Kyle Cooper 

Movie title-sequence designer

If movie title sequences can be said to have a marquee-name star, it might be Kyle Cooper. Cooper champions the opening credits as both an art form and an introduction to the film to come, having designed and directed about 150 title sequences, for such films as Se7en, Mimic, Braveheart, Mission: Impossible and all three Spider-Man films. AIGA Atlanta hosts "An Evening With Kyle Cooper," sponsored by broadcast-design and animation company Primal Screen, at 6:30 p.m. April 11 at the Plaza Theatre. You won't want to miss the opening credits ever again.

What do you want to accomplish with a title sequence?

Partly, I try to get people excited about the movie they're about to see as they're settling into their seats and putting down their popcorn. Early in my career, I thought about the titles as if I were going to make a poster. What symbols will I use? What's the visual pun? But I realized that it's also about storytelling. If we're setting up the movie, what is the main character's obsession, and what about it can we fixate on?

How do the titles fit with the rest of the movie?

You can use the main title sequence as the first scene of the movie. I'm often called in to use the titles to tell some aspect of the story that's missing from the film they've shot, or clarify something that the test audiences didn't understand. You do the whole thing with the director's blessing. Identity was one of those – we shot a scene with Alfred Molina reading newspaper clippings and listening to tape recordings of this killer. We did the whole thing after principal photography was over.

I remember seeing Identity with a rowdy audience, but by the time the titles were over, you could have heard a pin drop in the theater. Those titles had a similar look as the ones for Se7en – could you tell me why Se7en created such interest?

I don't take personal credit, but some people have credited it as renewing interest in title sequences. Director David Fincher and I watched Se7en, but we weren't satisfied with having the killer, Kevin Spacey, appear so late in the film, and we agreed we had to set up his character somehow. Kevin Spacey wasn't available for shooting a new scene, so we came up with an idea, using motion graphics technology, which came from his character cutting up books. The timing was right – the film came out at the beginning of a revolution in motion graphics. And it taps into something. Somebody told me, "I don't know what that was about, but I felt like I was watching somebody being killed."

Do you often use a lot of archival footage, like the way your titles for the remake of Dawn of the Dead suggest global unrest?

There's always a lot of research into what the movie is about. For Mimic, with its deadly insects, my wife and I went to the bug fair. Dawn of the Dead had an interesting first scene that introduces a girl that had been infected, and Zack Snyder, the director, wanted to suggest that simultaneously chaos was happening all over the world due to the infestation of zombies. He didn't shoot wide landscapes of Armageddon, so I edited together stock footage, some scenes from the movie and shot some blood effects. So there were lots of images of urban unrest and people praying, because everything was going nuts. Zack picked the Johnny Cash song "When the Man Comes Around" for it to be a little tongue-in-cheek.

How long does it take to make a title sequence?

It's always different. Usually the things I do are pretty complex, because I go baroque and overboard some times. It probably takes about a month of straight design work, and another month of straight editing work. I do eight to 10 a year, depending on the size of my company at the time.

How did you come up with idea for the flipping comic book logo that precedes all the Marvel superhero movies, starting with Spider-man?

I had met with Avi Arad, and we talked about how seeing the visual language of comics seemed like an appropriate thing to do. It introduces the culture and history of these kinds of movies. This is a good time for references to pulp, and old, ephemeral kinds of pop. You can see it in the trailer for Grindhouse or the credits to Kill Bill. The Marvel logo makes you remember the old, iconic comic books.

Is it important for them to be exciting and eye-catching?

It's all about what's appropriate for the movie. For Braveheart, Mel Gibson said he didn't like long credits, so the Braveheart title flies at you over the mountains, most of the credits are at the end and it's very simple. It's what's important for the film, not something that's inconsistent with the film's visual language. Terry Gilliam once told me, "You're the kiss of death. You do main titles that are better than the movie." I don't like that. It's the director's vision, it's the director's movie; you can't take the titles out of context.

What are some of your favorite title sequences?

To Kill a Mockingbird. The Man With the Golden Arm and Take a Walk on the Wild Side by Saul Bass. I like the way The Fugitive begins: It's very commercial and the fonts are a little funky, but it totally tells the story of the wife being killed. Goldfinger and Delicatessen, you can see that the things I like integrate live action with graphics.

I've noticed an odd trend, usually with big summer movies, where the film will start with just the name of the movie, but have an expensive-looking title sequence at the end of the movie. Why is that?

They call that "Main On End." It's just a phase. In my experience, people used to put the credits at the end because they didn't want to spend the money on the main titles. But now they're spending just as much to put them on the end. It may be similar to my experience with Sister Act 2. There was a conscious effort to have people dancing on their way out of the theater. Even if the movie wasn't so great, if we had a big dance number at the end, it'd leave a good taste in their mouth. So they'd have a better impression of the movie when they assess the entire package. I don't know how well that works, though.


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