How Star Wars Created The Original Opening Crawl Using Black Paper

Dennis Muren reminds the listener that “Star Wars” was made in the era before computer-generated effects: “Back before 1990, almost everything was done with physical models, we’d build models, set them up in front of the cameras, put lights on them.” Thus, to make the crawl, they had to make a physical model — according to Muren, it was a piece of black paper, “about two feet wide and six feet long,” with letters printed on it.

The model was placed beneath a motor-run camera that ran down along it, to create the illusion of the letters progressing up the screen. Muren explained, “[The camera] ran at a very slow speed but it allowed pretty fast motions when you played the film back at normal speed.”

Dan Perri got the idea of the letters coming up the screen from the title sequence of the 1939 Western film “Union Pacific” — in that film, the letters scrawl across the screen like a train moving along a rail track. However, as Perri told Art of the Title, there were plenty of other things to consider about the crawl’s presentation — he had to perfect his design for the film’s logo to account for shooting specifications and a more complicated design like the crawl was no different. Perri listed some questions the team had to ask themselves:

“How big would the type be? What angle would it be at? When it came in, how fast would it move? I played with the idea of it moving at different speeds, slower and faster. Since the legend was talking about things that were important to the viewers to know about the story, you had to be able to read that for as long as possible.”

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