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Saul Bass

Born: 8-May-1920
Birthplace: New York City
Died: 25-Apr-1996
Location of death: Los Angeles, CA
Cause of death: Illness [1]
Remains: Cremated (ashes scattered at sea)

Gender: Male
Race or Ethnicity: White
Sexual orientation: Straight
Occupation: Designer

Nationality: United States
Executive summary: Master of title design

Art director, designer, illustrator, filmmaker, and photographer Saul Bass created logos for such corporate giants as AT&T, Continental Airlines, Minolta, and United Airlines, and designed the promotional poster for the 1984 Olympic Games in Los Angeles. He is best known, though, for creating title sequences for motion pictures. Prior to Bass's time, title sequences were rarely more than the contractually-required credits, sometimes presented in a stylized text and perhaps superimposed over the film's establishing shots, but generally, if a movie-goer arrived a few minutes late nothing important had been missed. In assembling his sequences, Bass's operating philosophy was to "symbolize and summarize" the film, and he effectively created the notion that the title sequence was more than merely names and words, but should set the table for the film to follow.

Bass had a middle-class childhood in New York City, and as a young man he worked painting store windows on a freelance basis. In 1938 he was hired to help design promotional posters for the New York office of Warner Bros., and eventually he relocated to Hollywood. In 1953, his poster art for Otto Preminger's Carmen Jones so impressed the director that he asked Bass to create the film's title sequence, and Bass's vision of a rose over flames served as the film's motif. Over the next four decades Bass was the favored choice when moviemakers wanted the film's credits or closing to truly add to the audience's experience.

His best-remembered work includes the harrowing, fractured imagery of a heroin addict's arm that prefaced Preminger's masterpiece, The Man with the Golden Arm; the cartoon travelogue that set the stage for Michael Todd's Around the World in 80 Days; the rolling parallel lines that eventually converge as a skyscraper in Alfred Hitchcock's North by Northwest; the mesmerizing graffiti credits that closed and calmed Robert Wise's West Side Story; the ending montage of Pearl Harbor that added emotional weight to Preminger's In Harm's Way; the spooky crawl across space and slow revelation of the title for Ridley Scott's Alien; the stylistically photographed fabric that is comically revealed to be a handkerchief when Danny DeVito blows his nose to start War of the Roses; and Robert De Niro's surreal journey to Hell that opened Martin Scorsese's Casino.

Bass created the storyboards to support Hitchcock's vision for the classic shower sequence in Psycho, and did enough work in the photography of that sequence that he felt he had directed it. Title sequences have no Oscars, but he won an Academy Award for his 1968 mini-documentary Why Man Creates, an inspirational montage about human creativity. Bass directed a single feature film, 1974's Phase IV, an off-kilter but intelligent and visually stunning science fiction film that fared dismally at the box office. His wife and frequent collaborator was the graphic designer Elaine Makatura.

[1] Non-Hodgkin's Lymphoma.

Wife: Elaine Makatura (designer, m. 1962 until his death, two children)
Son: Jeffrey
Daughter: Jennifer Bass (graphic designer)

    High School: Art Students League of New York, Manhattan, NY (1938)
    University: Brooklyn College (attended, 1944-46)

    Saul Bass & Associates Founder and President (1952-68)
    Buchanan and Company Ad Agency (1946-52)
    Blaine Thompson Advertising Agency (1944-46)
    Warner Bros. Commercial artist (1938-44)
    Oscar for Best Documentary Short Why Man Creates (1969)

    Phase IV (Sep-1974)

Official Website:

Author of books:
The New American Logo (1998, with Gerry Rosentwieg)
Six Chapters in Design (1997)

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