Documentary: Motion Graphics Movie Opening Titles



A long time ago film titles, the graphic image or sequence at the opening of a movie, were simply hand-illustrated cards photographed and inserted into a film.

Today, they are much like a mini-movie showcases the art of graphic design with filmmaking. Although short and not-always sweet, film titles serve a number of purposes. Besides introducing the title of the film and the main players that brought it to screen, they raise audiences’ expectations, evoke the film’s overall mood and set up the story. Film titles are, indeed, the primary impression an audience will have a film. As they have become more integral to film and a genre of design all their own, a growing number of spectators have started to enjoy the opening of the films.


The project we elaborated deals with the use of motion graphic into movie opening credits from the first experimentations, which took place between the 19 th and the 20 th century, to nowadays. From first graphics in movement, produced through analogical mechanics, to first products by software of digital elaboration.

Movies became big business in the 1910. In these years film titles were a very utilitarian affair delivering key information to audiences. They were hand-illustrated and then photographed and incorporated into the movie. For ease of production and clarity, letters were simple and easy to read (black background and white lettering with small serifs) (David Wark Griffith).

More illustrative film title cards reflective the various art and design movements of the era, such as Art Nouveau, Art Deco and Expressionism (Modern Times). Illustrators would attempt to evoke the genre or subject matter of the film through the letterforms.

Sound entered the cinematic world in 1927 and movie producers began to invest in big budget films with a growing commercial awareness of advertising. Studios engaged sign painters and those familiar with advertising art who had knowledge of typography to work on film title design. Consequently, film title cards of this era reflected modernist design with geometric forms, lines and angles and an overall modern look (King Kong). By the mid-late 1930s, film titles started serving a narrative function and were designed to prepare the viewer for the mood and story of the film.

In the 1940-1950, television companies employed professional graphic designers to create their opening sequences and advertisements. Seeing the success of television, filmmakers adopted the same strategy.

Graphic designers created title sequences with a new sophistication that served the story and the director’s vision and intent. Saul Bass, one such legendary designer, created what are still some of the best title designs (The Man with the Golden Arm, Anatomy of a Murder, Psycho).

As film titles broke free of their prescriptive predecessors, designers employed a variety of animation techniques to add movement and choreography to title sequences (Vertigo). Film title design maintained an aesthetic defined primarily by symbolic geometry, clean typography and bold graphic forms. Typography and imagery became heavily connected during film titles of this time with type fixed in physical objects, imitating shapes and forms, and being fully integrated into the design of the title sequence (North by Northwest).

The new belief, that graphic design would have been the mid-century advertising revolution, brought to the creation of sophisticated film titles and the advent of iconic images and logos derived from these sequences (Dr.No, Pink Panther).

In the 1960 film title design departed from the clean and geometric forms of the 1950 to a more relaxed, eccentric and quirky style that included hand illustrations. Filmmakers and title designers incorporated more motion photography in opening sequences, reflecting the auteur theory of filmmaking at this time (To Kill a Mockingbird).

In the 1980, computers and software revolutionized film title design giving many artists and designers access to experiment (Star Wars, Superman). With a decreasing importance of credit information, designers no longer concentrated on text and paid more attention to overall effects. Some used a montage technique to condense space, time and information.

The 1990 was the decade of grunge and the style was seen in the music scene, fashion industry and design world (Seven).

Film titles in recent years are really becoming more integrated with the film and they are doing more narrative work, not just setting the mood and establishing the stage for the story that you’re about to see (Catch Me if You Can, Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, Mad Men).


The movies taken under examination were chosen according to 3 particulars criteria: 1) relevance from an historic point of view; 2) technical features; 3) relevance as didactic material. Hence, they were not chosen exclusively on their fame, but rather on the altogether of those qualities.Innovation, indeed, but also didactic as the selected motion graphics were then reproduced by us, so we put on display those we thought were more useful in our educational path.

In the end our project is a short documentary in which the history and evolution of motion graphic is illustrated through motion graphic itself, not only object of our research but also tool through which it is represented. Those we used were adjusted in style and visual according to the times to whom the movie refers.

In order to put in a context of reference and to evoke the different atmospheres, a specific soundtrack has been composed, result of a mix of some samples and main themes of many movie soundtracks, picked from movies taken into consideration, in a way that supports the visual product.


Francesco Cretti

Lorenzo Secchi

Enrique Valido Moure

Valentina Valle


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