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Original Creators: Design Icon Saul Bass

We take a look at some iconic artists from numerous disciplines who have left an enduring and indelible mark on today’s creators.

by Kathleen Flood
14 May 2012, 10:55pm

Each week we pay homage to a select "Original Creator"—an iconic artist from days gone by whose work influences and informs today's creators. These are artists who were innovative and revolutionary in their fields. Bold visionaries and radicals, groundbreaking frontiersmen and women who inspired and informed culture as we know it today. This week: Saul Bass.

“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

Graphic designer and filmmaker Saul Bass is responsible for redefining the visual language of film as well as designing legendary iconography for brands like AT&T, Girl Scouts of America, Kleenex, etc. The Bronx native got his big break in Hollywood when he was asked to design the poster for Otto Preminger‘s film Carmen Jones (1954). Preminger liked it so much he asked Bass to produce the opening title sequence—an often overlooked component that Bass transformed into a fundamental element of a film’s composition.

In both his iconic movie posters and title sequences for directors like Alfred Hitchcock, Billy Wilder, Stanley Kubrick, and Martin Scorsese, Bass was able to successfully (and repeatedly) distill an entire feature film’s theme, mood, and style into simple and attractive graphic landscapes, using techniques like disjointed typography and harsh, angular design.

As a director, he’s most famous for storyboarding and suggesting the montage and tight framing of the famous shower/murder scene in Hitchcock’s Psycho, though he did make a few short films and a sci-fi feature film Phase IV (1974) later in his career. His last poster design was for Steven Spielberg‘s Schindler’s List (though it was never used) and the final title sequence he worked on before his death was for Scorsese’s Casino.

Here’s a selection of his most famous posters and title sequences…

Title sequence for The Man with the Golden Arm, (1955)

Poster for Vertigo (1958)

Shower/Murder scene in Hitchcock’s Psycho (1960)

Poster for West Side Story (1961)

Poster for The Shining (1980)

Opening Sequence for Cape Fear (1991)

Unreleased Poster for Schindler’s List (1993)

Bass is a designer who’s been “sincerely flattered” over the years. Compare and contrast (well, mostly compare) the Bass’ poster for Preminger’s film Anatomy of a Murder (1959) with Art Sim’s’s poster for Spike Lee’s Clockers (1995).

Saul Bass’ style is still channeled and celebrated by designers today—title sequences for recent films like Catch Me If You Can (2002), X-Men First Class (2011), and of course the hit TV series Mad Men pay homage to the late Bass.