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21-05-2008
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Saul Bass Graphic Designer (1920-1996)
Saul Bass

Graphic Designer (1920-1996)



SAUL BASS (1920-1996) was not only one of the great graphic designers of the mid-20th century but the undisputed master of film title design thanks to his collaborations with Alfred Hitchcock, Otto Preminger and Martin Scorsese.
When the reels of film for Otto Preminger’s controversial new drugs movie, The Man with the Golden Arm, arrived at US movie theatres in 1955, a note was stuck on the cans - "Projectionists – pull curtain before titles".
Until then, the lists of cast and crew members which passed for movie titles were so dull that projectionists only pulled back the curtains to reveal the screen once they’d finished. But Preminger wanted his audience to see The Man with the Golden Arm’s titles as an integral part of the film.
The movie’s theme was the struggle of its hero - a jazz musician played by Frank Sinatra - to overcome his heroin addiction. Designed by the graphic designer Saul Bass the titles featured an animated black paper-cut-out of a heroin addict’s arm. Knowing that the arm was a powerful image of addiction, Bass had chosen it – rather than Frank Sinatra’s famous face - as the symbol of both the movie’s titles and its promotional poster.
That cut-out arm caused a sensation and Saul Bass reinvented the movie title as an art form. By the end of his life, he had created over 50 title sequences for Preminger, Alfred Hitchcock, Stanley Kubrick, John Frankenheimer and Martin Scorsese. Although he later claimed that he found the Man with the Golden Arm sequence "a little disappointing now, because it was so imitated".
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.
Over the next decade he honed his skill by creating an animated mini-movie for Mike Todd’s 1956 Around The World In 80 Days and a tearful eye for Preminger’s 1958 Bonjour Tristesse. Blessed with the gift of identifying the one image which symbolised the movie, Bass then recreated it in a strikingly modern style. Martin Scorsese once described his approach as creating: "an emblematic image, instantly recognisable and immediately tied to the film".
In 1958’s Vertigo, his first title sequence for Alfred Hitchcock, Bass shot an extreme close-up of a woman’s face and then her eye before spinning it into a sinister spiral as a bloody red soaks the screen. For his next Hitchcock commission, 1959’s North by Northwest, the credits swoop up and down a grid of vertical and diagonal lines like passengers stepping off elevators. It is only a few minutes after the movie has begun - with Cary Grant stepping out of an elevator - that we realise the grid is actually the façade of a skyscraper.
Equally haunting are the vertical bars sweeping across the screen in a manic, mirrored helter-skelter motif at the beginning of Hitchcock’s 1960 Psycho. This staccato sequence is an inspired symbol of Norman Bates’ fractured psyche. Hitchcock also allowed Bass to work on the film itself, notably on its dramatic highpoint, the famous shower scene with Janet Leigh.
Assisted by his second wife, Elaine, Bass created brilliant titles for other directors - from the animated alley cat in 1961’s Walk on the Wild Side, to the adrenalin-laced motor racing sequence in 1966’s Grand Prix. He then directed a series of shorts culminating in 1968’s Oscar-winning Why Man Creates and finally realised his ambition to direct a feature with 1974’s Phase IV.
When Phase IV flopped, Bass returned to commercial graphic design. His corporate work included devising highly successful corporate identities for United Airlines, AT&T, Minolta, Bell Telephone System and Warner Communications. He also designed the poster for the 1984 Los Angeles Olympic Games.
To younger film directors, Saul Bass was a cinema legend with whom they longed to work. In 1987, he was persuaded to create the titles for James Brooks’ Broadcast News and then for Penny Marshall’s 1988 Big. In 1990, Bass found a new long term collaborator in Martin Scorsese who had grown up with – and idolised - his 1950s and 1960s titles. After 1990’s Goodfellas and 1991’s Cape Fear, Bass created a sequence of blossoming rose petals for Scorcese’s 1993’s The Age of Innocence and a hauntingly macabre one of Robert De Niro falling through the sinister neons of the Las Vegas Strip for the director’s 1995’s Casino to symbolise his character’s descent into hell.
Saul Bass died the next year. His New York Times obituary hailed him as "the minimalist auteur who put a jagged arm in motion in 1955 and created an entire film genre…and elevated it into an art."
© Design Museum
Biography
1920 Saul Bass is born in the Bronx district of New York
1936 Wins a scholarship to study at the Art Students' League in Manhattan
1938 Employed as an assistant in the art department of the New York office of Warner Bros
1944 Joins the Blaine Thompson Company, an advertising agency, and enrolls at Brooklyn College, where he is taught by the émigré Hungarian designer and design theorist Gyorgy Kepes
1946 Moves to Los Angeles to work as an art director at the advertising agency, Buchanan and Company
1952 Opens his own studio, named Saul Bass & Associates in 1955
1954 Designs his first title sequence for Otto Preminger’s Carmen Jones
1955 Creates titles for Robert Aldrich’s The Big Knife and Billy Wilder’s The Seven Year Itch. The animated sequence he devises for Preminger’s The Man with a Golden Arm causes a sensation
1956 Elaine Makatura joins the studio as an assistant
1957 Devises titles for Michael Anderson’s Around The World in 80 Days and Preminger’s Bonjour Tristesse
1958 Forges a new collaboration with Alfred Hitchcock by designing the titles for Vertigo. Works with the architects Buff, Straub & Hensman on the design of his home, Case Study House #20 in Altadena
1959 Creates the title sequences for Hitchcock’s North by Northwest and Preminger’s Anatomy of a Murder
1960 First title commission for Stanley Kubrick, Spartacus, and the last for Hitchcock, Psycho
1962 Devises titles for Edward Dmytryk’s Walk on the Wild Side and directs his first short film, Apples and Oranges. Marries Elaine Makatura
1963 Stanley Kramer commissions Bass to create titles for It’s A Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World
1966 Directs the racing sequences and devises the titles for John Frankenheimer’s Grand Prix
1968 Wins an Oscar for the short film Why Man Creates and develops a corporate identity programme for the Bell System telephone company. Creates an installation for the Milan Triennale, which is cancelled after a student occupation
1973 Designs the corporate identity of United Airlines
1974 Directs his first feature film Phase IV
1980 Designs the poster for Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining and devises the corporate identity of the Minolta camera company
1984 Creates a poster for the Los Angeles Olympic Games
1987 James L. Brooks persuades Bass to return to title design by creating the opening sequence of Broadcast News
1990 Begins a long collaboration with Martin Scorsese by creating the titles for GoodFellas
1991 Devises the titles for Scorsese’s Cape Fear and a poster for the 63rd Academy Awards. Bass designs the Academy Awards poster for the next five years.
1993 Creates the title sequence for Scorsese’s The Age of Innocence and a poster for Steven Spielberg’s Schindler’s List
1995 Designs titles for Scorsese’s Casino
1996 Saul Bass dies in Los Angeles of non-Hodgkins lymphoma
© Design Museum
Bibliography
Philip B Meggs, Six Chapters in Graphic Design: Saul Bass, Ivan Chermayeff, Milton Glaser, Paul Rand, Ikko Tanaka, Henryk Tomaszewski, 1997
Gerry Rosentwieg and Saul Bass, The New American Logo, 1998
© Design Museum

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21-05-2008
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Saul Bass



Poster for The Man With the Golden Arm, 1955
Directed by Otto Preminger
Saul Bass



Poster for Vertigo, 1958
Directed by Alfred Hitchcock
Saul Bass



Saul Bass on the set of Psycho with Alfred Hitchcock and Janet Leigh, 1960
© AMPAS



Poster for One, Two, Three, 1961
Directed by Billy Wilder
Saul Bass



Poster for Bunny Lake is Missing, 1965
Directed by Otto Preminger
Saul Bass



Poster for The Two of Us
Saul Bass



Identity for Minolta
Saul Bass



Identity for United Airlines
Saul Bass



Identity for AT&T
Saul Bass



Title sequence for GoodFellas, 1990
Directed by Martin Scorsese
Saul Bass



Title sequence for Cape Fear, 1991
Directed by Martin Scorsese
Saul Bass

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22-05-2008
  3
flaunt the imperfection
 
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a lot of this was done before the advent of computers....
somehow i miss the 'hand' of the artist in a lot of graphic design...

that's part of what i love about saul bass' work...
it all looks like it was cut from paper free hand and then pasted together...
in an almost childlike fashion...


reminds me of matisse's CUT PAPER art from the end of his life...

i LOVE cut paper...

:p...

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22-05-2008
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japanese magazine IDEA released a fairly brief but still good monograph on him. there's another one in the works but it has been forever...

a similar but more contemporary graphic designer today is james victore, who is also very good.

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22-05-2008
  5
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He would've been a great textile designer..
I have long admired his work..
so it is nice to finally see the person behind it...
So ahead of his time..
Thanks, softgrey..!

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22-05-2008
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Quote:
Originally Posted by softgrey View Post
a lot of this was done before the advent of computers....
somehow i miss the 'hand' of the artist in a lot of graphic design...

that's part of what i love about saul bass' work...
it all looks like it was cut from paper free hand and then pasted together...
in an almost childlike fashion...


reminds me of matisse's CUT PAPER art from the end of his life...

i LOVE cut paper...

:p...
Agree one-hundred-percent! I've been around at sever3al graphic design forums and it's a very small percentage of work that is anywhere near handmade. It seems like today, it's all about photoshop. I am currently studying graphic design and personally I'm abit disappointed with the equipent we have, because we has (state of the art, by all means) computers, software, cameras, lights and videoequipment. I want cuttingboards and other physical things myself. I haven't quite have had the "guts" to explore graphic design physical before a while ago, and it felt SO satisfying to actually touch and interact with your works! I'm crossing my fingers for a physical revolution in graphic design! ^^

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22-05-2008
  7
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thanks for the thread softgrey
i like his work too

it's an interesting point
i actually feel the handmade graphics have come back --at least here
and i see it a lot in Finland
they use collage, very sort of naive-style felt-pen drawings and quick washes...
i like that Saul Bass' work is handmade but refined and clean though

as well it's right down to the point , simply ... sometimes contemporary graphics is too flashy and full of "filters" effects :p

Quote:
Originally Posted by wheneveriwakeup
He would've been a great textile designer..
I have long admired his work..
so it is nice to finally see the person behind it...
you think so?
did you see something in particular to make you think that?
i guess graphics-wise it's quite bold and nice

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22-05-2008
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^ His daring use of color is what does it for me...

& these..
Wish I could find bigger images...





sources: motiondesign & chocochip

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25-05-2008
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here are some images from one of his shorts mentioned in the bio
( I'm just about to watch this )

extended review here












caps by mvanilli

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11-02-2009
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Bumping this because I have to give a presentation on Bass for Design History. I only found one legit source in my uni library and it only has like 4 pages of pics of his work and almost no text info about him. My text book only has one pic with a caption for him! Shocking right?!

I would much prefer to have found more published sources in books but I'm having tough luck. If anyone has any more info on his life or work or examples or links to a reliable site of info on him please share these! I am really hoping I don't have to order more books from amazon and spend money for this presentation, but the library had pretty much nothing.

And thank you so much for all the info and images that have been shared already. Every bit helps a lot when you don't have much to work with.

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21-02-2009
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all the movie credit/headlines he did can be watched: here

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24-02-2009
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Thank you Marvystone! I have been learning a lot on this project. He really has a huge body of work! It's funny because his style is soooo recognizable in titles/posters, but his corporate work seems so recognizable as the company it was designed for. Which is very good but it's interesting to see the range. And have you guys seen the children's book "Henri's walk to paris"? There are some photos on grainedit.com.

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26-02-2009
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Hey guys! I just wanted to share my presentation with you so I uploaded it to youtube (my first and only video there!). I'm not saying it's good or anything but just incase you're interested. I made it using iMovie for the 1st time which is stressful since there is no way to save your project as you go along and I lost it twice. You just have to export it and then you can't edit the parts you exported. Maybe there are tricks but I had a hard time with that program. And I used the images from the site you link to marvystone. Probably would have been better if I embedded video but I didn't know how.

My presentation:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IK-2ef16h0I

a good and informative video I found with interview and titles examples discussed.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9UU132IUU_o

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05-04-2012
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