Posted Jul 14th 2005 by

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An interview with
KARIN FONGwords by , July 2005

Karin Fong is Creative Director at creative power-house Imaginary Forces. As part of the Imaginary Forces team she’s worked on film title sequences such as The Cat In The Hat, Hellboy and Daredevil, and she’s now enjoying the challenging prospect of designing for massive, outdoor visual displays. We caught up with her to find out a bit more.

Hello and welcome to the world of Thunder Chunky. How are things for you today?

Very good, thanks!

You’ve been involved in many projects over the years, how would you sum yourself up for our readers?

I direct and design all kinds of things – mostly for film, television, and environmental projects.

At Imaginary Forces you work on title sequences for some very big films. A lot of designers would view this as a very exciting medium. How did you first get involved in it?

Cat In The Hat

“The Cat In The Hat”
title sequence

When I was a kid, I would cut out letters from construction paper and shoot them, frame by frame, with a Super 8 camera to make little cartoons for myself and for my teacher mom’s third grade class. I didn’t have an editing machine and I never calculated the frames so I would often run through the reel of film before I even spelled everything out. In college, I made titles for my friend’s student films. One time, inspired by ‘Goldfinger’,¬ù we made type into slides and projected them on people’s chests. For my design thesis I created an animated alphabet book, which got me work as an animator at a television station in Boston. From there, I moved to Los Angeles to work as a designer for RGA/LA, then the west coast studio of New York-based R/GA, which had been doing titles for 20-plus years, including ‘Superman’¬ù and ‘Alien’.¬ù That’s where I started doing this professionally.

A title sequence can play an integral role in the foundation of a movie. Do you have to go through a lot of consultations with the director before you get to work or are you given a lot of freedom?

The process is collaborative and usually kicks off with a meeting with the director. From there we bounce around ideas. Sometimes there’s a concept outlined in the script, but more often than not there are just some basic themes to work with. It all depends; at times one clear idea emerges, other times we might experiment with a couple directions and see what makes sense for the film.

Looking back, which is the project you are most proud of working on? And why?

Well, here’s a few, all for different reasons. One is the Herman Miller ‘Get Real’¬ù piece, because it was great to dig into their archives and put a twist on modern furniture icons. For a designer, that’s like being a kid in the candy store. Another favorite is the Janus Mutual fund campaign, which I directed for three years, and with the same agency/creative team. That kind of trust allowed for finding ways to push the spots in different directions over the long run. And in film, one of my first title projects for an MTV film called ‘Dead Man on Campus’ because early on it showed me how to really consider the writing and music to make an idea work even better. And it was kind of funny, which was nice. I guess if there’s any thread between the favorites, it’s the ability to work from concept to finish on all aspects, from words to visuals to sound, to make a complete statement.

At what point in production are the title sequences put together, and what’s the process involved when creating them?

Titles are often commissioned rather late in the production process, usually as the film is being edited. However, there are many instances when the director will start the discussion during shooting, and it’s a great opportunity to film things for the sequence. The process begins with reading the script or seeing scenes or possibly a rough cut of the film. From there, there’s a period of sketching, writing, researching – a design phase. During this time, concepts are expressed through storyboards or motion tests. Depending on the concept we might then go shoot or animate the sequence (or both), then edit it. Some adjustments might be made as the film itself changes and evolves.

You’ve recently done two outdoor design pieces entitled ‘Drop’ and ‘Lake of Dreams’. This is a step in a different direction for the company. What was most challenging about the two projects? Is it something you’re planning to do more of?

Fremont Street Experience

“The Fremont Street Experience”

Definitely! One of the challenges is creating and working with the scale. For instance, the screen at the Fremont Street Experience, for which ‘Drop’¬ù was created, is four blocks long! That means you can’t see the whole screen from one end to the other. It is like the ultimate letterbox frame – long and thin. Also, it is above people’s heads, like a canopy over the street. We learned that people don’t watch this screen from one perspective, like you do a TV or movie screen. There’s no ‘right side up.’¬ù Now, the trick is to create effects that take advantage of this format. We made sure to design a few dramatic moments, like a dragon traveling down the entire span.

The Lake of Dreams for the Wynn Las Vegas has an environment like no other: a man-made mountain, a 90-foot waterfall screen, and a lake full of lights from which a giant 20-foot head emerges. Pretty wild. We had to learn how to make the space come alive to the music for a series of shows, each one using the elements differently. Using projections plus lighting and prop effects made the whole thing about the drama of the entire area, rather than just about what’s playing on the screen. So it was like combining cinema with theater.

You site some of your influences as being Saul Steinberg, Roald Dahl and Rene Magritte. This seems quite unusual for someone so heavily involved in digital motion graphics. Did you ever want to be an illustrator or a storyteller?

I actually don’t think it’s so unusual! I’ve always been inspired by whimsical points of view. And animation yields huge opportunities for surrealism. You can make your own logic. The nice thing about working in this medium is that you can combine techniques, old and new. The computer is a fantastic collage-box. All kinds of drawings, photography and textures can be mashed together both by hand and then even further in the machine. They don’t have to be or look digital. While in school I liked mix my line drawings with photos cut from catalogs and magazines so that they could play in one animation.

I still like to illustrate (doodle, more like) and write little stories now and then. All kinds of storytelling interest me. Last year I made my first short comic, a story for a friend’s book; it was a combination of drawings and old fashioned engravings. I’d love to do a children’s book at some point.

Are you looking forward to seeing the re-working of Charlie And The Chocolate Factory?

Oh yes! Especially the Oompa Loompas. I dream of golden tickets.

What projects have you got coming up in 2005?

Right out of the oven, just completed a film title that deals with the style of print advertisements from the 1950s. Also, another piece for Herman Miller, this time a 2 minute video that uses animated characters to explain a new chair. Character design is fun and is something I’d love to do more of. At the moment I also working on some more ideas for Las Vegas, as well as a couple other film projects, both titles and . In the fall new tv series come out soon so there are couple of tv opens in the works. Lots of hands in lots of cookie jars. (crunch crunch)

Finally, what’s the one thing everybody should do today?

Since it’s summer, have a delicious piece of watermelon!

You can check out some of the work Karin’s done at Imaginary Forces by going to


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