How to Make an Animated Title Sequence: Video 101

The following lesson was created by Vimeo for its Vimeo Video School. It’s used here with permission. Look for a new lesson each week.

Title sequences are some of the most memorable elements of classic films and TV shows. We love North by Northwest, Star Wars, and The Brady Bunch for lots of different reasons, but all entrance us from the first frame with animated title sequences that perfectly set the mood for the stories that follow. Recently, we explored motion design and watched many examples of compelling title sequences — now let’s see how to make one. Motion design is a relatively complex endeavor, but luckily our very own Nick Campbell, a.k.a. the Greyscalegorilla, has some sweet tutorials to help you get started. For those who don’t know him, Nick is a motion-design virtuoso, longtime Vimeo member, and never-ending fount of visual creativity.

In this lesson, Nick walks you through how to make a simple intro for your film using Maxon Cinema 4D and Adobe After Effects. First, he creates the Vimeo logo in 3D text using the extrude NURBS feature in Cinema 4D. Then he lights the logo with simple global illumination and ambient occlusion. Don’t worry if you haven’t used Cinema 4D before — it’s pretty easy to set up. In the second part of the tutorial, Nick puts everything together in After Effects by tracking the scene to situate the logo in the scene. Finally, he color corrects and finishes the composite to create a realistic-looking animation. Don’t sweat the technical jargon too much — Nick is a great teacher and takes you through the process step by step. When you’re done, you’ll end up with a cool animated title sequence like this:

To start, Nick takes the Vimeo logo, tweaks it in Illustrator, and brings it into Cinema 4D. There he takes the 2D image and turns it into a 3D object using the NURBS extrusion feature. Next, Nick adds beveling to give the logo a more organic look with softer edges. After that, he modifies the texture and color, and plays with reflection and shadows. One goal of motion design is to make artificial objects fit naturally within original footage, and there are two rules to keep it in mind when trying to achieve this: Go slow and make small adjustments. Just a few slight changes can have a dramatic effect and add up to a very convincing-looking object.

Once Nick finishes up in Cinema 4D, he brings the animation into After Effects for compositing. Compositing takes images from different sources and brings them together so they behave like one seamless unit. The first step is to set up what you’re tracking, or determine the pixel arrangements you want your object (the Vimeo logo, in this case) to move with. Nick recommends picking an area with a lot of contrast, like an edge with light and dark areas. Once you select the area to track, you need to associate it to a null object and parent your null object to your main object. Once that’s done, you can play with the overall look by modifying the blur gradient (to create a shallow depth of field), color correction, some vignetting, and ground shadows. After all that’s done, you’re set to render! For an introduction to the basics of After Effects check out this lesson.

Keep in mind that while this is all somewhat technical, there are also a lot of creative decisions to be made. As Nick recommends, make sure your decisions suit the purpose of what you want to convey, and go from there. In other words, if it feels right, it probably isright.

After studying these tutorials, you should be ready to tackle your own title sequence. For more great tips on motion graphics, check out Greyscalegorilla. Until next time — happy extruding, compositing, and rendering!

Ready for more? Learn how to make an infinity wall or view more lessons at the Vimeo Video School.


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