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The Art of the Title Sequence – The Influence of Saul Bass on Graphic Design and the Title Sequence

An important part of a film is its opening sequence. It gives the audience a hint of what they should expect from the film. The title sequence sometimes becomes a kind of McGuffin that pushes the film’s story into full motion (Lord of War, “life of a bullet” title sequence) but becomes irrelevant as the film rolls on. Sometimes it’s just a way for the director to show some spectacular CGIs or visuals (Girl with The Dragon Tattoo, 2011, and Fight Club, 1999), or sometimes the film’s drug related theme (Enter the Void). Though most of the time the title sequence is just the regular opening narrative of a love story, or a bloody beginning of tragedy.

Interestingly, the animated title sequence or kinetic typography wasn’t around until the mid-50s. Prior to the 1950s, the title sequence was just plain, static typography. These title sequences were done in a different reel and were flashed directly on the curtains of the theater (the curtains were raised after the title sequence is shown) and this part of going to the movies was called pop corn time. Everything changed when graphic designer Saul Bass introduced a different approach on how title sequences are shown  through kinetic typography.

The earliest film that Saul Bass worked on was Otto Preminger’s Carmen Jones. It is a musical film released in 1954 and marked a long professional relationship between Bass and Preminger. But it was Bass’ works in Alfred Hitchcock’s films that will make him known in the film industry. Saul Bass will go on to work on both the title sequence and promotional posters and flyer prints for different films, making him a well established graphic designer within the industry and as well in his profession.

Saul Bass’ style in creating a title sequence was focused on making it more than the pop corn time that it was during his era. He wanted the title sequence to become a prelude to the film’s story, something that will make it more engaging and help spark some curiosity to the movie-goers. Here are some of Saul Bass’ most interesting title sequences, from his earliest work during the ‘50s to his last with Casino during the ‘90s:

Saul Bass title sequence – Around the world in eighty days (1956)

Saul Bass title sequence – Not with my wife, you don’t! (1966)

Saul Bass title sequence – Spartacus (1960)

Saul Bass title sequence – Ocean’s Eleven (1960)

Saul Bass title sequence – Anatomy of a murder (1959)

Saul Bass title sequence – Walk on the Wild Side (1962)

Saul Bass title sequence – The Man with the Golden Arm (1955)

Saul Bass title sequence – Carmen Jones (1954)

Aside from his work with opening titles, Saul Bass was also asked to do various production-related pieces — such as storyboard designs — for films where he served as the visual and pictorial consultant. He also worked on several design projects, these included branding and logo design for company business cards and identities, and designing movie posters for different films during his time. From creating film industry-changing opening titles, Bass would go on to work in different fields of design – from advertising to packaging and product design.

About the author

Cadence is a senior blogger at You the Designer, a graphic design blog that features inspiration, resources, freebies, and tutorials for designers. Her quest to share her appreciation of art and graphic design has led her to contribute articles for different sites. Cadence also writes for UPrinting tackling topics from printing to business and advertising, being an aspiring marketer herself.


Bogdan is the founder of Top Design Magazine. You can find him in Bucharest-Romania so next time you want to drink a beer there and talk about web and stuff, give him a message.