As Einstein showed us, time is relative to your point of view. So, the headline to this interview can be read in two seconds, and yet the journey it summarizes took almost two decades. The opening titles of a film don’t usually last more than a minute and a half, and yet they may give us insights into what is going to happen over the next hour and a half or two hours of the main feature. And then, the film coming after the opening titles may tell us a story about the events of a day, a week or even generations.
Ana Criado’s story is that of someone who has become a leading international designer of title sequences for TV series and films – just one of the wide range of possible careers for students of graphic design. She originally wanted to be an airline pilot, but now, she’s a creative director working in Hollywood and has been living in LA for almost ten years. On her own, without ever piloting a plane, she has ended up flying very high. It’s all relative, as Einstein may or may not have said.
What did you know about the design profession before you began your studies?
The truth is that I didn’t even know you could study design or that you could have a career in it. When I was young, I remember saying to myself that that I’d like to study something similar to fine art, but in a way which was useful. These were the words of a child, but without realizing it, I was defining what industrial design is all about: functional art. I actually wanted to be an airline pilot and, in fact, I used to spend all day putting engines together and dismantling them again. I never thought about design until I had to choose a degree.
What do you remember about your time at CEU Valencia? What was the best thing about your time here?
CEU showed me how to think. Designers aren’t artists; you’re designing in response to a commission. Our work is to solve the problem or the issue the client brings to us. At CEU, I learnt how to break down the problem, analyse it, look for information and then to show conceptually how it can be resolved. The aesthetic or functional part of the design is a given. What really makes the difference is learning how to think in order to reach the best solution.
You said that you started out being interested in industrial design, but you’ve ended up working in graphic design. How did that shift happen?
When I started my degree, I was fascinated by industrial design. I really enjoyed that in the first few years, but I gradually came to see that I was a bit too impatient. Industrial design involves very long processes which also require an intense focus. Each project is long-term. When I started learning about graphic design over the final years, something I didn’t know anything when I was 18, I discovered the immediate payoff that the process gives you and I like that. From then on, it was more about taking what I’d learnt from industrial design and applying that to graphic design.
Where did you take your first career steps after graduation?
I mostly worked on corporate identities for a range of different companies, at studios in Valencia, Madrid and Barcelona. It was an intense period of work, but then the turning point came with the financial crisis in 2008. Many designers like me had to rethink our future at that
point. In my case, I took some time to decide whether or not to stay in Spain or to go abroad to other markets.
New career horizons: becoming a creative director in Hollywood
So, that’s when you took the decision to look for new opportunities in Los Angeles, where different kinds of career paths are available for graphic designers.
I found Prologue, the company I ended up working for, almost by accident. I was a graphic designer and the studio was one of the few in the world that already specialized at that time in title sequences, which I wasn’t aware of when I sent in my CV. The head of the studio liked my portfolio even though my work up to that time wasn’t related to what they did. He insisted that I go over there, see the studio and work with them.
What do you remember about those early days?
It was a bit shock and I had a few doubts about it at the beginning. It was then that I saw that there was this whole side of the profession that I didn’t know at all. It’s still all about the visual and about graphical presentation, but it’s very different from I’d been doing up until then. I’ve worked there now for eight years.
Reinventing the past
World War Z, Pixels, The Purge, Godzilla: the back catalogue of successful films Prologue has produced title credits for is very impressive.
There are very few studios right now which focuses exclusively on title sequences like Prologue. We’ve worked on more than 600 productions. The heart of the studio is Kyle Cooper. His work on the title sequence for Seven in the 90s broke new ground. That was the point at which this creative area entered a real golden age.
In the change from the moving camera shots in the opening titles of some films in the 60s and 70s to the freer, more radical graphical approach of the 90s, what role has technological progress played?
The fact is new technology has played a fundamental role in the advance of the graphical approach. Over recent years, a massive change has taken place with the democratization of 3D. The simpler a technique is, the easier it gets to tell a story in a title sequence. And the opposite is also true: if you go for more sophisticated technical approach, the aesthetics of the outcome will be much enhanced, but it may be more difficult to tell a story. I think the democratization of 3D technology has made it easier to tell stories in title sequences, and there’s a real career niche there for graphic designers right now.
How can a creative person manage a team of creatives?
I’ve got a team made up of 2D and 3D animators, editors and support designers. My work starts by setting the aesthetic outline for the whole project, something that shows what you want the result to look like – the storyline. Then I get the team together. The truth is that I’m lucky enough to work with skilled professionals who take the 80% you give them and then turn it into 120%, enhancing the initial design to create the final product.
Does the creative process for a title sequence begin, like all designs, with a blank page?
Let’s say yes and no. When you take on a design, a corporate identity, a poster, a book, or a title sequence, you’ve always got a commission from a client who’s got an idea in mind. In the case of title sequences, I start with a blank page, but I also have the film, the director’s work – I know the content. That’s very important because as a creative director in Hollywood I need to create a visual piece that has to fit with the rest of the film. do. I have to adapt to the film’s aesthetics and suit the title sequence to the story being told. And all that in less than a minute and a half. You can’t just do anything you want.
You were nominated for an Emmy for your work on the title sequence for the series Star Trek Discovery. Satisfy my curiosity: how long did it take you all to complete that project?
People are usually surprised when I tell them, but the fact is we only had three weeks. We ended up sleeping over at the studio on many nights to get it done in time. That’s the Hollywood industry for you.
Thank you so much, Ana, for sharing your valuable experience with us. The best of luck for the future!