Behind the Scenes with Ali Clark — Title Sequences
Content by Ali Clark
I have always been enchanted by movie title sequences. Born from necessity but filled with possibilities, this canvas is more than just eye candy. It can serve as a palette cleanser to wake up the audience and wrangle their brains for the movie viewing experience. It sets the tone of the film and could be used to build excitement or tension, to lay the groundwork for the narrative, to introduce characters, past events or even drop visual clues that we only understand after seeing the film. It’s the energy and the feeling you get from a movie’s title sequence – along with freedom to explore various mediums – that intrigues me.
Title sequences are a moment to develop the film’s identity. What is the personality of the movie? Does the material have any existing history that should be referenced? Projects with strong histories and well-known identities present a unique challenge.
The Orange Years is a documentary on the golden years of Nickelodeon and Butterfly in the Sky is a doc about Reading Rainbow. In both instances, I wanted to pay homage to those original brands but also create something unique that would represent the vision of the documentaries themselves. I aimed to create something that felt current while also paying respect to the past.
The Sidewalk Film Festival is one of Birmingham’s greatest treasures, attracting movie goers and filmmakers from across the globe. For many years, our team at Big has been tasked with developing the opening sequence, which plays before each film, honoring the dozens of sponsors without whose contribution, the festival simply would not exist.
Each year, our team challenges ourselves creatively and technically. In 2015, we focused on the tools of the trade. We focused on the art and beauty of the craft as seen through extreme macro photography. (We think the fuzz and texture on a boom or the adhesive on gaffer’s tape can be kinda mesmerizing from this perspective).
In 2017, we explored light and shadow using practical in-camera effects.
2018, was all about the audience. With quirky characters and a hand-drawn aesthetic, we looked at people coming out of the woodwork to attend the festival. After all, the wonderful people in the theater contribute to the overall experience of watching a movie.
2019 might be one of my favorite years. We focused on sound and built a mashup of music, sound effects, and character responses that happen when watching movies. We all have a friend who is a little loud in the theater! Each scene represents a different film genre which is also reflected in the character’s design. (There is almost a conversation that happens when we’re watching a movie, people audibly respond to whatever is happening on screen.)
The 2020 opening sequence was dripping in nostalgia. That year, Sidewalk relocated to a drive-in theater, and because of that unique setting, Brian Curtin, Tyra Robinson, and I had a lot of fun stepping into retro aesthetics.
The 2021 sequence is upbeat and energizing. After trudging through such difficult times in our culture, we felt that something bright and inspiring would be a nice change of pace. The abstract shapes have hidden meanings to represent the journey an idea travels before becoming realized. (The abstract narrative is that the spark of an idea takes an incredible journey.)
And for this year? Well, we took a jump into an entirely new medium and worked with hand puppets. Our concept for the festival is ‘craft in motion’ and we wanted to highlight all the creative ‘hands’ at work.
So next time you’re in a theater waiting for a film to start, don’t blink during the title sequence. They honor the hardworking cast and crew (and sponsors) who poured themselves into the film. And they deserve some screen time. Whether your name or logo is in the main titles or the end crawl, this isn’t simply a moment for egos. This business is hard but we do it because we love it. Make art and support your fellow artist by finding their name in the credits and reaching out. Find your future collaborators or support the businesses who support the art you love, the world will be better for it.
Ali Clark is an Associate Creative Director at Big. She has a passion for directing and animating title sequences. Her work has been seen on Netflix, Hulu, HBO, PBS, AppleTV and at festivals across the globe. She directed and animated the opening titles for Butterfly in the Sky, a feature documentary about the beloved children’s show “Reading Rainbow” which premiered at Tribeca 2022. She also created main titles for The Orange Years, a film about the early years of Nickelodeon (SXSW Title Design Selection), A Life in Waves about electronic music pioneer Suzanne Ciani (SXSW) and Alabama Snake, currently available on HBO.
Shoutout to everyone on the Big team and to our outside resources that helped make these videos possible:
John Montgomery, Aaron Gresham, Brain Curtin, Kristin Dober, Boutwell Studios, Shannon Harris, Katie Erickson, John Kennedy, Tyra Robinson, Will Nash, Caleb Zorn, Logan Shoaf, Julia Meyer, Seth Newell, Katie Thompson, Jon Woolley, Chris Davis, Dan Atchison, Scott Barber, Justin Harder, Adamastor