Yu + Co.

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When CNN last year made a major decision to do some spring cleaning in order to sharpen its competitive edge in the cable news marketplace, it didn't stop at overhauling its programming and staff or even Greta Van Susteren's face, had she not jumped to Fox. The makeover extended to its on-air promotions, with the help of Los Angeles motion design shop Yu + Co. Quite a coup for a firm best known, at the time, for its trailers and film opens. "CNN always had an image of being an authority in the news, but it was quite distanced from the viewer," notes Garson Yu, the 42-year-old creative director and founder of Yu + Co.

"The challenge was how could we create something graphically to close the distance between the viewer and the network. We needed to create a very strong emotional context, and we also wanted to appeal to younger audiences. We tried to create excitement, bring in the entertainment aspect, but at the same time we had to retain the image of the neutral opinions of the news environment and not have something too flashy." Yu found the solution in a shifting color palette that gradually moves from cool blue tones to warmer reds, depending on the time slot. The visuals themselves, featuring an animated CNN logo, simulate depth of field that parallels natural human perceptions. "We created a foreground, middle ground and background, so when an object moves closer to the camera it's not sharp," explains Yu. "We simulated a depth of field to achieve a cinematic look."

The 41-year-old Yu, a Hong Kong native, studied graphic design at the Swain School of Design in Massachusetts, and went on to get his MFA in fine arts at Yale. After graduation he worked at R/GA, where he was bit by the motion design bug, and created titles for movies like The Joy Luck Club and Twister. Yu then transferred to L.A., where with Kyle Cooper he spearheaded R/GA's West Coast office, which later became Imaginary Forces. Yu went on to co-found Goodspot (see story below), but shortly after he opened his own shop. Yu + Co. launched in 1998 with humble beginnings: a three-person staff in a tiny space on the lot of Hollywood Center Studios, where Yu continued to specialize in film projects. Since then the company, now 38 strong, has developed a reputation for unusual type treatments as well as design that takes its cues from the natural world. It has brought this sensibility to trailers and titles for features like Spy Game, Enemy of the State, Mission Impossible II and I Am Sam, to name just a few. In the past two years, the shop has also shifted its cinematic stylings into broadcast design and commercials graphics, which now make up almost two-thirds of its business.

In film, Yu + Co. has gracefully merged concept with gorgeous graphics and font manipulation, as in the title sequence for the recent remake of The Thomas Crown Affair, which features a sultry framework of red- and orange-hued waves that undulate around a single line of shifting white type, evoking the idea of switched suitcases that jumpstart the film's story. In Yu's latest efforts, however, he says he's been most fascinated with integrating type treatments with the storytelling of the live-action footage, as in a spot for Nokia, where gauzy letters blend quietly with in-camera elements, appearing along a wall, on chair backs and floating in the air. Yu's new turn is also evident in the unsettling opener for Adrian Lyne's Unfaithful, where credits sweep along in tandem with the blustery events of the live-action scenes. "In terms of storytelling, lately it's been much more interesting to integrate," he notes. "Typography always seems to be sort of like dancing characters that stand alone in the foreground, and then are put against a context that has nothing to do with the typography's behavior. I guess in my career I've covered most of the possibilities of manipulating typography on screen, and I've started experimenting, creating typography that seems to really exist in the world in which it appears."

The shop's repertoire continues to feature a broad spectrum of styles, however. The titles for The Others depict antique candle-lit ink drawings that grow menacing as the sequence progresses. Broadcast projects also include the clutter-busting look of both cel and clay animation, seen, respectively, in a Wonder Woman-takeoff for WUSA women's soccer programming on TNT and in wacky promos for the upcoming G4 gaming network. "I need to reinvent something different all the time," explains the ever-shifting Yu. "But only if the director lets me do it," he laughs.

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