Blog - Smith & Lee Design

Questions we’ve been asked about Juno

1. Did Jason Reitman have a specific idea for the type of sequence he wanted for Juno?

Jason invited us into the project very early on, before the film was shot, to start developing a title sequence for Juno. He wanted the title sequence to be integrated into the film’s storyline - to take place after the first scene of the movie. He was also interested in the idea of doing some sort of animated title sequence that showed Juno walking around her neighborhood.

We developed two ideas for the title sequence. We created a sample version of each idea and presented them to Jason while he was just beginning to shoot the film in Vancouver. The first idea was simple: beautifully composed shots of discarded furniture with simple titles overlayed on them - a direct visual reference to the opening scene of the film. The other idea was far more complicated: a meticulously hand-made title sequence, complete with paper cut-outs, illustrations and hand-drawn typography, that showed Juno walking from where she is in the opening scene to the drugstore where she gets a pregnancy test. Needless to say, Jason strongly preferred the animated version!

Here's the very first style test we created for Juno:


2. How did you come up with the concept for the Juno sequence?

I had wanted for a long time to do an animated short created with hand-tinted Xerox cut-outs. When I read the script for Juno, I realized that it was the perfect opportunity to work on that style. The screenplay was fantastically original and whimsical, and Jason's ideas for the soundtrack were very low-fi and sweet. The animated cut-out style seemed very appropriate for the film.

While developing the look of the title sequence, we looked carefully at 1970’s punk rock poster design, contemporary street artwork and the low-fi concert posters at our local record store. There's a lot of great, black and white, graphic-looking posters around Los Angeles on the sides of buildings and on street light electrical switch boxes.


3. How was it created? 

That's a long story, and we cover it in this blog post.


4. Lots of people try to establish a title sequence that will tell the story of the film in miniature; you chose not to do this - why? 

We never even considered telling the film’s story in miniature. Jason Reitman knew that he wanted the opening title sequence to take place after the first scene of the film. So it seemed natural to present the credits while following Juno from the opening scene, through her neighborhood, and to the convenience store where she gets her pregnancy test. That way, the audience could stay with Juno and not get pulled out of her story.

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This decision also allowed us to do something a little unusual for an opening title sequence: focus the sequence entirely on the main character of the film. We hoped that the title sequence would, instead of recapping the film’s story, let the audience experience Juno’s unique, quirky point of view of the world.


5. What led you down the illustrative path you chose for the sequence?

The screenplay got us thinking about our own high school years and how we spent so many hours in class doodling on our notebooks. We crammed drawings into every corner of the page, almost overtaking the notes we were taking in class. Our nostalgia for that sort of drawing started us down the illustrative path for the title sequence.


6. There’s a strong contemporary comic book aesthetic to the sequence, is this deliberate?

We weren’t thinking specifically about contemporary comic book aesthetics, but we looked a lot at contemporary illustration in general, from street artwork to magazine illustrations. Inspiration also came from photocopied concert flyers at our local record stores and 1970s punk rock posters, which had an unpolished, low-fi look to them that we loved.

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7. Can you tell me something about choosing the reduced color palette?

A brighter, more saturated palette would have pushed the animation style to more of a cartoony look. We didn’t want the title sequence to look too childish, or like a poppy 1980s music video. Also - the title sequence takes place in autumn, so we felt the colors should be muted to reflect that.

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You may have noticed that there are only three main colors we use for all of the background artwork in the title sequence. They are a muted blue for the the sky, green for the grass, and brown for everything else. We set up a rule for ourselves to only use these three main colors, which I think really helps the title sequence maintain a strong, consistent color palette.


8. What is the relationship between the title sequence and the film - in general, and in particular to this film?

A good opening title sequence sets the tone of the film. It should serve as a hook to immediately get the audience in the right frame of mind to best enjoy the film. Opening title sequences also serve as a transition between the commercials that you may be watching before the movie starts to the film itself.

Title sequences can be used as another tool for the director to accomplish whatever he or she wants. We’ve worked on sequences that help establish the story that occurs before the movie starts, sequences that introduce the main characters of the film, sequences that add a coda to the film, showing what happens after the end of the film.

There’s not really one answer to the question. In its simplest form, a title sequence is a legal document that needs to show the names of the cast and crew. So what happens other than that is limitless and up to the director and the designers.

In the case of Juno, the title sequence takes place after the first few scenes of the film, so we were able to help set up the character a bit in it. I’d say we accomplished a few things with this sequence for the movie:

  1. We see that Juno’s apprehensive about something

  2. The location of the film is set up

  3. The quirky, youthful and hand-made tone of the film is established


9. What did you want the sequence to impart to the film’s audience?

We wanted the audience to feel that the film was going to be fun and unconventional because Juno is such an original and unique character. It also needed to impart the tenderness and heart of the film. We were very fortunate to be able to work with such a wonderful piece of music (“All I Want is You” by Barry Louis Poisar) that captures the heart of the movie. 


10. There seems to be a trend to put titles at the end of the movie;  what do end  titles offer that opening titles don’t, and what are we in danger of losing if title sequences disappear altogether? 

It really depends on the film. I actually don't think every movie would benefit from an opening title sequence. I’m a little torn about this, because film title sequences are, in a sense, marketing for the filmmakers/producers/cast/etc whose names appear in them. So good titles need to overcome that, and set the tone and feeling of the film that follows. The title sequence should serve as a hook to immediately get the audience in the right frame of mind to best enjoy the film. Thank You for Smoking is a good example of this, because the title sequence sets the fun tone of the film from frame one. It’s saying, “This is not an issue movie!” Instead, it sets up the whimsical aspect of the film, so that you're ready to laugh when the first scene begins.

If you’ve enjoyed the movie, end titles can let you savor the experience of the film for a bit longer. Instead of getting up to leave the theatre, you can linger and let the emotions you felt during the film continue. The end titles for Brad Bird’s films, The Incredibles and Ratatouille, are good examples of this.

It would be a shame if title sequences disappeared entirely. They’re really a good opportunity for filmmakers to push stylistic boundaries and to give their movies a visual signature. And I really do believe that audiences appreciate good title sequences. There are so many inventive designs and animation techniques in title sequences. These are wonderful, unexpected treats for audiences.

JunoGareth Smith