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Saul Bass
Saul Bass gesturing, RIT NandE Vol11Num19 1979 May10 Complete.jpg
Bass in 1979
Born (1920-05-08)May 8, 1920
The Bronx, New York, U.S.
Died April 25, 1996(1996-04-25) (aged 75)
Los Angeles, California, U.S.
Nationality American
Occupation Graphic designer, title designer, film director
Ruth Cooper
(m. 1938; div. 1960)
Elaine Makatura Bass
(m. 1961)
Children 4
  • Academy Award, Best Documentary, Short Subjects, Why Man Creates (1968)
  • Honorary Doctorate, Otis College of Art and Design (1986)
Bass's signature (containing a bass fish)

Saul Bass (/bæs/; May 8, 1920 – April 25, 1996) was an American graphic designer and Oscar-winning filmmaker, best known for his design of motion-picture title sequences, film posters, and corporate logos.

During his 40-year career, Bass worked for some of Hollywood's most prominent filmmakers, including Alfred Hitchcock, Otto Preminger, Billy Wilder, Stanley Kubrick, and Martin Scorsese.

Bass designed some of the most iconic corporate logos in North America, including the Geffen Records logo in 1980, the Hanna-Barbera "swirling star" logo in 1979, the sixth and final version of the Bell System logo in 1969, as well as AT&T Corporation's first globe logo in 1983 after the breakup of the Bell System. He also designed Continental Airlines' 1968 jet stream logo and United Airlines' 1974 tulip logo, which became some of the most recognized airline industry logos of the era. He died from non-Hodgkin's lymphoma in Los Angeles on April 25, 1996, at the age of 75.

Early life

Saul Bass was born on May 8, 1920, in the Bronx, New York, United States, to Eastern European Jewish immigrant parents. He graduated from James Monroe High School in the Bronx and studied part-time at the Art Students League in Manhattan until attending night classes with György Kepes at Brooklyn College. In 1938, Saul married Ruth Cooper and they had two children, Robert in 1942 and Andrea in 1946.

He began his time in Hollywood in the 1940s, designing print advertisements for films including Champion (1949), Death of a Salesman (1951) and The Moon Is Blue (1953), directed by Otto Preminger. His next collaboration with Preminger was to design a film poster for his 1954 film Carmen Jones. Preminger was so impressed with Bass's work that he asked him to produce the title sequence as well. This was when Bass first saw the opportunity to create a title sequence which would ultimately enhance the experience of the audience and contribute to the mood and the theme of the movie within the opening moments. Bass was one of the first to realize the creative potential of the opening and closing credits of a movie.

Film title sequences

Bass became widely known in the film industry after creating the title sequence for Otto Preminger's The Man with the Golden Arm (1955). As he hoped, it caused a sensation. For Alfred Hitchcock, Bass provided effective, memorable title sequences, inventing a new type of kinetic typography, for North by Northwest (1959), Vertigo (1958), working with John Whitney, and Psycho (1960). It was this kind of innovative, revolutionary work that made Bass a revered graphic designer. Before the advent of Bass's title sequences in the 1950s, titles were generally static, separate from the movie, and it was common for them to be projected onto the cinema curtains, the curtains only being raised right before the first scene of the movie. In 1960, Bass wrote an article for Graphis magazine called "Film Titles – a New Field for the Graphic Designer," which has been revered as a milestone for "the consecration of the movie credit sequence as a design object." One of the most studied film credit designers, Bass is known for integrating a stylistic coherence between the designs and the films in which they appear.

Bass once described his main goal for his title sequences as being to "try to reach for a simple, visual phrase that tells you what the picture is all about and evokes the essence of the story". Another philosophy that Bass described as influencing his title sequences was the goal of getting the audience to see familiar parts of their world in an unfamiliar way. Examples of this or what he described as "making the ordinary extraordinary" can be seen in Walk on the Wild Side (1962) where an ordinary cat becomes a mysterious prowling predator, and in Nine Hours to Rama (1963) where the interior workings of a clock become an expansive new landscape. In the 1950s, Saul Bass used a variety of techniques, from cut-out animation for Anatomy of a Murder (1958), to fully animated mini-movies such as the epilogue for the Best Picture Oscar winner Around the World in 80 Days (1956), and live-action sequences.

On occasion, Bass' title sequences were said to outshine the films they introduced. When Billy Wilder's The Seven Year Itch (1955) was released, a film critic wrote, "If the film had lived up to the titles, it would have been a good picture." In reviewing A Walk on the Wild Side (1962), more than half of New York Critics claimed that Bass' titles were better than the film itself. In 1962, Variety even suggested that Bass might no longer find work in the title field since there has been too frequent the use of the line: "The best thing about the film is the Saul Bass credits."

In 1955, Elaine Makatura came to work with Bass in his Los Angeles office. With the opening to Spartacus (1960), she was directing and producing title sequences, and in 1961 the couple married, beginning more than 30 years of close collaboration. After the birth of their children, Jennifer in 1964 and Jeffrey in 1967, they concentrated on their family, film directing, and title sequences. Saul and Elaine designed title sequences for more than 30 years, continuously experimenting with a variety of innovative techniques and effects, from Bunraku-style maneuvers in Spartacus (1960), live-action sequences in Walk on the Wild Side (1962), to time-lapse photography in The Age of Innocence (1993), and even chopped liver in Mr. Saturday Night (1992). Their live-action opening title sequences often served as prologues to their films and transitioned seamlessly into their opening scenes. These "time before" title sequences either compress or expand time with startling results. The title sequence to Grand Prix (1966) portrays the moments before the opening race in Monte Carlo, the title sequence to The Big Country (1958) depicts the days it takes a stage coach to travel to a remote Western town, and the opening montage title sequence to The Victors (1963) chronicles the twenty-seven years between World War I and the middle of World War II, where the film begins.

From the mid-1960s to the late '80s, Saul and Elaine moved away from main titles to focus on filmmaking and their children.

In the 1980s, Saul and Elaine were rediscovered by James L. Brooks and Martin Scorsese, who had grown up admiring their film work. For Scorsese, Saul and Elaine Bass created title sequences for Goodfellas (1990), Cape Fear (1991), The Age of Innocence (1993), and Casino (1995), their last title sequence. This later work with Martin Scorsese saw the Basses move away from the optical techniques that Saul had pioneered and move into the use of computerized effects. The Basses' title sequences featured new and innovative methods of production and startling graphic design.

Титры фильма Психо
Credits movie Psycho

Screenwriter Nicholas Pileggi said of Saul and Elaine Bass, "You write a book of 300 to 400 pages and then you boil it down to a script of maybe 100 to 150 pages. Eventually you have the pleasure of seeing that the Basses have knocked you right out of the ballpark. They have boiled it down to four minutes flat."

In a sense, all modern opening title sequences that introduce the mood or theme of a film can be seen as a legacy of the Basses' innovative work. In particular, title sequences for some recent movies and television series, especially those whose setting is during the 1960s, have purposely emulated the graphic style of Saul Bass's animated sequences from the 1950s. Some examples of title sequences that pay homage to Bass's graphics and animated title sequences are Catch Me If You Can (2002), X-Men: First Class (2011), and the openings to the AMC series Mad Men and TBS's Conan.

Selected film title sequences

Logos and other designs

Bass was responsible for some of the best-remembered, most iconic logos in North America, including both the Bell Telephone logo (1969) and successor AT&T globe (1983). Other well-known designs were Continental Airlines (1968), Dixie (1969) and United Airlines (1974). Later, he produced logos for a number of Japanese companies as well.

Selected logos by Saul Bass and their respective dates (note that the links shown point to articles on the entities themselves, and not necessarily to the logos):

An analysis of a sample of Bass's corporate logos in 2011 found them to have an unusual longevity. The most common cause of the end of a Bass corporate logo (in the selection analyzed) was the demise or merger of the company, rather than a corporate logo redesign. The average lifespan of a Bass logo was more than 34 years as of 2013. In 2014, Frontier Airlines resurrected the stylized F logo originally designed for Frontier by Bass in 1978, and discontinued when the airline went bankrupt in 1984. Bass created the sculpture which each of the World Food Prize laureates receive.

Movie posters

The Man with the Golden Arm poster
The Man with the Golden Arm poster designed by Bass

Saul Bass designed emblematic movie posters that transformed the visuals of film advertising. Before Bass's seminal poster for The Man with the Golden Arm (1955), movie posters were dominated by depictions of key scenes or characters from the film, often both juxtaposed with each other. Bass's posters, however, typically developed simplified, symbolic designs that visually communicated key essential elements of the film. Bass's iconic Vertigo (1958) poster, with its stylized figures sucked down into the nucleus of a spiral vortex, captures the anxiety and disorientation central to the film. His poster for Anatomy of a Murder (1959), featuring the silhouette of a corpse jarringly dissected into seven pieces, makes both a pun on the film's title and captures the moral ambiguities within which this court room drama is immersed.

He created some of his best known posters for films directed by Otto Preminger, Alfred Hitchcock, Billy Wilder, and Stanley Kubrick among others. His last commissioned film poster was created for Steven Spielberg's Schindler's List (1993), but it was never distributed. His poster work spanned five decades and inspired numerous other poster and graphic designers. Bass's film posters are characterized by a distinctive typography and minimalistic style.

Selected posters by Saul Bass, and their respective dates:


Vertigomovie restoration
Vertigo poster designed by Bass
  • Carmen Jones (1954)
  • The Man with the Golden Arm (1955)
  • Edge of the City (1956)
  • Storm Center (1956)
  • Love in the Afternoon (1957)
  • Saint Joan (1957)
  • Bonjour tristesse (1958)
  • The Big Country (1958) (style b poster)
  • Vertigo (1958)
  • Anatomy of a Murder (1959)


Anatomy of a Murder poster designed by Bass
  • Exodus (1960)
  • The Magnificent Seven (1960) (design not used)
  • One, Two, Three (1961)
  • Advise & Consent (1962)
  • Birdman of Alcatraz (1962)
  • It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World (1963)
  • The Cardinal (1963)
  • In Harm's Way (1965)
  • Bunny Lake Is Missing (1965)
  • The Firemen's Ball (1967)
  • The Two of Us (1967)
  • Why Man Creates (1968)
  • Very Happy Alexander (1969)


  • Such Good Friends (1971)
  • Rosebud (1975)
  • Brothers (1977)
  • Notes on the Popular Arts (1977)
  • Bass on Titles (1978)
  • The Human Factor (1979)
  • The Solar Film (1979)
  • The Double McGuffin (1979)

1980s and 1990s

Theatrical release poster (not distributed) designed by Saul Bass for the film, Schindler's List (1993)
Schindler's List poster designed by Bass, his last commissioned film poster (not distributed).
  • The Shining (1980)
  • Return from the River Kwai (1989) (not distributed)
  • Schindler's List (1993) (rejected poster)

He received an unintentionally backhanded tribute in 1995, when Spike Lee's film Clockers was promoted by a poster that was strikingly similar to Bass's 1959 work for Preminger's film Anatomy of a Murder. Designer Art Sims claimed that it was made as an homage, but Bass regarded it as theft. Many film posters have been considered to be homages to Saul Bass's posters. Some recent examples include the theatrical release poster for Burn After Reading (2008) which incorporates Bass's typography and style of figurative minimalism, and a poster for Precious (2009) which includes elements from several of Bass's posters, including Anatomy of a Murder. The cover art for The White Stripes' single The Hardest Button to Button is clearly inspired by the Bass poster for The Man with the Golden Arm.

The comic book artist J. H. Williams III's designs for the Batman story "The Black Glove" pay homage to Bass's designs as well.

In addition to movie posters, Bass designed numerous posters for film festivals, and several magazine, book, and album covers. He also designed five Academy Award Presentation posters and the Student Academy Award for the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. In 1962 he illustrated his only children's book, Henri's Walk to Paris, written by Lenore Klein.


During the 1960s, Bass was asked by directors and producers to produce not only title sequences for their films, but also to visualize and storyboard key scenes and sequences within them. Bass has the unusual credit of "visual consultant" or "pictorial consultant" on five films. For Spartacus (1960), Bass as "visual consultant" designed key elements of the gladiator school and storyboarded the final battle between slaves and Romans. John Frankenheimer, the director of Grand Prix (1966), had Bass storyboard, direct, and edit all but one of the racing sequences for his film. For West Side Story (1961) Bass filmed the prologue, storyboarded the opening dance sequence, and created the ending title sequence.

It is Bass's credited role as "pictorial consultant" for Alfred Hitchcock on Psycho (1960). Bass introduced the idea of using a montage of fast cuts and tight framing to render a murder as an impressionistic and nearly bloodless one. Hitchcock felt uncertain about Bass's conception of the scene fearing that audiences might not accept such a stylized and quickly cut sequence. To convince Hitchcock that the scene would work as planned, eight days before shooting of the final shower scene, Bass used a newsreel camera and Janet Leigh's stand-in Marli Renfro to shoot footage on the set to plan the shots in more detail. Working with Hitchcock's editor George Tomasini, he edited this footage following the storyboards to show Hitchcock how the scene could work.

In 1964, Saul and his wife and creative partner Elaine directed the short film The Searching Eye shown during the 1964 New York World's Fair, co-produced with Sy Wexler. The Basses also directed a short documentary film called Why Man Creates which won the Academy Award for Documentary Short Subject in 1968. An abbreviated version of that film was broadcast on the first episode of the television newsmagazine 60 Minutes. In 2002, this film was selected for the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant". Saul and Elaine directed several other short films, two of which were nominated for Academy Awards: Notes on the Popular Arts, in 1977, and The Solar Film, in 1979.

In 1974, Saul Bass made his only feature-length film as a director, the visually splendid though little-known science fiction film Phase IV, a "quiet, haunting, beautiful, ... and largely overlooked, science-fiction masterwork".


The moving image collection of Saul Bass is held at the Academy Film Archive and consists of 2,700 items. The film material is complemented by the Saul Bass papers at the Academy's Margaret Herrick Library. The Academy Film Archive has preserved two of Bass's films: Why Man Creates, in 2011, and Notes on the Popular Arts (also known as An Essay: The Popular Arts Today), in 2012.

On May 8, 2013, Bass's 93rd birthday was celebrated by a Google Doodle, which featured the tune "Unsquare Dance" by Dave Brubeck.

See also

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  • Paul Rand
  • Richard Amsel
  • Tom Jung
  • Frank McCarthy
  • Bob Peak
  • Drew Struzan
  • Howard Terpning
  • Pablo Ferro
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