The title sequence, as a separate art from the rest of the film, almost seems like a throwback to mid-20th-century filmmaking, conjuring up images of the legendary Maurice Binder titles on James Bond films, or Saul Bass animation for Stanley Kramer or Alfred Hitchcock.
Steve Viola, creative director of Santa Monica-based Rok!t (yes, that exclamation mark isn’t a typo), helps bring the animated title sequence back to the forefront with their CG-yet-retro work on the latest Tyler Perry outing, Madea’s Big Happy Family.
The film opens with an animated sequence of Perry’s titular character leaving her house and driving her car around town, getting into a series of mishaps – with various relatives – that leads into the “live” opening shot at a hospital. Viola explained that art director Kaya Thomas designed and created the look of the piece, including the characters and the scenes.
“We wanted to center this concept around the car – sort of a quick cartoon version of the movie,” Viola says, revealing “little things to show the quirkiness of the characters like Madea dragging around the relatives that live in the house with her.”
It was a concept he’d pitched among several to Perry, for whom he’d done other titles, but didn’t think “this one was a front-runner,” he said. The other ideas, he thought, were “much more contemporary.”
So did he deliberately go for a retro look in the opening cartoon? He says the sequence had “mostly a lot of contemporary influences – more inspired by the film itself,” rather than classic animated title sequences.
Indeed, he calls it a 3D title sequence even though this was a 2D movie, since working in 3D helped them “maintain a clean running pipeline,” which became more important given the mere six weeks they had to finish the titles, once the green light was given.
In that period, a team of eight people, comprised of both 2D and 3D animators worked to finish the animation – a process which allowed concurrent building of the environments while others built characters. “South Park,” he notes, is “done in a similar way.”
Though he allows, modern influences aside, “the whole film had a little bit of a retro feel.”
Getting that “feel” in the titles included heavy reliance on what he describes as the basic “Adobe package” – Photoshop, After Effects and Maya.
The package, and the pipeline, seem to be working, as Rok!it – recently moved to new digs – has what Viola cheerfully describes as a “strange variety of work,” which include stereoscopic FX for a new Captain America trailer, and a title sequence for a big summer movie which they aren’t allowed to name yet.
But if we’re in the era of a return to classic-style title sequences – whether CG or not – perhaps the ghosts of Binder, Bass, Kramer and more will be just as curious as the rest of us when it’s finally shown.