Picture Mill is a leading design and effects house doing title design for films such as War of the Worlds, Panic Room and logo film titles for studios such as SPYGLASS and Universal. In this podcast Mike sits down for a discussion on design issues, the role of titles and the nature of branding design with Creative Director William Lebeda.

It is almost certain you have seen their work many times, from major films to the logos before them and the very campaigns and trailers that got you to go to the cinema in the first place. Film titles form the backbone of Picture Mill work, but they do much more from film marketing to studio branding.

William Lebeda

Film titles represents a unique aspect to film story telling, often times it is possible to have a slow lengthy period of imagery cut without dialogue – its pace and style can be actually quite different from what the rest of the film will be.

Unlike a trailer the job of the film title is not to draw the audience in- or even hint at where the film is going – although it can do these things, it is to set the stage. As we hear in this week’s podcast with William Lebeda. Picture Mill seeks to work out what the audience should be feeling going into the first act of the film. They look to design for an emotional response.

War of the Worlds
War of the Worlds involved pieces with live action and 3D at the front and end of the film

Some of Picture Mill’s work such as War of the Worlds really extends to what you might call second unit. Not only is the mood and global position established with the War of the Worlds but also the very pivotal story point of the common cold is handled by Picture Mill’s designers. In the case of the titles for Panic Room – the company wanted to give the story a grounding – showing where it was set, but also moving from the wide open streets to the ever smaller spaces and rooms. In fact the opening titles were some of the only open wide shots in the film.
Panic Room
The titles involved 3D buildings also

There are occasions where the solution is a simple typography, other times the films very title becomes a logo, a brand, a real message and marketing tool in it’s own right. Especially in this day and age of teaser trailers, sometime the films title is one of the strongest clues to the audience. Lebeda gives the example of Robert Zemeckis’ Beowulf. Picture Mill is working on the film now.

Lebeda points out the the mark used from that film – “that is what tells you much about what that movie is, you may not even know Beowulf is, or who Beowulf is, but a couple of shots of that typography tells you that this is this big, mythic , epic story on the scale of Lord of the Rings“.

I Robot
I Robot was not a traditional solution

On other occasions such as with Mission Impossible III, there is a very established graphical language. The iconography of a fuse is heavily established in pop culture dating back to the titles of the hit original TV show. In this case the team set out to make the greatest fuse photography ever filmed.

After trying other things – the Picture Mill team told the film’s director, JJ Abrams, ” We need to shoot the car commercial of fuses, we don’t need to reinvent the fuse – we just need to make it the coolest, slickest, most modern fuse you have ever seen!” explains Lebeda. The project is difficult in one sense, points out Lebeda as “How do you make it new – different?”

What is really interesting about Picture Mill’s work is how they can produce complex titles that cut across one’s expectations. A good example is the work they did for I, Robot. There were many more obvious ways to go – but Picture Mill saw the film as a detective flick first and foremost so they designed titles to raise a sense of mystery in the audience – by providing a sequence of images that were not immediately obvious from a robotics view point.

Picture Mill started on film marketing, and it is from there that the company moved into titles. And the company remains very much still involved in film marketing, having done campaigns for Lady in the Water, Dreamgirls, Spider-man and others.

Spyglass one of many successful studio IDs
All studio logos need to be versatile except Dark Castle who just do horror

And it is from this highly targeted work that the company that also got to work on studio logo treatments. which may appear similar to film titles but Lebeda points out that they are really very different. Unlike titles that play a very directed role in setting the audiences emotional state going into the first act, but studio logos are the same in front of a huge variety of different genres of films.

It needs to work in front of a horror film and often without change – in front of a comedy. Although there is a trend to actually doing special versions of the studio logos – individually crafted to that particular film. Not all studios allow their logos to be reworked points out Lebeda Warners has been very open to creative treatments, while 20th Century Fox are not so keen.