Find the common element among these things: _Psycho_; United Airlines; Quaker Oats; Dixie Cups; _Goodfellas_; the Girls Scouts of America. I picked a grab bag, and I could have included a lot more, to show how diverse the work of Saul Bass was; he did graphics, and more, for all of them. There is no bigger name in graphic design than Saul Bass, and now there is a gorgeous book, huge and colorful as befits his career, _Saul Bass: A Life in Film and Design_ (Lawrence King Publishing) by his daughter Jennifer Bass, herself a graphic designer, and Pat Kirkham, who teaches decorative arts and design history. Flip through the 400 big pages here, and you are bound to find logos, posters, and movie title sequences you have seen many times; Bass's range and influence were astonishing. There is a bit of biography here, along with a relatively chronological summary of his work from his poster for his high school's open house through the poster for _Schindler's List_. The text is worth reading, and the authors have quoted generously from Bass's own thoughts on his life, work, methods, and output. As befits Bass's legacy, however, this is a picture book, and it is a treat for the eyes.
Bass grew tired of following formulas and "cramming as much illustration, type and hype as you possibly could into ads" in the early days, and eventually specified that he would not work on movie ads. In 1946, however, he realized he had to get out to Hollywood. Title sequences of the movies were conventional letters over conventional backgrounds, and sometimes theaters ran the initial credits over the curtain as it went up. Bass thought a film began at the first frame and deserved a mood-setting overture. His title sequences are famous for setting the tone of the film, and are among the best ever made, from the swirling Lissajous patterns of _Vertigo_ to the funny cartoons preceding _It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World_. Bass (and his wife Elaine, who gets much credit in this book for their joint efforts) had a "fade out" from making movie titles. He had a lot of corporate work to do, and was making his own documentaries and film essays (he also directed one feature film, _Phase IV_). He also found that directors were newly interested in using the title sequence themselves creatively, and perhaps this was a response to his own work. Nonetheless, he came back in the 1990s, working for among others Martin Scorsese (who writes the book's forward), for whom he did the admirable credits for _Goodfellas_, _Cape Fear_, _The Age of Innocence_, and _Casino_. Among the most interesting pages here are the reproductions of preparatory sketches leading to a final product. Bass would do perhaps 300 sketches for a single simple logo. Some of the pictures here show Bass getting ready to make a presentation of his logo work to a particular corporation - there are hundreds of alternative designs on the walls. Bass was a master of the presentation of the final design to corporate clients; he liked being "on stage," had excellent comedic timing and wit, and connected with each client individually. The presentation was the culmination of intensive work, starting with an analysis of what the company had done, its competitors, and its communication materials, and even enlisting market research. It is significant that Bass thought that one of the most interesting parts of his work was the interviews with one executive at a time. "I get to ask powerful and often interesting people about their work and their lives. It is in their heads that the real blueprint for the future exists or is being formed."
Bass was devoted to progressive causes, and did plenty of pro bono work; there are designs here for the ACLU, the Special Olympics, Boys Clubs, YWCA, and more. Bass had a devoted family, and people who worked for his firm remembered a dynamic, funny, intense man who loved his job. When they split off to make their own firms, he gave them his blessing - it was part of the creative process, and he had done the same thing himself. To see the many designs in this book is to appreciate that while his work was too diverse to have any one unifying esthetic, it was characterized by simplicity, distillation, and minimalism, and was always forceful because it was so concentrated. Revealingly, he was anxious with every new assignment; he told young designers that "the only difference experience made, he believed, was the knowledge that since one had managed to come up with good ideas in the past, there was good reason to believe it would happen again." He also said that considering present work is humbling "because no matter how much experience you have, the blank page is still terrifying." Maybe so, but he conquered any such fears countless times, with successes reproduced here on page after page of memorable, effective images.