Our finished Top Gear/90% Bloopers Title Sequence:
What do we mean by a “title sequence”?
A title sequence isn’t just the title of the film or TV show, although that is pretty much how they started. When I was researching for my Silent Black and White Movie, “Musical Chairs”, I discovered that film makers used simple title cards at the start and end of these films. These started very simply, just to show the name of the particular film and the name of the production company. They also alerted the audience that the film had started, and usually a title card with the words “THE END” was shown to let the audience know that (you guessed it) it was THE END of the film. In silent films there were also “intertitles” to show key dialogue. Title cards also often contained a list of the actors, key roles such as Director, and any other information that the film makers wanted to tell the audience. Initially these pieces of information were presented on a series, or “sequence”, of title cards, i.e. a “sequence of titles”, now know as a “title sequence”. Originally these were shown at the start of a film, and became very long, but these days lists of actors, crew, music etc are usually shown at the end of the film. However sometimes important cast names can still form part of the title sequence.
Nowadays a title sequence is much more sophisticated than in Silent Movie times and serves a deeper and often more psychological purpose. Put simply, a title sequence is a piece of footage created and shown to tell the audience information about what they are about to watch – the film or tv show name, key cast members and an idea of the genre. Having said that, indicating the genre can sometimes have the opposite effect – I used to find horror shows too scary to watch and avoided them, so a title sequence that showed it was a horror type of show would mean that I would turn it off.
The point and purpose of a title sequence is to encourage the audience to keep watching by giving them an idea of what is about to be shown. Often if a director or producer is well known their name may be included, since that may also influence an audience to keep watching.
Loads of thought goes into title sequences now, and they are often very entertaining on their own. The title sequence that we decided to recreate for this project is iconic, comedic and recognisable by many, many people, almost instantly. But more about that later. They make use of music, animation, footage either from the film or TV show or filmed specially, graphics, still shots of characters from the film or show – almost anything. The most important thing is the link with what is coming afterward, i.e. the film or show. If there are motifs that crop up in the show or film then these are often included, for example umbrellas in “Umbrella Academy”
Elements of title sequences can also be used as part of advertising and marketing, or vice versa, in the same way as elements of the main film are used. They are all linked together. Marvel does this a lot, and as part of my GCSE film I had to produce 4 elements to market and advertise my film. I didn’t actually have to create a title sequence, I had to create a 5-minute extract that could have been part of my main film idea.
A spy/sci-fi film, the film was called “Serebrus” set at a Government Agency called the “Serebrus Syndicate”.
The main motif that I used in my film was a stylised strand of DNA with the black DNA coil forming the letter “S” in the logo.
This DNA strand would have been perfect to have twirling in a title sequence, getting larger and smaller, some in the foreground and some in the background, maybe with the casts’ names on. The DNA strand was red, black and white, which are typical colours linked to the spy genre, and which my main 2 characters wore – black suit with white shirt and red tie, black suit with white shirt, red lipstick and red nail varnish.
I could have started a title sequence with the Teaser Poster that I created, (see bellow) maybe had the black edge moving inwards, engulfing the hands holding the book, then the twirling, falling, rising DNA strands appearing. This would have shown the audience that the film that was about to start was of a modern spy/sci-fi type genre, with a mysterious twist. There would be hints and unanswered questions to encourage them to keep watching. I could have developed the idea further but already it would be linking with the film and getting the audience wanting to see more, and an appropriate choice of music would have enhanced this even more.
How is a title sequence different from opening credits?
Technically, any names of cast, crew, directors, producers, production studios etc shown at the start of a film are really known as the opening credits, since they are “giving credit” to the people involved. Often the long list of everyone involved is at the end of the film nowadays, and is called the “End Credits”, and can be very long, as any Marvel fan who has sat through the end credits to watch the end credit scenes will know. Many films even include the names of babies born to cast and crew during the production time. As I mentioned, originally credits were shown at the start, hence opening credits, but now are more often shown at the end. And even if names of key cast and crew are included in a title sequence at the start of a film, the purpose, as I discussed above, is very different to opening credits – Opening credits give credit to everyone involved with the film, a title sequence is to persuade the audience that they should keep watching.
What is a “Cold Open”?
Sometimes a title sequence isn’t the first thing the audience sees. Sometimes the show/film starts directly with action and the title sequence comes a bit later. The logic behind it, especially in TV, is that it’s a bit of a “teaser” (it is sometimes called a “Teaser Sequence”) that will get the audience involved in the plot as soon as possible and that that will increase the chances of them carrying on watching to find out what happens, instead of switching channel on TV.
Many TV shows use cold opens, especially shows like Cop shows. I really like the way both Guardians of the Galaxy films use cold opens then go into title sequences with music that sounds non-diegetic but is actually diegetic, while action is going on like the fight sequence in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 2.
Or a cold open can sometimes be used to recap things that happened in previous episodes that will be relevant to this episode, e.g. “Previously on Star Trek Discovery…”, so that the audience is encouraged to watch to see where a storyline was going.
All this may seem to contradict the stated purpose of a title sequence, which could be confusing. But the point is that there is no right or wrong way to start a TV show or Film. It is for the Director and his Creative Team to decide what is best for their Film or TV show, which will be most successful in engaging their target audience best, and hence be best for the film, and, as with everything in Film making, to hope they make the right choice.
What I have learnt from my general research is that there are many different options on how to start Shows and Films that involve title sequences in many different ways, and the important thing for me is to be able to recognise different ways, understand why the choices may have been made, and have an idea of how to create or recreate the same kind of things myself, either in the same format or, hopefully, with a twist.
This project is to create a title sequence of about 15-30 seconds, so I will look at a couple of title sequences.
Alien (1979) title sequence and Alien Worlds (2020) title sequence
Alien Title sequence
The title sequence for Alien (1979) is iconic, in particular the odd shapes which appear on the screen. To start with they are not even full letters, they are just shapes, like a straight rectangle and a slanted rectangle and the audience doesn’t know they are going to become letters. As they appear, they start off blue then turn white. It’s only by the time that the about the 10th rectangle is added, forming a definite letter “L” that we are sure they are letters, and they spell out “A L I E N”. Other information has been appearing on the screen, like that it is “a Ridley Scott film” and names such as “Sigourney Weaver”, and the background is dark, we appear to be in space with a sunrise about to happen over a planet’s edge. So we know it is Sci-fi, it is mysterious, and we have been hooked to see what these odd shapes appearing on screen are. The slow, suspenseful, unsettling music adds to this sense of mystery, leading us to Sci-Fi/horror, with promises of a few jump scares along the way, although even the cast weren’t expecting all the jump scares they would get, since Ridley Scott deliberately didn’t tell them about one of them to get a true reaction. It’s a great and gripping title sequence.
Alien Worlds Title Sequence
We had looked at this iconic title sequence in class with Simon. Then that evening I watched a Netflix show called “Alien Worlds”. The premise is using what we understand of science to predict what animals etc might exist on other planets by comparing the conditions there to Earth, then creating them and the worlds in CGI. What was really interesting, given what we had just looked at in class, is that “Alien Worlds” was paying homage to the title sequence of “Alien” (1979). It starts dark like “Alien” (1979) does, with slow suspenseful, music, although without the same horror vibe as “Alien” (1979). After a few names appear on the screen, in similar small letters to “Alien” (1979) names, there is a similar shot as though we are in space, although the planet shown is not dark, we can see the sea and clouds, which makes sense since this show is about life. There are several shots of sunrises from space. Then there is an introduction to what the show is about. The final shot again emulates the Alien lettering by having the letters of ALIEN WORLDS appear part by part of letter, starting at about 1:57. They appear quicker than in Alien, since we don’t need to see them as slowly as in “Alien” (1979) for them to have the effect the director is after, that is of catching the attention of anyone who has seen Alien (1979). This shows how iconic the title sequence of Alien is that over 40 years after it was released people still remember the title sequence, since they must have done audience research and used focus groups beforehand to ensure that this was going to be a successful tactic.
The “Alien” (1979) title sequence was designed by Richard and Robert Greenberg, since directors often bring in specialists to create title sequences. In an interview, Richard Greenburg said that they wanted the lettering to appear in a similarly unsettling and off-putting way to the tone of the music. The trailer for “Alien” (1979) also starts in space, dark, and made use of the same way the letters appear in the title sequence. The feel and genre all link together and are recognisable.
In class we had also learnt about Saul Bass who is widely regarded as the father of the title sequence in the format of being entertaining, innovative and “conveying the essence of a movie”. His title sequences for “The Man with the Golden Arm” (1955) and Hitchcock’s “North by Northwest” (1959) were revolutionary at the time. In “Vertigo” (1958) the swirling images really evoke the feeling that “everything around you is spinning” which is what I found when I looked up definitions of Vertigo And he didn’t have the sort of technology and CGI that is available now.
Vertigo title sequence
His Dark Materials Title Sequence
HDM Season 1
HDM Season 2
Current technology made possible one of my favourite title sequences, that of the HBO/BBC series His Dark Materials. This incredible title sequence was created by the Design Studio “Elastic”. You can actually count it as being 2 title sequences, one for season 1 and one for season 2. Although they are both very similar and use the same music, there are a few subtle changes relating to the different storylines in each season. I could talk about all the different elements of them for ages, and all the times that we get little hints about elements of the main show from the title sequence e.g. the lines of dust echoing Mary’s machine in Oxford (trying not to give too many spoilers, although dust may not make much sense if you haven’t seen His Dark Materials), obviously the alethiometer (known as the Golden Compass in the Film version), and at the end when all the different layers of dimensions become layers of dust and rotate to echo the lines of dust that we started with. Also, at the end the way the words “HIS DARK MATERIALS” is very subtly sliced through, which becomes more understandable in season 2 where we meet “The Subtle Knife”. Both title sequences are mind- blowing (as are both seasons) and I could watch even just the title sequences over and over again, I keep noticing more and more each time that very cleverly and subtly foreshadows events, that intrigues me and makes me want to know more, they make me want to watch each episode to see where all the hints fit, so they both clearly succeed in the purpose of a title sequence. The music has a gravitas to it that reflects the pomp and ceremony of various elements of the story like the Magisterium who are the “bad” religious organisation in the story. There are many, many images that all link together, but my favourite and the one that stood out to me most is the staircases.
This is because when I first saw them, I immediately thought of the staircases drawn by Escher, which I had seen earlier in my education and been fascinated by. When you look carefully at the Escher’s drawings of staircases, you see that they are rather unsettling because they could not actually be made in real 3D.
Yet they are fascinating, and you are drawn in to keep looking at them to work out if they could be real or not. I didn’t know if that had inspired the staircases in the title sequence, or if it was just my imagination.
HOWEVER, last term I was fortunate enough, on 26th November 2020, to take part in a Webinar Masterclass on His Dark Materials run by BBC Academy, with presenters including Joel Collins who was the Production Designer and Executive Producer for His Dark Materials at Bad Wolf, and Ben Irving who is the Commissioning Editor for BBC Drama. As well as an amazing live presentation, we each got to ask a question too. I had just asked about the staircases and whether they were inspired by Escher’s staircases. And Joel Collins answered what I was going to ask even before I could finish typing it (which was great since it meant I got to ask another question too). He said that he HAD been inspired by Escher, and had a slide showing this, and a slide showing the weird staircases in Cittagazze, and he confirmed my thoughts about how weird looking staircases are echoed from the title sequence throughout the series because of this inspiration, e.g.in the “in between dimensions” location of Cittagazze, a perfect place to unsettle and discomfort the audience, and in the house in “our” Oxford of Lord Boreal, again where unsettling scenes of Lyra and Will having to escape took place. This shows how worthwhile it is linking elements of the title sequence to the show or film. I loved the whole Webinar and learnt so much.
I don’t think things should be placed in frame just because they “represent” something, I have always had a thing against “blue curtains represent that he is sad” because it is not about what something represents, it is about the emotion that images evoke in an audience, and I think that the title sequences of both “Alien”(1979) and His Dark Materials succeed in evoking feelings of unease and suspense, both by music choice, and linking to images that already have meaning for the audience, show the genre and link to the film and shows.
As an art form, title sequences have come a long way, and appear to be going even further, as technology and innovative creativity is opening many more, different options.
We decided to work in our usual 90%Bloopers team, with Charlie G who has now worked on several projects with us and is a really good fit. So, Adam, Ellie, Harley, Jack H, Charlie G and I had a chat in a break-out room about what kind of title sequence we wanted to do. A “Top Gear” title sequence came up pretty much immediately as an idea, because Harley had previously done a “Top Gear” style intro before. It wasn’t quite as polished as we wanted our one to be for this project, but it was helpful that one of us already had experience.
But being us, we wanted to put a twist on it. Given that the “Top Gear” title sequence is pretty comedic, and that is a large part of its appeal, we wanted to keep with the comedy, especially since this makes good use of our strengths and ideas. And we all have a similar humour to the “Top Gear” title sequence which is probably why we had all immediately liked this title sequence.
We proposed to do a parody of the “Top Gear” title sequence using footage from previous projects of ours, including bloopers, since our name is, after, all, 90% Bloopers. And we decided to change the name from “Top Gear” to “90% Bloopers”. We identified Series 18 as the start of the style we wanted to use, and watched and analysed several YouTube videos.
Top Gear Funny Intros – TONIGHT!
Top Gear Intro Season 18
Top Gear 2014 New Intro
This shows the ring saw and “Top Gear” words well at the end but doesn’t include the “Tonight…” segment that we wanted.
We wanted to be sure to include Harley, since he is shielding and not in College during our “in College” weeks, so it was useful that he was the one with previous experience, since that meant he was a good candidate for being the Editor, and main designer, although we did have lots of discussions to include all of our ideas.
We identified key elements of the “Top Gear” title sequence:
- The screens split into several rectangular areas
- These rectangles moving on the screen
- Silhouettes of the presenters, sometimes against a video background and sometimes against block of colour.
- The silhouettes move across the screen at times
- The videos in the rectangles are sometimes from the show and are sometimes funny
- The words “Top Gear” appear in a particular style, split in 2 rectangles, moving in opposite directions, just before Jeremy says “Tonight…”
- Sometimes the images in the rectangles are all different scenes. Sometimes they are offset versions of the same scene e.g. at 0.11 where the car goes into snow.
- In between each of Jeremy’s lines “describing” the current video clip, there is an image of 3 circular saws moving inwards.
- Jeremy makes (often) sarcastic and obvious comments about the video clip like “I wear a hat” or “Richard is behind a low wall” or (from a different clip) putting a comedic interpretation on the image like “Richard steals some tyres”.
- The final image is one of the circular saws with the words “Top Gear” moving into it from the right.
These were all elements that we would need to get into our title sequence.
Harley – Editor/Script writer
Jack – Production Assistant
Adam – Silhouettes, Graphics
Ellie – Camera/Production Assistant
Gareth – Video Finder/Camera
Charlie – Voice-over (speaking and recording)
A specific role that I had, in addition to our usual teamwork approach, was to find lots of appropriate video clips for Harley to chose from to use in his editing. I am known in our group for filming lots of footage during film projects, since, in addition to following my shot list, I like experimenting with slightly different shots to give me options when I’m editing. I also like to have quite a lot of different angles and shot types in my films, and I tend to have a lot of cuts (although not more than is appropriate). This meant that not only do I have a lot of footage that could be appropriate, I also have collected more bloopers, simply by having more film. Some of the shots I picked were bloopers, since they were often funny, and others were ones which could have funny lines attached to them, e.g. when Charlie says “and I give Jack a flower”. I tried to give Harley a wide range to chose from, whilst cutting it down since Harley also had to edit the whole thing together.
The day before we were about to do our silhouettes in the green screen room, we found that Chris, our technician who looks after all our filming rooms and equipment, was having to self-isolate due to coming in contact with someone who, shortly after, tested positive for Covid-19. This meant that we had no access to any of the rooms or equipment, since it wasn’t just a case of asking someone to unlock the doors, since Chris is specifically trained in the Covid-19 safety rules associated with use of rooms and equipment. Fortunately, we overcame this by thinking on our feet. We needed a way to get a clean backdrop to cut out the silhouette from. So we asked a tutor from our first year, who is Head of Photography if we could use a Photography Studio, since they have solid backdrops. We brough our own lights from home to point at the backdrop rather than at the person we were photographing, and as you can see in the finished product it worked well. We tried a couple of poses each, trying to find poses that represented us in a humorous way, e.g. me wearing my trilby hat (which I always wear – Hatman) and Adam holding a Boom mic. Because Harley was shielding he arranged a photo of himself. Adam edited these photos to create the silhouettes and I think he did a good job. You can see the process below.
Adam created the graphics that we needed, using Adobe After Effects. I think that the style is indistinguishable from the “Top Gear” versions. The graphics are the words “90% BLOOPERS” that appear at 0:12 split screen moving slightly in opposite directions, the 3 ring saws that appear very briefly in between each line of the script, and the final image at about 0.33 of “90% Bloopers” moving from the right-hand side into a saw ring.
After Harley chose the best clips for the “Tonight…” section, he wrote a script, in typical comedic “Top Gear” style. This is the script@
Gareth sits in a chair,
Adam waves his arms about,
Harley gets shot in the head,
Ellie holds a sign,
Jack eats some toast with a man,
And I hand a flower over to Jack”
Charlie recorded this voice-over, doing a very good Jeremy Clarkson impersonation. Before he recorded the actual script, before it was written, Charlie did a test voice-over in the same style, which is also very funny.
First Test Recording
Adobe Premiere Pro timeline from Harley’s final edit
We showed our finished title sequence to one of our tutors, Simon. He said that if he were being picky he’d say to put a wash over it to make the colours a bit more similar. But he also said, in a very enthusiastic tone, that it was “really brilliant!”, and that it made him feel that he “literally couldn’t wait to get into the show”, so I reckon that is a success against my explanation in my research as to the purpose of a title sequence to make an audience feel exactly that.
I am pleased with our concept and with the finished product, Harley did a great job with his editing. In fact, everyone did a great job, we worked very well together as a team. Everyone is always willing and proactive in stepping up to help any of us even if it is not their defined role. We know we can rely on each other. We use Discord at home to have frequent discussions about projects and to plan. On Monday 7th December, when we were emailed to let us know that we wouldn’t have any access to the Film Studios, Green Screen room or College equipment, the first thing that we did was to arrange a Discord meeting for 3pm that day (the first time we were all available) to discuss alternative suggestions and plans. One of these was emailing the Head of Photography to ask about using a Photography Studio instead of the Green Screen room. This teamwork has been particularly valuable during the Covid-19 pandemic, frequent lockdowns, team members shielding and others having to self-isolate on occasion. Under usual conditions it could have been interesting to mix our groups around a bit and try working with other people in our class. But I feel that given these unprecedented and extraordinary times, having such strong teamwork is what is enabling us all to get the most out of the course and projects that we can at this time, as shown by this title sequence that we have produced, which I am very pleased with.
We also achieved our aim of getting the 10 elements specified above into our film. Harley did an excellent job editing.
However, I must say that Covid-19 and Lockdown gave us some challenges. By thinking outside the box, we were able to overcome them all, but it certainly tested our problem-solving abilities. For example, as described above, suddenly not being able to use the green screen to get our silhouettes. But this is a useful experience, since many times in filming issues will arise and you need to be used to finding quick solutions. Which we did.
Me uploading all the clips to Harley was another challenge. Because he wasn’t in college and was shielding, I couldn’t just give him a USB stick. Uploading from home took hours and hours. Due to impacts of Covid-19 and Lockdowns on other projects, I was still sorting through the footage after our last “in College” week, during our “out of college” week so I couldn’t upload it from in College as I had done some of the promo footage (it’s much quicker uploading from in College than at home). I just had to upload it from my home which took hours and hours, and sometimes fell over. There was no way round this since Harley’s mum was (very understandably) quarantining everything coming into the house for several days so I couldn’t just take a USB stick round to him. But eventually I got everything uploaded, and I think that Harley did a very good job of choosing appropriate clips and editing it all together.
Overall, I think we did a really good job at overcoming all the challenges and have produced a professional looking title sequence that I feel pays homage well to the original “Top Gear” title sequence, whilst also strongly demonstrating our brand, in a suitably comedic manner.