Saul Bass, Graphic Designer

Hitchcock The ShiningToday’s Google Doodle celebrates the life of graphic designer and Oscar winning filmmaker Saul Bass, best known for his design of film title sequences, film posters and corporate logos.

Bass was born on 8th May, 1920, in the Bronx, New York. He later studied part-time at the Arts Students League in Manhattan before attending night classes at Brooklyn College. He made his way to Hollywood during the 1940s doing print work for film ads when he got his big break collaborating with Otto Preminger to design a film poster for his 1954 film Carmen Jones. Preminger was so impressed with Bass’s work that he commissioned him to produce the title sequence as well. This was Bass’s first opportunity to create a title sequence which he thought would ultimately enhance the experience of the audience and compliment the mood and the theme of the movie in it’s opening moments. Bass was “one of the first to realise the creative potential of the opening and closing credits of a movie”.

Bass’s career took off and he became widely known in the industry after creating the title sequence for another Preminger film, The Man with the Golden Arm. Bass used the controversial subject of a jazz musicians struggle with his heroin addiction to create a strong, much talked about, visual.

Hitchcock VertigoSaul Bass then went on to work with the infamous Alfred Hitchcock, inventing a new type of kinetic typography (a technical term for moving text) for the film North by Northwest, The Shining, Vertigo and Psycho working alongside John Whitney. It was due to this revolutionary and innovative work that Bass become known as a graphic designer. He was quoted as saying his main goal for the sequences was to:

“try and reach for a simple, visual phrase that tells you what the picture is all about and evokes the essence of the story.”

Bass went on to design title sequences for more than 40 years, and experimented with various diverse film making techniques including cut-out animation, fully animated movies as well as live action sequences. Towards the end of his career he was rediscovered by the acclaimed directors James L. Brooks and Martin Scorsese who had always been fans of his work. For them he created works for the films Goodfellas, Cape Fear, The Age of Innocence and Casino.

It could be argued that all modern opening film title sequences that create a mood or atmosphere can see the legacy and work of Saul Bass and his groundbreaking work.

Bass was also, but not quite as famously, credited with some of the most recognisable logos still today. These included YMCA, Bell System, AT&T, United Airlines, Continental Airlines and Quaker Oats.

Saul Bass Logos

To summarise, what a career. To work with some of the world’s most respected directors, create groundbreaking and innovative work and still have your work recognised long after your career has ended. I’ll leave you with another Saul Bass quote which I think is great:

“Design is thinking made visible.”

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