Media Life: Auburn titles creator helping raise profile of oft-ignored movie art form

South by Southwest fest honoring best titles of year; Famed Grass Valley race horse to be immortalized in bronze; Auburn band to perform for troops
By: Gus Thomson, Journal Staff Writer
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“Up in the Air” was shut out on Oscar night – despite nominations for its two biggest names, George Clooney and director Jason Reitman. But the award season isn’t completely over for the film. Auburn’s Gareth Smith is in the thick of the fray for some new and long-overdue accolades for his part in creating the opening titles sequence for the film. Smith created the title designs with his wife, Jenny Lee. The “Up in the Air” opening sequence provided a rapid-fire series of aerial shots to the music of “This Land is Your Land.” Now it’s an entry in something new – a competition at the South by Southwest festival in Austin, Texas for television and movie titles. Smith and Lee’s work was highlighted in a New York Times article this past week on the titles portion of the festival. Awards should be handed out Tuesday in a sector of the film industry that has been given short shrift in the past With eye-catching work from Lee and Smith’s Shadow Play Studio in Los Angeles and others, titles are beginning to get more notice from moviegoers. And while opening title sequences may not be the basis for a separate Academy Award vote now, in the future, who knows? Smith grew up in Auburn and graduated from Del Oro High School before going on to pursue his education and career in design and film in Southern California. His fertile imagination has led to a titles collaboration with Reitman on all of the director’s films – “Thank You for Smoking,” “Juno,” and now “Up in the Air,” which is just being released on DVD. Catch the film and catch the opening titles. They’re the product of a one of Auburn’s own. Equine star power This one’s a little out of the Media Life catchment basin but worthy of note. Nevada City sculptor Judy Vargas very soon will be working on a monumental bronze statue of a hall of famer buried in Grass Valley, reports reader Charlotte Farmer. The four-legged hall-of-famer is Noor, a thoroughbred that ran with – and outran – the best of them in the twilight of the golden age of horse racing. Noor, who was inducted into the U.S. National Horse Racing Hall of Fame in 2002, was the first horse ever to beat two U.S. Triple Crown winners. He did it in 1950, with wins in four of five races against Citation and, in the Hollywood Gold Cup, against Assault. Noor was owned by Willits' Charles Howard, who owned and helped make Seabiscuit a champion in the 1930s. The horse was retired at age 5 and sold after Howard died. At age 19, Noor moved again, this time to Loma Rica Ranch in Grass Valley. It would live there until its death in 1974 at the ripe old age of 29. Noor hasn’t entirely left the city. He’s buried on the ranch property. “Noor” is Arabic for light, by the way. The statue will be a fitting tribute. Farmer mentioned on a side note that John Shirreffs, one of the hottest trainers in the country, worked at Loma Rica for a decade and still speaks fondly of his mentor, ranch manager Henry Freitas. Shirreffs trains the undefeated filly Zenyatta. Cash and carrier The crews of three aircraft carriers are about to get a heaping musical helping of Johnny Cash courtesy of an Auburn-based band. The Rhythm Riders, who most recently performed this past Saturday night in Colfax for a high school benefit, will soon be on their way to North Island Naval Air Station in San Diego to play for the crews of the aircraft carriers USS Nimitz, USS Ronald Reagan and USS Carl Vincent when they return to their home port. The group performs the songs of Johnny Cash and Patsy Cline. They received word of the gig late last month while performing for troops and wounded marines at Oceanside’s Camp Pendleton Marine Corps base. Media Life’s Gus Thomson can be reached at or call 530-852-0232.