Among his most famous film-title sequences are the kinetic typography racing up and down a high-angle view of the United Nations building façade in North by Northwest (1959) and the disjointed typography that raced together and then pulled apart for Psycho. His later work for Martin Scorsese allowed him to move away from conventional optical techniques he had pioneered earlier and work with computerized titles for films such as The Age of Innocence (1993) and Casino (1995).
Bass was born in New York City and studied at the Art Students League and then at Brooklyn College with Gyorgy Kepes. He initially began his time in Hollywood designing print advertisements for the film industry, until he collaborated with director Otto Preminger on the design of the poster for the film Carmen Jones (1954).
Preminger was so impressed with Bass's work, Bass was asked to produce the title sequence for the film as well. This was Bass's first opportunity to design more than a conventional title sequence and to create something that would ultimately enhance the audience's experience and further contribute to the mood and theme of the film.
Bass was one of the first designers to realize the creative potential of the opening and closing credit sequences of a film, all contained within a fundamental design element—frame. He believed that film-title sequences could "set the mood and the prime underlying core of the film's story, to express the story in some metaphorical way. I saw the title as a way of conditioning the audience, so that when the film actually began, viewers would already have an emotional resonance with it."
His first popular success, for which he became widely known, was with Otto Preminger's film The Man with the Golden Arm (1955). The film was about a jazz musician's struggle to overcome heroin addiction, a taboo subject in the 1950s. Here he uses the addict's arm, jagged and distorted, as the central, iconic image. The film's poster is a study on how a frame can be used to bring focus, tension, contrast, and balance to an image that is extremely dynamic and powerful. The film's title sequence featured an animated, black-paper cutout of the same arm used for the poster. As expected, the sequence caused a sensation and became a memorable benchmark for the design of future title sequences.