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Titles that draw you into the story

IT LASTS for just more than two minutes, but its impact continues to be felt after 16 years. In design terms, Kyle Cooper's opening credit sequence to David Fincher's 1995 high-concept horror film Se7en might be comparable to Dylan's Like a Rolling Stone or the riff around the Velvet Underground not everyone bought their first album, but those who did started a band. Se7en's title sequence inspired a generation.

IT LASTS for just more than two minutes, but its impact continues to be felt after 16 years. In design terms, Kyle Cooper's opening credit sequence to David Fincher's 1995 high-concept horror film Se7en might be comparable to Dylan's Like a Rolling Stone or the riff around the Velvet Underground not everyone bought their first album, but those who did started a band. Se7en's title sequence inspired a generation.

Using Ray Gun magazine-inspired imagery overlaid with a Nine Inch Nails soundtrack, Cooper's fractured film titles captured the inner state of Se7en's unhinged serial killer.

"The visuals, the sounds and presentation it's overwhelming," says Melbourne designer Andrew Ashton. "Not only is this film rocking, you're thinking 'I want to do stuff like that.' "

"When people are doing innovative things, other people begin to remember what's possible," the modest designer of Se7en's titles explains. Until Cooper arrived, however, great sequences were sporadic affairs. Outside a few designers such as Pablo Ferro (Dr Strangelove), Stephen Frankfurt (To Kill a Mockingbird) and regular instalments from the James Bond franchise by Maurice Binder and Robert Brownjohn, Saul Bass (Man with the Golden Arm) remained the medium's magus. Yet, aside from occasional forays with Martin Scorsese (most memorably Casino), Bass had gone into virtual retirement, disillusioned with the form's mediocrity.

Within a year of Se7en's release, Bass was dead and the heavyweight title had passed to Cooper. While the new champ continues to produce inspired work, he has plenty of competition.

Nowadays, we regularly thrill to title sequences, from Kung Fu Panda's woodblock-inspired opening to television programs such as Six Feet Under with its elegantly witty sequence to thrillers like Sherlock Holmes by master designer Danny Yount.

Tonight, as part of the State of Design festival's theme "design that moves", motion graphics comes into the spotlight as five Australian graphic designers reveal the title sequences that move them.

For Domenico Bartolo, a motion-graphics designer for documentaries, the purity of vision apparent in Cooper's work will be evident in his selection. "We know title sequences are entertaining. But they're also trying to operate beyond the roller-coaster," says Bartolo. "They're trying to communicate greater meaning and visual poetry. The essence is storytelling and the task is to create that doorway into the narrative and establish the mood."

"I've focused on films that add meaning to the fabric of a film. They act as a doorway or portal into the character's mind and the world in which they live."

Keen to maintain the element of surprise, the designers prefer not to reveal all the titles they will screen.

"We've got a bit of a historical background, a really funny dive down a little typographic rabbit warren, an era-based presentation and generally a whole lot of 'this is what I love'," says the organiser of the Talkies series, Ghita Loebenstein.

Indeed, for all Cooper's influence and the technical wizardry behind his work, Andrew Ashton's first memory of a powerful title sequence is Dr Who from 1963. "I remember always being crouched behind the couch, so scared," he laughs. "Its crazy visual effect and hypnotic music completely got you in the space of Dr Who. You know you're about to go into a very strange world and then suddenly you're presented with 'garbage bag' monsters. It's so extraordinarily simple, that's what I love."

Despite the renaissance in film and television title sequences, in Australia it's television that has largely shown what's possible. The ABC and SBS, in particular, have led the way. Programs such as Enough Rope and Paper Giants: The Story of Cleo successfully married the period flavour of the story with graphics and music.

"With television the investment is carried over a longer viewing span over several episodes," explains Ineke Majoor, head of VFX with Iloura, who designed the "stained glass" title sequence for Elizabeth: The Golden Age. "It's seen as carrying branding weight for the series, so they see it as marketing money worth spending."

For Australian films, it's another story. "They have to battle . . . just to get budgets to shoot the films, let alone putting money into extensive title design pieces," says Majoor.

Title Sequence, ACCA, 111 Sturt Street, Southbank, tonight 9-11 stateofdesign.com.au


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