A title sequence is the method by which films or television programs present their title, key production and cast members, utilizing conceptual visuals and sound. It typically includes (or begins) the text of the opening credits, and helps establish the setting and tone of the program. It may consist of live action, animation, music, still images, and/or graphics.
Since the invention of the cinematograph, simple title cards were used to begin and end 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. With the arrival of sound, 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 movies 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 movies, 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, movie 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.
Title sequences for television series have routinely played a central role in establishing the show's identity. Repeated at the beginning of every new and rebroadcast episode, usually with limited changes over the course of the series' run, they can become highly memorable. Theme music played during the sequence may be remembered clearly by viewers decades later.
Title sequences can take a variety of forms, incorporating different elements. A song may summarize the backstory or premise of the series, such as forThe Brady Bunch, The Beverly Hillbillies, or Mister Ed. Less commonly, a voice-over may serve the same function, as for Star Trek, Quantum Leap, or The Twilight Zone . Often a song will more generally set the general theme of the series, such as for WKRP in Cincinnati, Cheers, or All in the Family. An instrumental piece may be used the same way, as for Taxi, The Bob Newhart Show, or Dallas. A title sequence will at some point badge the show with a typographic logo. Visuals may be used to quickly present the backstory, as in I Dream of Jeannie or Gilligan's Island. Because it is produced at the outset of a series, the sequence will usually include visuals taken from early episodes already shot when it was prepared. Short clips of key characters may be used to introduce them and to credit the actors playing them. In and around these elements may be other footage depicting the setting, or examples of scenes common to the show (e.g. car chases for a police drama, household activities for a sitcom, singing and dancing for a variety show).
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. Some shows[clarification needed] have had several quite different title sequences and theme music throughout their runs, while in contrast some ever-popular shows[clarification needed] 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.
Some series make minor changes to the title sequence of each episode, such as superimposing a different episode title on each one. Others make minor alterations to the content of the sequence itself, to keep them from being completely repetitive each episode and to reward attentive viewers. For example, The Rockford Files would feature a different message left on the title character's answering machine, and The Simpsons features several unique elements in the title sequence of each episode (e.g. the couch gag).
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 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.
List of television series whose title sequences have regular subtle changes
Some shows change their title sequences slightly.
The Amazing Race – Each season features the teams who are competing in the race during the sequence.
American Dad! – Stan picks up a newspaper with a unique headline (seasons 1–3); Roger appears in Stan's car wearing a different disguise (season 4-present).
American Idol – showing past winners throughout the sequence.
Burn Notice – Over the seasons, Sam goes from being a friend who's informing on Michael to the FBI to a friend who used to inform on Michael to the FBI, Fiona goes from being a trigger-happy ex-girlfriend to a trigger-happy girlfriend, and Jesse gets added to the title sequence.
Cougar Town – Each episode for the second season (excluding the second episode) replaced the 'Welcome to' subtitle to a reference regarding the "bad" title of the show (e.g., "(Badly Titled) Cougar Town", "It's Okay to Watch a Show Called Cougar Town") Doctor Who – Each season uses a slightly different title sequence which follows a pattern; the TARDIS appears flying through a time vortex and, in sync with the music, the names of the protagonists appear in various fonts.
The Fairly OddParents – Vicky's head always turns into something different at the end.
Fringe – The style of the titles changes depending on whether the episode takes place in a different time or in the alternate universe.
Futurama – the text below the title and the cartoon clip playing on the big screen changes each episode.
Game of Thrones – showing different structures rising from the ground and panning on different locations depending on the setting.
Pokémon – The Japanese version has various subtle changes throughout the opening sequences. The English version debuts a completely new theme song and intro movie with each season.
The Real Housewives – Each season of every Real Housewives on the Bravo network introduces a new introduction for every Housewife in the opening segment. Early seasons of some Real Housewives carried-over the statements from the previous season.
The Simpsons – Bart writes something different on the blackboard and there is a different "couch gag" at the end of the title sequence in each episode (rarely there will be no Couch at all, so you must notice this). The song Lisa plays is different. The price for Magee (shown by the Cash Register, for one frame) is different. Rarely, Bart will have a minor difference in his Skateboard route.
South Park - From Season 5 onwards the opening sequence shows a rapid montage of brief highlights from recent previous episodes.
Superjail – a criminal commits a crime and is flown off to Superjail, passing various unusual sites along the way.
Supernatural – Each season changes to reflect some aspect of its plot.
TNA Impact! and TNA Xplosion – the openings change regularly as wrestlers are hired and fired and as championships change hands.
The Young and the Restless – The names of the actors do not always appear in the same order. Usually the names of those actors prominently featured on a given day's episode will appear first.
WWE Raw, WWE Friday Night SmackDown, and ECW on Sci Fi – the openings are altered regularly as WWE stars are hired, traded, and fired, and as championships change hands.
Hazel - at the end of the intro on all 5 seasons (1961-1966) the logo is a different color
8 Simple Rules (episodes with John Ritter) – where Kerry, Cate, Bridget and Paul open the front door and look one at a time at a supposed new date of Bridget's or Kerry's. The camera goes from the door to the doormat with the show's name, then the door opens again, Rory shows up and does something that changes between title sequences: he looks at the camera with disdain, takes a picture of the date with a camera, takes away the date's flowers, etc.
Animaniacs – at the end of their theme song, a different lyric is sung with a related clip.
Tiny Toon Adventures - on some special episodes the theme songs words are changed.
Babylon 5 – A different monologue, choice of clips, and arrangement of the theme music was used each of the show's five seasons, to reflect where the show was in its story arc.
Battlestar Galactica (2004) – a running tally of total human survivors is shown.
Charmed, Dawson's Creek, Gilmore Girls, Perfect Strangers – Whenever a regular is absent from the episode, he or she is also absent from the title sequence.
Chowder – a different food is being cooked each episode.
Garfield and Friends – The series had three very different theme songs during its run, but they all ended the same way – after the show's logo and Garfield appears, he says a quick and often humorous message.
Monty Python's Flying Circus – The opening sequence changed every season. In one episode, it did not appear until more than 20 minutes in.
The Critic – Jay answered a different phone call and was later shown reviewing a different movie parody clip in each episode.
The Dick Van Dyke Show – Rob (Dick Van Dyke) entered through the front door and tripped over the ottoman. Three versions were filmed: one in which he trips over the ottoman, one in which he steps around it, and a rarely seen third variation in which he avoids the ottoman but then trips on the carpet. Editors were instructed to use them randomly.
Ellen – Many episodes opened with Ellen DeGeneres introducing a performer who was playing the theme song that week while she held up a sign with the name of the show.
Smallville – The sequences are different every season (Except Season 2 and 3 that use the same sequence) In Season 10, the last season, the title sequences usually have four regular cast members, except the episodes that Allison Mack appears, her name is added in the sequences of those episodes for honouring her regular starring since 2001.
The Real Adventures of Jonny Quest – Early episodes use "HANNA-BARBERA PRESENTS". Later episodes use "HANNA-BARBERA" is replaced by the 1992-2004 Cartoon Network logo and the text "PRESENTS" next to it.
Frasier – The Frasier logo changed color every season, and 21 different animations involving the logo's skyline graphic alternated throughout its run.
The Sarah Silverman Program – Sarah introduces herself and the other characters through a series of slides, which are different in every episode.
Scrubs – the doctor taking the x-ray out of the chart at the foot of the bed changes.
Star Trek: Enterprise – The Mirror Universe episodes feature a darker intro from said timeline, showing war and conquest instead of exploration and scientific progress.
Friends – The clips of each character were excerpts of the first half or the second half of the season. When Courteney Cox married David Arquette, all actors added "Arquette" to their last name for one episode.
King of the Hill – A line from the recently broadcast episode from one of the characters is said during the credits.
A Nero Wolfe Mystery – Features title illustration and design by Aurore Giscard d'Estaing that is unique to each episode.
Pepper Ann – At the end of the title sequence, Pepper Ann finds something interesting on the floor under her desk and says "Cool!", followed by the item she found.
Police Squad! – In each episode there is a different "special guest star" who is killed off during the title sequence and makes no appearance in the episode. Additionally, an announcer reads off the title of the episode, which is different in each episode, and also does not match the title shown in the graphics. The Muppet Show - The Guest Star (All Seasons) Frozzies Joke (Season 1) Slanter And Wardoth (Seasons 2-4) Zoot (All Seasons)
The Prisoner -(UK) A 17-episode British series noted for unusual opening and closing sequences.
The Proud Family – When Oscar shuts the door on people trying to get into the house, the second person he shuts the door on is a character appearing in the episode.
The Rockford Files – A different message is left on Rockford's answering machine. Rome - The two lead actors alternated top billing each episode, with Kevin McKidd first in odd numbered episodes and Ray Stevenson first in in even numbered episodes.
Roseanne – The camera turns 360 degrees, showing the family having dinner or playing a game, always ending with Rosanne laughing wholeheartedly. The last season featured a montage of pictures of the cast set to lyrics sung by John Popper of Blues Traveler.
The Twilight Zone- Often-imitated opening introduction by Rod Serling,(series narrator),changed from season to season.
Unfabulous – Season 3 episodes had the show's theme song, "Girl Next Door", being performed by different artists.
Weeds – The song "Little Boxes" is performed by a different artist in each episode of seasons 2–3; in later seasons, a different object, generally alluding to the episode's plot, morphs into the series logo.
Oreimo – The scenes in the opening were slightly shuffled in each episode in the first season of the anime. Different characters were introduced with their names displayed depending on the episode The scenes behind Kyousuke and Kirino running changes on each episode depending on the setting of the episode with spinning little-sister themed eroge CD's as background in one instance. In the second season the opening featured some clips depending on the episode. The scene of Kyousuke and Kirino walking together slightly changes as the series progresses with the cherry blossom trees besides them changes as the season in the anime changes; from spring to winter.
- 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