Saul Bass Psycho 1960 title sequence

Saul Bass – Psycho (1960) title sequence

Directed by: 
Alfred Hitchcock
Anthony Perkins, Vera Miles, Janet Leigh, Martin Balsam
Title design: 
Saul Bass
Harold Adler

‘PSYCHO’ was the third of three titles Bass designed for director Alfred Hitchcock:
Vertigo (1958) + North by northwest (1959) + Psycho (1960)
Related: an overview of almost all Saul Bass title sequences

Fifteen years after Bass’ death, a book about his work finally hit the shelves: Saul Bass: A Life in Film & Design.

Title sequence
“Rebello in his account of the making of Psycho records that out of the $806,947.55 it cost to produce the film, Bass was paid $3,000 to design the opening sequence, which cost $21,000 in total to produce.” – Taking Credit: Film title sequences, Emily King (2004)
“The controlling horizontal and vertical pattern in Psycho appears immediately in the Paramount logo that precedes the film.The logo is scored with horizontal lines from top to bottom. This could be a Hitchcockian joke. Since he was making a film under the constraints of television production, why not play with the Paramount logo to make it look like a television screen? More likely is that Hitchcock and Bass wanted to start the graphic pattern of the film immediately, and the vertical peakof the Paramount mountain with the addition of the horizontal lines sets the visual tone, which is immediately picked up by the first two credit shots, animated as they all are, here with vertical lines streaming across the screen, culminating first with the appearance of the film’s title and finally the director’s name, fitting itself together like a jigsaw puzzle.” – Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho: A Casebook, Robert Kolker (2004)
For this title sequence, Bass worked with Harold Adler, a hand-lettering artist who worked for the National Screen Service and who also worked on the title sequences of Vertigo and North by Northwest; animation director William Hurtz; and cameraman/production man Paul Stoleroff. The lines we see in this title sequence were actually six-foot-long aluminum bars that were sprayed black and animated on a table at different speeds and positions. The camera was rigged on top of the table, looking down.

Adler described the process: “We worked on a large white painted plywood board with push-pins to guide the bars. The bars had to follow a straight line and couldn’t wiggle. Paul [Stoleroff] and I manually pushed in each bar at predetermined distances and speeds. Each bar was precisely timed by numbers of frames per second, called ‘counts.’ Each bar had to be pushed in and shot separately. Once a bar had gone across the screen, it was tied down. There were lots of retakes because they’d come in crooked …”

Bass utilized two sets of sans-serif fonts in this title sequence, Venus Bold Extended and News Gothic Bold, all in capital. Each title card was recreated on reverse (white type on black) photostats (early projector photocopier machines that photographed documents and reproduced them onto sensitized photographic paper), which were cut into three horizontal parts. To add motion, Adler said, “I moved the top section [of the title letters] in one direction and shot it at a certain speed, moved the bottom in another direction at another speed, and the middle part at another speed. So you were really getting three images, each one a third of the height of the lettering, coming in at different speeds. For the last frame, we popped on the word Psycho, which was the intact photostat by itself. For the other big titles, like ‘Directed by Alfred Hitchcock,’ I used News Gothic Bold typeface and we did the same three-cut technique as for the title of the movie.” – Just the Beginning: The Art of Film Titles, James Counts

You’ll find more titles like “Psycho” in the 1960-1964 and 1960s trailers sections.