ART OF TITLES

You know what they say about first impressions…
Title sequences can be engaging or wildly entertaining, funny, exhilarating, or simply drop dead beautiful. They can be oozing with visual poetry and sophisticated imagery while others hit you hard with their bold and audacious stylistic gestures. And let’s face it, everybody loves a good title sequence. The very best title sequences not only succeed in putting the audience in the right mood for the movie, they transcend their proper function and venture off into the realm of something far deeper and far greater. They are the signifiers of contemporary pop culture and an art form in their own right. Just look at the impact of, for example, Saul Bass title sequences that have left an indelible mark, not just on film design and motion graphic design, but on contemporary visual culture as a whole.

The Title Design of Saul and Elaine Bass

Saul Bass (May 8, 1920 — April 25, 1996) was a graphic designer and filmmaker, perhaps best known for his design of film posters and title sequences. During his 40-year career Bass worked for some of Hollywood’s greatest filmmakers, including Alfred Hitchcock, Stanley Kubrick, Otto Preminger, Billy Wilder, and Martin Scorsese. He became well-known in the film industry after creating the title sequence for Otto Preminger’s The Man with the Golden Arm in 1955. For Alfred Hitchcock, Bass designed effective and memorable title sequences, inventing a new type of kinetic typography, for North by Northwest, Vertigo (working with John Whitney), and Psycho. In 1955, Elaine Makatura came to work with Saul Bass and after the opening title sequence to Spartacus in 1960, which Elaine co-directed and produced, the two were married.Much of Saul Bass’s title design and film work thereafter was made in close collaboration with Elaine. Toward the end of his career, Saul Bass was “rediscovered” by James L. Brooks and Martin Scorsese, who urged the Basses to return to main title design. For Scorsese, Elaine and Saul Bass created title sequences for Goodfellas, Cape Fear, The Age of Innocence, and Casino, their last title sequence. In a sense, all modern opening title sequences that introduce the mood or theme of a film are a legacy of the Basses’ work.

A History Of The Title Sequence

The film has been realized as graduation project in 2011 by motion graphic designer Jurjen Versteeg of studio From Form. Created as a possible opener for a fictitious documentary, the film shows the history of the title sequence in a little more than two minutes. It contains the names of revolutionary title designers who had a strong impact on the history and evolution of the title sequence. But that’s not all! Jurjen Versteeg has visualized each name based on typical characteristics of the titles that the designers have made. For example, this film refers to stylistic elements like the cut and shifted characters of Saul Bass’ Psycho title, the colored circles of Maurice Binder’s design for Dr. No, and the modern designs of Kyle Cooper and Danny Yount.

THE FILM before THE FILM

If you’ve ever seen a movie, you’ve seen opening titles of some kind. Opening credits have existed pretty much since the beginning of moving pictures, and they are as varied as the films themselves. “THE FILM before THE FILM” is a short documentary that traces the evolution of title design through the history of film. This short film was a research project at the BTK (Berliner Technische Kunsthochschule) that takes a look at pioneers like Saul Bass, Maurice Binder and Kyle Cooper by showing the transitions from early film credits to the inclusion of digital techniques, a resurgence of old-school style, and filmmakers’ love of typography in space.

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