yU + co delves into the dark and disturbing world of serial murder in its wonderfully creepy main title sequence for D. J. Caruso's psychological thriller TAKING LIVES. The Warner Bros. release, about a murderer who assumes the identities of his victims, opened nationwide on March 19, 2004.
The tense, expertly-crafted main title sequence, conceived and directed by Garson Yu, is more than an elegant piece of design; it encapsulates film's central conflict between an ingenious serial killer and the FBI profiler attempting to capture him. POVs shot from the agent's perspective show him pouring over microfiche copies of newspaper stories and police reports of the killer's 15-year murder spree. Alternate scenes offer extremely close views of the killer's facial and body features as he methodically goes about altering his appearance.
"Our intent is twofold," said yU + co creative director Yu. "First, the main title fulfills a narrative function. It tells the audience who the killer is, what he has done and how he operates; it also lets them know that someone is working very hard to catch him. Additionally, we are trying to provoke a strong emotional response in the audience. The close up of the killer using a razor blade to scrape hairs from his neck is meant to produce a visceral reaction, to make people a little uncomfortable, uneasy about what is to come."
Microfiche is a central design element and is used both to convey narrative information, and to reveal the names of the film's cast and crew. "We didn't want to use newspaper clippings to tell the back story as that has been done too many times," explained Yu. "The microfiche had a unique and interesting look that is familiar, but hasn't been seen in a movie main title. Also, because it is an archaic medium, it immediately conveyed the idea that we are going back in time."
yU + co's design team created scores of newspaper layouts, police reports and crime scene photos, had them transferred to microfiche format, then scanned them so that they could be incorporated into the film. "Microfiche has certain physical limitations, notably, it only comes in one, very small size," added yU + co art director Yolanda Santosa. "As a result every element had to be very carefully planned. Weknew we wanted to feature certain words, and so we did numerous tests to ensure that the typography was properly sized.
"The microfiche reader is also limited in that it can scan from side to side, but cannot push in or out. In that instance, we took creative license to inject more movement into the sequence and make it more graphically interesting."
In addition, the studio produced live-action elements, including the shots of the killer shaving, applying contact lenses, dying his hair and fitting a set of dentures into his mouth. They also shot the hands of the FBI agent manipulating a battered microfiche reader. For the type font used for the title credits themselves, designers looked for something compatible with the microfiche medium. "We wanted something that would look authentic and ultimately chose to produce the typography with an old IBM Selectric typewriter," recalled yU + co producer Buzz Hays. "Even then the type was too clean, so we got carbon paper and used the carbon copies. That resulted dirty and degraded type that was exactly the right look."
By the time it's over, the main title sequence has provided the audience with a whole host of clues about the story to follow. "Our main task was to ensure that the storytelling is clear and that they audience is put in the right frame of mind," said Yu.
Credits for yU + co also include Joel Plotch, editor Danny Mudgett, inferno artist Kramer Morgenthau, D.P.