Credits on Early TV and Movies

This is probably a really stupid question, but how do they make words (like the title of the show, or the credits) appear on the TV during the early days? Or even movies? How do they make words appear without holding up cards with the words written on them?

If you watch some of the early, early TV shows, they did exactly that: shoot printed cards, that is.

Character generators (CG for short) probably had not been invented just yet, or were too primitive to depict the pretty/fancy title lettering that some shows desired, or were too expensive for widespread use. So they’d just shoot a printed/drawn card. You can really notice that it’s being done by hand – not electronically like a real CG – when the cards shake or flip at uneven speeds.

And because they did have the equipment to blend the signals of two cameras together, it was not a problem to superimpose this title/caption lettering on top of the image from the second camera.

All in all, a primitive but effective CG.

Character Generators! That’s what they’re called! Thanks!

Movies could also add credits by optically printing them on the film. That’s how subtitles were done. Other times, the titles were animated.

Today we use character generators, but in the ‘early days’ of television, we would use a luminance key - i.e. a key based on the brightness of the image. You key out the bright areas and keep the dark. Print black characters on a white card, shoot with a camera, use the luminance key in your switcher to separate the dark from the light and fill in the white keyed areas with a camera shot.

Actually, not really that old fashioned at all. It’s still done all the time. It just that there are many other, better looking ways to do it now, but none as inexpensive.

And for extra credit (heh), watch the closing roll or even the opening titles of a lot of the shows from the early 70s. That was the heyday of the electronic key. It’s obvious from the way the text moves that you’re watching a key of a roll of paper moving across the screen.

One of my schoolfriends’ mother used to work for a local TV studio (this is in the 80’s) - they apparently used letraset transfers on cards or on a roll of cel (she would bring back stacks of partially used sheets of transfers).