Unless you have a real design sense (you’ll know because everyone in middle school wanted to work with you on group projects involving posters), take it easy on the graphics and titles in your video unless they’re really necessary.  Extraneous graphics and titles are like extraneous anything else in video.  They just confuse the hell out of people, pulling our eye away from the point of the video to focus on zooming, sparkly words.

How do you know if titles are necessary? Two tests:

1) Is it impossible to figure out the information the title gives us without it? If you never identify “Steve Stockman, Famous Author/Director” in your video but we need to know who he is, you need a title. But if someone walks up in the first scene and says “Aren’t you Steve Stockman, the famous Author/Director?”, cut it.

2) You don’t need it at all. By which I mean:  The video carries all the information load all by itself and you add the title because it’s funny.  If you were making a video about overusing titles and in scene one a woman walks up and asks “Aren’t you Steve Stockman, the famous Author/Director?” and then the title comes up, and Steve said, “Why yes, yes I am.” then you would be using the title to some (slight, I’ll admit) comic effect to make your point.  But we’d know who Steve was without it.

Keep titles short and simply worded. Use an attractive, plain font—perhaps a nice Helvetica. Keep the title as small as you can easily read. Put it on the top or bottom third of the screen. Use white over dark backgrounds or black over light—no shadows, no outline, no underline, no glows. No pointless movement. If your background is too mid-bright for the type to read in either black or white, try putting a simple gray bar behind it.

Titles should be up on screen just a beat longer than it takes you to read them out loud.

For other graphics, the rule is even simpler:  If you know what you’re doing, feel free.  If you don’t, don’t.  And if you don’t know that you know what you’re doing?  Don’t use them. Nobody will come up to you later and tell you they loved the movie, but really wish there had been more flying stars.

As in all things video, strive for simple but elegant.

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