Saul Bass was a Modern Renaissance Man
Very few people have had the ability to reach and affect the masses like American graphic designer Saul Bass. It’s likely that you’ve encountered his work without even knowing it. For starters, he created the opening credits of James Garner’s racing epic, Grand Prix, a film I’m certain most Petrolisti have seen.
Saul Bass was born on May 8, 1920 in the Bronx, New York to immigrant parents. His creativity and love of art developed early as he spent his childhood constantly drawing. After graduating from James Monroe High School and a brief stint at the Art Students League in Manhattan, he began studying with Hungarian-born painter, designer, and art theorist Gyorgy Kepes.
His early career took him from New York to Los Angeles during the 1940s, where he created Hollywood movie posters. Back then, movie posters were purely print advertisements to inform the public of new movies, but Bass added intrigue and creativity to his designs. His posters told a story and enticed people to watch the movie instead of simply informing them of the actors in the film. Anatomy of a Murder, Vertigo, and The Man With the Golden Arm are some of his most famous poster designs. Director Otto Preminger was so impressed with Bass’s work on the poster for his film Carmen Jones that he asked him to produce the title sequence as well.
Traditionally, opening and closing film credits were static and boring, so much so that they were often projected on closed curtains in the theater; the curtains would only open for the first official scene of the movie. Saul saw this as an opportunity to enhance the movie-going experience and created exciting and cinematic opening credits that would set the mood and theme for the film. Text would fly across the screen, often accompanied by images, and his opening credits became a spectacle to see; projectionists were instructed to pull the curtains before the credits for any films that Bass worked on. Opening credits would never be the same again. After creating dozens of title credits, his last projects would be for four Martin Scorsese films: Goodfellas (1990), Cape Fear (1991), The Age of Innocence (1993), and Casino (1995).
Saul Bass is also known for making some of the world’s most recognizable corporate logos, many of which are still in use today. AT&T, The United Way, Girl Scouts, and Warner Communications are just some of the companies that enlisted Bass’s talent to create concise, timeless logos. The average lifespan of one of his logos is thirty-four years, as found by a study conducted in 2011, but “lifespan” refers to his original design. Most of his logos remain intact, with only slight updates to color and form.
A true renaissance man, Bass’s portfolio contained almost every medium; from film to architecture, packaging to graphics, he did it all. Bass passed away in 1996, but his fifty-plus years of work still touches people today.