Title Sequences and Why You Should Use Them

A title sequence (also called an opening sequence or intro) 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. — Wikipedia

If you ever watched a TV show or a film you’ll know of at least one title sequence. They are our first step into the world created by the director and/or writer, and as such, they should be treated with the same importance. I find it extremely weird when I watch a machinima and the title never comes up on screen. Imagine going to the movies and being thrown right into the story, you’d feel really confused. I think this misuse (or no use at all) of the title sequence comes from a misunderstanding of what it does.

A title sequence is not just an intro to a machinima to display credits. They are an opportunity to set the tone, you get to invite the audience into the fictional world you created and give them a taste. Think of it as a movie inside a movie , letting you connect with your audience on an entirely different level.

Marry You title sequence
Marry You title sequence.

The most important thing to keep in mind when creating your title sequence (or any creative project) is to be consistent and have a central idea or concept. This concept is going to be the driving force of all your creative decisions, so the more time you spend working
on it, the more cohesive your project will turn out. No matter how good technology gets, there are always going to be elements that
give away a poorly thought out project, one of which is the opening title sequence. New directors will usually either go over the top, trying to emulate other overly animated openings, or ignore this sequence altogether. They don’t plan ahead, and this ends up showing in those first few seconds.

But how long should the title sequence be? If your machinima is 15 minutes or under, you only have a limited amount of time to tell the story you want. On average, only 2% of a feature film’s length is designated to a title sequence. If we calculated that percentage into a 15-minute machinima, it would leave you with a short amount of time to work with. Anything longer than 30 seconds and you’ll start losing audience fast.

Art of the Title website
Art of the Title website.

Something I love to do before I start working on one of my projects is checking references. A great website for title design is Art of the Title, which has an extensive gallery with some of the best opening sequences from movies or TV shows, and some interviews with designers explaining the creative process behind some of them. Another great way to gather reference material is to just search machinimas, indie films, and such on YouTube or Vimeo, and see how other artists do it. Nothing is created in a vacuum, every artist is affected by the media they consume and the world surrounding them, now more than ever. It’s a matter of how you use those references and adapt them to your vision.

So you have your central idea… now what? How you proceed depends entirely on your technical expertise and the level of ambition you want to achieve. But to keep things simple, we will focus on those that are just getting started with machinima and aren’t editing experts. The best way to tackle the opening sequence in a simple way is by having a montage of symbolic shots with the credits appearing and disappearing on top, followed
by the reveal of the machinima title. Of course, you don’t need to do it exactly this way, as I mentioned before it all depends on the themes of your project and that central idea. If, for example, you are working on a project without voice-overs, then you won’t need to display the names of your voice actors.

NPC Life title sequence
NPC Life title sequence.

In my newest machinima series, NPC Life, I introduce the audience to the story of each episode before the title takes over the shot, only lasting 15 seconds. Since I don’t use voice overs in it, I can get away with only having to show the machinima title. And if I didn’t know how to create an animated 3D title sequence, I could just show the name of the series in an appropriate font and colour. It didn’t have to be in 3D and/or animated, but it needed to match The Sims theme since that’s what the series is about.

Font size is extremely important when working with title sequences, as audiences are thrown off by awkwardly sized titles. There is no reason to have opening titles take up half of your screen real estate unless you are intentionally going for a certain look (such as block text that covers almost the whole screen). The main title card with the film’s name is the exception to this rule, as it can always appear much larger so it stands out from the rest. However, for any and all other titles, small is almost always better – so never up your font size unless absolutely necessary. The choice of the font family is very important as well, and most often clean and simple fonts will work better than decorative or textured fonts unless (again!) you’re going for a certain style and it fits your machinima’s theme. You should also be consistent with the font size and effects for each title. If, for example, you use 18pt Helvetica with a drop shadow in one of the titles, you should use that across the board or else it will be inconsistent and throw people off.

Other title sequences
Raison D’Etre, Swan Lake, The Kenopsia Effect, Super Llama Man title sequences.

All in all, the title sequence is extremely important as it introduces your audience to the machinima you created, it sets the tone. That’s why you should definitely use it, and especially put some thought into it (and your machinima as a whole). If done right, it will set you apart.

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