Saul Bass’ Vivid Storyboards for Kubrick’s Spartacus (1960)


Those who know the work of Stan­ley Kubrick know that the longer he made films, the more insis­tent­ly he demand­ed the best: the most flex­i­ble, var­ied mate­r­i­al to adapt to his cin­e­mat­ic meth­ods; the shots with the great­est impact among hun­dreds of takes each; the col­lab­o­ra­tors with the strongest and most use­ful visions, no mat­ter their depart­ment. That very need for high crafts­man­ship would, you’d think, have lead the direc­tor straight to the door of Saul Bass, the graph­ic design­er who lived and rose to emi­nence in his field dur­ing the same era that Kubrick lived and rose to emi­nence in his. They did work togeth­er on 1960’s Spar­ta­cus and 1980’s The Shin­ing, Kubrick­’s fifth and eleventh fea­tures, but as Empire’s fea­ture on Bass’ ear­ly work explains, “it wasn’t Stan­ley Kubrick who recruit­ed him to piece togeth­er Spartacus’s open­ing sequences.” Still, “Kubrick had been an admir­er of his fel­low New York­er from his ear­ly work with Otto Pre­minger,” pre­sum­ably includ­ing work like his still-strik­ing titles for The Man with the Gold­en Arm


When Kubrick took a first look at Bass’ sto­ry­boards for Spar­ta­cus, as visu­al­ly vivid as any of his movies them­selves, he must have liked what he saw. Now you can exam­ine them too, both at Empire and at Fla­vor­wire’s col­lec­tion of “Awe­some Sto­ry­boards from 15 of Your Favorite Films.” Those of you who have watched Spar­ta­cus over and over again will rec­og­nize the look and feel sketched out (not that sketched sounds quite right for images of such a solid­i­ty unusu­al for sto­ry­boards) by Bass. But when the film and the draw­ing part ways, they do so because the plans actu­al­ly came out less elab­o­rate than the final prod­uct, not more. We see in the sto­ry­boards, as Empire says, “an ellip­ti­cal sequence with the cam­era lin­ger­ing on frag­ments of the fight­ing” with “a row of shields here, a skew­ered legionary there,” “but in those long-dis­tant days when bud­gets went up as well as down, it was scrapped in favor of just recre­at­ing the whole thing lock, stock and flam­ing bar­rel” — very much a Kubrick­ian way of doing things.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Who Cre­at­ed the Famous Show­er Scene in Psy­cho? Alfred Hitch­cock or the Leg­endary Design­er Saul Bass?

A Brief Visu­al Intro­duc­tion to Saul Bass’ Cel­e­brat­ed Title Designs

Stan­ley Kubrick’s List of Top 10 Films (The First and Only List He Ever Cre­at­ed)

Col­in Mar­shall hosts and pro­duces Note­book on Cities and Cul­ture and writes essays on cities, Asia, film, lit­er­a­ture, and aes­thet­ics. He’s at work on a book about Los Ange­les, A Los Ange­les Primer. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on his brand new Face­book page.

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