Last week, I had the opportunity to go see film title design legend, Kyle Cooper. You may not know his name, but I'm sure you've seen his work. From the dark stylings of Se7en and Dawn of the Dead to the ultra technical work on Spiderman 1, 2 & 3 and The Incredible Hulk, this guy has come to redefine the title sequence. You can see his amazing demo reel on the ADCMW event page.
I'd wondered what kind of speaker Mr Cooper would be, having read several interviews with him beforehand. He's a real 'devil-in-the-details', obsessively focused person. That potentially introverted persona doesn't often translate to a great presenter, but Cooper bucked the stereotype. After a volley of technical difficulties that would have frustrated anyone, he jumped headfirst into a monologue about the origins of his career. Luckily, the projector came online and he was able to augment the stories with visuals from his vast portfolio of work.
One thing that differentiates Kyle Cooper from many working in the field of motion design is his foundation in traditional design. He studied with the famous Paul Rand at Yale and has obvious strengths in typography but "always wanted to make monster movies". He pointed back at several Rand compositions that immediately influenced his title sequence work. His obsessive 'frame-by-frame' sequence design betrays his origins. Each frame is so perfectly designed that it could be the movie poster, each frame is "a moment in time" as he describes it.
My biggest takeaway from the night (outside of the wheelbarrow load full of inspiration) is something that Mr Cooper brought up at the end. Even in the film industry, designers are getting tasked with more content. There is a slow awakening everywhere that design is more than decoration. Cooper started doing title sequences independently of the director and movie crew. His titles, though beautiful and intricate, were not much more than movie posters... setting up the first scene of the movie. Now, more and more his titles are becoming the first scene of the movie. Working with the Marvel folks for The Incredible Hulk, he was tasked to help communicate the back story and make sure the audience is up to speed. Instead of just getting his brief and heading out the door, he's become a valuable part of the brainstorming and storytelling machine.
We're seeing a similar shift in web design, where designers have a bigger say in the content. Business-based design is able to throw it's weight around with the rest of the big kids now. When I started in this industry, I've encountered many people that wanted to relegate design to decoration. "Make it pretty", "Work your magic", and similar dismissives are heard less and less now that business is realizing the success that good design (and including design early in the development process) can bring to a project.
The last point that I'll recount was Cooper's concept of "Others" as seen as the haunting license plate throughout his "labyrinthine" presentation. Taken from his grandfather, a man whose whole life was dedicated to serving his friends, family and neighbors, Cooper emphasized that no matter the level of creative work you're doing, relationships are always the most important thing. The thing about motion design and really, design in general, is that you're creating an experience for someone. Everything you create is for the consumption and use by others. Understanding people and how to create and manipulate emotion is an essential design skill that's not often discussed.
If you'd like to learn more about Kyle Cooper, there's a great interview up on the ADCMW's online magazine, FullBleed.
Thanks to the ADCMW, the event sponsors and Kyle Cooper for a great night full of great ideas!