Monday, October 29, 2012

CGAA Design: Saul Bass

Saul Bass


"I want to make beautiful things...even if nobody cares."

In the last few years a simplicity and modernity has arisen in the world of graphic design. This style of design may be considered unique by some, but one of the fathers of such design is Saul Bass. He is best known for his work with Alfred Hitchcock, creating some of the best credit sequences of all time and assisting with the storyboard process of the famous Psycho shower sequence.

Bass' title sequences have become well loved by the design world, setting up some of Hitchcock's masterpieces from the very outset. This is the magic of Bass' design, within 20 seconds we are introduced to a film with exactly the correct tone and mindset. He takes the viewer from darkness to the opening scene in the perfect way, with stunning yet simple graphics that not only stood out at the time but now are the icon for a medium itself.

There is a threshold in art and design where a work can become so iconic as to transcend its own scope and become a symbol for its medium. Consider Warhol’s soup cans or Mondrian’s colour fields, or — to bring it closer to home — Saul Bass’ iconic AT&T or United Airlines logos. And just as it would be difficult to find an American unfamiliar with these works, so too would it be difficult to find a moviegoer unfamiliar with the title sequence to Vertigo. [1]

There is something very expressive behind all of Bass' work. The editing of his designs have their own emotion and magic to them, bringing the film to life in an instant and setting down the framework for what is to come. This innovation in title design has set about a new art form in itself. Films and television now put extra effort and money into designing title sequences that exemplify the tone of the film. These few minutes are the audiences introduction to a film, and thus it makes sense that they immediately emote a certain tone.

Bass' work is at it's best when it is the moving image. His title sequence for North by Northwest went on to inspire kinetic typography, a new method of animating text alone, and now today sits as one of the best examples of typographic title design. Even without such animation and editing, Bass had a style and technique that made him unique in an ageing industry. His posters had a boldness and assertion that felt incredibly modern, standing as pinnacles of poster design today. Every piece that Bass created had a simplicity and tidiness that no other designer could create. This understated yet bold design style looks almost easy to some, but it takes an intelligence to really create something so simple yet still so full of description.

At the heart of Bass' work is an incredibly intelligent understanding of design. Bass was responsible for creating work that instantly read for an audience, he knew that within 30 seconds he needed to set the tone for an entire film. However, behind all this Bass had a heart for aesthetic. He simply wanted to make beautiful things in a world of antiquated ideas.

I want everything we do to be beautiful. I don’t give a damn whether the client understands that that’s worth anything, or that the client thinks it’s worth anything, or whether it is worth anything. It’s worth it to me. It’s the way I want to live my life. I want to make beautiful things, even if nobody cares. [2] - Saul Bass

"When Saul Bass started making credits, the credits themselves were part of the film. And they had a clarity of a modern sensibility that took him to another decade, another two decades ahead." [3]Martin Scorsese 

The work of Saul Bass brought life into title design. Without such an artist there would no longer be the superb title sequences that now grace our screen. For more information on the best of film title design, check out

A Brief History of Title Design from Ian Albinson on Vimeo.

Further Reading and References:

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