When the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, many critics forecasted the end of James Bond—a Cold War character if ever there was one. At the same time, a prolonged studio dispute made a new Bond film seem unlikely for more prosaic reasons.
But then Goldeneye came along in 1995, proving that James Bond could be revitalized for the 21st century. Pierce Brosnan often gets the credit for this turn-around, overshadowing another key player: graphic design.
The elaborate opening credit sequence has been an integral part of the Bond franchise since Dr. No (1962). Over the course of the next 24 films, these 3-to-4 minute montages of imagery and typography have showcased the skills of four graphic designers in particular: Maurice Binder, Robert Brownjohn, Daniel Kleinman and the studio MK12.
Taken as a whole, they are a sexy, silhouette-filled tour of graphic design’s development over the last fifty years, from the minimal mod of Dr. No, to the computer generated 3D imagery of GoldenEye—a loud and clear statement that the Bond franchise could keep up with changing times—and on to the feast of vector graphics in Casino Royale (2006). Let’s take a look at the people who made them.
Maurice Binder (1962, 1965 – 1989)
Binder cut his teeth on title credits working as the art director for Columbia pictures in the 1940s. In the 50s he worked as an advertising director in New York, then returned to title credit design in 1960s London, where Bond producers Harry Saltzman and Cubby Broccoli caught wind of him.
His sequence for Dr. No, consisting of flashing colored dots and calypso dancers set to music, is a lot more minimal than what modern Bond fans are used to—more Saul Bass than swinging 60s burlesque. It did, however, introduce the iconic gun-barrel sequence that, along with Monty Norman’s theme music, would come to be synonymous with Bond.
According to Binder, the gun barrel idea came to him just twenty minutes before a meeting with producers, when he was putting a presentation together using white price tag stickers.
When Binder returned to do the fourth Bond film, Thunderball (1965), he embraced the more titillating style of his predecessor, Robert Brownjohn, and the rest is history: silhouetted nude bodies, projected images, fire and, eventually, lasers. It’s almost impossible to believe that the quintessentially ’80s credits for A View to a Kill (1985) are by the same person who did Dr. No, but there you have it. Whatever your thoughts on Binder’s later work, he was undeniably an artist capable of evolving with the times.
Robert Brownjohn (1963 – 1964)
When looking at cutting edge mid-century design, the Bauhaus usually isn’t far behind. Like Binder, Robert Brownjohn was drawn to 1960s London by the explosion of design, graphic arts, fashion and music that was taking place there. Before that, he had been studying with Laszlo Moholy-Nagy at the Institute of Design, also known as the New Bauhaus, in Chicago.
Moholy-Nagy may deserve some credit for Brownjohn’s most lasting contribution to Bond design: the projection of text onto moving human bodies. The sequence for From Russia with Love (1963), which throws credit text onto a back-lit belly dancer, basically laid the foundations for all to come, retaining little from Binder’s Dr. No apart from the gun barrel sequence. Brownjohn says it best: “On this type of film the only themes to work with are, it seems to me, sex or violence. I chose sex.”
Brownjohn’s work was such a hit that the producers offered him his own, independent production company to be devoted entirely to Bond credit sequences. However, Brownjohn declined, perhaps seeking to expand his horizons. After The Man with the Golden Gun (1964), Brownjohn went on to have an illustrious career in the wider world of graphic design, producing everything from logos, to book covers, to album covers for no lesser of a band than the Rolling Stones.
Daniel Kleinman (1995 – 2006, 2012 – 2015)
Binder passed away in 1991, further underscoring the uncertainty of the franchise’s future at that time. Barbara Broccoli, who took over for her father as producer, saw that the success of GoldenEye depended on the film looking up to date, and so she helped to select a new credit designer whose style was of the moment: Daniel Kleinman.
Not exactly a graphic designer, Kleinman’s forte was the then-emergent medium of the music video. He had done memorable (and quintessentially ’80s) work for the likes of Pat Benatar, Madonna and Paula Abdul, but no doubt reached the awareness of Broccoli through his music video for Gladys Knight’s “License to Kill”—the theme song for the most recent Bond Film. Also, unlike both of his predecessors, he was British.
Given a Bond-scale budget, Kleinman swept the franchise unapologetically into the digital era. GoldenEye is chock-full of computer-generated 3D forms (the mise en scene is a graveyard of Soviet-era symbolism) that look pretty dated now, but wowed audiences at the time.
His next endeavor, Tomorrow Never Dies (1997), even took up digital technology as its subject matter. His colorful, vector-illustrated sequence for Casino Royale (2006), the film that introduced Daniel Craig, again announced the franchise’s capacity for self-renewal.
Kleinman was not involved with Quantum of Solace (2008), the credit sequence of which is often regarded as the best part of an otherwise botched film. The firm responsible is MK12, a Missouri-based studio known for its boundary-pushing short film and advertising work.
Once again, Bond seems to be at a crossroads. Skyfall (2012) seemed to present a suitable place at which to end the Bond narrative, and Spectre (2015) has received tepid reviews by comparison, with several of them even taking direct aim at Kleinman’s “creepy” tentacular credit sequence.
Well, here’s what we know: at every moment Bond has progressed, its graphic designers have been on the front lines. Perhaps it’s time for new blood.