When you take a trip to the movies, your time is often filled with trailers for the newest blockbusters you can’t wait to see, the sound of crinkling plastic as the aroma of popcorn wafts throughout the theater, and thoughts about the story you are about to watch unfold. One piece of the puzzle that is often overlooked and underappreciated is the title sequence.
Though many modern films skip this component in favor of diving right into the plot (much to my dismay), there is one designer who never missed the opportunity to take advantage of it: Saul Bass. His name may be unfamiliar, but his work is anything but. From Hitchcock classics like “Psycho” and “Vertigo” to various other films like “Anatomy of a Murder” and “The Seven Year Itch,” his sequences made their way into more than 40 years’ worth of cinema.
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Saul Bass – photograph by Harrie Verstappen.
Often regarded as the first title designer to work with kinetic typography, or moving text, the work of Bass changed the way designers tell stories. Rather than follow the mold of traditional titles, he pursued nontraditional methods of unveiling information and effectively opened the book for the viewer. Whether using the side of a building or ridiculous illustrations to reveal a film’s title and important themes, his brand set the stage for films in a way that was sophisticated and emotional. Among the many elements prominent in his work were traditional methods of creating, like cutting up letters or ripping paper to express emotion.
Stills from the title sequence Bass developed for “Bunny Lake Is Missing” (1965). Art of the Title.
While the sequences he developed were specific to his style, they individually felt married to their movies and contributed a layer to the story that couldn’t be told through dialogue. Through this, Bass was able to share a piece of the pie without giving away the recipe – or hinting at the plot without giving away too much. His sequences allowed the viewer to pick up on cues or visuals that would be pivotal to understanding the plot, strengthening how we consume our favorite movies.
Stills from the title sequence Bass developed for “Psycho” (1960). Art of the Title.
Although he passed away in the ‘90s, his iconic style continues to weave its way throughout modern cinema, as well as countless brands. Anyone who has seen movies like “Catch Me if You Can” or “Split” can see that Bass lives on in the methods we use to capture attention, inspiring generations of designers and artists to discover new ways of thinking and glass ceilings that so desperately need to be shattered.