Artists use Adobe After Effects to create the
opening title sequence for "The Talented Mr. Ripley"

Adobe After Effects stars in creating the opening title sequence for The Talented Mr. Ripley

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TM & Copyright 1999 by Paramount Pictures. All Rights Reserved

Nominated for five Golden Globe awards and considered an Oscar contender for Best Picture, current box office hit The Talented Mr. Ripley features a critically acclaimed director/screenwriter (Anthony Minghella of The English Patient fame), a stellar cast of young stars (Matt Damon, Gwyneth Paltrow, and Jude Law), sumptuous locations (New York and several cities in Italy)…and one of the longest opening title sequences (eight minutes, or 11,800 frames) to be animated and composited entirely on a desktop computer, using After Effects 4.1.

The team of title designer Deborah Ross of Deborah Ross Film Design and animator Trish Meyer of CyberMotion have collaborated on several movies in the past, including Now and Then, Out to Sea and Almost Heroes. Rather than sticking to one recognizable style, each project has featured a different look -with a correspondingly different set of technical and artistic challenges.

"The title sequence of a film is like the frame around a painting: it should enhance and comment on what is 'inside', alerting and sensitizing the viewer to the emotional tones, the story ideas, and the visual style which will be found in the work itself," notes the well-known film editor on Ripley, Walter Murch. "The title sequence is the membrane which must both contain the work and yet let it breathe."

You're In The '50s

The majority of the story takes place in Italy, where Tom Ripley (Matt Damon) attempts to take over the life of Dickie Greenleaf (Jude Law) and ultimately finds himself in ever deepening hot water. The opening sequence tells the backstory that triggers this unfortunate chain of events. The design goals were to reinforce the time period (1958), and the place (New York City), without having to spell it out for the audience. In the words of Anthony Minghella, "if we could channel Saul Bass" (the father of modern film title design, perhaps best known for his work on Hitchcock thrillers) he would be thrilled. Music - and in particular, jazz - is a constant backdrop throughout the movie. To play on this, Deborah Ross drew on '50s and '60s album cover art from the famous jazz label "Blue Note", which includes liberal use of colored shapes, tints, and text. Sections of the film were tinted with animated bars of color, which move in, frame a title, and then segue into another treatment. "This underscored the dueling musical themes of jazz versus classical in the story, as well as the bohemian 'coolness' of the period," comments Ross.

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TM & Copyright 1999 by Paramount Pictures. All Rightst Reserved

The credits themselves appear in a funky typewriter font (Obsolete from Aerotype), reinforcing the Blue Note look, as well as the fact that Ripley later appropriates Dickie's typewriter to forge letters. The main title itself includes the words "The," "Mr." and "Ripley" set in Adobe Helvetica Condensed, sliced up and compressed, Blue Note-style. In between is a rapid, overlapping blur of adjectives that describe Ripley's qualities, ending on the word "Talented."

In the biggest nod to Saul Bass, transitions between major sections employed animated bars as masks that reveal the next scene. Sometimes, these bars echo playful piano keys (Ripley is a pianist); other times, they are jagged shapes "that foretell the disturbing psychological aspects of the story," as Ross explains.

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