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Title sequence

A scene or sequence of scenes over which the title roll of the movie credits are superimposed.

A title sequence (also called an opening sequence or intro) is the method by which films or television programs present their title and 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. In some films, the title sequence is preceded by a cold open.

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 Se7en, designed by Kyle Cooper while at R/GA, which was created using primarily analog means. The title opticals for Se7en were created by Cinema Research Corporation, the leading title company in the 1990s. 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 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.

Key Terms

beginning
cinema
definition
film
films
television
title
title sequence
title sequences
usage

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Title sequence
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Last modified on January 19 2020
Content adapted from Wikipedia
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