I love the Internet. If the Smithsonian is the nation’s attic, the Internet is the planet’s attic, basement, garage and rented storage locker. I used to be amazed by what I could find online; now I’m annoyed when I can’t easily find something. Recently a friend showed me a YouTube video of a school project by bhilmer, remaking the credits of Star Wars mimicking the style of design pioneer Saul Bass [perfectly done, by the way—I’ll include it in this post].
That clip reminded me of an obscure but Academy award-winning short film by Saul Bass that I used to show the first day of class to every one of my art classes when I taught college. More specifically, it reminded me of the opening segment of the film, an animated short that covers the “history of the world man has built on ideas” in a little under five minutes. And it does it brilliantly, with economy, wit and charm. A quick search on Google [again, thank you, Internet] and there it was! Give it a quick watch—it may give you your biggest smile of the day.
The film in question is Why Man Creates, produced in 1970. Amazingly, it is still in print and available from educational film distributor Pyramid Media. Here’s how their site describes it: “A series of explorations, episodes and comments on creativity by Saul Bass, a master of conceptual design, this film is one of the most highly regarded short films ever produced.”
Saul Bass wasn’t just a designer—he invented the field. He described the situation in an interview in 1986. “There was no school as we understand it today that taught the notion of design… In those days, all people who did work that was paid for were called commercial artists—as differentiated from painters, who never got any money for anything.” Bass took only one night class at the Art Students League in New York, a painting class. So essentially, as he put it, he was self taught.
Bass moved to Los Angeles, where the film industry became a huge client. According to Design Museum London, he was “not only one of the great graphic designers of the mid-20th century but the undisputed master of film title design thanks to his collaborations with Alfred Hitchcock, Otto Preminger and Martin Scorsese.” If you’ve seen any American films from the 50s, 60s and 70s, you’ve probably seen his design work in the opening credits. West Side Story, Psycho, Vertigo, The Man with the Golden Arm, Ocean’s Eleven [the original, starring the Rat Pack], Exodus… And the 1959 Preminger classic, Anatomy of a Murder. I show you the opening credits of this film not because they are necessarily the best work Bass did, but because when you see the Star Wars take-off, you’ll understand where it came from.
And now, the take-off that launched this whole diatribe. If nothing else, this post may send some business Netflix’s way.