Kyle Cooper “The best titles create an expectation and that makes you think ‘Wow, this is going to be a great movie.’” -Kyle Cooper By Kerstin Ricca
Introduction • In 1955, Saul Bass took the design world by storm with the production of the film title sequences for Otto Preminger’s The Man with the Golden Arm. Taking a cue from Bass, designers such as Pablo Ferro (Dr. Strangelove) and Stephen Frankfurt (To Kill A Mockingbird) emerged. • After Bass’s death in 1996, a new film title sequence designer stepped into the limelight with the release of Se7en. With his gritty and eerie look into the mind of a serial killer, Kyle Cooper propelled himself into stardom. • Since then, he has directed over 150 film title sequences, and has been credited with “almost single-handedly revitalizing the main-title sequence as an art form.” He has branched into other forms of design, including TV commercials, video games and even directing a major motion picture.
Childhood Influences • Growing up in the seaside town of Swampscott, MA, outside of Boston, Kyle Cooper spent much of his childhood pouring over horror comicbooks such as Tales From the Crypt, and magazines including Fangoria and Famous Monsters of Filmland. • Horror movies such as The Exorcist and An American Werewolf in London were of great interest to the budding designer. He found himself fascinated by the mechanics involved in the output of such movies. • Books such as Dick Smith’s Do-It-Yourself Monster Make-Up Handbook fed his curiosity.
Childhood Influences • Later in his adolescent years, Cooper poured his energy into learning to build realistic sculptures of gruesome scenes from movies. Such design required familiarity with the human body, leading Cooper to immerse himself in medical journals as well. • His attention to detail is apparent in this etching of a dragon on metal done with a pin at the age of 14. A total of seven weeks was spent perfecting every inch, from the hair on the back of its neck, to its razor sharp teeth and tongue. • This precision proves to be a useful skill to have later in life.
Education • Cooper graduated from the University of Massachusetts at Amherst with a B.F.A. in Interior Architecture and received an M.F.A. in graphic design at Yale School of Art, where he studied under Paul Rand. • Pictured is one of a series of posters Cooper created for Rand while a student at Yale.
Education • This poster for “A Call to Prayer” for all Yale campus Christians was created by Cooper in 1988. Note the attention to symbolism and type. By using the Yale “Y” and extending it to display a crucifix, Cooper shows the influence of Paul Rand on his early work.
Other Influences • In addition to the work of Saul Bass, Cooper claims his greatest influences in his choice of profession was the opening title design for To Kill a Mockingbird by Stephen Frankfurt in 1962. He worked briefly with Frankfurt after his graduation before joining Robert Greenberg’s Los Angeles Firm. Cooper later joined Stephen’s son, Peter, in launching their own company.
Other Influences • Despite the dark nature of many of his interests and work, Cooper is a devout Christian. In defense of suggestions of being hypocritical, he asks, “Why deny the existence of evil? Let’s all look at it for what it is.” “…putting together the Imaginary Forces team and becoming a Christian (not necessarily in that order).” -Kyle Cooper on his greatest achievement
R/GA Los Angeles • After graduation, Cooper went on to join the Robert Greenberg’s team at R/GA Los Angeles. Claims Cooper, “the Greenberg school was more about slow reveals and simple ideas.” In her 1996 article Eye Openers, Janet Abrams states that Cooper’s “intricate, sometimes disturbing images have revived R/GA’s reputation for film title design.”
Imaginary Forces • After the huge success of Se7en, Cooper, along with co-workers Peter Frankfurt and Chip Houghton, launched Imaginary Forces in 1996. • The name “Imaginary Forces” was inspired by a line from the prologue of William Shakespeare’s King Henry the Fifth. The idea is that opening titles often serve as a prologue for a movie. • Friends and colleagues of Cooper claim he can quote Shakespeare and scripture at the drop of a hat. ©2001 Wayne Coe
Prologue Films • As Cooper was spending more of his time managing than creating, he left Imaginary Forces and went solo with his new venture, Prologue Films in 2003. • With Prologue Films, Cooper claims that he has scaled back and refocused, promising to make only a few films at a time, and maintaining a staff of no more than eight, give or a take a few freelancers. • He says, “I’m not sure Prologue will take the design world by storm, but I do know that we will never do anything that I do not think is perfect. I will never compromise again.”
Selected Works • The following are samples of Cooper’s work, illustrating his design style and philosophy. Common among these pieces are jagged typefaces, creative editing, and bizarre imagery, all combined to tell a story which often gets more attention than the movie itself.
The Fan (1996) Zebrahead (1992)
The Island of Dr. Moreau (1996) • Cooper met with storyboard artist Wayne Coe to develop these preliminary sketches done for the title sequence of The Island of Dr. Moreau.
The Island of Dr. Moreau (continued) • Using he film’s theme of biological mutation, Cooper and his team worked with about 10 different stock companies to gather footage for this memorable sequence.
Se7en (1995) • Sample storyboards for Se7en drawn by Wayne Coe.
Se7en (continued) • Title film sequence for Se7en, the film which catapulted Cooper into stardom.
New Port South (2001) • Cooper spent 35 days shooting at a Libertyville, IL high school to direct his 2001 film, New Port South, produced by legend John Hughes.
Darkwatch (2005) • Cooper directed the opening scene for Darkwatch, a game from Capcom.
Kyle Cooper • Cooper continues to design many projects including commercials, videos, games, and film title sequences. • His most recent film credits include sequences for Spiderman 3 and Across the Universe. • His work (particularly the gritty, hand drawn type used in many of his sequences) continues to be of influence in everything from title sequences to truck commercials.
Sources Abrams, Janet. “Eye Openers.”I.D. Nov 1996: 76-79. Codrington, Andrea. Kyle Cooper. Yale University Press, 2003. Coupland, Ken. “Imaginary Forces: Taking All the Credits.”Graphis. Sept. 1998: 66-73. Croal, N’Gai. “Where Credits are Due.”Newsweek. 10 Nov. 1997: 92. http://www.wired.com/wired/archive/12.06/cooper.html. Online. http://www.twenty4.co.uk/03-articles/Art%20of%20Fim%20Titles/main.htm. Online. http://xbox.ign.com/articles/636/636334p1.html. Online. http://www.el-nacional.com/revistas/todoendomingo/todo106/reportaje1.htm. Online. http://video.aol.com/video-detail/kyle-cooperimaginary-forces-documentary-1-of-2/3974024297. Online. http://www.filmmakermagazine.com/fall1997/kylecooper.php. Online. http://www.adobe.com/uk/motion/gallery/imgforces/index.html. Online. http://www.areaofdesign.com/americanicons/bass.htm. Online. http://www.frankwbaker.com/tkam1.htm. Online. http://www.designyatra.com/2007/Speakers-Details/Kyle-Cooper.html. Online. http://www.imdb.com. Online. Gibson, Jon M. “The Dark Genius of Kyle Cooper.”Wired. June 2004. Lynch, Robin. “Kyle Cooper/Imaginary Forces.”I.D. Jan-Feb 1997: 58. Roux, Julie Prendiville. “Imaginary Forces.”Communication Arts. Mar/Apr 2001: 78-87.