Pablo Ferro, Famed Title Designer on 'Dr. Strangelove,' 'The Thomas Crown Affair' and 'Bullitt,' Dies at 83

Courtesy of Joy Ferro-Moore
Pablo Ferro

Known for his hand-drawn typography and quick-cut technique, he worked on scores of films and innovative TV ad campaigns.

Pablo Ferro, a legend of Madison Avenue and Hollywood known for crafting the innovative main titles for such films as Dr. Strangelove, The Thomas Crown AffairBullitt, Philadelphia and the Men in Black movies, has died. He was 83.

Ferro died of complications from pneumonia Friday night in Sedona, Arizona, his daughter and son, Joy Ferro-Moore and Allen Ferro, announced.

The Cuban-born Ferro, who started out as an animator and had some of his early work published by Stan Lee, also did trailers and print campaigns. His hand-drawn typography was "his calling card," as the industry-leading Art of the Title website notes, and he was a master of the quick-cut technique.

"Often draped in jewelry and vibrant scarves, Pablo and his reputation as a wild-card artist were alluring to clients constantly on the lookout for the next big thing. His visceral approach to advertising inspired his Madison Avenue and Hollywood clients to take risks with color, with editing, and with bold imagery," says the website.

He mixed together animation, live-action, clips from newsreels, still photographs and original artwork.

Ferro's elongated hand-drawn lettering as seen in the title sequence of Stanley Kubrick's Dr. Strangelove: or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (1964) "emphasized the all-too-human hand of the artist in the filmmaking process," his daughter noted.

"I tried to do the lettering like it's usually done in films, but [Kubrick] said, 'Pablo, I don't know whether to look at the lettering or look at the plane. We have to see both at the same time,'" Ferro recalled in an interview for Art of the Title. "I said to myself, 'Oh boy, how could you do that?'

"I remembered that I do my own lettering, just doodling around, thin and tall and things like that, and I thought I'd try that. We did a test and it worked! Stanley filled the screen with my lettering. It was perfect! You could see the plane and you could see the lettering at the same time."

He collaborated with Kubrick again on the trailer for A Clockwork Orange (1971).

Ferro worked on nine films directed by Jonathan Demme, including Stop Making Sense (1984), Married to the Mob (1988), Philadelphia (1993) and Beloved (1998). He animated the first NBC peacock logo as it opens up into colors in the late 1950s, did graphic effects for Midnight Cowboy (1969) and served as a supervising editor on the 1983 music video for Michael Jackson’s "Beat It."

For 1997 releases alone, Ferro created the title designs and sequences for Good Will Hunting, As Good as It Gets, L.A. Confidential and the first Men in Black movie. Twelve of the films that Ferro "had a heavy hand in" went on to win Oscars, his children noted.

His resumé includes The Russians Are Coming, the Russians Are Coming (1966), Bullitt (1968), The Thomas Crown Affair (1968), Bound for Glory (1976), Being There (1979), Darkman (1990), To Die For (1995), Doctor Dolittle (1998), Psycho (1998), For Love of the Game (1999) and the two Addams Family features.

Ferro produced and directed the 1992 comedy Me Myself and I, starring JoBeth Williams and George Segal.

A multiple Clio Award winner, member of the Art Directors Hall of Fame and recipient of the Smithsonian National Design Award among his many honors, Ferro also was responsible for dozens of acclaimed television ad campaigns, including one for Burlington Mills that sparkled with fast-moving multicolored stitching animation.

Raised on his grandfather's farm in Cuba, Ferro came to New York City with his family when he was 12. In high school, he taught himself animation techniques and worked alongside Lee at Atlas Comics as a penciller.

"Stan Lee was very good to me," Ferro said. "He went through [a comic Ferro drew] and he almost fell off his chair. He said, 'Pablo, you know I can't print this last page, it's too shocking!' He told me to illustrate some stories for them and I did three stories for him."

Inspired by the foreign films he saw while working as an usher in a theater on 42nd Street, Ferro landed a job at a studio that produced black-and-white commercials, learned a great deal from Bill Tytla, who worked on the 1940 Disney classic Fantasia, and became an animation director.

Success in television and on Madison Avenue — he was great with subliminal advertising — brought him to the attention of Kubrick, Hal Ashby, Norman Jewison, Steve McQueen and others in Hollywood. He moved to London just to work on Dr. Strangelove for months and settled in Los Angeles in 1979.

In addition to his children, Ferro is survived by his former wife, Susan; grandchildren Alexandra and Tristen; and three sisters and a brother.

A public celebration of his life is set for Jan. 15 at a place in Los Angeles to be determined.

Correction Nov. 19: Ferro did the trailer for Clockwork Orange but did not work on the main titles.