Pablo Ferro Set The Stage

It’s getting late on a Tuesday afternoon and I’ve now spent an hour trying to get this story started, staring at my screen. But why am I so hung up on nailing the first few sentences? Why not just get to the point right away?

Because humans have a psychological need for introductions, enticements, ease-ins: a chef will begin a proper meal with an appetizer; an author will wrap a novel with an alluring cover; composers of all stripes introduce theme, tonality and mood with preludes, overtures and intros.

A formally discreet, slightly gratuitous introduction to an experience is vital to sensory understanding and enjoyment. Those parts of the brain about to get targeted get a good warm-up, intellectually, emotionally, aesthetically.

Film title sequences are great expressions of this human need. In greeting the audience to a film, a title designer can suggest mood, theme, attitude; a good title can draw in a viewer in an efficient and irreplaceable way.  The narrative of a film is greeted by a now receptive audience.

In celebration of GDUSA’s 50th Anniversary, we are taking a look back at the history of design and the most influential designers of the past 50 years. Particularly in respect to the growing synchronicity of graphic and motion design, Pablo Ferro’s contributions cannot be overstated. Among the masters of cinema title design, Ferro’s work expresses the imperatives of thematic and aesthetic engagement most completely. Ferro’s best known work comes from the 60’s and early 70’s, a time when Hollywood became friendly to experimentation in style and technique.  Ferro’s sequences still are beautiful as stand-alones:

Dr. Strangelove | 1964

But it isn’t a mere matter of creative flourish; it is a deep understanding of context and appropriateness.  Whereas the opening sequence of Dr. Strangelove reflected a certain 60’s apocolyptic-gallows-whimsy fitting with the black satire of the film, the opening sequence for 1968’s Thomas Crown Affair was, in keeping with the spirit of the complete work, rakish, cleverly technical, swaggeringly modern.

The Thomas Crowne Affair | 1968

Ferro’s reputation for innovation stemmed from his early work on Madison Avenue.  He introduced arthouse techniques like split-screens and rapid-cut editing to the commercial world, and his hand-drawn lettering and animation would become a signature style.  Winning numerous awards, Ferro’s early advertising work would inform his hollywood career:

Beech Nut Lemon Sours | 1965 | Film Still


See the entire commercial here.

Burlington Mills | 1964 | Film Stills


See the entire commercial, along with archival sketches, on Ferro’s Blog.

Ferro’s work and influence continues to the present day.  There’s a ton of it out there and it is absolutely worth your screen time.  Of his modern work (a bit hard to find in clips online) his montage-musical collaboration with Danny Elfman in 1995’s “To Die For” and 2001’s influential Napolean Dynamite opening sequence are of particular note.