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A title sequence is the method by which films or television programs present their title, key production and cast members, or both, utilizing conceptual visuals and sound. It usually follows but should not be confused with the opening credits, which are generally nothing more than a series of superimposed text.
Since the invention of the cinematograph, simple title cards were used to top and tail silent film presentations in order to identify both the film and the production company involved, and to act as a signal to viewers that the film had started and then finished. In silent cinema title cards or intertitles were used throughout to convey dialogue and plot and it is in some of these early short films that we see the first examples of title sequences themselves, being quite literally a series of title cards shown at the beginning of a film. The arrival of sound did little to alter the convention except that the sequence was usually accompanied by a musical prelude or overture.
Slowly, title sequences evolved to become more elaborate pieces of film. The advent of television was a pivotal moment for title design because it forced the major film studios to invest in making cinema more attractive in order to win back a diminishing audience. The "cast of thousands" epics shot on various patent widescreen formats were a direct response to television's successful invasion of the leisure marketplace. Part of cinema's new prestigious and expansive quality were orchestral overtures before the curtains opened and long title sequences — all designed to convey a sense of gravitas it was hoped television would be unable to compete with. As cinema's title sequences grew longer and more elaborate, the involvement of graphic design luminaries such as Saul Bass and Maurice Binder became more common. The title sequence for Alfred Hitchcock's North by Northwest is generally cited as the first to feature extended use of kinetic typography. This innovation, in turn, influenced the 1960s television predilection for title design, resulting in the creation of strong graphics-led sequences for many television shows. Since then, the mediums of film and television have engaged in a kind of push and pull behavior, inspiring and spurring each other in different directions.
There have been several such pivotal moments in title design history. The introduction of digital technologies in the late 1980s and early 1990s to film and television changed both industries, and accordingly the 1990s saw a resurgence in title design. Ironically, a key sequence in this resurgence was the main title to David Fincher's Seven, designed by Kyle Cooper while at R/GA, which was created using primarily analogue means. Soon thereafter, television followed suit and networks like HBO began to develop more cinematic experiences for television, including more elaborate and considered title sequences. For example, when The Sopranos first aired in 1999, it was only the second hour-long television drama that HBO had ever produced. Its title sequence "helped lend the show a credibility and gravitas normally reserved for cinema, giving it a stronger foothold in the mind and memory of the audience."
As of the beginning of the 21st century, title sequences can be found bookending a variety of media besides film and television including video games, conferences, and even music videos.
Many films have employed unusual and fairly elaborate title sequences since the 1930s. In the 1936's Show Boat cut-out figures on a revolving turnable carried overhead banners which displayed the opening credits. This opening sequence was designed by John Harkrider, who created the costumes for the original 1927 Broadway production of the musical.
In several films, the opening credits have appeared against a background of (sometimes moving) clouds. These include The Wizard of Oz (1939), Till the Clouds Roll By (1946), the David Lean Oliver Twist (1948) and the 1961 King of Kings. In the 1947 Technicolor film Sinbad the Sailor, the letters of the opening credits seem to form from colored water gushing into a fountain.
Since the late 1950s, film title sequences have been a showcase for contemporary design and illustration. The title sequences of Saul Bass and Maurice Binder are among the best examples of this. They also inspired many imitators both in cinema and on television.
In the 1959 Ben-Hur, the opening credits were set against the background of the "Creation of Man" in Michelangelo's Sistine Chapel ceiling. As the credits progressed, the camera slowly zoomed in on the Hand of God outstretched toward Adam.
Kyle Cooper's title sequence for David Fincher's Seven (1995) influenced a whole host of designers in the late 1990s. Its aesthetic has "been co-opted almost wholesale by the horror genre as a house style"
Kenneth Branagh's Hamlet does not actually have an opening title sequence. The only credits seen at the beginning are the name of the production company, Shakespeare's name, and the title of the film. However, the title is shown by means of the camera slowly panning across the base of the statue of the dead king Hamlet, whose ghost will appear in three scenes of the film, and who will play a crucial role in the story.
In general, a television title sequence will at some point badge the show with a typographic logo. Around this key element can be incorporated shots of highlights from earlier episodes or shows and key presenters' or cast members' names. Musical accompaniment can be either instrumental or a song and aided by the visual treatment of the images helps to convey the tone and mood of the programme.
In anime series, opening and ending title sequences have evolved into a distinct art form in their own right: due to the running length of a half-hour block of programming on Japanese television providing more time for the actual episode as opposed to commercials, an episode is able to budget one-and-one-half minutes each for an OP (opening sequence) and ED (ending sequence). These will invariably feature pieces of vocal music, sometimes sung by members of the voice cast for the program, and will have unique animation that thematically serves to open and close the episode; often, guest animators will be brought in to direct and provide key animation for these sequences. The OP credits will usually include director, producer, animation director, studio, music, and OP animation credits: detailed staff and voice cast is almost always reserved for the ED. In anime produced primarily for an audience of young children, karaoke lyrics to the song will sometimes be provided at the bottom of the opening and ending sequences. For further information on anime openings, see Music in Japanese animation.
Television specials, especially of classic works, sometimes contain unusual opening credit sequences. In the title sequence of Mikhail Baryshnikov's 1977 version of Tchaikovsky's ballet The Nutcracker, for example, we see closeups, freeze-frame and slow-motion shots of Baryshnikov and female lead Gelsey Kirkland "warming up" for the ballet. When the actual title appears on the screen we see Baryshnikov in his nutcracker costume and mask leaping into the air in slow motion and freeze frame. The Overture Miniature is heard during the opening credits.
In serials, because a title sequence is produced at the outset of a series, it will usually include scenes from early episodes already shot when the sequence was prepared. Short clips of key characters will often climax in a freeze frame as that cast member's name is superimposed. In and around these elements will be other footage depicting the locale (a particular city, country, building or fictitious location) in which the series is set and therefore its era. A title sequence might also be used to explain the premise of a series, traditionally utilising clips from its pilot episode.
Although a title sequence may be modified during a series to update cast changes or incorporate new "highlight" shots from later episodes, it will tend to remain largely the same for an entire season. Such is the strength of a title sequence in expressing the concept of a show, it will sometimes be the key element a producer will target in order to revamp a show between seasons. Therefore some shows have enjoyed several quite different title sequences and theme music throughout their runs, while in contrast some ever-popular shows have retained their original title sequences for decades with only minor alterations. Conversely, retaining a series' original title sequence can allow a producer to change many key elements within a programme itself, without losing the show's on-screen identity. Other variations include changing only the theme music whilst keeping the visuals or vice versa.
In contemporary television news a title sequence can be changed every day by including footage of that day's news with a presenter's voice "teasing" the items. This ensures that the title sequence appears fresh but still identifies the news program by its music and visual style.
In 2010, TV Guide published a list of American TV's top 10 credits sequences, as selected by readers. The series, in order of first to tenth, were: The Simpsons, Get Smart, The Mary Tyler Moore Show, the original Hawaii Five-O, True Blood, The Big Bang Theory, Dexter, The Brady Bunch, Mad Men, and The Sopranos.
The animated introduction, attract mode, title screen, and title sequence have been a major part of video games for decades. However, it is only recently that game title sequences have been able to match the quality and fidelity of film and television titles.
- Acknowledgment (creative arts)
- Billing (filmmaking)
- Character generator
- Closing credits
- Credit (creative arts)
- Digital on-screen graphic (BUG)
- Lower third
- Opening credits
- Production logo
- Theme music
- WGA screenwriting credit system
- Georg Stanitzek, Reading the Title Sequence (Vorspann, Générique), trans. Noelle Aplevich, in: Cinema Journal 48,4 (Summer 2009), pp. 44-58.
- The Kinetic Typography Engine
- Radatz, Ben (July 10, 2012). "Se7en (1995) — Art of the Title". Art of the Title. Retrieved May 16, 2014.
- "The Sopranos (1999) — Art of the Title". Art of the Title. April 29, 2014. Retrieved May 16, 2014.
- Radatz, Ben (April 29, 2014). "Se7en (1995) — Art of the Title". Art of the Title. Retrieved May 16, 2014.
- Art of the Title (2013-11-05). "A Brief History of Video Game Title Design"
- Art of the Title (2012-01-30). "Deus Ex: Human Revolution"
- Art of the Title (2012-09-10). "The Last of Us"
- Art of the Title – A compendium and leading web resource of film and television title design from around the world
- Forget the Film, Watch the Titles – A collection of title sequences and interviews with their creators
- Detailed dissection of the title sequence for Space: 1999
- Original Doctor Who opening credits