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Design Forefathers: Saul Bass

Our series of biographical introductions of designers who have created breakthrough work in their careers and have influenced successive generations of designers continues with this installment.

Saul Bass (May 8, 1920 – April 25, 1996) was an American graphic designer best known for his work on animated motion picture title sequences.
“There is nothing glamorous in what I do. I’m a working man. Perhaps I’m luckier than most in that I receive considerable satisfaction from doing useful work which I, and sometimes others, think is good.” With this humble attitude, Saul Bass summed up a career that included a wide variety of media and earned him a lifetime of accolades.

From the first phase of his career, painting signs on store windows in the Bronx while attending high school, Bass learned respect for his vocation. Although primarily self-taught, Bass credits those who opened doors for his progress: Howard Trafton at the Art Students League and Gyorgy Kepes at Brooklyn College.

Throughout his long and prolific career, Bass wore many hats: art director, designer, photographer, illustrator, and filmmaker.

His association with renowned producer-director Otto Preminger was an adventure that brought him from designing graphic symbols for film advertising to reinventing feature film credit titles. The titles he created for “The Man With The Golden Arm,” “Anatomy Of A Murder,” “West Side Story,” “Walk on the Wild Side,” and “Around The World In Eighty Days” are still thought to be examples of a visual and conceptual sensibility unequalled in feature films before or since.

Bass saw an opportunity to create something greater than a title sequence. It was an art form which would enhance the experience of the audience and contribute to the mood and the theme of the movie within the opening minutes. Bass was one of the first to realize the creative potential of the opening and closing credits of a movie.

The distinctive character of Bass’ design work is stunningly apparent in his corporate design work, too. “I find corporations almost as fascinating as people. Every company I have ever worked for has a unique aura. The secret and the challenge are learning how to express and make comprehensible the subtext.”

In addition to his work in corporate identity, Bass has designed packages for many of America’s leading packaged-goods makers. His work as designer, photographer and illustrator has received widespread recognition. Many examples of his work are on display in museums around the world.

Bass was responsible for some of the best-remembered logos in North America, including the AT&T globe (1983), Continental Airlines (1968), Dixie (1969) and United Airlines (1974).

Bass collaborated with filmmaker Otto Preminger to design the film poster for the 1954 film Carmen Jones. Preminger was so impressed with Bass’s work that he asked him to produce the title sequence as well. A set of visually arresting Bass-designed matchbook covers.
Bass designed title sequences for 40 years:
• Spartacus (1960)
• The Victors (1963)
• It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World (1963)
• Casino (1995)
• Goodfellas (1990)
• Doc Hollywood (1991)
• Cape Fear (1991)
• The Age of Innocence (1993)
Bass became widely known after creating the title sequence for Otto Preminger’s The Man with the Golden Arm (1955).

The subject of the film was a jazz musician’s struggle to overcome his heroin addiction, a taboo subject in the mid-’50s. Bass elected to create a controversial title sequence to match the film’s subject. He chose the arm as the central image, as the arm is a strong image relating to drug addiction. The titles featured an animated, black paper cut-out arm of a heroin addict.

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