Director Zack Snyder’s adaptation of Alan Moore's graphic novel Watchmen has divided critics and commentators on its success (a $55 million opening weekend is either a total success or a flop compared to the $70 million taken by Snyder's 300 this time last year). However, no one's debating the high quality of its VFX and styling, which are kicked off by a multi-layered, six-minute long title sequence conceived by Snyder -- which features compelling 3D typography designed by yU+co.
Set to the Bob Dylan classic The Times They Are A-Changin, the title sequence strings together key events from the alternate history of the comic book series, starting from the 1940s up to the 1980s, the time period the story is set in. Through a series of slow-motion vignettes, we see how a collection of superheroes have influenced and altered major events such as World War II, the JFK assignation, the Cold War and the moon landing. Incorporated into each scene is the yU+co title design, bathed in bright yellow, which plays off of the blood splattered happy-face icon that is a key visual component to both the graphic novel and the film.
"Zack wanted to setup a foreboding tone and introduce the main characters in the title sequence,” says Garson Yu, creative director of yU+co. "Most studios want to get the audience into the film quickly and either have a short title sequence or put it at the end of the film rather than the beginning."
Yu continues, "It is rare today to see a title treatment that is six-minutes long and slow-paced. But Watchmen is grounded in complex philosophical ideas. Zack was able to foreshadow the decline of the superhero characters along with the rise of social unrest using the backdrop of the story’s alternate history, but he needed six minutes to do so."
The challenge for yU+co was integrating titles into an already edited six-minute sequence that was built without the placement of titles in mind. In order to make the titles feel like an organic part of the sequence, Yu and his creative team wove meticulous detail into the type design. Rather then simply lay 2D type onto the foreground of the live action, it is incorporated in 3D into each scene.
"I wanted our titles to be seen as part of the film and not detached and separate," says Yu. "We took all the camera data such as lens, distance, focus, aperture, etc., and translated it into the CGI." As a result, the titles track in perfect sync with Snyder’s camera moves and precisely match the lighting, shadows and perspective in the scenes.
That extreme attention to detail created a sequence that is both stunning and subtle. For example, in a shot of the moon landing, the titles are perfectly reflected backwards in the helmet of the astronaut; or in a scene in which two dead bodies are tied to a fire hydrant, we see rustling leaves behind the title alter the shadow of the title. In the same scene when a policeman’s flashlight shines on the title, its light washes out the yellow color slightly and alters the shadow.
"Zack and his crew have clearly gone above and beyond in terms of the art direction and cinematography for this film," Yu added, "so from our perspective the title sequence needed to match his artistic effort."
In addition to Watchmen, yU+co has also recently created the main title sequence for Disney’s Race to Witch Mountain; the cinematics for Capcom’s upcoming videogame Resident Evil 5; and the overall visual design and visual effects for Lakeshore Entertainment/Lionsgate’s upcoming futuristic thriller, Game.