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The Film Inside the Film

Designer Kyle Cooper speaks tonight on the art of movie titles

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A compilation of still frames from the movie title sequences designed by Kyle Cooper. Photo courtesy of Kyle Cooper

Kyle Cooper is one of the most sought-after men in Hollywood. But he’s not an actor or a director, and he doesn’t bankroll big-budget movies. Cooper’s genius is making two-minute masterpieces on film: he designs the title sequences and credits that open and close a movie.

Since the 1990s, Cooper’s visually stunning breakthrough work has transformed film titles from a routine exercise in rolling credits to a form of experimental high art. His groundbreaking title sequence for the 1995 film Se7en, whose jittery editing and scrawled typography sent viewers straight into the mind of a serial killer, has been called one of the most important design innovations of the 1990s.

Tonight the Salem, Mass., native will be at the University to talk about his craft and his unique design approach as part of the College of Fine Arts Contemporary Perspectives Lecture Series, which brings professional artists to campus so undergraduate and graduate students can benefit from listening and talking to them and seeing their work. Cooper was a cofounder of the visionary design firm and production house Imaginary Forces in 1996 and currently runs Prologue Films, in Venice, Calif., which he founded in 2003.

“Kyle Cooper’s work for his studio, Prologue, resides at the forefront of motion graphics design,” says Kristen Coogan, a CFA assistant professor of art in the graphic design program. “Analog and digital processes characterize his masterfully executed movie title sequences. The BU graphic design program is thrilled to host Cooper, as we share a similar appreciation of both craft and technology in our design thinking and making.”

If there were Academy Awards for title sequences, Kyle Cooper’s dynamic, highly stylized openings to films would be regular Oscar contenders. He has created the lead-ins to more than 150 feature films, including the Spider-Man series, Ironman and Ironman 2, Superman Returns, The Incredible Hulk, Tropic Thunder, and Dawn of the Dead, as well as motion graphics for television, video games, and commercials. Reimagining movie titles as minifilms, Cooper pioneered techniques that changed the way filmmakers considered opening credits and their potential for storytelling. Those techniques, including weaving important plot elements into opening titles, have become some of the most imitated on film.

But more than anything, Cooper’s signature is the mind-bending visual effect—like the veins in an eye becoming a map in the title sequence for The Incredible Hulk, or the credits trapped in clingy, 3-D webs for Spider-Man. Cooper’s designs draw on the old as well as the new, like his Marvel Comics flip-book logo, whose saturated comic-book pages flipping in rapid-fire motion have become a signature of Marvel-based films. And as an artist, his process is obsessive: for the movie Se7en, he famously hand-scratched the credits with a needle onto film stock for every single frame.

His body of work has garnered international acclaim, including an Emmy and various design awards. Last year, Fast Company magazine named him one of the 100 most creative people in business, and Details magazine has credited him with “almost single-handedly revitalizing the main title sequence as an art form.” And in possibly the highest praise Hollywood could offer, Cooper is known as the man some directors won’t work with because he makes title sequences that are better than the movies they introduce.

“Kyle Cooper has gone on to reframe the role of motion picture title sequences,” says Lynne Allen, a CFA professor and director of the School of Visual Arts. “Students at BU will benefit from his experience and unique position within the movie industry, where design and film connect.”

View some of Kyle Cooper’s work here.

As part of CFA’s Contemporary Perspectives Lecture Series, Kyle Cooper speaks tonight, Monday, November 29, at 6:30 p.m. at the College of Arts & Sciences, Room B-12, 725 Commonwealth Ave. The event is free and open to the public.

Francie Latour can be reached at comiskey@bu.edu.

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