An Interview with Danny Yount

Two years ago, I had the opportunity to interview Danny Yount. You probably don’t know who Danny Yount is. Do you. You idiot. Anyway, Danny Yount is a graphic designer who has fallen into the rather interesting niche of totally b’dass title graphics guy.

What’s he done? Oh, just the titles for Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, the closing titles for Iron Man, the excellent titles for the sadly underrated series Invasion (least known of the victims of Hurricane Katrina), a sweet promo for The Sopranos, concept work for the Deadwood intro, the end credits to Tropic Thunder, among other things. Oh, and just a little thing called the title sequence to Six Feet Under.

By the way, it’s because of the utterly awesome Iron Man 2 trailer that I thought of this. Here it is. Man oh man oh man.

Here is the interview, should you be interested. Unfortunately, the magazine for whom I did the interview didn’t end up fitting it in, but the guy’s body of work is too awesome for any interview with him to go unread.

How did you end up being a title-design specialist? Is it something you aimed at, or more something you just started to realise you had a knack for?

Both. I’ve aspired to do titles since I saw Seven by Kyle Cooper and some early work by Tomato. I love the process of design and animation so I could not think of anything better to do than this. Title design is a great canvas – there are so many things that can be done and so much to learn about film. And the duration of the project is not as a long as doing a movie, so it never gets old.

You were self-taught. Are you kidding me? Did that give you an advantage at all?

Yep. Self-taught. But I worked my ass off to make up for a lack of formal training. And I found that ambition and talent and a lack of knowledge will make you crazy enough to do the stupidest things to make it in the business. I read everything possible (many of it unnecessary), got high-interest loans for computer equipment to learn on, and spent many late nights making bad design until I learned something. I made up my mind a long time ago that I was not going to do something I hate for a living and was willing to anything to make it work. At one point I had two jobs – a day job in a print shop and a night job as an illustrator – until I got my first “real” design job which paid enough to drop the others.

How much do you know about a TV show, film or video game when you’re creating its introduction? How much direction does a client give you? For example, had you seen the pilot for Six Feet Under?

I did see the pilot, yes. And that is usually how it goes – It’s “hey, we have this thing we want to show you but we don’t have any titles for it.” In Hollywood the director and/or editor will show the film to you or you will attend a special screening. Sometimes you only have a script to read. Sometimes the director has an idea of what will be portrayed, but most times they are open to whatever works for the film. You have to set the tone for the story and you have to get into people’s emotions. That’s what good moving image design is all about – same as directing a film.

Do you usually get to pick your own music, or is that often part of the brief?

I always make music suggestions in tests that I do, but in the end they either have it scored by the composer or have something selected that is feasible or through some contractual obligation – like in the case of Iron Man where Black Sabbath was used. They almost picked the track I was playing, but the contract overrode that suggestion. For Six Feet Under, I was handed the music by Thomas Newman and when I heard the plucking of the strings in the piece, it sounded like someone working, thinking. So I based the idea on that.

The Iron Man credits give me a few flashes of Tron. What kind of films and TV shows did you enjoy visually while growing up? And yes, that’s a cheap way of asking what your influences are.

Not cheap at all – definitely Tron and ’80s arcade games like Tempest and Battle Zone. I spent a lot of hours and quarters on those back in the day. Movies like War Games and Bladerunner, Escape From New York, RoboCop, T2, Close Encounters, The Matrix, etc. I’m a huge Sci-Fi fan. But I learned that taking my wife to see Starship Troopers was not a good idea for a date. Also loved old car chases – Gone in 60 Seconds, The Car, Duel, Vanishing Point, Eat My Dust. I was a latch-key kid and so my mom had HBO (which had just came out) installed at our home so my little brother and I could have something to watch while she was at work as a waitress. I didn’t think she realized though that I was watching things like the Exorcist. Back then that was pretty hard stuff. Also underground comics as a kid like Heavy Metal and R. Crumb’s work, the Freak Brothers, Fritz the Cat, etc. I was also in a lot of rock bands playing guitar. As for TV, I grew up during what I consider to be the golden years – late ’60s – early ’80s. Get Smart, Beverly Hillbillies, Brady Bunch, ├é┬áBatman, Hulk, Six Million Dollar Man, Charlie’s Angel’s, Dukes of Hazzard, MTV (the first few years), etc. It was a good time for TV. I think now it’s a dead platform. YouTube is way better.

Title sequences often become an important part in viewers’ experiences of film and TV, especially if they’re, say, watching a season of Deadwood on DVD. Are there any other fields of expertise you think go perhaps under-recognised by the viewing public?

Of course – so many of them, especially in the film business. But that is just because as a society we put such a high premium on certain classes of people – celebrities, directors, athletes, performers. But that is not what motivates me personally. I really don’t care if the person in the video store who is renting Six Feet Under or Ironman before me in line knows what I did. In fact, I would rather just avoid the conversation because people treat you differently. The attention is nice but often perception is distorted. When I spoke at Semi-Permanent in Auckland the introduction was “I heard he was a design rockstar but when I met him he was just this ordinary dude – please welcome…” That was kind of a bummer for me – that there was an expectation that I could not fulfill. I would be miserable if those expectations were cast on me in everything on a daily basis. So I do not care if the public knows or not. But among my peers I think it is important. It is a career after all and you have to cultivate the perception of the reality of what you do and what your role is in the profession.

Do you work in any other artistic media? Painting or sculpting or playing music or anything like that?

I’m a musician – I play a lot of rock guitar. I also take a lot of photography and fantasize about making a book of them someday.

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