Thursday, February 24, 2005

Main Title Animation

What makes a memorable 3D title sequence? I've been looking at some of the title sequences created for 3D movies of the past in search of inspiration. In the 1950's, the titles didn't actually shoot at you - instead, they appeared as static three dimensional block lettering, hanging just infront of the screen.

During the 80's 3D wave, a company called Celestial Mechanix dreamed up the memorable 3D title sequences that streak toward the camera in JAWS 3-D, FRIDAY THE 13th PART 3, METALSTORM and THE MAN WHO WASN'T THERE. I was reading an interview with them in an old Cinefantastique magazine that revealed their method of composition was to start the title at the screen instead of (dimensionally) behind it, and then to have it zoom towards the audience, with the streaks going back to the screen plane as a reference. Apparently, without that reference, your eye has trouble determining just how far off the screen the titles appear.

I have also examined the titles to SPACEHUNTER, (done by R/Greenberg associates, most famous for the SUPERMAN titles and the inviso-Predator effect), AMITYVILLE 3-D, and TREASURE OF THE FOUR CROWNS, most of which start behind the screen before zooming toward the audience. Only SPACEHUNTER's title graphic makes use of the streaks, and in direct comparison, Celestial Mechanix's philosophy seems to be the simplest and most direct, producing the best results. (As a comparison with modern 3D titles - Robert Rodriguez's SPY KIDS 3-D title graphic starts behind the screen and streaks up to but not past it.)

After searching around (with no luck) for an After Effects plug-in that would create the streaking title sequence, I decided the best way to go about it would be to just create 3D object text in Bryce and animate the title graphic extending toward the camera on the Z axis, producing a long streak. The background of the sequence is a CGI cloud shot that I generated in Photoshop and After Effects, and composited in position of depth a few inches (or feet, depending of the size of your display) behind the screen. The inital credits - "Daredevil Films presents", etc - actually appear on the screen plane, but seem to hang in 3D space due to the fact that the clouds appear so far behind them. Then, the composited title logo materializes and shoots out toward you, and the dimensional effect is pretty dramatic.
The sequence runs about 20 seconds in total. It may not be the most original thing in the world, but hopefully it serves as a homage to those great 3D title sequences of the 1980's.