Tuesday, 6 July 2010

Whitlock wages war! - MacARTHUR and how Albert Whitlock created sprawling vistas on a moderate budget with matte paintings.

The 1977 war bio-pic "MacARTHUR" in many ways harks back to the Golden Era of great war films made in the forties actually during WWII by such studios as Fox, RKO and MGM where the matte artist and visual effects cinematographer really had such a dominant part in the proceedings that such pictures wouldn't have been possible without them.  If you look back at sensational visual effects efforts such as "THIRTY SECONDS OVER TOKYO", "BATAAN" and A YANK IN THE RAF" to name but a few the entire narrative was at the beck and call of great supervisors such as Fred Sersen, Arnold Gillespie, Donald Jahraus, Vernon Walker and John Fulton.  Well "MacARTHUR" is no different, even with the 35 year time gap, producer Frank McCarthy and director Joseph Sargent realised that to produce such a chronicle of events surrounding the heroic and sometimes arrogant biographical events of the titled General Douglas MacArthur on a moderate budget matte wizardry was the only answer.  Thankfully the film was a Universal Studios property and as such the film makers inherited the studios' resident master of the matte shots and trick cinematography Albert Whitlock who came to the fore with an astonishing number of superb oil painted destruction scarred battlefields, battleships at sea, post Nagasaki scenes of mass destruction and even scenes involving the White House where permission could not be granted.  Director Sargent had worked previously with Whitlock on the seminal 1969 'what if' thriller "COLOSSUS- THE FORBIN PROJECT" from which Whitlock truly delivered the goods, with astonishing scenes of frightening technology and fictional defence department locales.

I always felt that "MacARTHUR" could have easily have recieved an Academy Award nomination for visual effects at least, though given the two heavyweights that year, a thing about flying saucers and a show about dogfights in a galaxy far far away it wouldn't have stood a chance - but still I feel the work was excellent  in itself even though the film didn't make any waves at the box office.  Who knows, maybe it did make the shortlist of 5 films in that category that year, but until someone riffles the files at AMPAAS we'll probably never know.

Special Visual Effects - Albert Whitlock
Assistant Matte Artist - Syd Dutton
Matte Cameramen - Bill Taylor & Dennis Glouner
Matte Camera Operator - Mike Moramarco
Visual Effects Key Grip - Larry Shuler

The view across Manila Bay from Corregidor matte shot complete with Whitlock sparkling water and moving clouds.
A shot breakdown of the above establishing shot as filmed on the Universal backlot.

MacArthur arrives in Melborne, Australia - almost all Whitlock art!

Whitlock and Syd Dutton painted Navy split screened onto real sea and this forming a process plate in either rear or front projection.  The shot is peculiar in the final film as there is a very noticable 'splice' that occurs in the process plate whereby it seems to be a loop that repeats itself mid scene - very odd and something I've never seen before.

Vast scenes of troop landing craft with I believe most of them painted in and separate inlays of smoke and fire elements.

The sort of shot that money doesn't buy - or does it?  Practically all Whitlock with many gags added.  This is very reminiscent of the sorts of old effects shots I mentioned earlier made in the 40's by Sersen and Kellogg all studio fabricated but great all the same.

More of the same - with Whitlock and Dutton working overtime to give such grandeur.

Effects cinematographers Bill Taylor and Dennis Glouner deserve as much credit for the flawless composites of original negative matte shots - Whitlock's tried and true specialty.

A magnificent painting done in classic Whitlock style, though the strange 'hard matted sea' at the far left has always bothered me - I'm not sure why this is so obviously in shot?

The master at work - the before and after speak for themselves here.

Post H-Bomb Nagasaki:  Whitlock and Dutton produced a sobering moment and all too credible scene of destruction.  Just the dirt road and a fraction of rubble on the right of the car is 'real' - the rest all painted.

The sort of invisible effects shot Albert was noted for, and why, according to Bill Taylor "fame came so late to Al as his work was in shows or shots that didn't call attention to themself"

The global scale of the narrative is attributable solely to Albert and his matte department at Universal.

The White House - or what purports to be that establishment, shot on a golf course in Pasadena. Whitlock at his most invisible and masterful without a doubt.

No comments:

Post a Comment