Brendan Shick | Freelance Film, Broadcast, & Digital Media

4 Must Watch Director’s Commentaries – Even if You’re Not a Film Geek

4 Must Watch Director's Commentaries - Even if You're Not a Film Geek

4 Director's Commentaries for any sensibility or taste! At least one of these will appeal to you...
The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey – Learning the Pitfalls of HFR

Learn the Pitfalls of HFR

Don't make the mistake of paying more for a lower quality theater experience. Here's a look at what HFR really does to your image straight from a cinematographer's mouth...errr...pen...err...whatever.
Baseball Broadcasts: Behind the Scenes

Broadcasting Baseball

Ever wonder how the game gets from the field to your television set? We're sharing a behind-the-scenes look.

The Importance of Type (Part Two: Getting Creative)

Aug 05 2011 by Brendan Shick Add Your Thoughts

NOTE: This post is part two of a three-part series. Click here for Part One and/or Part Three.

In part one, I described the different programs available for creating text for film. Today, I’m going to share some tips and tricks for actually achieving good results from that software.

Generally speaking, these tips are not platform-specific and should work with whatever program you choose to use (although they may be easier to manipulate in some programs than others). I will avoid technical descriptions of how to manipulate these things in this post (that’s what Google is for) and instead focus on the creative aspects (what things can you manipulate, what looks best, etc.)

The two keys to good-looking text are customization and good visual balance. In the case of the anecdotal story from part one, neither was present. We’re about to take a look at how to achieve both of these goals.


Mistakes to Recognize

There are two major errors among those who are inexperienced or apathetic to the art of titling that result in poor, uncustomized text.

The first is using a template. Both Adobe Premiere and Apple’s Live Type have a large number of template styles from which to pick. Here’s the catch – they’ve all been used by someone before and will quickly be recognized by your audience as overused and unprofessional.

If you choose to use such templates, you should use them only as a starting point and further manipulate your text (as described below) such that, in the finished product, no one will recognized that you ever clicked on a template.

NOTE: This is part of why I like the Illustrator/Photoshop approach – you’re forced to start from scratch and not tempted to use those pesky templates – your design looks better from the start.

Title Editor in Adobe Premiere

The title editor in Adobe Premiere. It’s tempting for rookies to click one of the default styles in the lower right here and think they’re done, but that’s not customization at all. Better to adjust the text properties using the controls in the box on the upper right!

The second customization mistake is just as bad – leaving your text as plain old Times New Roman (or other common font). The result is text that looks like you put no effort into it (and that looks like a MS Word document).

Again, manipulate your variables to find pleasing results that also fit your project and creative vision.

What to Change?

What are some to these variables? Let’s take a look:

  1. Font Choice: Without getting into a typography rant here, generally avoid Times New Roman, Arial, and other common, easily recognizable fonts (like the dreaded Papyrus…). Choosing a font is usually the first thing I do, as it affects the typeface size (and pretty much everything else for that matter).

    I find this the hardest part; I can never seem to settle on a font that I really like. Sometimes it helps to ask a friend for his or her opinion, but only after you have it narrowed down to a couple of options.

  2. Text Properties: I’m talking here about the well-known and understood ones (bold, italics, underline, etc.). Generally, bold fonts are more readable. Italics and underline however, make text harder to read and less pleasing to look at.

    Underlines should be drawn with a graphics editor and added separately, not just added to the text. Italics really only works when putting quotes on-screen and in other niche uses.

  3. More Text Properties: Beginners may not be aware of, or at least not readily understand, more advanced text properties like leading, kerning, and others. I’ll leave you to Google these properties if you don’t already know what they do. Customizing these to see what looks best (which is sometimes the default, but not always) affords you more control, customization, and a better final product.
  4. Color / Texture: Color is the one thing that people almost always think to adjust (other than maybe font, but sometimes I’m still surprised how many leave that at the default…), but generally, they just leave it a solid color.

    Almost always, it is more appealing to use a gradient (even a simple, barely noticeable white-to-light grey works wonders, in fact, the less noticeable the better) or add some sort of texture (maybe add an image on a new layer and apply some sort of blending mode? [Photoshop/Illustrator/After Effects only]).

    Text Customization Using Photoshop's Layers Styles

    In this screenshot, the user has left all the values in Photoshop’s “Layer Styles” and “Character” dialog at their default settings. But at least they’ve opened the styles menu and are ready to start customizing!

  5. Layer Settings (more advanced – mostly applies for Photoshop / Illustrator / AfterEffects): Who says text must use a normal blending mode? Learn your blending modes and play around until you get a look for your text that you like.

    I also really like playing with shadows, glows, bevel, emboss, etc. You can really get some professional looking results fast (I mean, this is after all a list of the tools professionals use that everyone else doesn’t…) with these settings.

  6. Add Transitions or Other Slow Movement: When it comes to text, sometimes a nice blur transition looks better than a straight cross dissolve or cut. Just don’t get carried away. Also, text looks better when it moves slightly, especially when it’s so slow your audience doesn’t realize. Try keyframing the ‘position’ and ‘scale’ properties of the text layer.

In the next post, we’ll take a quick look at achieving visual balance in your finished titles. Check back soon!

NOTE: This post is part two of a three-part series. Click here for Part One and/or Part Three.

Brendan Shick

Brendan Shick is a freelance DP, gaffer, and sports broadcaster serving primarily the Chicago, IL; Pittsburgh, PA; Grand Rapids, MI; and Fort Wayne, IN, regions. You can find out more by following this blog, his recent work on Vimeo, or by connecting with him on Twitter or LinkedIn. Brendan is also an occasional contributor to the Project Updates feed for one of his most recent films, To Turn Back Time.

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