Saul Bass

graphic designer
Born: New York, New York

“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.”
 Saul Bass

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Early Life

Saul Bass was born in May 8, 1920 in New York City. He studied at the Art Student’s League in Manhattan until attending classes with Gyorgy Kepes at Brooklyn College. He began his time in Hollywood doing print work for film ads, until he collaborated with filmmaker Otto Preminger to design the movie poster for his 1954 film Carmen Jones. Preminger was so impressed with Bass’s work that he asked him to produce the title sequence as well. This was when Bass first saw the opportunity to create something more than a title sequence, but to create something which would ultimately enhance the experience of the audience and tell the beginning of the story within the opening credits. Bass was one of the first to realize upon the storytelling potential of the opening and closing credits of a film.

Movie Title Sequences

Bass became notorious in the industry after creating the title sequence for Otto Preminger’s The Man with the Golden Arm (1955). The subject of the film was a jazz musician’s struggle to overcome his heroin addiction, a taboo subject in the mid 50’s. Bass decided to create a controversial title sequence. He chose the arm as the central image, as the arm is a strong image relating to drug addiction. The titles featured an animated, black paper cut-out arm of a heroin addict. As he expected, it caused quite a sensation.

For Alfred Hitchcock, Bass provided effective, memorable title sequences for North by Northwest, Vertigo, and Psycho. Bass famously claimed that he directed the highlight of Psycho, the tightly edited shower-murder sequence, though many on set at the time (including Janet Leigh) dispute this contention.

It was this kind of innovative, revolutionary work that made Bass the revered graphic designer he is today. His later work with Martin Scorsese saw him move away from the optical techniques that he had pioneered and move into computerised titles, from which he produced the stunning sequence for Casino.

He had been designing title sequences for 40 years before his death in 1996, from films as diverse as It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World (1963) to Casino (1995). He also designed title sequences for films such as Goodfellas (1990), Doc Hollywood (1991), Cape Fear (1991) and The Age of Innocence (1993), all of which feature new and innovative methods of production and startling graphic design, and all of which attempt to tell some of the story, be it introducing characters or giving plot clues, in the first few minutes of the film.

He also designed the Student Academy Award for the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.

In 1974, Bass made his only film as a director, the visually splendid science fiction film Phase IV.

Commonly Asked Questions

Where did Saul Bass study?

Brooklyn College. He attended night classes with a famous Hungarian-born designer, György Kepes. Upon completion of his studies, he worked as a freelancer for several advertising companies and agencies, including the illustrious Warner Bros. He moved to Los Angeles, where he pursued graphic designing as a commercial artist. During 1940’s he took up some Hollywood projects, which involved the print work for promotional purposes. In fact, he started up his own practice in 1952 and a few years later established his private firm as Saul Bass & Associates.

Which motion picture helped launch Saul Bass’ film career?

In 1954, Bass finally had his big break as he was offered a job by the filmmaker Otto Preminger to design a poster for Carmen Jones. His work left a remarkable impression on Preminger, who availed his expertise yet again for his film’s title sequence. With the opportunity, came the realization that the title sequence can not only be served as mere static credits but it can enhance the watching experience of the audience. Bass realized the potential of title sequence if incorporated with the right audio and visual sequence can help set the mood and theme at the opening of a film.

What is Saul Bass’ style?

Bass is famous for his use of simple, geometric shapes and symbolism. Often, a single dominant image stands alone to deliver a powerful message. These shapes, as well as type, were often hand-drawn by Bass to create a casual appearance, always packed with a sophisticated message. His ability to create such a powerful message with basic shapes makes the work even more impressive.

What is Saul Bass best known for?

Bass was an American graphic designer and Academy Award-winning filmmaker, best known for his design of motion-picture title sequences, film posters, and corporate logos. Bass developed iconic, influential and noteworthy title sequences employing distinguished kinetic typography for motion pictures, including The Man with the Golden Arm (1955), North by Northwest (1959), Vertigo (1958) and Psycho (1960).