Top Five Animated Title Sequences

On a recent Lambcast I discussed my Top Five Animated Titles in Movies. I thought I would write a little about my thoughts and post them here so those of you who do not listen to the podcast can enjoy them as well.

My selections were narrowed so that the on line discussion did not wander into just credit sequences, but those where animation is a key component.

I tried to exclude titles where the text is animated but there are no additional artistic elements of the sequence. So I wanted artwork. Characters, background paintings, graphics that move are all considered. If there is storytelling that is a plus, but sometimes it just has to be cool in my view. The category is fairly elastic and anyone who wants to bend it to play is welcome.

Number 5. “A Fist Full of Dollars”

It was the start of Italian Westerns.

It is accompanied by Ennio Morricone’s theme

Stark two color contrast

Starts as White on Red, then switches to Black on Red, Then Red on Black,

The Gunshots signal each title card which also uses a two color contrast.

The images look rotoscoped and the silhouettes are graphically simple and clear.

I Cheated on Number 4 because there are two films in the series that use animation that would qualify for my list, but I did not want to limit myself to just one of the other

Number 4 “James Bond Films”

Dr. No was designed by Maurice Binder, who did 16 James Bond films. I could cheat again and just say that the gunbarrel sequence counts for all of them, but I wanted something more elaborate. Unlike other Bond titles which sometimes have limited animation over filmed elements, this was strictly a graphic animation using Modernist design and color elements to grab our attention.

The first part consists of flashing colored dots against a black background, occasionally breaking into typeface for the credits, all of it over the Monty Norman/John Barry 007 theme.

Then we get a series of rotoscoped images in color over the same black background, sometimes with multiple layers and images. Finally you get the silhouette images of the three blind assassins in black against a colorful background, and then a transition to the filmed characters.

Casino Royale goes a completely different direction. The work is by Daniel Kleinman who took over the task of doing the Bond films from Maurice Binder. Having done over a hundred music video promos for bands in the 1980s, he used computers to animate the graphic designs that were drawn and animate them in the titles. Most of this is as the background for some Daniel Craig Rotoscoped action shots. The Playing card graphics indicate a major part of the storyline without giving anything away. I was not originally a big fan of the Chris Cornell song, but it has grown on me quite a bit.

Number 3  Christmas Vacation

Kroyer Films, who had done the titles for the previous two adventures of the Griswolds, came up with the titles after they saw a cut of the film. They were stumped because most Christmas Traditions are already pariodied in the movie. After some beer at a nearby Pub, they came up with the idea of killing Santa Claus.

They use a combination of digital, hand drawn and 3D computer animation to make what is essentially a mini-cartoon to run the titles over. The song was not complete when they were working on the images so the titles were originally scored by Angelo Badalamenti and timed to work with the gags. The studio slapped the song on, replacing the score and Bill Kroyer felt it ruined the timing of the sequence. I however think that the charm of the song works well for setting up the story and in the long run the gags work regardless of the music.

Number 2 The Pink Panther

DePatie-Freleng Enterprises created the iconic comic character to represent the image that is supposedly visible in the stone. A flaw that looked like a leaping panther and the jewel has a pink tint to it.

It is a cartoon that features interaction between the Panther Character and a comic drawing of Inspector Clouseau. The cat and mouse chase elements are pretty straight forward but there is a difference in this title sequence, the characters also interact with the typeface credits as they appear.

The Panther Spins Robert Wagner’s name and it becomes a propeller, flying him off in an invisible plane. The cat then rubs up against Capucine’s name, as a cat is wont to do, the name drops out and the Panther falls over. The Panther Watches as the film title is revealed a few letters at a time and reacts with questioning expressions and then puts the last piece of the puzzle into place.

The nature of the character is revealed as title cards come up and the Panther tries to graffiti his name into the credits. This will set up the cartoon franchise for the next decade.

The character takes on the persona of a conductor for the music credit and gets yanked. There are also a number of line graphics that get animated as the title cards come on and off screen.

All of it accompanied by the fantastic title theme by Henry Mancini. The music and the action are synched up in this one perfectly.

Number 1  “Catch Me If You Can”

FLORENCE DEYGAS and OLIVIER KUNTZEL. Designed the title in the style of Saul Bass, who is mysteriously missing from my top five list. Flowing Typeface, smooth lines and a Jazz based score.

They used Stamp Cut images to design the action sequences, mimicking some of the crude techniques used by the lead character.

Characters are drawn with an eye to 1960s aesthetics. Clothes, furniture and color schemes, like teal and black with blue backgrounds. Sometimes it looks like a cocktail party and other times it looks like it could be poolside at a Miami Hotel.[When you add the Pink Graphics against the black backgrounds that is even more clear].  The typewriters and files that are shown also evoke a 60s theme.

The long shadows and fading bottom half of the graphics tell a story filled with mystery. The settings of the film ate introduced in the titles but once again, not much is revealed. You can clearly pick out two characters that represent Tom Hanks and Leonardo DiCaprio, and you can’t tell just from the animated graphics, who it is we should be rooting for. People who say John Williams music all sound the same, have never listened to this theme.