It doesn’t take much to get me talking about my love of title sequences— consider yourself warned if we ever cross paths at a dinner party. I will berate you with my adoration of the form, pulling up the Panchinko opening titles on my phone, or insisting that the Mad Men intro started a movement. I’m fortunate that my work here at PRINT allows me to nourish my love of this art form outside of dinner parties, as I’ve previously had the privilege of interviewing the legendary title designer Dan Perri, assembled end-of-year round-ups of the year’s best title sequences, and recently covered the striking opening credits for the series City on Fire. And anyone who’s explored the world of title sequences to the lengths that I have has surely come across the invaluable website and resource Art of the Title.
Art of the Title is an online publication dedicated to celebrating and unpacking all manner of title sequence design. It’s the best sort of rabbit hole to fall into, providing a curated collection of credit reels, title designers, and informative articles about the medium for all to enjoy. As an avid explorer of Art of the Title myself, I felt compelled to speak to the site’s sole operator and curator, the brilliant Lola Landekic. Below, Landekic reflects on building Art of the Title for the last 12 years, her commitment to highlighting women title designers, and why the hell she loves title design so damn much.
(This conversation has been edited and condensed for clarity and length.)
When and how did you first fall in love with title sequences and their design?
It was a slow process for me. I grew up as a sponge for media as a child, and I’m an immigrant to Canada, so I spent a lot of time watching television and watching movies— which is one of the ways that I learned English. It’s how I learned more about North American society when I was very little, so I had that mindset of actively watching. It was so different and alien to me from where I had been, and that made me a lot more aware of what I was seeing, and made me absorb things in a different way.
I got really interested in graphic design as a teenager and had the privilege of being accepted into sort of a specialized high school program for kids that were interested in art and design. I was exposed to a lot of design and art history at an earlier age than some kids might be, so in my teen years, I looked up to people like Milton Glaser as if they were rock stars. To me, that was the coolest thing you could be: the person who developed iconic images.
What I really admired about Milton Glaser was that he had the capability of translating his skills into lots of different media. He was an illustrator and a designer, so he wasn’t boxed in; that was always very fascinating and interesting because I have a similar sensibility. And title design is this perfect amalgamation of so many different art forms; being a fan of title design doesn’t mean just one thing. It means an appreciation for many different art forms, and a title sequence is a channel that can encompass so many of those different forms.
Is there a particular title sequence or title designer who initially pulled you into this art form?
I’ve worked on Art of the Title now for 12 years, so I’ve talked to hundreds of people about their favorite title sequences and what woke them up to the art form. And often it’s not just that the title sequence itself is an interesting work of moving image— it’s also that the film means something to them, or the larger project means something to them. The best title sequences are inseparable from the larger work because their purpose is designed to serve that larger work. So in that sense, one of my personal favorites is from the late ’50s film Auntie Mame.
Gems are being moved in stop motion, and there’s this kaleidoscope effect, colors moving— it’s just stunning. And the typography is both formed out of these sequins, and then also hand painted on glass. It’s an incredible artifact of excess and ideas of beauty, and it completely reflects the central character of Mame in the story who’s this beautiful, exuberant character. It also highlights the craft that goes into the art form— the various ways that you can approach it from the live-action clip at the beginning, to the stop motion, to the kaleidoscope effect, to the hand painting.
The designer of that sequence, Wayne Fitzgerald, had a 50-year career; he designed over 200 title sequences, and this is one of his earlier works when he was at Pacific Title, a title studio. Later in his life, in the ’90s, he created a title sequence for Total Recall, which is basically the complete opposite of the Auntie Mame sequence. To me, the comparison of these two sequences— both created by the same designer, but encompassing such different tones, such different media— is the epitome of what I love about the art form. One person can encompass such extremes, can articulate such different viewpoints and tones. That was a big awakening to me.
What’s the backstory of Art of the Title? How did the site come about?
Art of the Title began as a small Blogspot blog in 2007 by Ian Albinson, who is a designer in Bristol, Vermont. Then in around 2010 or so, Ian reached out to a couple of his online acquaintances at the time— I was one— and he was like, I’m thinking of making this a little bit bigger and I’d love to have some help. Is anyone interested in writing about title sequences with me? And I was like, I am!
At that point, I’d been working as a graphic designer for a while already, and I will always love graphic design, but it’s not the only interest that I have. I’ve also always loved writing, so it seemed like the easy way to combine these interests, and to allow myself to explore and stretch in a different way than I had been at the time.
For a while it was three of us: myself, writer Will Perkins, and Ian. In 2012, we redesigned the website, and that’s when it really took off. In fact, it still looks the same as it did in 2012, which I think is a testament to how well we set it up at the time. For the last five years or so, it’s been a one-person project. One of the things that confuses a lot of people, even longtime fans, is that the website looks so polished that everyone assumes there’s a large team behind it. That’s really not the case— it’s just me.
This year, I’ve been hiring illustrators though, because I started a new series for the site called “Top Five.” In the realm of titles, the most fun you can have is just talking about titles. Whenever someone finds out that I make this website, they want to talk about their favorites, and it’s so fun, with everyone coming at it from a different angle. So I’ve been talking to people about their favorites for this series, and it’s been so lovely. So for each article, I hire an illustrator to create a portrait of the subject. Every once in a while, I hire a writer, or someone pitches me a great piece about a title sequence, and I commission them to write that article. So there’s a number of contributing writers on the website— I can’t write everything.
As a veritable title design scholar, how have you seen title sequences change over time, especially in the digital age?
Over the ‘90s, everything shifted and became a lot more digitized. I often think of the 2000s era as the democratization of title design, where the tools became so accessible to such a large variety of people to create things in a much more efficient way. Which meant that title design emerged from where it had previously lived within larger studios and made it so that smaller teams like duos or people just working on their own could enter the field. So that’s a beautiful part of technology changing.
I’ve been studying this art form for so long now, and like any art form, there are waves and renaissances and trends. Right now, there feels like there’s been an explosion in the art form, where it’s become so popular, and one of the reasons for that is because there’s such a market saturation, because of the streaming services. All of these streaming services are competing for viewers, and one of the most important parts of that process is establishing a foothold in the memory of your audience, and the title sequence is such a vital part of that connection process. There’s such a plethora of beautiful title sequences now, but I think that’s just a symptom of the market and how urgently everything needs to be marketed.
I know you’ve started working in the title design space yourself. What has that experience been like so far?
I’ve always loved working with typography and lettering, so this is a perfect channel for that work. I’ve also had the privilege and the pleasure of working primarily with female directors and female creators. It’s such a joy to help elevate female filmmakers because they just don’t get as many chances and as much support as other people in the industry. So it’s been such a joy to contribute to these projects.
Speaking of your commitment to uplifting women in the industry, can you talk about your ongoing “10 Women of Title Design” series on Art of the Title?
As consumers of culture, if we’re sensitive, we often have moments of awakening. For me, around 2014-2015, I had this realization— which I’m sure seems very obvious— that everything I was consuming was created by men. I started to think about even the design that I had been taught and the film history I had been taught. I asked myself, Is there such a thing as a women’s title design history? It was a very difficult question because I didn’t know of any.
I’m sure most people who have any interest in title design are aware of Saul Bass. But very few people, even people who love title design, know about Elaine Bass, who was Saul Bass’s close collaborator for 40 years until his death in 1996. So beginning in 1960, with her work on the title sequence for Spartacus, she contributed to almost every title sequence that Saul Bass made, but people still constantly refer to him as this lone genius. I think that’s very detrimental, not just to history, but to the ways that we allow ourselves to experience the world and the art in it. Learning more about Elaine’s contributions, getting to speak to their daughter, Jennifer, and reading the monograph about Saul Bass’s work— which extensively talks about Elaine— really lit a fire under me to the point where I wrote the Wikipedia article for Elaine.
She was part of the first “10 Women of Title Design” article I wrote, and at the time, I thought I’d do it once. Maybe I could do it twice. But simultaneously, I made a conscious point to watch films directed by women and— surprise, surprise— female filmmakers tend to work with more female craftspeople overall. It seemed like every second or third film I watched that was directed by a woman had a female title designer, which to me was astounding; I was discovering so many more! Once I started digging, they were everywhere, but nobody knew about them. It inspired me to keep going, and now I’ve done seven of them; that means 70 women. 70 women that have contributed to this art form in one way or another over the years, or are currently working.
For many of them who are currently working, this has led to them getting speaking engagements, new retrospectives of their work, new press about their work, more respect in their current studios. Many of them have made the leap to creative director, I think as a result of increased press and coverage. So it’s been extremely satisfying.
Not just for the women, but all the designers that I highlight, I often hear that the coverage that I do on the website has, for example, made it possible for them to apply for visas because a publication has recognized their work as worthy of mention. It has allowed them to apply for work in new ways. It has opened new audiences to them. Let’s say, previously, they were only able to get work in Europe, and now they can get work for American studios and American productions. That’s incredible, and one of the reasons I keep making this website. Any time I feel overwhelmed, I try to remind myself of that. I also remind myself that those are just the ones that I’ve heard of. I’m trying to consistently remind myself that good intentions and good work have far more reach than we know about.
What’s your favorite part of curating Art of the Title?
When someone shows me something I’ve never seen before. Luckily, that happens all the time, because film is this bottomless, beautiful well. When someone shows something that is just so fascinating, or something that I watch and I think, Okay, how did they do that? There’s this fabulous intro for The Science of Sleep, the Michel Gondry film, where it’s this spinning paint effect. I remember watching that and thinking, How did they shoot that without getting paint all over the camera? Once I looked into it, I learned there’s literally a whole mechanism that they had to develop in order to shoot it. It’s fascinating.
Many title sequences feature these complicated Rube-Goldberg machines. My favorite most recent example is for Bad Sisters. It used this complex machine of all these various parts, and they had to physically build that in a room for the title sequence, which is always such a beautiful thing to me. Or claymation, which I never see anymore, but if I see a claymation title sequence, I just drop dead because I’m so happy about it. Things like that are just so delightful to me that it spurs me on and makes me keep going and digging and finding new treasures.