGHT THAT YOU FOLLOWED
THIS CHARACTER AROUND. THE WAY HE SHOT IT
AND CUT IT WAS VERY, VERY RAPID, SO I SHOT A TITLE
THAT WAS JUST SIMPLE IN THE MIDDLE OF THE SCREEN, BUT THEY CAME
FOR A VERY SHORT TIME, SO YOU HAD TO READ THEM
AND KEEP UP WITH THEM AND BY THE TIME IT WAS OVER, YOUR HEART WAS BEATING
AT THE RIGHT PACE SO THAT YOU COULD
KEEP TRACK OF THE STORY. MANY PEOPLE HAVE SAID, “I SOMETIMES CAN’T
TELL THAT YOU DID IT, BECAUSE YOU ALWAYS
JUST DO SOMETHING DIFFERENT,” WHEREAS A LOT OF OTHER DESIGNERS
I, LIKE, HAVE COMPETED WITH HAVE A STYLE THAT’S SO SPECIFIC,
PEOPLE CAN ALWAYS TELL. “I KNOW WHO IT IS.” WONDERFUL DESIGN IS FINE, BUT IF IT CAN BE RELEVANT
TO THE MOVIE AND SOLVE THE PROBLEMS THAT
THE DESIGNER IS TRYING TO SOLVE, THAT’S THE BEST CHALLENGE, IS TO BE ABLE
TO DO SOMETHING LIKE THAT.

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