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Book Review: Uncredited

As soon as I heard about Uncredited, a new book on the history and current state of film title design, I bought it. It came out this summer, but I guess I was a little slow on the uptake; my copy came in last week.

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Format

At nearly a foot squre with 350 hardbound pages, this is one hefty tome. But given that it touts itself as “the first book to offer a general and historic insight into the role played by graphic design in films, from the dawn of cinema to the present day,” its impressive mass lends it an air of authority.

As you can see from the images on YWFT’s product page, Uncredited is loaded with stills spanning the entire history of cinema, even going back to the Lumiere brothers, before titles existed. The stills are fairly small, but large enough to see typographic details.

The included DVD was a bit of a surprise. I wasn’t surprised that the book came with a DVD—it’s a book about motion design, after all—but I was surprised to find that it was a simple DVD-ROM. No fussy menus or MPEG-2 encoding, just folders corresponding to chapter numbers containing over 100 Sorenson 3 encoded QuickTimes. On the downside, the movies are all 320×240 (with an occasional 400×170).

Content

Let me make one thing perfectly clear before I go on: Uncredited is an excellent resource for motion designers and students of film, graphic design or motion graphics. On the topic of movie titles, it is unparalleled.

Every page is a treasure trove of inspiration and history. The vast majority of the films featured are from the United States and Europe, but there are several examples from the rest of the world. Each set of stills is captioned, with a bold “QT” to indicate movies included on the DVD.

Now that we’re clear on the general value of the book, I should make a couple constructive remarks/warnings for potential buyers. First, I was really hoping for a chronological ordering of film titles. It’d make browsing and reference much easier than the book’s existing schema of decidedly arbitrary topics like “White Over Black” and “Concepts.” To their credit, authors Gemma Solana and Antonio Boneu lay out their definitions at the beginning of each chapter, but I feel that their abstract approach reduces the book’s accessibility.

The table of contents could potentially help in this matter, but alas, it contains no page numbers, just chapter headings and sets of preview stills. There’s a nifty index of designers, but not one for movie titles. If you want to find the titles for “Catch Me If You Can,” you’ll need to guess at the chapter and then thumb through the book until you spot some familiar frames.

Originally written in Castilian, the writing feels translated. It doesn’t usually get in the way of the authors’ main ideas, but every now and then an awkward phrase or overly wrought sentence will create a little linguistic fog. There are also several minor typos, and while they don’t detract from the reading experience much, they create the sense that production was rushed.

Solana and Boneu’s prose tends towards the hyperbolic, with statements like “[Geoff] McFetridge is one of the most interesting designers of recent years,” and “One of the best titles sequences of all time” being fairly common. On a blog like Motionographer, I can get away with such unabashed enthusiasm. But in a semi-scholarly book, it undermines the authority of the work a teensy bit.

Bottom Line

For a first stab at such at ambitious book, Uncredited deserves high praise. While it could benefit from some aggressive editing and a reworked organizational structure, it’s definitely worth the price ($55 USD list price, $46.95 at YWFT). With this title, Solana and Boneu have made a huge contribution to the study of film titles and graphic design in general. I hope they continue working in this direction.

NOTE: The original language version (in Castilian/Castellano) is available via Index Book.

Uncredited: Graphic Design & Opening Titles in Movies
Written and curated by Gemma Solana and Antonio Boneu
Published Index Book, SL (2007)

Thanks to Ryan for giving me the heads up!

Posted on 12 February 2008 |

5 thoughts on “Book Review: Uncredited

  1. The heavy ink on the paper stock this book is printed on has warped the pages on my copy making it difficult to flip through. Is this the case with anyone else’s copy? If so, I’ll send it back for an exchange… if not I can live with it though disappointed. The content is random, but great. Nice to see so many titles pre-2000. Yet to watch the dvd.

  2. This book is very hard to find. Everywhere I’ve looked online it’s “Out of Stock” or “Unavailable”, even now on the YWFT site. I had read somewhere that it’s publication was canceled but obviously there were a few copies floating around. It seems to be available in Europe but with the exchange rate… Ouch. I asked YWFT to email me when it’s available. Anyone seen it available elsewhere?

  3. I’ve had this book for over a year now. I live in Hong Kong and got mine at the Page One bookstore (this particular copy being a reprint by Page One Publishing in Singapore). The DVD is a bonus, but the QuickTime clips are small in size, and only a few of the title sequences written about in the book appear in the disc… The text is organised in a way that the book is a history (chronological) of film titles. Somehow I found the history of titles from a hundred years ago a bit boring, and the book would benefit from input by designers (famous or not) who are still alive, but there is very little of this. Overall, this volume wasn’t very expensive (I reckon the original European version is pricey) but I expected more. Good but not great. 7 out of 10.

  4. I think the book has two or more publishers.

    It’s available from BIS Publishers, a Dutch publishing house that specialises in high quality design publications. They have an online store, but it’s expensive I guess, 55 euros: http://www.bispublishers.nl/shop.php
    Although worth it if you’re intested in film title design or the history of motion graphic design.

    I think this is an excellent book, a one-of-a-kind. The perspective of the authors tends to be quite academic at times, but I don’t see that as a problem. Unlike Cindywan, I do not think that the history of film titles is boring at all. Quite the opposite. This book is an invaluable resource and the authors have done an amazing job researching the history of film title design.

    I do think that the images in the book are a bit dark sometimes and I do agree that the quicktimes are too small. But hey, there’s always my project on SubmarineChannel called Forget the Film, Watch the Titles, if you want to see examples of great title design.

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