Saul Bass


For the next couple posts I’m going to pull from the research portion of my senior thesis. I studied three designers that have been influential to me. This first post is featuring Saul Bass with some videos featuring his work and an interview with him below.

Although Saul Bass began his career doing print work for film advertising, he is now best known for the film title sequences he created. His first noteworthy poster was for Otto Preminger’s 1955 film The Man With the Golden Arm (see Figure above) (Eskilson 317). The poster was based on a grid structure, yet did away with clean lines and strict adherence to clean typography to create an off-kilter feeling which complimented the film’s difficult subject. The crooked arm reaching into the title represented the story of a jazz musician’s heroin addiction so effectively, that Preminger asked Bass to create the film’s title sequence. At that time, many theaters left the screen curtains closed, because so few people watched the opening credits. Preminger sent notes with the film to theaters asking that the curtains be opened from the beginning. The audience was greeted by a bombastic jazz score with crooked lines dividing the screen and with text that moved in and out of frame. The sequence’s kinetic energy left the viewer with an uneasy feeling that would continue through the film’s dark themes (319).

Bass’ ability to create a palpable mood at the beginning of a film attracted work from directors such as Alfred Hitchcock and Martin Scorsese. Bass’ titles and poster for Vertigo created a disoriented feeling that was central to the film’s plot (320). The titles begin with a close up of a woman’s face and nervous eyes darting back and forth, followed by spirals extending out towards the audience. Hitchcock’s Psycho opened with quickly moving lines that revealed text, evoking a panicked pace for the titles. In a career that spanned forty years, Bass repeatedly created finely crafted titles that enhanced the films which they represented.

Although Bass was only one in a long line of innovators in multimedia, his work introduced motion graphics to a broad audience in a medium they were already familiar with. Prior to his work, film titles were simply seen as obligatory credits which preceded the narrative. His influence ultimately lead to modern day compositing programs and film titles. With the implementation of design sensibilities in film titles, a convergence of mediums began, although it has yet to be regularly utilized. As designers continue to exploit multimedia possibilities, their creations will become more effective. While modern filmmakers appreciate the ability to establish mood right off the bat, few have allowed these same techniques to permeate the entire film. A recent exception is Stranger than Fiction, where graphic elements introduced during the opening credits are used throughout the film to great effect. Contemporary work, such as Fringe, Heroes and Oceans 11, 12, & 13, integrate multimedia techniques to set the mood. The use of motion graphics adds to stories in ways similar to foley, music and lighting.

Saul Bass showed that good multimedia is a natural extension of design principles, and it is obvious when multimedia work does not reflect solid thinking at its core. Bass’ example demonstrates that a strong concept can be applied across different media and still maintain its quality and power.

Design Design History