In the early days of TV the best way to display text to your viewers was to put a physical card in front of the camera with that text on it, hence the name Episode Title Card. Advances in production meant that later that text could be edited directly into the film rather than having a physical card, and further advances meant that you could even display the text on the screen overtop of a normal scene (an 'overlay'). The overlay text will act like it's stuck to the screen though—it won't move on the screen even if the camera angle changes.
Nowadays the latest CGI will let you make it seem like overlay text is physically in the scene again. It can look like it's written on a highway overpass, or floating on the surface of the water. It is perspective-corrected to seem as if it's in the scene, will move when the camera (or the object it's written on) moves, and might even be lit as if it were in the scene. However, characters do not notice nor acknowledge it and the audience is expected to understand that the text doesn't actually exist in the scene, it's just a novel way of displaying it. This can also be done with a Title In or any other text presented to the audience.
Compare Pop-Up Texting for text messages and other text otherwise unseen by the audience.
- The Spirit was famous for this, as seen here◊.
- In the seventies and eighties this was very common on the splash pages of DC and Marvel titles.
- All of DC's books cover-dated February 2002 had this trope, including Impulse where the book's title was painted on the road (with two mis-spelt attempts as well) and Supergirl, with a story set in a school for deaf children who spelt out the title in American Sign Language.
- The Watchmen movie plays with this in the title credits, including having characters appear to react to the text as it flies over their heads (only for it to reveal they were reacting to fighter jets flying just behind the text) as well as having the text reflect off an astronaut's visor.
- The rules in Zombieland appear in this fashion.
- The opening credits of Moon.
- Used often in Stranger Than Fiction to represent the protagonist's OCD.
- The opening credits of Cats Don't Dance.
- Played with in Johnny Dangerously. The opening scene has a subtitle reading "1935"... which is then run over by a car.
- The opening credits to Star Wars could be considered an example of this, since they're perspective-corrected and disappear into space.
- Used for the opening credits of David Fincher's Panic Room. Explicitly said to be the inspiration for Fringe's 3-D titles, as per Word of God.
Live action TV
- The Episode Title Card for Heroes is very frequently done this way. See the gallery here and a Vimeo tutorial here.
- Fringe also does this frequently, often when placing a location identifier on screen.
- The intro theme for The Chicago Code uses this for the main title card, but not the intro credits. (This video at 0:27)
- There's an HBO advertisement that they put at the beginning of their DVDs that edits show titles into clips from the show in this fashion. Used to great effect, as characters will seem to interact with the letters, even though the original scene featured no in-scene text/titles.
- Green Acres often played with how the opening credits were shown. Sometimes the credits were printed on objects like newspapers or eggs, and sometimes characters were aware of their presence, commenting on those names that seem to appear out of nowhere.
- Played for laughs in Milton Jones's House of Rooms. The title appears at the bottom of the screen before being carried away by a garbageman. After the break, the gag is repeated - but this time the title is not part of the scene, and his hand passes through it.
- Doctor Who does this with a "scene-setting" title card in the 2012 episode "The Snowmen".
- It also shows up in "The Bells of Saint John" and "The Crimson Horror."
- Used real-time in sports broadcasts to intuitively display information such as distances, world records, etc. while not cluttering up the screen.
- Asphalt 8 shows the race location, countdown, and some other text as 3D objects in the environment.
- The introductory cutscene to Borderlands has this.
- Grand Theft Auto IV presents its opening credits in this fashion.
- Done at the beginning of each episode of Minecraft: Story Mode.
- Mirror's Edge has this in its opening scene as well.
- The opening titles of the 2012 Need for Speed: Most Wanted utilize this with giant text sticking out and in front of the buildings before it cuts to your car.
- The letters that make up "Pararena" lose formation and skate around the dish until you start a game.
- Once a mission is properly investigated and confirmed, and a time limit established, the words "Mission Start" show up in Persona 5, though they appear on some part of the environment: usually it'll show on the blackboard in the classroom, or on the floor of your loft bedroom.
- The opening for Prey (2017) involves getting on a helicopter and riding to the office, while you pass by various landmarks with the names of the publisher and the developer, before finally landing on the roof, which contains the title "Prey". As soon as you look away to open the helicopter door, the title vanishes.
- Scooby-Doo and the Ghoul School plays with this trope. At the beginning of the telefilm, after the title appears over a stormy night sky, Scooby points upward and says, "Look, Shaggy writing!" Naturally, Shaggy thinks Scooby said "lightning".
- Older Than They Think: Many Looney Tunes shorts, such as "Wabbit Twouble", have the opening credits as part of the scene.