Packing a Punch with The Suicide Squad Titles

Image source: Sarovsky.

From writer/director James Jean, suicide squad is an action adventure featuring some of DC’s most delayed super villains, including Harley Quinn, Bloodsport, Peacemaker, Captain Boomerang, Ratcatcher 2, Savant, King Shark, Blackguard and Javelin. A group of negatives join the ultra-secret and shady Task Force X, as a way out of Bell Reef prison and tasked with saving the world.

We spoke with Sarofsky’s Executive Creative Director Irene Sarovsky, and Creative Director Duarte Elvas, who created the titles for the Warner Bros. Pictures. They discuss their workflow using After Effects, Illustrator, Photoshop and InDesign, from typography to motion design, to crafting the title sequence.

How did you get into motion design for the first time? What drew you to her?

Sarovsky : I was one of the few people who had it in college, circa 1999. I was studying at Rochester Institute of Technology and staying for a master’s degree in computer graphics. This is where I got exposed to After Effects. Once I learned to make my designs move, I was hooked. Then, after school I wanted a job where I could focus on working on headlines and other motion design projects.

ax: I remember watching David Fincher’s “Seven” in the theater, and for the first time, the title sequence really blew me away. It was shrewd, expressive, unsettling and really set the tone for the film by taking us on a journey through the mind of this character. When I was in film school at Savannah College of Art and Design, I had a few friends who studied computer arts and were kind enough to show me After Effects and the concept of “time-based media” took on a whole new meaning for me. I figured I could take my Photoshop layers and animate them with simple keyframes! It seems silly looking back, but at the time, I felt like a magic trick was revealed to me. Suddenly, creating something similar to that “seven” headline isn’t out of reach anymore.


Image source: Sarovsky.

What is the inspiration behind your title sequence? What were you trying to achieve?

Sarovsky: James had a great reference genre: an action movie in the ’60s. We wanted to create something that excites that, but it didn’t feel like a piece of a period. I think James is on the same page in making his films…and he made it happen!

ax: After that “the great war movie of the 1960s, other than watching the headlines made for the genre, we also looked for print ads, album covers, and any other relevant print reference. We wanted to make sure the typography was in keeping with the tone of the film. It’s a gritty movie, it’s a bloody movie, it’s a super fun movie and the print had to play nicely with all of these qualities.

How did you start this project? Can you talk about the collaborative process with the director and the process of creating the sequence from start to finish?

Sarovsky: Working with us starts with watching the movie and then having a conversation with James and his team. Includes producers and editor. After they explain their practical and creative needs, we begin the creative process. To get started, we run a bunch of treatments, photo-realistic, and create a presentation for James and his team. Then we go through the process of eliminating what isn’t true, then nodding and refining what isn’t true.

ax: I really like how our creative calls with the filmmakers have always been a very collaborative exchange of ideas. As we made our explorations, we were talking about what we both liked about one therapy or the other. These exchanges informed our next round of exploration and we narrowed down our designs, allowing us to move onto the animation stage. Much of the timing work, for both the title and subtitles, was a close collaboration with Fred Raskin, the film’s lead editor.

Describe your favorite part or component in the heading sequence. How did you meet and how did you achieve that?

Sarovsky: I love the way our lines morph into another character in the movie… and really affect the tone and overall take of the movie.

ax: Other than how unique the genre choices are and how well they work with the film’s visual language, I think my favorite aspect is the actual visual processing of the print. When the genre appears over the footage, we digitally replicated an old process for composition titles where an optical printer was used to copy the titles onto film tape. This process gave the titles a certain smoothness around the edges, a bit of color offset and some very subtle qualities that were very fun to recreate in After Effects.


Image source: Sarovsky.

What are some of the specific challenges you faced in making this sequence? How did you go about solving it? Was there any 3D action? If so, how did you accomplish it?

Sarovsky: This project ran smoothly, so the only challenge was coming up with an amazing visual treatment. It’s great when the most challenging part of the process is just being a designer who solves the problem in a way that is both pleasing to you and the client.

ax: Certainly, creatively narrowing down our designs was a huge challenge with this project. We had a lot of love for many of the treatments we initially gave. Technically, there have been some challenges with the Warner Bros. logo animation. , especially because there are some shifts in lighting in the original Burbank flyby, due to the sun being blocked by the water tower. With the sun glares disappearing in our poster-like treatment, we had to digitally paint large rays of light during a moving shot, which proved to be quite a challenge. As much as it is 3D, the water tower had to be replaced with a completely recreated 3D model. We were given original camera tracking data for that shot, which made the process very manageable. The prison wall was created as well as the Warner Bros. shield. , textured and rendered in Cinema 4D and Redshift.

Warner Bros. logo.

Image source: Sarovsky.

Sarovsky: We use Adobe tools throughout the process. For me, the development stage is where my hands tend to be very active. So I use Illustrator and Photoshop to create frames and InDesign for the actual presentation.

ax: For this particular project, we relied heavily on Adobe Illustrator for type design and typesetting. We started with the Alpha Midnight trace and used it as a base but ended up tweaking the letterforms a bit, in a way that makes it a new typeface and unique to this project. Each name was also a custom typography group on a separate layer, so they could be imported into overlays in After Effects. For all the time-based work we used After Effects, which referenced the Illustrator file with all sorts of typography. So, if there is any layout change, spelling revision or even kerning adjustment made in Illustrator, the pipeline will move conveniently and update the After Effects timeline.

What is your favorite hidden gem/workflow tip in After Effects or Adobe Creative Cloud?

Sarovsky: I really like this IDD posting tool. Being able to send a presentation like this is amazing. I hope they keep developing this.

ax: I recently discovered Cinema 4D Composition Viewer, which is a kind of game-changer for quick 3D drawings inside After Effects. We used to stack 3D layers in space to achieve the effect, which was kind of a silly hack. With this feature, we can have more control, while still needing to leave After Effects.


Image source: Sarovsky.

Who is your creative inspiration and why?

Sarovsky: I think Saul and Elaine Bass as well as Ray and Charles Eames are my ultimate creative role models. I am also inspired by furniture, fashion, interiors, fiber arts and of course production design. I love how synthetic real-world objects can enrich our work.

ax: Sometimes I emotionally convince myself that I look for inspiration in nature, traveling, looking at different cultures and talking to new people. This is not always the case in practice. I tend to look at other artistic disciplines for inspiration, such as architecture, painting, sculpture, printmaking, graphic design, street art, etc. Oftentimes, I will build Pinterest boards for inspiration for a specific project, or for a future project that I haven’t even dreamed of yet!

What was the most difficult thing you had to face in your career and how did you overcome it? What is your advice to people who aspire to enter the field of motion design?

Sarovskykisa: It was amazing to have a mentor. Now looking back, I see it was a huge flaw. I had to learn everything in a vacuum without a diverse support system. Fortunately, I was very focused on work, and didn’t understand what I was missing out on by working in an industry dominated by white males. When I was young, I could use words of wisdom about developing a career, navigating motherhood, building a company, and being a mentor to others.

If someone is looking to develop a career in motion design, I encourage them to not only take motion classes, but focus on graphic design as well. Sometimes we see good animation work, but the design is really sub-par… Therefore, it is very important to focus on the design.

ax: There have been challenging projects and challenging clients throughout my career, but I think the hardest, but smartest thing I had to do was to pack up my place in Lisbon, at age 31, cut my (fairly successful) career separate from my family and go back to school until The State Department is basically starting over in a new country. It all worked out in the end, but it wasn’t easy to do.

What I find interesting about the medium is that it includes so many disciplines! In the animated widget, you can have illustrations, photography, graphic design, animation, music, storytelling…it truly is endless! Therefore, there is always a chance to experiment, stay curious, passionate and never get bored. I also encourage you to make use of the amazing animation community, who are as welcoming, helpful and supportive as anyone else I know.

Share a photo of your workplace. What is your favorite thing about your workplace and why?

Sarovsky: Well, at the moment home is work. My favorite thing about my workspace at home is seeing my daughter more and my habit of using wallpaper.

Erin Sarovsky workspace.

Image source: Irene Sarovsky.

But also the studio, which we will be returning to next year. My favorite thing about our studio is how central our green space looks in the studio. I also love how the kitchen sits on the space. It’s a great way for people to feel comfortable in the gathering and really enhance the company culture.

Sarofsky office space.

Image source: Sarovsky.

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