Saul bass A Legend in the Film and Design World
Katie O'Gorman 2016
Bass was born to Jewish immigrants on May 8, 1920 in the Bronx, New York. He graduated from James Monroe High School when he was fifteen, already an accomplished designer. In high school, he won awards for his art and draftsmanship (Horak 35). He was also the arts editor for his school’s literary and arts publication The Monroe Doctrine and also of the school’s yearbook (Bass and Kirkham 5). During the Depression, it was hard for Bass to get a college education, so he immediately began working in the commercial art world. In 1936, Bass received a scholarship from the Art Students League after seeing some of his signs on a storefront and Bass began to take art classes at night. He took a class called Layout and Design for Industry taught by graphic designer Howard Trafton. In class, “Trafton focused heavily on fine art, but he also gave his students training they could use in commercial art” which helped Bass understand the main principles of art (Horak 35). Later, Bass studied under Hungarian artist György Kepes at Brooklyn College (Douglas). Kepes was a huge influence in Bass’ work. Kepes, who studied at the Bauhaus in Germany, particularly introduced Bass to Modernism and Bauhausstyle graphics and opened up a whole new world of design to Bass (Bass and Kirkham 9).
The New York School:
Bass worked in New York City as a freelance commercial artist for several advertising agencies, including work done for Warner Bros (Meggs 393). Bass was a product of The New York School. The New York School was an informal group of American poets, painters, dancers, and musicians. Artists and designers of this movement were particularly inspired by the modernity of Bauhaus and the Arts and Crafts Movement. Designer Paul Rand was at the forefront of this modern American design. Bass was particularly inspired by Randâ€™s use of shape and asymmetrical design (Meggs 393).
Right: Saul Bassâ€™s Carmen Jones film poster for Otto Preminger
Hollywood and Saul Bass & Associates:
In the 1940’s, Bass went to Los Angeles, California to continue his work on advertising posters and commercial art. He brought The New York style influence to his work in California. According to Meggs’ History of Graphic Design, “by 1952, [Bass] had a practice of his own, which was registered from 1955 as Saul Bass & Associates,” (393). Saul Bass & Associates for the first few years focused mostly on commercial designs for print and ads. It wasn’t until film director and producer Otto Preminger noticed him that his work changed direction from commercial art to film. In 1954, Bass got his big break when Preminger, impressed by his work in advertising, hired him to create the movie poster and then the title sequence of his film Carmen Jones (Bigman). This commission was followed by others from several film directors. Subsequently, Saul Bass became the leading title designer in Hollywood.
Bass branched out from advertising posters and began work designing film posters in California. Bass’s first work in the film world was the movie poster for Preminger’s Carmen Jones. After Carmen Jones, Bass developed a long-lasting partnership and relationship with Preminger and created many more posters for his films. Bass went on to design posters for Anatomy of a Murder and The Man with the Golden Arm for Preminger. Later, Saul Bass also developed a partnership with director and producer Alfred Hitchcock creating several of his film’s posters and title sequences.
Right: Saul Bass’s film poster for Anatomy of a Murder
Anatomy of a Murder: Bass created a simple geometric silhouette of a human body for his poster for Premingerâ€™s Anatomy of a Murder. The body is dissected and displayed as if it was a crime scene. Bass also utilized the stark contrast of black and red to draw intrigue and enhance the mood. Furthermore, Bass hand lettered the text and made them various sizes to also symbolize inconsistency. This design was simple and flexible enough to be reproduced on several other print mediums such as posters, billboards, invitations, lobby cards, and a record album cover (Bass and Kirkham 131).
The Man with the Golden Arm:
Keeping to his simplistic style, Bass created a single, simple black geometric arm and hand around solid blocks of color for The Man with the Golden Arm, one of his more well-known posters. The film is about a jazz musician’s struggle with heroin, therefore Bass decided to use the arm as the central image (Douglas). The distorted arm symbolizes the heroin addiction. His design was simple enough to be reproduced in several different print forms. The logo on the film poster was a “consistent and memorable visual identifier [that] was flexible enough for uses ranging from minute newspaper advertisements to large-scale posters,” (Meggs 394).
Left: Saul Bass’s The Man With the Golden Arm film poster
His design was simple enoughďż˝ to be reproduced in several different print forms.
Bass designed the movie poster for Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo which kept to Bass’s black, white, and red color palette. The design featured a white spiral design with a black geometric silhouette of a man and black outline of a woman on a bright red background. It is very similar to the design of his Anatomy of a Murder movie poster. The white spirals “encapsulates the sensation of vertigo by having a couple sucked into a vortex,” (Bass and Kirkham 178).
Left: Saul Bass’s Vertigo Film Poster
Saul Bass is the father of the modern film title sequence. Before Bass, title sequences and credits were typically dull and boring. Bass created an animation graphic design technique to the title sequences. He would make his simplified drawings and geometric shapes move in the title sequences along with moving text of names and words on the screen. Bass added life to the title sequences. He introduced “kinetic text” and his “letters dashed and moved across the screen and frequently incorporated images other than text,” (Bigman). His title sequences introduce the mood of the films, and Bass was the first ever to do so. As mentioned, Bass worked with Preminger and Hitchcock on posters and titles sequences. Aside from The Man with the Golden Arm, some of Bass’s most famous title sequences are those that he worked on for Hitchcock. Bass also worked with filmmakers Stanley Kubrick, Billy Wilder, and in his later years with Martin Scorsese.
Right: Saul Bass’s The Man with the Golden Arm title sequence for Otto Preminger
The Man with the Golden Arm: Saul Bass’ title sequence design for Preminger’s The Man with the Golden Arm caused a sensation throughout the film world. It was the first of its kind to incorporate the animation and it added drama and emotion. Set to a jazz score, white bars appeared, disappeared and formed abstract shaped against a high contrast black background (Bass and Kirkham 116). The black and white contrast helped to add intensity and mood. To keep with the intense subject of the heroin addict, “Bass decided to create an innovative title sequence to match the film’s controversial subject, (Douglas).
The cool sophistication of his title sequence reflects that of the main character.
North by Northwest: Bass created a revolutionary title sequence in the one he made for Hitchcock’s North by Northwest. The sequence opens on a bright green screen that becomes the side of a skyscraper. The text and names move up and down over the skyscraper like an elevator. The green screen dissolves into a reflective silver city building to finally a busy city street. According to Bass and Kirkham in their text, “the cool sophistication of [his] title sequence reflects that of the main character – a New York advertising executive who sees his world go haywire when he is mistaken for a spy,” (182).
Saul Bass’s North by Northwest title sequence for Alfred Hitchcock
Saul was also commissioned by Hitchcock to also create the title sequence for his horror film Psycho. Against a tense score, gray bars slide across the black screen vertically and horizontally. The text comes into the screen broken from top and bottom. Though simple in design, â€œSaul aimed at a mood of dysfunction within a wider sense of order,â€? (Bass and Kirkham 183). The combination of music and unequal bars add to the unease and set the foreboding mood to the rest of the film.
Saul aimed at a mood of
dysfunction within a wider sense of order.
Right: Saul Bassâ€™s The Shining film poster
Bass has a very minimal and geometric style. Unlike fellow New York School designer Paul Rand’s careful and complex compositions of contrasting shapes, color, and texture, Bass reduced his designs to a single dominant image (Meggs 395). Bass primarily hand-drew all of his own graphics. Meggs describes Bass’ process: “Irregular forms are cut from paper with scissors or drawn with a brush. Freely drawn, decorative letterforms are often combined with typography or handwriting,” (393). Bass focused on simple geometric shapes and simplified graphic images. According to Eric Miller’s profile of Saul Bass, “Bass is famous for his use of simple, geometric shapes and their symbolism. Often, a single dominant image stands alone to deliver a powerful message.” Color was also used by Bass in a thoughtful way. He would use solid blocks of color, in particular blacks, white, and red in his designs that held symbolism. Though minimal, Bass’s designs always had a meaningful impact and an emotional and powerful message.
Left: Some of Saul Bass’s logo designs
Saul Bass was also famous for his logos. Bass has designed some of the most recognizable and influential logos of all time. Some prominent logos he created are Quaker Oats, AT&T, Girl Scouts, Minolta, United Airlines, Bell, Warner Communications, Kosé Cosmetics, Kibun, Lawry’s Foods, Alcoa, Fuller Paints, Celanese, Continental, Rockwell International, Dixie, United Way, Avery, Frontier Airlines, Hanna-Barbera, Boys Club, and Kleenex. Like Bass’ design style, his logos are simple and make use of one central image. In addition, Bass designed the poster for the 1984 Los Angeles Olympic Games and “between 1991 and 1996 Saul Bass also designed the posters for the Oscar Awards ceremony,” (Saul Bass Biography). Many of the Bass’ logos still exist today. For example, his logos for Kibun, Geffen Records, Warner, and Avery, are among many that are still being used by the companies to this day. Some of his logos have maintained the same idea but have been altered slighting since his initial design. For instance, His Girl Scouts green logo with the three girls in a leaf has retained the same general design except for a slight change of color. The green hue was brightened up a bit (Annyas). The average life span of a Bass logos is 34 years (Annyas). This emphasizes how significant Bass’ mark was in the industry and how prevalent his design work still is today. Not only was Bass a film design aficionado, he was a corporate brander, as well.
Though Saul Bass passed away in the late 1990s, his design work remains relevant and one of the most respected in the field. Specifically, his work on title sequences can always be seen in the some of the most highly respected and well-regarded films of all time. From the Hitchcock classics, North by Northwest, Vertigo, and Psycho, to Martin Scorsese hits such as Goodfellas, The Age of Innocence, and Casino, and even Steven Spielberg’s award-winning Schindler’s List. Bass’ legacy in the film industry is unquestionable. He is the father of the modern title sequence. According to the Art of the Title, “all modern opening title sequences that introduce the mood or theme of a film are a legacy of the Basses’ work.” Today, thrilling and beautiful title sequences help with the success of films and TV shows. In particular, the popular and critically acclaimed AMC television series Mad Men had a title sequence inspired by the work of Saul Bass. Among other Emmy’s the show won, Mad Men’s title sequence designed by Imaginary Forces, won a Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Main Title Design. For a show that takes place in the 50’s and 60’s, Mad Men Creative Directors Steve Fuller and Mark Gardner
took a nod from the most popular title sequence designer during that time. The title sequence features the black silhouette of a man, popular in Saul Bass’ work, in a suit, and utilizes a sky scarper in a similar was as Bass’ North by Northwest. Fuller says that it is a modern take on Saul Bass’ work. “I like to think that it’s kind of an update of Saul Bass,” (Landekic). Saul Bass’ art lives on in his movie posters, title sequences, logos and in his distinctive geometric and minimal yet highly effective design style. Today, Bass is still praised and influential in modern design and film industries.
Imaginary Forces Mad Men title sequence inspiried by Saul Bass
Annyas, Christian. “Saul Bass Logo Design: Then and Now.” Christian Annyas International Designer. Christian Annyas, 16 Mar. 2011. Web. Bass, Jennifer, and Pat Kirkham. Saul Bass: A Life in Film & Design. London: Laurence King, 2011. Print. Bigman, Alex. “Saul Bass: The Man Who Changed Graphic Design.” The Creative Edge Saul Bass The Man Who Changed Graphic Design Comments. 99designs, 13 Feb. 2015. Web. Douglas, Ava. “Saul Bass.” History of Graphic Design. N.p., n.d. Web. Horak, Jan-Christopher. Saul Bass: Anatomy of Film Design. The University Press of Kentucky, 2014. Web. Landekic, Lola. Interviewer Ian Albinson, Editor Lola Landekic. Published September 19, 2011. “Mad Men.” Art of the Title. Art of the Title, LLC, 19 Sept. 2011. Web. Meggs, Philip B., and Alston W. Purvis. Meggs’ History of Graphic Design. 5th ed. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons, 2012. Print. Miller, Eric. “Profile of Graphic Designer Saul Bass.” GraphicDesign. About.com. About Money, n.d. Web. “Saul Bass.” Art of the Title. Art of the Title, LLC, n.d. Web. “Saul Bass Biography.” Saul Bass. Art Directory, n.d. Web. Fonts used in order: Hitchcock, Palatino Linotype Bold, Palatino Regular, Palatino Bold Italic Designed by: Katie O’Gorman