PBS’ web series Off Book talks to artists working hard, whether they’re doing so in the street, in tattoo parlors, on Etsy, or on film and television title sequences. In the latest installment above, Karin Fong and Peter Frankfurt discuss their now-iconic Mad Men title sequence, as well as their earlier and more troubling opening credits for David Fincher’s Se7en. Ben Conrad explains how his title work integrated into the physical world of Ruben Fleischer’s Zombieland, allowing zombies to rampage right through floating letters announcing things like “Columbia Pictures” and “Produced by Gavin Polone,” and spelling out the numbered rules of post-apocalyptic survival even as the protagonists observed, bent, and broke them. Jim Helton tells the story of his back-and-forth with director Derek Cianfrance in designing the titles for Blue Valentine, which take exploding-firework imagery and aesthetically unify it with the scattered memories that make up the movie. All of them face the challenge of simultaneously inviting audiences into a story, reflecting its sensibility, and on top of that, making an original contribution to the production as a whole.
Though the meeting of design, film, and television has never been more enthusiastically examined than in this era of internet video, this line of work has a rich history. After this episode of Off Book‘s end credits, the interviewees all give props to title designer Saul Bass — “Saint Saul,” Frankfurt calls him — who, if you believe them, elevated title sequences, corporate logos, and other previously plain and straightforward means of visual communication into art forms unto themselves. Watch Bass’ creations in North By Northwest, The Man With the Golden Arm, and West Side Story, some of the earliest title sequences to showcase the form’s capacity for implication and abstraction, and you’ll understand his importance to these modern-day designers. Perhaps this brief visual introduction to Bass’ designs, previously featured on Open Culture, will inspire you to get into the business yourself.