What you see in the title sequence for Tarsem's The Fall is a director's absolute control over his vision. To view it after seeing the film is a gift; a rare and beautiful thing. Surreal, extravagant and a world I'd like to step in to, not to bear witness, but to sense things in such a way.
Scored to Beethoven's Symphony No 7 In A Major, Op.92 (2-Allegretto), the visuals hit their money notes in quick succession. The bridge becomes a stage and the caballus curtain rises as the sequence concludes.
From Tarsem's DVD commentary: "It is hard to define... I wanted chaos without energy."
Audio commentary excerpt with Director Tarsem (contains spoilers):
A discussion with the film's logo designer and typographer STEFAN BUCHER at 344 Design.
Please tell us about your process of working with Tarsem; did you understand the magnitude of the film, and to that end, how did the nature of the title sequence influence the evolution of your design?
SB: Tarsem is a genius, and The Fall is a masterpiece. That much was clear from the moment I saw the first photos Stephen Berkman had taken on set, and particularly after Tarsem showed me a rough cut. Even in that format it was epic.
Tarsem initially called me in to design a book of photography from the movie (shot by Stephen Berkman, Steven Colover, Ged Clarke and Tarsem) , which was printed in a very limited edition and sent out as a promotion. In the course of that project I designed a logo for THE FALL that was intended solely for the book. But of course, I secretly had my eye on the titles, and was very excited when Tarsem decided to use the logo for the film and the collateral materials.
This is also how I got involved on the typography for the rest of the titles and end credits. Tarsem had done some rough versions of the type for the opening credits and showed it to me. Less than perfect type is personally upsetting to me, and I felt that the typography for The Fall should be as beautifully considered as the film itself, so I basically pleaded that he let me do the job. Luckily, if there's anybody who understands that sort of urgent artistic need, it's Tarsem.
His brief to me was to make the titles beautiful, elegant, and as close to invisible as possible. Which meshes with my own aesthetic for this type of situation. It's always my goal to make the typography feel so organic that you don't even notice it as its own, separate element.
Pablo Ferro's titles were on my mind, and definitely influenced the choice of font. His style of handwriting would've been the wrong tone here, but he's one of the few people who use very light lettering, and that's what I thought would fit The Fall.
We went with Univers Light Condensed. It's just about as simple as you can get, and even though it's a modern font it soaks up Tarsem's take on Deco and Art Nouveau. It feels much more period appropriate to my eye than actual fonts from that time, which would come off as cliché. The same goes for the title itself, which is a heavily modified version of Univers. As for the swooshes, they were inspired by the Indian's sword, but I think it's obvious that I'm also a great admirer of Margo Chase and Marian Bantjes, whose swirly magnificence is always floating around in my head.
Tarsem was the one who edited the whole opening sequence, and there's not a frame out of place. It's a gorgeous sequence that was perfect --- and also entirely sacrosanct. When I started working out the timing with my colleague John R. Waters of Atomic Zoo, who was in charge of the animation, we basically worked backwards. Legally, each credit has to be on screen for the exact same amount of time. After we determined what images should hold title cards, we had to use the shortest of those edits as our master length. From there it was a question of testing fade durations to make the appearance of short titles feel natural on long shots. It was a puzzle.
We also decided to put some of the type into perspective, letting it nestle under the bridge, in particular. We didn't do it consistently, or as a huge, epic effect as David Fincher had done for Panic Room, but only in the one or two instances where a static title over the stately pans would've been distracting. We always saw the titles as belonging inside the space of the film.
When the pans occurred over open vistas, the type could conceivably float in that space, but the sharp lines of the bridge made it necessary to lock the type to the camera motion and to the perspective of the bridge. I'm always happy when I hear that people didn't even notice we did that.
What qualities of the film informed your decisions? Do you ever go outside the film or project or medium to draw inspiration? Any examples of that?
I do a lot of design work for fine artists (through the Los Angeles gallery L.A. Louver) and photographers. Tarsem's images felt very much of that kind to me. I'm always inspired by the work itself, and it's always my goal to structure the typography as an extension to the piece that feels inevitable. At that point, I go on instinct. This is what feels right to my eye.
Who are your heroes in type design? What recent work has impressed you?
Everyone loves Marian Bantjes, and I'm no exception. I also love the lettering of Doyald Young. As I mentioned, I love Pablo Ferro and Margo Chase. Mark Farrow is always fantastic. There are a lot of amazing young designers doing motion work and if I try to name any of them, the people I'll fail to mention will make me look foolish. There's just such an abundance of great work coming out right now. It's a golden age for typography, particularly in motion graphics. So much of it is so beautiful and painterly.
Can you tell us a little bit about the first moment when you knew you wanted to work in graphic design?
I started as an illustrator. Which is to say I started drawing when I was little and then figured out how to get my work printed as I got older. It's always been about control. With each project I get a tiny slice of the world that I can bend to my will, that's under my complete control. I love that! I've always loved that. Graphic design entered the mix when I figured out that I could control the typographic AND the illustrative visuals.
What are you working on now, what are you pondering?
Right now I'm working on art catalogs for Enrique Martinez Celaya and Deborah Butterfield (through L.A. Louver) and on a new book of my own called The Graphic Eye — Photographs by Graphic Designers, which will be in stores this fall. But of course the Daily Monsters are my main focus. Now that the book of the first 100 Monsters is out I'm getting into longer animated sequences for the creatures. Some of their cousins are about to appear on the rebooted Electric Company on PBS starting with the series premiere on MLK Day.
What is the last good book you read?
I know it's a few years old by now, but I loved Pattern Recognition by William Gibson.
View the credits for this sequence