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Film Artist Jordan Tuner on Art Forms in Film + Racial Inequality in Australia and America

April 7, 2019

ATM: What expected ideas were implemented along the way with this title sequence for the film Buckhead?

JT: We were drawn to work on the Star Wars fan film because of the unique opportunity it presented to create something distinctive with a world we love. Star Wars has a pretty rigid approach to the titles thanks to its legacy, so it was quite liberating to go off and try something you’d never see in an official Star Wars film.

Our early conversations with the directors (Marco Bossow and Andy Brown) focused on the thematic approach to the film and their desire to bring a more human side to the Stormtroopers. The design of the armor and helmet is such an iconic piece of cinematic history; finding an avenue to explore that came quickly.  We settled on the idea of creating abstract landscapes from the Stormtrooper helmet where miniature vignettes of camaraderie between the troopers could play out as they fought an unseen force.

ATM: How respected are title design artists in Australia?

JT: It feels like there’s a small, dedicated group of motion designers shifting their focus to title design in recent years, but the majority of Australian artists find their title design work overseas with foreign film industries; particularly larger Hollywood productions. That’s a consistent feature of the Australian film industry, outside of television or independent film. It’s often very reliant on international collaboration.

I can’t speak for every title designer, but we’ve found the majority of our early work through partnering with international filmmakers and managing the projects over the internet. So I’m not too sure how title design is seen within Australia. In my experience, I often find myself having to explain that title design is “fancy credits for film and TV.”

ATM: Express the awareness of your profession in this world’s film culture.

JT: Outside of specific circles, I don’t see it being celebrated as part of the art form like many other parts of the filmmaking process. That comes from within the industry, but particularly from audiences who might feel like it’s an inconvenience… especially in the age of streaming and binge-watching. Not many people are interested in sitting through the credits of a show more than once. On the other hand, I think there’s a tendency to take it for granted and view them as more of a mandatory thing. People have to be credited and it’s easy to see it as an obligation and not a way to further explore the story or enrich the themes of the work.

There have been great, influential designers over the years who really pushed the idea that the title sequence can be a crucial part of the storytelling for a film, but that sort of thing takes a willingness from the filmmakers to want that type of collaboration. One of the great examples of that is Kyle Cooper’s work on Se7en; a title sequence that gives a rich insight into a character that only physically appears on screen towards the end of the film. By really pushing the storytelling through the visuals, important character work is done before the film has really started.

The temptation to treat title design like an afterthought and not use it to its full potential is pretty telling when you consider the lack of recognition it receives at the major industry awards. Very few film institutions or festivals celebrate this aspect of filmmaking. As far as I’m aware, SXSW and The Emmys are the only avenues for title design to be recognised in the United States at this point in time; both of which only started doing so within the last decade.

For something so common and in-demand, it has taken a long time for the film industry to show their appreciation alongside the other disciplines.

ATM: Why were the colors black and white significant to use in the title sequence?

JT: The film itself is in color, so there was no immediate reason to go black and white, beyond the obvious color palette of the Stormtrooper armor. In fact, the original pitch featured a more traditional bronze serif font that’s evocative of the title design featured in Rogue One and Stars Wars: Battlefront.

As we started to explore how these abstract landscapes would work, stripping back extraneous color became a priority, leaving us with the sleek and sterile look of the helmet. Throughout the process, the directors were very clear on capturing the feel of Band of Brothers and the idea of being trapped behind enemy lines in WWII. This inspired us to introduce the black and white film look, and we pushed the grain to an extreme place and slowly pulled it back until we had something that felt gritty, but not overly distracting. The end result is something that I think breaks up the sterility of the Stormtrooper design. The warmth of the film grain and movement it introduced into the otherwise controlled images allowed us to experiment with bolder font choices, eventually leading to the large sans-serif font that dominates the frames.

ATM: As a child how did you look at title sequences and the opening of films?

JT: From an early age, I was drawn to the elaborate title sequences of the James Bond films. Each one is essentially a music video about the ideas and themes of that film, all pulled together by the familiar iconography of Bond himself: guns, women and danger. They really helped suck you into the world of espionage.

As I got older, I stumbled across websites like Art of the Title which really helped form a broader appreciation for the art behind these sequences. It was around this time that I met my creative partner, Adam Olds. When we eventually started working on film projects, his interest in computer animation and my passion for title design collided, and we built a partnership around what felt like a really niche interest (not many film students have an interest in being the people who make credits for films). Since then, we’ve been on this journey into title design, uncovering just how big it is and learning more about the designers that inspired us to pursue this career in the first place. Together, we try to keep our style loose, always aiming to approach each film with an emphasis on capturing the story and ideas in a way that is true to the project at hand. Our most rewarding experiences so far have been the ones where the synergy between us and the director is so prominent that they trust us to dig in and pull out the imagery that speaks to the heart of their film.

One of our earlier projects was with Kevin Wilson Jr., the director of the Oscar-nominated short film My Nephew Emmett. When he reached out to us, they’d already filmed the short and had mostly finished the edit ready for us to view, so after a brief back-and-forth about the visual and stylistic points he wanted to hit, we were able to view the film and respond based on a more or less completed work.

We pitched this idea of the protagonist, Mose, submerging into a watery abyss, eventually being pulled down by remorse and helplessness. A really atmospheric piece with a hazy sort of monochromatic feel. Kevin responded really positively to this initial pitch because it was coincidentally bore resemblance to a scene he had written in the original script and was unable to film due to budgetary constraints. So this ended up being a really nice moment where we felt we’d engaged with the project in a meaningful way by pitching an idea he had originally wanted to pursue without any knowledge of the script.

ATM: What is the dominant genre shown on television in Australia from your perspective?

JT: They produce a lot of local content that is shown on our national broadcast. It is a lot of comedic drama shows. It is character driven comedies infused with drama. The mainstream television is based on U.S. television. A lot of our trends on streaming are based on Netflix originals and whatever seems to be the popular thing now.

ATM: From an Australian perspective, how did you use the knowledge of Emmett Till’s tragic story in your art with the sequence?

JT: This is not a story in Australia that we know. For me, it was a heartbreaking thing to hear about. Kevin made this film about a true story and its importance. It was grunt wrenching when watching the film. The potency of it was clear quickly. It was a huge experience for us. We did not take it lightly, obviously, because of the seriousness of the story. There are real people involved. We did not want to create something that was not sensitive to how important it was. This formed the foundation of where we went with it. We crafted one of the most haunting images in title sequences. It is a real creation above Emmett’s face at the end. It was something we felt was necessary. This is what happened to him, and it was a tragedy. It should be shined.

ATM: And has there been a horrific and tragic story in Australia’s culture during this time?

JT: Australia has a history with trying to hide a lot of this. In recent days, there has been a push for people to start talking about the things in Australia’s history. The gruesome parts of Australia’s history are not taught in schools.

ATM: But this robs you all from learning about your history and in gathering information about your home country. This is also the same in America for black people and minorities.

JT: Yes. It is a huge problem. It is one of the reasons for the issues of Australia’s society. People have been for a long time unwilling to talk about how this country was formed.

ATM: We as human beings were put on this earth as creators. It is our God-given right to be creators. This could be in anything. In your case, it is being a title designer for this film and the My Nephew Emmett and others. Everything in this world, your country, my country – all started as a simple blueprint at one point. It was just dirt and grass.  

Then it moved into a very large creation. But with this creation, you have to split it up. You have to part the ways to make rivers. You have to part the ways to make signs saying, “Welcome to Australia.” “Welcome to New York,” etc. You got to put up red lights, street signs, buildings, and more. You have to put up signs saying, “This is highway 417.” “This is Exit 4B.” There had to be titles and labels to split things up. This is a one big creation thing, and it is called Earth, the world. So, these beginning stories need to be expressed. It becomes history.

JT: I agree with what you are saying.

ATM: So, do you know anything about Australia during the 20th century?

JT: Australia is a young country. When the first settlers came to our country, it was not settling in a country that had no people. It was settling in a country that had people. When this happens, it is not known to be peaceful. Australia does not want to acknowledge the fact that there was a lot of violence and bloodshed in its history. This is something people want to push to speak about. People were happy to ignore it.

ATM: Is there any racial tension in Australia today?

JT: Yes, there is, but this is not something people here want to encourage. Ideally no, but there is. We are in a political cycle that is similar to America. We have politicians that are trying to fan this racial tension and use it for votes. And rip up the people into frenzy. For every person who is against and trying to push for a more inclusive society, they are people who have been played by the politicians. This is a political ploy to make people afraid of other people. It is there. As much as people want it to go away, it is always going to be in the background until people make a serious change. You have to want to change.  

ATM: Is a black boy likely to get shot in the streets of Australia because of being a threat based on his race or skin color like in America; this could also be by the police?

JT: No, not based on his skin color because of the differences in our gun policies. In the northern territories of Australia, some indigenous children have been incarcerated in a way they should not have been. They have been shunned in being mistreated by the juvenile system they have been held up. There are a lot of injustices in the northern territories of Australia. There is an inequality between the indigenous people and the rest of modern society.  

ATM: Is the justice system seen as guilty before proven innocent based on your skin color and gender like in America?

JT: No. It is not this overt. The northern territories are treated differently to the rest of Australia based on how the country is formed. There are no major cities in the center of Australia. Everything is out to the coast. The things in regional areas are a lot different in the coast towns which is where I live. The justice system is fair and even. You will not find the color of your skin affecting how you are treated by the courts. There are a lot of socio-economic issues like in other countries that do come into play, unfortunately.  

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