Lettering and type can be very powerful and can carry a huge impact. The recent Netflix hit series ‘Stranger Things’ proves just that, with a title sequence that has captivated many since the show was first released. Created by the Duffer brothers and set in the early 1980’s the series follows a group of young boys, a very remarkable girl and a couple of others, as they try to solve a very eerie mystery that takes part in a small town.
Minutes into the first episode I knew I was going to love the series, but when I saw the title sequence for the first time I was completely sold, it was so simple but clever. Unlike many other title sequences that include either clips from the shows episodes or other visual elements, the ‘Stranger Things’ title just focuses and relies on lettering to introduce the show. For nearly a minute you are guided around sections of glowing animated letterforms until finally being presented with the whole title.
The lettering portrays so many things to the viewer without needing anything else to support it. Anyone familiar with older Stephen King novels and other eighties horror / thriller books will notice that the ‘Stranger Things’ lettering bears a resemblance. This is because of the serif letters which were more commonly used in the 1980’s, and enlarged first and last letters on ‘Stranger’, allowing for ‘Things’ to sit snuggly between them. The lettering is also outlined with a mysterious glow that you can’t see beyond setting an air of mystery. Immediately you know there is a 1980’s theme which centres around horror, thriller and mystery. This striking work just goes to show that provided you use the right style and tone lettering alone can send many messages, not just through what it says but by how it is presented.
I caught up with the wonderfully creative Eric Demeusy who worked as a designer, animator and compositor on the ‘Stranger Things’ title sequence to find out more about the significant lettering. Eric worked with a small talented team at Imaginary Forces to bring the sequence to life. He has worked on a number of other projects besides ‘Stranger Things’. Some of these include the Game of Thrones title sequence, the Marvel series Jessica Jones and the Justified series. Eric is very skilled and has worked on Emmy nominated and award winning title sequences, his role varies from project to project but has often involved animating lettering.
Why do you think it was important to focus solely on lettering for the title sequence, rather than include other elements in the sequence such as snippets from episodes in the show or other visual elements?
“I think with any title sequence it’s important to set the tone and in this case it’s mystery and suspense. So we start with the letters really big to the point where you don’t really know what they are at first. As it progresses you start to realize they are letters and that they are the letters that make up the title. The show in a way is about putting the puzzle pieces together and metaphorically we used the type to do the same thing. Adding anything else to the sequence would have diluted your focus from that concept. If you strip a title sequence to it’s bare bones, you’re left with nothing but the title and the letters that make it up.”
Both Stranger Things and the title sequence of the show which heavily features serif lettering have been incredibly popular. Sans serif lettering has been more prominently used in recent years, do you see there now being a rise in popularity for serif lettering within the design world?
“That’s a good question. I think generally it should depend on the content of the source material. In this case because of the time period of the show and the thriller aspect to it there was an intention to throw it back to classic 80’s thriller book covers. Originally the logo had pointed serifs which added a bit of menace to the lettering but was later changed out. I tend to think of serif to be more classic. I think it’s just a matter of trying to change it up.”
You mention that the title lettering originally included pointed serifs which got changed out. Did the title lettering go through many other iterations before reaching the point we see it at in the show?
“The logo stayed pretty true to what was in the the design boards from the beginning. The only real change was a slightly different modified typeface. We went through many versions of the sequence when it came to which letters we see in each shot and what parts of the letters we see. We experimented with having the sequence be one long zoom out as well. Overall it was a very fun process and everyone on board loved the direction we were going.”
For anyone looking to progress in a career of animating lettering where would you suggest they begin their journey?
“I would say this with almost anything you want to do and that is to just start doing it. Start animating on your own in your free time. Try to mimic things you like in order to get better. Practice. Then find places you want to work or people you want to work with and send them your work.”
It’s clear from what Eric shares that successful modification of the type was an important step in the development of the title lettering. Being able to modify existing type can be a useful skill to have as a lettering artist. Scott Biersack has a good class on Skillshare teaching you how to modify existing type if you’d like to learn this skill. To view more of Eric Demeusy’s work and learn more about him his website ericdemeusy.com is a great starting point.
The next time you’re creating some lettering or modifying some type, I challenge you to think about what message that lettering is giving not through words but design, and what impact will that lettering have.