Saul Bass

Saul Bass: Saul Bass was an American graphic designer and Academy Award winning filmmaker.

Who is Saul Bass?

Saul Bass is an American graphic designer who was essentially credited with changing how films were opened. Prior to Saul Bass, film posters generally showed blowups of their main cast, whereas the opening sequences were bland and served the purpose of just showing the credits. However, Saul Bass revolutionized the industry by showing that the film posters and title opening sequences can be used to introduce the audiences to the film and create a mood and a theme in the audiences’ mind even before the first scene of the movie.

In addition to producing film posters and title opening sequences, Bass also designed corporate logos, and is even an Academy Award winning filmmaker.

What is Saul Bass famous for?

Saul Bass was primarily a graphic designer who was mainly known for his design of motion picture title sequences and film posters. He has worked on a number of famous films, including ‘The Man with the Golden Arm’, ‘North by Northwest’, ‘Vertigo’, ‘Psycho’, ‘Anatomy of a Murder’, ‘Grand Prix’, ‘The Age of Innocence’, ‘Casino’, and ‘The Shining’ among others. ‘The Man with the Golden Arm’ has since been considered Bass’s most memorable title sequence.

He is also remembered for designing numerous memorable corporate logos, including for companies such as the Bell System logo in 1969, AT&T's globe logo in 1983, Continental Airlines' 1968 jet stream logo and United Airlines' 1974 tulip logo, among others. These logos are still recognized today.

In addition to a graphic designer, Bass was also an award-winning filmmaker. His only full length feature film, ‘Phase IV’ (1974) was touted by a critic as "Quiet, haunting, beautiful, [...] and largely overlooked, science-fiction masterwork". Bass has also directed a short film titled ‘The Searching Eye’ (1964) and co-directed numerous other Academy Award (Oscar) contenders. Furthermore, Bass has also helped develop storyboards for key scenes and sequences, the most famous of which has to be ‘Psycho’s shower scene. Bass also worked on storyboards for ‘Spartacus’ (1960), Grand Prix (1966), and West Side Story (1961).

Where was Saul Bass born?

Saul Bass was born on May 8, 1920, in the Bronx, New York. His parents were Eastern European Jewish immigrants. While growing up, he attended James Monroe High School in the Bronx. In the meanwhile, he also studied part-time at the Art Students League in Manhattan. Additionally, he also attended night classes with György Kepes at Brooklyn College.

Bass first started in Hollywood during the 1940s. He started off as doing print work for film ads. His main break came when he collaborated with filmmaker Otto Preminger to design a film poster. The poster was for his 1954 film ‘Carmen Jones’. The poster impressed Preminger so much that he asked Bass to produce the title sequence as well.

Bass then collaborated with Preminger again to create the title sequence for Preminger’s 1955 film, ‘The Man with the Golden Arm’. The movie was about a struggling musician’s fight to overcome his heroin addiction. Heroin addiction was a taboo subject in the 1950s. However, Bass decided to throw caution to the wind, and showcased a white on black paper cut-out arm of a heroin addict for the animated titles. This of course caused quite a sensation and launched Bass to celebrity status overnight.

What are some of Saul Bass’s popular works?

  • Carmen Jones (1954) – film poster and title sequence
  • The Man with the Golden Arm (1955) - film poster and title sequence
  • Around the World in 80 Days (1956) - epilogue
  • Love in the Afternoon (1957) - film poster
  • Saint Joan (1957) - film poster
  • Vertigo (1958) - film poster and title sequence
  • Anatomy of a Murder (1958) - film poster and title sequence
  • The Big Country (1958) - film poster and title sequence
  • Psycho (1960) - title sequence and story board for the infamous shower scene
  • North by Northwest (1959) - title sequence
  • Exodus (1960) - film poster
  • Spartacus (1960) - visual consultant
  • West Side Story (1961) - prologue, storyboarded the opening dance sequence, and ending title sequence
  • One, Two, Three (1961) - film poster
  • Advise & Consent (1962) - film poster
  • Walk on the Wild Side (1962) - title sequence
  • It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World (1963) - film poster
  • Nine Hours to Rama (1963) - title sequence
  • The Victors (1963) - title sequence
  • Bunny Lake Is Missing (1965) - film poster
  • Grand Prix (1966) - title sequence, storyboard, direct, and edit all but one of the racing sequences
  • The Human Factor (1979) - film poster
  • The Shining (1980) - film poster
  • Goodfellas (1990) - title sequence
  • Cape Fear (1991) - title sequence
  • The Age of Innocence (1993) - title sequence
  • Casino (1995) - title sequence

Logos of:

  • AT&T Corporation (1969 and 1983)
  • Avery International (1975)
  • Boys & Girls Clubs of America (1980)
  • Continental Airlines (1968)
  • Frontier Airlines (1978)
  • General Foods (1984)
  • Girl Scouts of the USA (1978)
  • Japan Energy Corporation (1993)
  • NCR Corporation (1996)
  • Quaker Oats (1969)
  • Security Pacific Bank (1966)
  • United Airlines (1974)
  • United Way (1972)
  • US Postage (1983)
  • Warner Communications (1974)
  • Wesson Oil (1964)
  • YWCA (1988)

Famous Quotes by Saul Bass:

  • "My initial thoughts about what a title can do was to set mood and the prime underlying core of the film's story, to express the story in some metaphorical way. I saw the title as a way of conditioning the audience, so that when the film actually began, viewers would already have an emotional resonance with it."
  • Regarding his main goal for his title sequences: “try to reach for a simple, visual phrase that tells you what the picture is all about and evokes the essence of the story”.
  • Influencing his title sequences was the goal of getting the audience to see familiar parts of their world in an unfamiliar way, i.e. “making the ordinary extraordinary”.
  • "Design is thinking made visible."
  • "There is nothing glamorous in what I do. I'm a working man. Perhaps I'm luckier than most in that I receive considerable satisfaction from doing useful work which I, and sometimes others, think is good."
  • "Symbolize and summarize."

Fun facts about Saul Bass:

  • Bass’s most famous title sequence for ‘The Man with the Golden Arm’, showcased a white on black paper cut-out arm of a heroin addict for the animated titles. As heroin addiction was a taboo subject in the 1950s, this caused quite a sensation and launched Bass to celebrity status overnight.
  • Bass invented a new type of kinetic typography for the sequence of North by Northwest (1959).
  • Bass claimed to have directed ‘Psycho’s famous shower scene. His claim was justified in the fact that he designed the storyboard for the scene which was followed to the T. However, many people on the cast and crew opposed his claim, as they claimed that the credit of directing the scene rested with Alfred Hitchcock.
  • On May 8, 2013, Bass' 93rd birthday, Google paid homage to Bass via a Google Doodle. The doodle featured a title scene reminiscent of Bass’s work, mainly his work on ‘The Man with the Golden Arm’ and ‘Anatomy of a Murder.’  The score was the tune "Unsquare Dance" by Dave Brubeck.

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