Kyle Cooper

2014 AIGA Medal
1962, Salem, Massachusetts

Recognized for designing title sequences for film and television with bold and unexpected style and conjuring emotional response through his captivating use of narrative.

“Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your might.” These words from Ecclesiastes 9:10, oft quoted by Kyle Cooper, embody the spirit that has made his film sequences iconic. Fittingly, they apply to his most influential piece to date: the main titles for the film Se7en (1995), where we watch a psychotic killer’s hands in the throes of creation. This maniacal sequence—every one-frame cut was considered—became a phenomenon, bringing main titles to the attention of the public and inspiring countless designers to pursue the craft.

By the time he worked on Se7en, Cooper was already a title-sequence veteran, with more than 40 credits to his name. Today his reel includes many memorable titles in modern cinema: Spiderman, Dawn of the Dead, Mission: Impossible, The Secret Life of Walter Mitty and Argo among them. As a designer and director, his impact on popular culture extends to commercials (Nike and Chrysler), broadcast opens (The Walking Dead and American Horror Story) and an Emmy award–winning sequence for The Academy Awards. As director Terrence Malick simply states, “Kyle is a great filmmaker.”

What Cooper succeeds in doing is elevating film with the power of graphic design. A project might call for making collages with dead moths, or for scanning a piece of meat to render as an esophagus—but never, ever for stretching type. “You’re killing me,” he’d say upon witnessing such blasphemy. And he’d be the first to tell you that typography needs to be not only expressive but also kerned properly for 70-millimeter projection. If Cooper can get it all in-camera, he will. Cheap effects and morphing be damned; a film frame has to be as good as a Modernist poster. He is, at his core, a disciple of Paul Rand, with whom he studied at Yale University.

Cooper was born on a Friday the 13th in Salem, Massachusetts. After a childhood spent obsessively sketching monsters, he studied interior architecture at UMass Amherst. On the brink of failing, he got his professor to pass him by promising he’d never actually work as an interior designer. He earned his M.F.A. at Yale in 1988, where he wrote his thesis on director Sergei Eisenstein, worked at R/Greenberg Associates in New York and then went west to head design at RGA/LA.

Cooper is known to recite Shakespeare, and both of the companies he subsequently founded—Imaginary Forces in 1996 and Prologue (“What’s past is prologue”) in 2003—get their monikers from the Bard. To have worked with Cooper, as I have, constitutes its own brand of film school; his company rosters read like a who’s who in the motion-design industry. Director and actor Ben Stiller says he is “astounded at how Kyle is able to interpret an idea that is somehow expressed with words on a page, or by an inarticulate filmmaker, and always create something …visually bold, stunning and unexpected.”

Cooper’s designs are always more than the sum of their parts; they conjure an emotional response. “Kyle thinks like a magician,” notes illusionist David Blaine, for whom Cooper created a television open. “Like a troublesome child, Kyle etched words into glass, which he layered over images, hiding messages. The show’s audience is going crazy trying to find the clues.” It’s the hand—or sleight of hand—of Cooper, with all his might.

Kyle Cooper will be presented with the AIGA Medal at The AIGA Centennial Gala on April 25, 2014, in New York City.