A good movie title is underrated. It can really set the tone for a film. American Title Designer Dan Perri discusses the craft in Title Design: The Making of Movie Titles— a short film created by Academy Originals.
Dan Perri has created the titles for a huge number of big films, such as Star Wars, Lord of the Flies, Taxi Driver, Raising Arizona, Gangs of New York, Days of Heaven, Mallrats, and Raging Bull — to name just a few.
In his opening statement, Perri says: “Good title design should be evocative. It should evoke emotion from the viewer. It should refer to the story or the character or the settings, and almost incidentally introduce the titles, and it can do a lot more than that.”
Perri talks about falling in love with letters at the age of 12.
He had a business painting signs for grocery stores and restaurants throughout high school. He recalls learning, and being inspired at school, about the famous Title Designer Saul Bass — an Academy Award winning title designer who worked with directors such as Alfred Hitchcock, Otto Preminger, Billy Wilder, and Stanley Kubrick.
Famous title sequences designed by Saul Bass:
So once Perri finished school, he tracked down Saul Bass’s office in L.A., and spent a lot of time hanging out there until Saul Bass eventually saw him. Then through persistent follow-ups, Bass began to encourage him, which then led to Bass becoming his mentor.
Perri’s process to design comes when he watches the film. He will “feel” and “visualize” certain treatments in his head in response to the film. He gets information from the director, such as the title and credits, and the order they will appear.
And details like the percentages of how big the titles must be in relation to the main title. Then he will draw up some designs and present them to the director.
He normally works for 2-3 months on a movie, but worked for over a year before creating movie titles for the Terence Malick film Days of Heaven.
He used to do all his designs with pen and paper, but now with the digital age, he has had to learn all the digital tools to do his job.
He ends the short talking about how people often comment on how it’s hard to tell by watching the film titles whether it was his design or not.
“Wonderful design is fine, but if it can be relevant to the movie then and solve the problems that the designers trying to solve, then that’s the best challenge — to be able to do something like that.”