Saul Bass Research

  1. American
  2. Graphic designer
  3. Russian constructivism
  4. Art director
  5. Made the artwork for Hitchcock’s movies
  6. Made designs for airline companies’ logos
  7. Film designer
  8. Illustrious designs
  9. Animator
  10. Tremendous influence over film title work

What was so great about Saul Bass’s designs?

The designs were simple but yet, captured the public’s attention with their simplicity

“The broken sword of Saint Joan, the outstretched hands to freedom in EXODUS, the simple lines that recall the fire escape in WEST SIDE STORY. One movie reduced to a single image. These images are the distilled genius of BASS”- Joe Kocker American DesignFor the first fifty years of American cinema, posters were comprised of either paintings of photos of favourite stars to lure audiences into darkened auditoriums. And that’s the way it would most likely to be today if it weren’t for one man: Saul Bass who died on April 25th 1996 at the age of 75.Eschewing the “big head” theory of advertising in the mid-50, designer Bass broke tradition with his savage, jagged print objects and use of designs. His bold, confident lines and simple images recall the best Soviet commercial design of the 20s, while adding a decidedly American twist to the final product.Best known for his work with directors Alfred Hitchcock, Otto Preminger and Stanley Kubrik, Bass broke things wide open in 1955 with the foreboding poster and titles to The Man with the Golden Arm. Setting aside images of lead mug Frank Sinatra, Bass instead grabbed audiences with a simple silhouette of a twisted arm.His swirling, op-arted designs for Vertigo and Psycho tipped viewers off through posters and title sequences that were about to have their equilibrium disrupted.Symbolize and summarize were the words Bass lived by, and his careful choice of single images quickly set the tone for such films as Preminger’s Exodus and Anatomy of a Murder.So valued was Bass’s visual opinion, he served not only as title designer but as visual consultant on Spartacus, West Side Story and Grand Prix. Yet his most famous collaboration must be his storyboards for the infamous shower scene in Psycho.Over the years, a great debate has grown over what’s been called the most famous and studied scene in the cinematic history: Bass claims he actually directed the scene, co-stars and historians disagree.After a golden period that lasted well into the mid sixties, Bass’s innovations fell out of fashion. Turning to corporate design with his firm, Saul Bass and Associates, he subsequently put his stamps on the corporate world with logos for the likes of United Airlines, AT & T and Quaker. In between, he crafted several short features, and in ’74 directed Phase 4, to mixed results.Bass was called back to duty by a generation of directors who’d grow up loving his work. First came an offer to do the titles for Jim Brook’s Broadcast News which was quickly followed by work on Penny Marshall’s Big and Danny de Vito’s War of the Rose. The creative juices really started flowing again when rapid film fan Martin Scorsese stoked the master. For Cape Fear, Good Fellas, The Age of Innocence and Casino, Bass and wife Elaine set out to make mini movies that would set the tone for what was to follow. Having evolved from the stark symmetry of North by Northwest’s opening, Bass’s modern age titles are now more subtle: for Age of Innocence the slo-mo blossoming of  laced rose perfectly sums up the film’s themes of formality and sexual urges and repression: for Casino, Bass sent a car-bombed de Niro spiralling through a non inferno predicting his subsequent decent into hell.Recently, Bass was paid tribute to in more ways than one. While the east coast prepared to celebrate the grand master with an exhibit at the Visual Art Museum in New York, across the country Spike Lee’s art staff chose to lift Bass’s Anatomy of a Murder graphic line to line and use it to promote the film Clockers, Bass threatened legal actions, the press had a field day and subsequent display adds in newspapers were quickly altered.


Born in New York, graphic designer and art director Saul Bass trained as an animator under Howard Trafton at the Art Student League in New York (1936-9) and the European-influenced designer Gyorgy Kepes at Brooklyn College (1944-5). After moving to Los Angeles in 1946 and introducing sophisticated East Coast graphic solutions to the highly commercial ethos of the West Coast, he founded Saul Bass Associates. He was responsible for a number of logos, including AT&T and Warner Communications, and corporate identity schemes for airlines, including Continental. He first attracted more widespread attention after moving into film, designing the artwork, trailer, and titles for his father-in-law Oscar Preminger’s Carmen Jones in 1954. This was followed by work for Preminger’s The Man with the Golden Gun (1956), Billy Wilder’s Seven Year Itch, and a series of striking collaborations with Alfred Hitchcock. These involved the title shots for North by Northwest (1959) and Psycho, for which he was also employed as Pictorial Consultant for the famous shower scene. With his striking credit sequences and animations Bass exerted tremendous influence over film title work, including Around the World in 80 Days (1956), Anatomy of a Murder (1959), Goodfellas (1990), and Casino (1996) and many others. He also made the US contribution to the 1968 Milan Triennale and was later recognized for his striking poster for the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics.

Source: Oxford Dictionary of Modern Design, Saul Bass

Even before he made his cinematic debut, Bass was a celebrated graphic designer. Born in the Bronx district of New York in 1920 to an emigré furrier and his wife, he was a creative child who drew constantly. Bass studied at the Art Students League in New York and Brooklyn College under Gyorgy Kepes, an Hungarian graphic designer who had worked with László Moholy-Nagy in 1930s Berlin and fled with him to the US. Kepes introduced Bass to Moholy’s Bauhaus style and to Russian Constructivism.After apprenticeships with Manhattan design firms, Bass worked as a freelance graphic designer or “commercial artist” as they were called. Chafing at the creative constraints imposed on him in New York, he moved to Los Angeles in 1946. After freelancing, he opened his own studio in 1950 working mostly in advertising until Preminger invited him to design the poster for his 1954 movie, Carmen Jones. Impressed by the result, Preminger asked Bass to create the film’s title sequence too.Now over-shadowed by Bass’ later work, Carmen Jones elicited commissions for titles for two 1955 movies: Robert Aldrich’s The Big Knife, and Billy Wilder’s The Seven Year Itch. But it was his next Preminger project, The Man with the Golden Arm, which established Bass as the doyen of film title design.


Beneath theory and rhetoric, and well beyond technique and jargon, the reason for design is to speak to people in a language this is familiar, but also new, to entice people to understand an old thing in a new way, or grasp a new thing in an old way.Saul Bass’s work touches people. Not just designers, or students, or observers of design, or those who know and can explain what a designer is and does, but simply people—many, many people.It’s a cliché, but Saul Bass really has done it all. Films. Packaging. Products. Architecture. Corporate identification. Graphics. His work surrounds us. Pick up the telephone and you’re hard-pressed not to recall Bass’s ubiquitous Bell System symbol and look. Take a plane—United, Continental, Frontier: Saul Bass. Go to a film—Psycho, Anatomy of a Murder, Exodus, Spartacus, The Man With the Golden Arm, Advise & Consent, Such Good Friends: Saul Bass. In the supermarket or in the kitchen—Wesson, Quaker, Alcoa, Lawry’s, Dixie: Saul Bass. Relax with a magazine, read a book, watch TV, take some pictures—Saturday Evening Post, Warner, Minolta: Saul Bass. Give to charity—The United Way, Girl Scouts: Saul Bass. Strike an Ohio Blue Tip match.Bass is the first to disavow the widely held idea that graphic design and film design are closely related disciplines. In medium, time, concept, technique and technical aspects, they are not. Graphic design is a solitary or small group exercise in creating. Film directing and producing are management efforts of large groups of people, equipment, variables and idea. Yet Saul Bass has not only mastered both, he is comfortable in both. And the Bass competence extends along another axis of accomplishment.


By training and profession, Mr. Bass was a graphic designer who filled the American landscape with such designs as Exxon service stations and the jars for Lawry’s seasonings. But it was in the movies that he made his most lasting impact, as the man who invented the opening credit sequence as a free-standing movie-before-a-movie and elevated it into an art. Movies had always had opening credits, but until “The Man With the Golden Arm,” in 1955, they were little more than perfunctory afterthoughts rarely more creative than having the names of the movie’s stars and production staff revealed by the turning pages of the book

Source: New York Times Obituary


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