Of Saul Bass and the History of Film Titles

Years ago designer Saul Bass explained how he approached film title sequences to me when I interviewed him for an article. “Find an image that will be provocative, seductive yet true to the film,” he said. “It has to have some ambiguity, some contradiction, not only visually but conceptually. Not just isolating the prettiest frame, but finding a metaphor for the film.“

Beginning with his 1955 work on Otto Preminger’s “The Man with the Golden Arm,” Bass transformed the way film title sequences were perceived forever. He approached the task with a graphic designer’s eye, so that stills from his title sequences easily translated into a powerful iconic poster for the movie.

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“Bored to Death” Animated Type Title Sequence

The new HBO comedy series “Bored to Death” created by novelist Jonathan Ames is about a fictional writer named “Jonathan Ames” who hires himself as a private detective. For that kind of story line, the opening title sequence had to reveal a lot of background information – namely that the show somehow involved a novelist, fascination with words, a central character who lived a “noir” fantasy life, and a comic book quality. Tom Barham, title sequence director for Curious Pictures, found a way to weave all of this into the opening sequence by animating typography and using it to carry viewers from scene to scene and letting characters interact with letterforms as they walked across the page. The “flashlight” effect with darkened edges of the book also created a nice noir touch.

In an interview with artofthetitle.com Barham explains, “I wanted to do a combination character and flip-book animation to move the Jonathan character from location to location in a book format. Additionally, since the characters were made from text contained within the book where they exist they needed to move and interact with each other as if they were emitting or leaking letterforms or words.” The title sequence uses words from Ames’ original story and illustrations by comic artist Dean Haspiel, who is also the basis for the Ray Hueston role, played by Zack Galifianakis.