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My First Main Title Design

I’ve been in love with title design for years now. I teach students about them in my motion design courses at CU Denver and I think about them constantly. I even dream about them. Last year (2022), I was lucky enough to be asked by my friend and colleague Michelle Carpenter to create the intro title graphics for her new documentary film: Awadagin Pratt: Black In America. I was thrilled (and a little nervous).

So, what is the story with the film this title design was created for?

The film is a short-form documentary about Awadagin Pratt, the multi-award-winning concert pianist (not to mention violinist), with a particular focus on his experience with racial tension and inequities as a black man growing up and living in the United States and being stopped by police for no reason other than being black. Michelle wanted something to begin the film that helped build some tension right at the start. She shared her thoughts with me about using piano strings and the inner components of the piano. I immediately had visions of super-close-up strings vibrating with subtle blue and red lighting (to represent police car lights).

My title design process

My process for this project was completely experimental. I didn’t do any storyboards or anything like that. I opened up Cinema 4D and loaded in some models and started playing around with lighting, camera angles, and shallow depth of field until I came to a few things that seemed to be working. Rather than working linearly, I just began rendering out a bunch of short animated clips that I could edit together later to form the finished title design.

image of computer generated piano strings created for the title design
One of the early stills shows piano strings in a dark environment.

While experimenting and looking at the piano model I was working with, I was drawn to the red velvet ribbon inside the grand piano. I assume it performs a damping function, but I’m not a pianist. 🙂 Anyway, I had a vision of the velvet ribbon sort of snaking its way along over and under the strings as the camera panned by. To me, it communicates struggle and making your way through life’s obstacles.

wireframe image of the piano ribbon
Preview of the 3D scene with the ribbon snaking along
rendered image of the piano ribbon
Test render of the same scene using Redshift and very shallow depth of field

Mr. Pratt is kind of known, in addition to his amazing talents as a musician, for his wonderful wardrobe consisting of many paisley shirts. I wanted to incorporate this in some way. I came up with the idea to use a black paisley pattern on a dynamic cloth background.

Paisley background used in the title design
Still of the paisley background shot I created

What came of this project?

This was such an amazing opportunity for me and I’m so appreciative of Michelle for bringing me on as part of the team. The film has been doing really well in the festival circuit, being screened at Sedona, Alameda, and a bunch of other festivals. It has won some awards and it played nationally on PBS during black history month in 2023. I’m so honored to have been a part of this! It’s a great film and I hope you’ll get the chance to see it.

Image showing the title design overlayed with festivals and awards
Still from the title sequence with the film festivals it has been selected for so far

The finished product!

And, last but not least, here is the final title sequence I made for the film. The sound design is by Leslie Gaston Bird.

Main Title Design for Awadagin Pratt: Black in America

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