Typography in Film

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Typography in Film




The following research outlines the history of typography in film, details information on techniques, innovators, and leaders in the industry, as well as provides some data surrounding FFmpeg. A list of additional resources that might be helpful has been provided at the end of the report. Though the use of many technologies (Cinema 4D, Adobe After Effect, PFTrack, and Boujou) were found in reference to the creation of title sequences, no data regarding any proprietary software in use was found within the public domain. Additionally, no data was located specific to the changing processes surrounding how typography is superimposed on broadcast transmissions versus the use of FFmpeg in modern video frame-by-frame muxing processes.

  • According to Ozden Pektas Turgut, the "movie title sequence typography is a powerful design element that not only can allude to the story of the movie but also to the genre and the general atmosphere of the movie. When one studies the history of title sequence design, it is seen that specific fonts have been identified with specific movie genres. For instance, while Goudy Text, one of the old British style fonts in handwriting form, has been used more in title sequences of movies about ancient European history, bold square serif fonts like Playbill have been identified with western movies. Title sequence backgrounds, on the other hand, are among the significant parts that are able to offer the style of the movie in an effective way. Background images, which are the most outstanding field of visuality, are powerful graphics that transmit the theme of the movie to the audience through the presentation of the atmosphere of the movie and the scenes, editing, and visual effects. For example, the title sequences of a drama that has a stable background with a single scene and the title sequences of an adventure movie that has sliding scenes arouse different emotions about the movie in the audience."
  • However, there is a lack of "academic attention to title sequences" in film education.
    • "One of the representatives holding such a viewpoint is David Peters, who founded a San Francisco-based non-profit organization, Design Film, in 1999 with Ken Coupland and Dav Rauch to research and present projects related to multimedia design history. David Peters pointed out that film title design was grossly underappreciated by academic studies."
  • According to 'Just the beginning: The Art of Film Titles', "there were no title sequences at all in the earliest days of cinema. The credit cards and inter-titles which were acknowledged by their usages for title sequences later on were not initially used for title sequences but for conveying dialogue throughout the movie, setting the time, place and action for the scenes."
  • This began to change in the 1910s and 1920s when studios began having title cards handcrafted, photographed, and inserted into the film.
  • Filmmakers began to evolve the title card into the title sequence.

Silent Film Era

  • "Movies became big business in the 1910s with an ever-growing entertainment industry offering cheap entertainment for the masses. With movie theaters being a hub of social and cultural life, audiences became so boisterous that during movies etiquette announcements were displayed as part of the opening film title sequences. Like these announcements, film titles were a very utilitarian affair delivering key information to audiences, such as the movie studio’s name and logo, director, movie title, main characters and actors. They were hand-illustrated by lettering artists and typesetters and then photographed and incorporated into the movie."
  • Title card designers would often take inspiration from other artists of the time. For example, the German version of The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1923) featured title art inspired by German Expressionist illustrator Josef Fenneker. However, the American version of the film had a far simpler interpretation.
  • According to experts, the "scanty title cards functioned on a single responsibility, the so-called pragmatic communication function which is nothing more than serving the contractual requirement: to display the movie’s title, the name of the director, establish the hierarchy of actors, identify the studio involved and send the signal when the film started and ended."

Golden Age of Hollywood

  • In 1939, David O. Selznick chose to use a moving title sequence for Gone With the Wind to make a statement on the vastness and greatness of the film.
    • California plein air fine art artist, Fitch Fulton, was credited as painting the backgrounds used in the title sequence using "oil on board; depicting the iconic Tara as viewed from a distance."
    • William Cameron Menzies worked hand-in-hand with Selznick to design the film, including the title sequence. Selznick recognized the importance of this job function and as a result, created (and Menzies became the first) the role of production designer.
  • Producers began designing their title graphics to match the theme of the film. The "opening credits for romances were often written in letters that appear to be fashioned in pink ribbon and those for slapstick humor in paint-stroke typefaces that suggest hastiness and incompetent workmanship. These Hollywood-vernacular typefaces were communicative, very expressive."

Modern Age of Film

  • As Hollywood entered into the modern age, "filmmakers realized that they must develop strategies to tempt the public away from their television sets into movie theaters. A campaign to win back a diminishing audience started. Major film studios were thinking of new ways to re-shape their films. They wanted to change their product to be something that could be sufficiently differentiated from and competitive with television. One of the significant solutions they found was the film title sequence, which they wished could become something sort of like an advertisement that would complement the main feature to get the audiences interested before a film. Striking and graphically sophisticated film title sequences flourished, and a greater number of designers became involved. In order to acknowledge a growing number of all the members of the crew, more spaces were needed for credits. It was in this circumstance that many filmmakers extended their opening credits longer than a few frames, and even moved parts of the sequence to the end of the film."
  • During the 1950s, the man known as 'the father of modern film title sequence design', Saul Bass, rose to fame. He is credited with the transformation of the title sequence by making it a "fundamental element of a film’s composition."
    • "Saul Bass ran the gamut of techniques in his wide repertoire of film title sequences, from typography to montage to cut-out paper. Bass is said to be the pioneer of modern opening title sequences with his experimental styles that crystallize a film into a metaphor."
    • " Bass realized the potential of title sequence if incorporated with the right audio and visual sequence can help set the mood and theme at the opening of a film."
    • "Bass designed the first animated film identity, a rose depicted within an animated flame, for the movie Carmen Jones (1954). He continued to employ the animation techniques in making title sequences for others of his films."
    • "Bass developed iconic, influential and noteworthy title sequences employing distinguished kinetic typography for motion pictures, including The Man with the Golden Arm (1955), North by Northwest (1959), Vertigo (1958) and Psycho (1960)."
    • Mr. Bass often worked with Alfred Hitchcock. "Just like in many of his other creations, the credits are a fine example of creating a perfect harmony between the typeface and footage, which only a genius like Bass can achieve."
    • Using a combination of Claredom and News Gothic fonts over extreme closeups of a woman's facial features, Bass created the sequence linked below for Hitchcock's Vertigo in 1958.
    • In addition to film, Bass was responsible for "designing legendary iconography for brands like AT&T, Girl Scouts of America, and Kleenex."
    • "His last poster design was for Steven Spielberg‘s Schindler’s List (though it was never used) and the final title sequence he worked on before his death was for Scorsese’s Casino."
  • Pablo Ferro was another graphics designer whose work began to be seen in this revolution. "Ferro introduced the quick-cut method of editing, whereby static images including engravings, photographs, and pen and ink drawing, are infused with speed, motion and sound. In the movie Dr. Strangelove (1964), the key to Ferro’s eventual shift from TV to film, he used the quick-cut technique employing as many as 125 separate images in a minute to convey both the dark humor and the political immediacy of the film."
    • According to Art of the Title, Ferro "taught himself animation using a book by Preston Blair, a former animator at Walt Disney Productions and the MGM animation department."
    • Peter Lucas, of Glasstire, states, "Ferro was an early pioneer of rapid montage, split-screen techniques, and optical effects. His unconventional sequences mixed and remixed type, art, still photography, film footage, sound, and music. While his approach was continually changing, he was always concerned with creating visual compressions, collisions, fragmentation, and layering. And he was dedicated to orchestrating these experiences with a vigor, winking humor, and teasing tension that suggested much more than was actually on screen."
  • Maurice Binder worked on the title designs of 14 James Bond films.
  • Suzy Rice, though uncredited at the time, helped to create one of the most iconic title sequences in film history — Star Wars.
    • "Suzy Rice was a young designer at Seiniger Advertising when 20th Century Fox approached the agency about designing a logo for promotional materials for a sci-fi epic called Star Wars. Rice was dispatched to meet the ambitious filmmaker behind the project, who had already rejected a slew of logos. Sitting in his office at Industrial Light & Magic, George Lucas detailed his plans for the film. He said that for the logo, he wanted something that is very fascist, would be intimidating, and that would rival AT&T."
    • "Rice had been reading a book on German type design, which detailed how Nazi war criminal Joseph Goebbels decreed all public signs would have a uniform font (it was all part of the fascist’s control by enforcing conformity). The font Goebbles chose is not known, but it is said to have influenced Helvetica, which came after Nazi Germany fell. As Rice detailed in a 2011 essay, she chose Helvetica Black for Star Wars."

Computers Enter Hollywood

  • According to famed designer David Peters, the dawn of the computer age in films meant that "two of the richest possibilities that new technologies enabled were situating a point of view within an illusion of space and imagery and the manipulation of typography to be dimensional and move in ways that are physically impossible."
  • Prior to the wide use of desktop publishing software, film graphic designers typically worked with storyboards and animates. However, the 1990s saw the implementation of Adobe After Effect and Macromedia Flash which made it far easier for designers to create and innovate on-screen graphics.
  • Kyle Cooper was among the "next-generation of design-educated, film-literate, tech-savvy creatives" taking Hollywood by storm with their computers. He is now considered to be one of the greatest title designers in film and television.
    • "The revolutionary title sequence for Se7en (1995) by Kyle Cooper was named by New York Times Magazine as one of the most important design innovations of the 1990s."
      • "In it, the letters — hand-scratched by Cooper with a needle onto film stock, frame by painstaking frame — disintegrate to the industrial rhythms of a remix of Nine Inch Nails' "Closer." The oft-imitated setup perfectly captured the addled mind of the movie's serial killer and set the tone for the entire film."
    • As one of the most well-known title sequence designers, he's worked on over "150 features — including Donnie Brasco, the 1996 remake of The Island of Dr. Moreau, Mission: Impossible, Spider-Man, Sphere, Spawn, Twister, and Flubber."
    • "For The Mummy, Cooper conducted extensive historical research and designed a unique typeface that was part roman letters, part hieroglyphics. The words were then superimposed on a torch-lit backdrop of ancient Egyptian scrolls and pyramid inscriptions. For Arlington Road, it was all about the edits; he spliced together serene images of suburbia — picket fences, kids on bikes, American flags — then added harsh yellow and red hues to give a sense of paranoia."
    • "The production on Spider-Man 2's titles, from conception to delivery, stretched almost an entire year. Cooper began by digitally scanning dozens of vintage Spider-Man comics and editing them together in a blink-and-you-miss-it five-second montage that encompasses the entire story arc of the first film. Unlike the first Spider-Man's title sequence - which took months of tweaking with software apps including Cinema 4D, Adobe After Effects, Maya, and Photoshop — Cooper this time relies on old-school filmic techniques. The credit's primary conflict between Spidey and arch nemesis Dr. Octavius is presented in striking stop-motion animation."
  • Imaginary Forces (IF), founded by Kyle Cooper, Chip Houghton, and Peter Frankfurt, is one "of the world’s largest multidisciplinary entertainment and design agencies."
    • The agency describes their title design services as "elevating the art of motion pictures with the power of graphic design."
    • The IF team was tasked with creating "the machine vision sequences seen in the film, as well as creating the opening and main titles for Terminator: Salvation (2009).
      • In an interview about the project, Jeremy Cox (lead animator/designer), Rod Basham (Inferno artist) and Karin Fong (creative supervisor/designer) spoke about the methods utilized:
        • "The way we initially approached it was to look at existing military technologies and existing scientific visualization technologies. That initially drew me to LIDAR and ways of machines seeing the depth of an environment."
        • "We actually went as far as acquiring one of these NASA Bumblebee stereo cameras that they are retro-fitting onto robots for dimensional navigation. Jeremy found this camera that seemed to do what we were talking about in terms of depth analysis. It became a good tool for reference. We unfortunately didn’t end up using the camera in the way we’d planned in the final shots, but it was interesting working with these stereo camera systems to see how they would capture and process data. We’d then retro-fit that logic onto our work and make it work for something set slightly in the future."
        • "We had to figure out how to take this depth information and map these interesting point clouds under there and supplement these with the interface graphics. I think Jeremy approached it very cleanly and in a fresh way but drawing upon what was in the other films. The red wash is pretty much a trademark of machine vision type shots, but we took it in a slightly different direction so it wasn’t the expected optical red wash that people have seen. We made it different for different machines, too."
        • "The initial tracking of all the shots was done in PFTrack and Boujou. We did this to every shot that we could. We then brought that into Cinema 4D which is our primary 3D program. Often we would rebuild the set or do minimal construction of elements in order to have a surface to create these point clouds. In most cases we would render a depth map out of Cinema 4D of this crude scene and then bring that into After Effects. We used a plugin from Trapcode called Form, which essentially creates a grid of particles whose Z position can be determined in space based on the depth map. So we could line up the particles with the original shot. Then almost the entire interface animation was done in After Effects."
        • "I chose to use OCR-F (typefaces) for almost all of the type throughout the movie. It is an optical character recognition font which — although not technically accurate for a machine (there’s not really any reason a machine would use it) — but I found that the technical nature of the font worked with the style we were going for. Just the history of it lent a very interesting angle to it. OCR-F was also used in the titles for people’s names, any subtitles and in the closing crawl, I think. We tried to tell a certain story using the font that we chose."
        • Other graphics were "almost all done in two-and-a-half-D, in After Effects 3D space. There were a couple of elements done in true 3D, in Cinema 4D, but as much as we could we tried to construct it with the camera from the match-move and in the realistic feeling space. Even if we needed to keep the element on screen, at least it felt it was reacting with the camera and interacting with the move that the machine was doing."
        • "The 3D letters were done in Cinema 4D, composited in After Effects and the title cards were also animated in After Effects."
  • Imaginary Forces is beginning to use augmented reality (AR) technologies in their work. In 2019, "instead of sending out the standard holiday card, it sent clients and friends an augmented reality experience, which they could see on their iPhones and iPads."
    • "Imaginary Forces is just playing around with the technology right now, but the applications are interesting. Imagine creating a main-title sequence that included an AR piece, so people could drop a character from a show or a piece of the set in their living room."

Additional Typography Examples

2021 Emmy Nominated Title Sequences

  • Between the World and Me
    • HBO / Elastic
    • Creative Director: Hazel Baird
    • Art Director: Diego Coutinho; Animator: Rafael Morinaga
  • The Good Lord Bird
    • Showtime / King and Country, LLC
    • Director/Creative Director: Efrain Montanez
    • Art Director/Designer: Eduardo Guisandes; Illustrator/ Animator: Abigail Fairfax
  • Lovecraft Country
    • HBO / Antibody
    • Creative Director: Patrick Clair
    • Art Director/Animator/Compositor/Lead 3D Artist: Raoul Marks; Illustrator: Ken Taylor
  • The Queen's Gambit
    • Netflix
    • Creative Director/Designer/Editor: Saskia Marka
    • Designer/Animator: David Whyte
  • WandaVision
    • Disney+ / Perception
    • Creative Director: John LePore, Doug Appleton
    • Lead Designer/Animator: Nick Woythaler; Designer/Animator: Alex Rupert; Designer: David Wave

Other Recent Examples


Kinetic Typography Software

Additional Helpful Knowledge Sources

As requested, the following resources have been included for reference purposes.


For this project surrounding typography in film, the most reputable sources of information available in the public domain were leveraged including data from sources like Art of the Title, Smashing Magazine, as well as corporate websites and media coverage.

Some data has been provided verbatim from original sources due to the proprietary nature of said information as well as efforts to avoid any misinterpretation of the analysis presented, and all calculations have been detailed.

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