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Opening Credits

Opening credits are an opportunity for directors to set the mood for the whole film.

Opening credits are a big deal in Hollywood.  

As creatives, we see credits as a means to set a mood for the story with the choice of fonts, as well as the placement and composition of some transitions.  

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We recently worked on an opening credit sequence for a film called Moonshot. It's a romantic comedy about a woman who follows her boyfriend after he moves to Mars. The director was very knowledgeable about fonts, and he had a really clear idea of what he was looking for in order to complement the establishing footage of the film.  

We were asked to explore several directions for fonts, which our design team presented as mood boards. In the end, we collectively agreed to go with a curved sans serif style for the titles, and a classy sans serif font for the credits. (One of our cardinal rules is to never use serif and sans serif fonts together.) The title font ended up being a little bit more stylistic, while the credits were in a very legible font to display all the key names and production companies.  

We plan out the composition to avoid text appearing on top of important details in the footage (like people’s faces) and output static style frames. These frames show each credit/name over a frame of the opening sequence which has been timed out to be long enough to read while flowing as an integral design element within the overall sequence.

Once everything is decided, we put all this together into a PDF and send it to the client, followed by a live discussion led by our lead designer — in this case, Jason Groden. Once the film’s director gives us some feedback on the composition and size of these fonts, then we enter the motion phase.

The director of Moonshot wanted to have an interesting reveal for each credit, so Jason developed a custom distortion effect, which looks like a glitchy digital transmission with chromatic aberration — color around the edges like what happens in-camera. Of course, there is no real camera lens, so that effect was generated digitally. Whether or not it's factually accurate doesn't matter; its reason for being is to create the mood.

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We worked on another film recently called Judas and the Black Messiah. It’s about the Black Panthers and was directed by Shaka King. It has a very different look and mood. The opening sequence consists of newsreel footage to illustrate how the Black Panthers were being portrayed at the time by the media. In this case, Shaka had an initial suggestion for a font when we first met, but asked us to go through a proper font exploration inspired by how news broadcasts looked in 1969. That said, he ultimately decided to go with his original font inspiration. (This is actually a common occurrence — for the initial, gut feeling to be right on the money.)

A major portion of credits is navigating politics and rules. In addition to the creative side of any production we need to make sure we follow rules and avoid causing legal ripples. There's a lot of industry politics; union rules; and contracts and waivers from the guilds. You can learn all about them in my next post.

Originally published: 02/25/2022

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