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Main On End January 29, 2009

Posted by William J. Meyer in Jack's Post-Production.
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I’ve always loved movie title sequences. Back in high school I would come home, turn on the VCR, and watch the opening titles to Richard Donner’s Superman (1978). Only then was I ready to get on with my homework, emboldened by John Williams’ glorious crescendo when the Kryptonian glyph for the House of El splashed onto the screen! Even when such sweet moments were swiftly and ignominiously followed by my mom yelling, “turn that down!”

My favorites are the usual suspects. Such luminous titles as Casino by Elaine and Saul Bass. The graceful Dr. Strangelove by Pablo Ferro. The kinetic Dawn of the Dead by Kyle Cooper. And the immersive Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events by Jamie Caliri.

I have two chief resources that feed this fascination of the polygamous marriage between typography, animation, and music. Offline: The fantastic book Uncredited: Graphic Design & Opening Titles in Movies. Full of great images and sequences, this book’s chapters are segmented into the aesthetic movements of movie titles from the last one hundred years. Online: One of my favorite haunts is Art of the Title. This brilliant site has HD versions of an eclectic blend of titles, most with scholastic commentary and fun extras. They also present interviews with some of the designers.

Although I’ve done plenty of title sequences in the past, they were more or less perfunctory. At the start of this project I had planned on shooting a little something special for the Jack titles, but abandoned my initial idea last summer in favor of the new approach I’ve been working on this past week.

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Using the original blueprints of the main set (both graciously provided by the homeowners), I’m setting up a single camera move in After Effects. Normally I would parent the camera to a null and animate the null’s transform data (position, orientation, and rotation). In this way I would choreograph the camera through a virtual environment. For Jack that would mean sweeping the camera over the blueprints as though they were laid out on a table.

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However, last week (and seemingly just in time to rescue me from a zillion keyframes) Andrew Kramer, mastermind behind Video Copilot, released an expression-driven preset called SureTarget.

SureTarget controls the After Effects camera by animating its path between target events set by the user. So, essentially I just focused on creating the environment (the blueprint covered with credits and various detritus such as paperclips, Polaroids, receipts, and so forth). Then I created a null to represent each of my events, the individual credits for the cast and crew. Then I assigned the targets to the preset in the order that I wished to reveal them.

Now I could have just used the credits’ precomps themselves as the targets, but I prefer to offset the credit events slightly (the camera centers on the assigned target). Using a null also allows me to animate the credits’ precomps separately without affecting the camera’s position. For example, the three main actors are announced with a quick succession of Polaroids thrown onto the table.

The final step is to simply keyframe the camera’s interest in each target, and thus determine the pace for the camera move. By adding a wiggle expression to the camera’s position, I am also giving the sequence a faux hand-held vibe.

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In all honesty, the SureTarget preset has made controlling the AE camera a hell of a lot easier. It won’t work for every situation, but it’s pretty darn cool, and affords me the control and speed to experiment with variations on my approach.

-William, Director

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