Anatomy of a Title Sequence. Interview.

Peter Crandall, a great friend and fantastic artist, designed the new opening title sequences (see below) for all of our videos. After proudly sharing them with other people, we realized that we wanted to know more about the whole process, so here is a recent conversation.

Tell us a little bit about where you are with your career.
I’ve been freelancing as a motion designer in Los Angeles for the past eight years. The majority of my experience and projects in motion design have been in the entertainment industry, which has entailed designing motion graphics for television shows/networks, opening title sequences to film, TV promos, commercials, and web videos.

Apple Inc. contacted me last fall (2011) to work at their Cupertino office to help out with some projects in their marketing department. In short, I’ve recently relocated to Silicon Valley and I’m now working more regularly with Apple. The relationships I have with the LA studios are still very important to me so I do my best to continue working with those studios when they contact me.

I understand you worked on Apple’s new iPhone campaign, can you tell us a bit more about that experience?
Working at Apple for a few months in preparation for the iPhone 4S launch was exciting and unique in a few ways for me. First, the focus is not on any celebrity, television show or other consumer media, but on a product; in this case the iPhone 4S. Second, Apple has a very established and successful marketing brand. Since the overall visual language of Apple is very simple and clean, the designing doesn’t lend itself exploring a wide spectrum of creativity like other brands in the entertainment industry I’ve worked with. Overall, the experience of working with the very talented team during the launch of the iPhone 4S was simply amazing.

Could you take us through the design process of “” from the early concepts, to the development stage and final execution? We are especially curious about how you decide on specific design elements like color scheme, typography, audio, and even the length.
Just like any project I start, the first thing I did in the design process for creating the intro animations of “” was to talk with Mr. Angel about his company and the context in which the intro sequence would exist.

The key concept I came away with from talking with Mr. Angel in developing the intro animation was the importance of the content itself. The web site covers many topics, so I thought about how they could be conveyed and ultimately turned keywords from the “tag cloud” on the site into a slot-machine style animation based on the keywords.

Having many different words whiz by helps give a sense of volume to the content, but at the same time help it remain playful. Since the function of the animation is an opening sequence to video content, I wanted the length of the animation to be informative and concise. After doing some tests and getting a good “feel” for the animation I started to explore some sound effects that would compliment the motion and reinforce the professional and friendly qualities of the web site as a whole.

What software and techniques did you use for this animation?
I used Adobe After Effects for the entire process. After Effects is great software for the wide spectrum of possibilities in motion design, whether it be very intricate and complex animations or very simple ones. While I definitely wouldn’t categorize this opening sequence as a complex animation, the simplicity of the design aesthetic made me consider refining the timing of the animation to give a sense of speed, at the same time finessing the legibility of the words so they wouldn’t become a blurry mess as they quickly scrolled by. I scrubbed through the After Effects timeline frame by frame to make sure that all the words would be legible at any point in the animation. This is particularly important for videos on the web since the viewer can start and stop the video on any given frame.

What kinds of movies do you like to watch as a motion graphic designer?
One recent movie that caught my attention for its interface and info-graphic special effects (not so much the story!) was Iron Man 2. The scenes in particular are the holograms and interfaces that Robert Downey, Jr. interacts with in his home.

Achieving such seamless integration of these graphics with the actors and live action environments is nothing short of brilliance in my opinion, since it requires the expertise of many technical and creative disciplines working together. The design/visual effects company that created those effects is called
Prologue, and is one of the best in the industry.

Iron Man 2 special effects

How much does knowing traditional animation serve now with computer animations? Which do you prefer and why?
From a broad perspective, traditional cell animation has definitely lost “market-share” to computer generated animations and graphics when it comes to movies, commercials and even in markets where it seemed invincible, such as children’s programming. With that said, traditional animation is used in a variety of ways in motion design and in conjunction with CG animations.

A common technique I see with some companies such as Psyop give a traditional animation aesthetic in their work even though it may be entirely CG. Companies like Psyop use highly specialized artists experienced with a variety of media. I think this combination makes for a very successful hybrid of the two disciplines, so I can’t say I prefer one or the other, especially when they both lend themselves well in telling different types of stories.

What kind of trends are you seeing in motion graphics and where do see the future of it?
What new technologies are you embracing?
For a little more than the past decade, I’d say motion design has truly taken form as a very robust commercial art industry by itself, and much has to do with how easy it is to get into the field. Colleges now officially have Motion Design/Motion Graphics degrees, on-line software training is ubiquitous (, Digital Tutors, FXPHD to name a few), software applications are increasingly more sophisticated, and the hardware to run it all is much more powerful and cheaper than ever.

Now with all this exposure and exciting work be created, which I consider to be an indefinite trend, one particular trend I’ll make note of is the commoditization of motion graphics. On-line marketplaces for animation projects and presets have been gaining more traction over the past few years, which is to continue. For motion designers the leverage that these marketplaces can provide for expediting projects, or for selling projects, can be very enticing. On the flip side, I find such commoditization and off-the-shelf projects as becoming too much of a crutch for some designers, diluting the art form and their own creativity all at once.

Could you share any advice to aspiring motion graphic designers?
Understanding fundamentals of art/design, typography, compositions, editing—I think those are essential. Fortunately their are lots of schools, blogs and companies with amazing work to learn from. Knowing your strength and interests are also key to finding a niche as a motion graphics designer.

Being a “generalist” in a variety of disciplines is fine, but sometimes companies are really looking the experts in a very specific aesthetic, which also usually means being very proficient with the popular software application(s) required in the production pipeline. Some common must-know applications are Adobe After Effects, Photoshop, Illustrator, but also having solid skills in a popular 3D software package such as Cinema 4D or Maya has become essential. Understanding techniques of editing and using an editing software such as Final Cut Pro or Adobe Premiere Pro is also helpful.

To see more of Peter Crandall’s work please visit