Vendetta For Lemony Snicket’s A Series Of Unfortunate Events

Doing some research for the opening sequence of True Blood, one of the most watched dramatic series in HBO’s history, I landed on The Art of The Title Sequence, my main resource for motion typography in movies and television. And as usual I couldn’t resist watching the end credit titles for Lemony Snicket’s A Series Of Unfortunate Events. It reminds me of a story my grand-father told me when we were visiting Firenze after I just graduated, about a flamboyant American tourist he’d met who simply had to go admire Michelangelo’s David every single time he visited the city. “Just a glimpse of David!”

Without a doubt one of the most beautiful title sequences ever, the intricate and sophisticated piece is a perfect marriage of art direction and design, motion graphics, music and typography. Art directed by James Caliri, the Grammy-nominated music video director, it is dark, yet playful, somewhere between illustration, paper cut-outs, and collage, with strong references to the Indonesian Wayang shadow puppet theatre. Caliri states: “I never let go of my ultimate goal. I wanted to make an enchanting, inviting piece that not only held true to the sentiment of the Lemony Snicket books, but also paid tribute to the amazing talent listed in the end credits,” yet strangely enough the team responsible for this fascinating gem isn’t even mentioned by name in those credits.

Lemony Snicket’s End Titles from Jamie Caliri on Vimeo.

Producers Mike Miller
Gary Levine
Creative Director Brent Watts
Director / Designer Jamie Caliri
Character Designers Joe Esquibel
Justin Reynolds
Layout Artists / Lead Animators Todd Hemker
Benjamin Goldman
Animators Chris Meyer
Joel Fox
Illustrators Joe Esquibel
Tom Arron
Typography / Text Layout Scott Sorenson
Matt Manes
Backgrounds Artists Celeste Rockwood-Jones
Roger Loveless
Production Coordinator Mimi Vigh
Production Manager Renee Cannon
Technical Producer Benjamin Goldman
Film Out E-Film

For some reason I suddenly realised I had never paid any closer attention to the typography by Scott Sorenson and Matt Manes. When I first watched the movie with my kids I remember being blown away by the title sequence. I noticed the titles looked very sophisticated and expertly set, but as the type was quite small on the screen I couldn’t make out what typeface had been used. So this time I looked more carefully, and recognised Vendetta, John Downer’s contemporary interpretation of the Venetian model, with H&FJ’s ubiquitous Gotham as a secondary face. A nice detail is that Sorenson and Manes custom set roman caps with italic lowercase for an authentic look in the tradition of the very first Venetian italic faces. Director Jamie Caliri talks in depth about the process of creating the animated sequence on Forget The Film, Watch The Titles.

Vendetta is a peculiar design. The overall impression is surprisingly elegant when you see how brutally geometric the structure of the characters is. Those “rough” shapes remind of the Dwiggins design principle, where over-emphasis and exaggeration of the features helps achieve a crisper type image. Here is a very insightful article by John Downer explaining the rationale behind his creation. See also Tiffany Wardle‘s dissertation The Experimental Type Designs of William Addison Dwiggins.

I’d like to use this post to introduce a cool new toy FontShop incorporated in The FontFeed. Frederik Berlaen built a neat application which lets us create FontTesters (not an official name, I just made that up). Whereas the sample settings on most foundry and vendor websites are limited to a single line in a single font, these font testers give the opportunity to set sample text in different weights, styles, and sizes. Have fun; I hope you like it.

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  1. Ha dear Yves. Great titles indeed, perfectly in tune with the rest of the movie: you always get more then you expect. And what a great site that ‘art of the title sequence’. thank-you. I was particularly charmed by this one:
    Shows that a good idea means a lot, but only perfect execution makes it art.

    Posted by peter on May. 19, 2009
  2. Darn it, the Durval Discos title sequence won’t load now. I’ll try again later.

    By the way I seem to remember there was a movie with genuine Wayang credit titles. Does anybody know which one, or am I just imagining things?

    Posted by Yves Peters on May. 19, 2009
  3. Wonderful, silly, great movie that really should get a sequel (unlikely, as it bombed and Carey does not come cheap).

    Btw, the Font Tester is simple, but nifty, especially for something embedded in a kind of blog.

    Posted by HD on May. 19, 2009
  4. I really liked the atmosphere and production design, which I thought were top notch.

    And simple but nifty is what Frederik was shooting for; I think he did a bang up job. I particularly like that the slider has a little cheat window telling you the exact point size – a simple, intuitive interface without compromising on precision.

    Posted by Yves Peters on May. 20, 2009
  5. Great choice to highlight, Yves. I agree completely. A while back, I did a little write-up of this sequence as well. I pulled about 16 stills from throughout the sequence to give a sense of the different vignettes and styles at play, including the very well-set credits that follow.

    It’s a silly, darkly funny, and absolutely gorgeous film that deserved more praise and attention than it got.

    Posted by Chris Rugen on May. 20, 2009
  6. That is a wonderful write-up, Chris. I really enjoyed reading it. And I agree about the music. Thomas Newman is one of my favourite film and television composers.

    Posted by Yves Peters on May. 20, 2009
  7. As always, loved the post. Your research and eye for detail is not wasted.

    The FontTester is an incredible interface. Great job. Any chance the script will be released so we could add it to our own blogs as well? I’d love to be able to pick, say, one family (as you did above) per test to highlight and discuss and let the visitor experiment for themselves. (Not reasonable to get all families unless it calls home each time, anyways.) That way, if the visitor wants more than that family, they would have to come to FontShop—and why wouldn’t they anyways—but they could get a deeper look instantaneously and get a taste for type addiction like us. Just thinking.


    Posted by Josh on May. 20, 2009
  8. I watched this with my kids as well and was also mesmerised by the top and tail titles…it reminded me of why I got into design in the first place. So inspiring – I think I went on about them so much that now my kids look avidly at any title sequences they see on all their kiddie movies…

    Posted by emmastewart on Jun. 10, 2009
  9. I knew I wasn’t the only one who loved this sequence!

    Posted by John Russell on Jun. 10, 2009
  10. Yes, yes, yes. I loved the title sequence… cool to find others who feel the same way. This one is remembered over all other movies’ title sequences. Inventive, fun, amazing art.

    Posted by Dawn Rauwolf on Mar. 15, 2011

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