Many of us probably don’t pay much attention to the beginning titles and graphics
in a movie trailer or even during a movie, but the audience attending the presentation
by Pablo Ferro at a packed lecture hall in the Houston Museum of Fine Arts on September
21, 2011, will surely be much more aware of them from now on. Wrapped in his trademark
red scarf, this graphics designer and film title designer kept us mesmerized for
a couple of hours, showing film clips and entertaining us with anecdotes about his
experiences with renowned film directors across the decades.
Ferro was born in Cuba in 1935, brought up on a farm, and then immigrated with his
family to New York when he was 12. During that time, he taught himself animation
and eventually became a freelance artist. Subsequently, he became so well known
and in demand that if he were named in all his creations, his would be a household
name. For instance, he designed the first color NBC peacock. And he became partners
with the likes of Stanley Kubrick, Hal Ashby, John Carpenter, Steve McQueen, and
Jonathan Demme, contributing to over a 100 well-known films. He has worked in numerous
capacities, such as director, supervising editor, visual consultant, cinematographer,
and even actor. He is also the recipient of over 70 national and international awards,
and in 2000 was inducted into the Art Directors Hall of Fame.
Earlier in Ferro’s career, Kubrick contacted him to do the trailer for Dr. Strangelove,
and put him and his family up in an apartment with access to a car that would take
him anywhere he wanted to go. One day Kubrick asked him, “What do you think about
humans?” Ferro replied, “It seems like everything they invent is sexual.” Soon
after that, they noticed how sexual the image of a refueling B52 bomber is in the
film, and Ferro suggested the song to go with it: “Try a Little Tenderness.” The
film clip he showed illustrated exactly the point.
Ferro is credited with introducing a number of techniques that are common in films
today, including narrative and nonlinear dimensions, the elongated letters (as shown
above), the quick-cut, and the split screen with multiple images. He is known as
a playful artist, and told about designing the lettering for Bullitt, and
then holding the lettering right up close to Steve McQueen’s eye to get his approval.
The response was, “I love it!”
When working with Michael Jackson on BEAT IT, he said that Michael just “floated
in and floated out of a room; his feet seemed never to touch the ground.” When working
with the Rolling Stones, he was surprised to find so little improvisation; everything
is worked out in fine detail beforehand. Still another anecdote was about Stanley
Kubrick asking him to double-check to make sure that the words in Japanese for A
Clockwork Orange were translated accurately, so Ferro took big cards with the titles
to a translator, and found that they were indeed correct.
Pablo’s son Allen, who is an internet technologist and multimedia producer and director,
was also present to show the film clips and add his comments.
In addition to the movies listed above, Ferro’s work can be seen in trailers for
The Thomas Crown Affair, The Russians are Coming…The Russians are Coming, Jesus Christ
Superstar, and the Rolling Stones’ Let’s Spend the Night Together.