Monday, 6 September 2010

Ray Caple - a photo tribute to one of Les's boys

  Before launching into this blog I'd like to mention that some of the earlier blogs have been added to, with above all, the phenomenal smoke transformation optical effect from SON OF DRACULA now on the John Fulton page.  One of the most jaw dropping special photographic effects of it's time that still knocks my socks off.  Check it out.               Peter

Ray Caple - matte artist                      (updated 10th December 2010)

*I'd like to sincerely thank Brian Johnson  for providing a much welcomed background history on Ray from their early days together with Les Bowie and Derek Meddings at Anglo-Scottish pictures.  I'd also like to acknowledge Domingo Lizcano for use of the particularly rare early Hammer images and several extremely hard to find Caple matte shots from several of the films discussed here.

SPACE 1999
Ray Caple may not be a name readily recognisable to many film goers, nor even to alot of special effects afficienados, but he is one who deserves a tribute and recognition for so much matte painting work in the British film industry.  For any industry people 'in the know' who can tell us more about Ray, I would very much like to learn more about the man and his career.  My apologies for any inaccuracies that will undoubtedly crop up here - I'm pretty much winging it with so little back up material available.

The British matte painting industry is severely lacking in appreciation and biographical data, which, as those practitioners of the art form pass away we interested parties are only ever able to piece together an often ill fitting jigsaw puzzle of who did what, where and when.  Spanish visual effects historian Domingo Lizcano has made amazing in roads in putting together timelines and case studies of international matte operations, and has assembled a marvellous British time line on his essential site so much of what I know of Caple and others in the UK side of things has come about by way of Domingo's conversations with Bob Cuff and Martin Body, supplemented by my recent discussions with Brian Johnson and Dennis Lowe who provided wonderful background information.

Bowie's swansong - SUPERMAN
Les Bowie - the father to UK effects men
To those unaware, Les Bowie was pretty much the tent pole that held up the British visual effects industry for some thirty years.  Canadian born Bowie started out as a trainee matte painter under the great Walter Percy 'Pop' Day at Denham studios in the mid 40's.  Bowie worked on many films ranging from the top end polished productions such as THE RED SHOES and BLACK NARCISSUS to far lesser known exploitation epics such as THE LEGEND OF THE SEVEN GOLDEN VAMPIRES (which actually is a hoot despite one of the least impressive glass shots imaginable of a Taoist temple on a hill at the start of an otherwise rollickingly groovy hybrid from Hammer and Run Run Shaw no less). 

George Orwell's 1984
Bowie worked with or trained numerous matte painters who in later years would gain a substantial footing in visual effects - Peter Melrose, Cliff Culley and even Albert Whitlock for a few years while based at Rank
As all British industry veterans will tell you, most of the later breed of special effects exponent got their start under 'Uncle Les'.  Brian Johnson, Nick Allder, Derek Meddings, Kit West, Roy Field, George Gibb, Ian Scoones and the subject of today's photo tribute, Ray Caple.  Les had a specialty matte studio at Stoke Court with Vic Margutti, who was largely responsible for refining the travelling matte process using sodium light and yellow and blue filters to achieve travelling mattes on black and white stock.  Margutti eventually split from Bowie films and set up at Pinewood Studios as their resident TM cameraman and specialist for any productions requiring the technique.  Future miniatures specialist Derek Meddings started with Les as assistant title artist to Bob Archer, and eventually turned his artistic hand to glass painting for a time.

For more on the mattes of SHE, go here
In speaking with Oscar winning visual effects supervisor Brian Johnson I have been most fortunate in piecing together a great deal of Ray's career, in particular the early days from when Brian was recruited by Les over a pint in The Dog and Pot pub in Stoke Poges to work, initially, as floor sweeper of Bowie's effects studio at Anglo-Scottish Pictures, based in an abandoned cinema  in Addlestone.   Recently deceased matte veteran Bob Cuff, was one of the numerous effects men who worked side by side with Caple throughout the sixties on mainly Hammer and Harryhausen pictures and had fond reminiscences of Ray.
Les Bowie hand picked Ray sometime in the late fifties as a trainee matte artist when Caple was just fifteen from which a fruitful partnership developed which, as far as I know continued pretty much uninterrupted for many years right up until Les's untimely death in 1979 upon the completion of SUPERMAN -THE MOVIE.  The best I can come up with is the filmography published in the Rolf Giesen book Special Effects Artists where THE QUATERMASS EXPERIMENT in 1955 seemed to be Ray's first film, which was somewhat earlier than I'd have thought.

Based on the info I have, Caple came on board around the time Bowie had an effects shop in the abandoned cinema in Addlestone, the studio base for Anglo-Scottish Pictures, probably around 1955.  Vic Margutti and Roy Field were already working for Les and in fact  right from these early years taught Ray everything they could about optical effects and composite photography - training that would pay off in spades as later in his career Ray which would see Ray as an accomplished cinematographer and optical effects technician in his own right.

A number of important British pictures were emerging around that time, pictures that would start a trend and genre all of their own - the Hammer films.  Bowie was a key ingredient in the success story that was Hammer, and with him came Caple.  It's always difficult to ascertain with any degree of certainty who painted what when their were partnerships in such lines of work.  I do know that as skilled and experienced a matte painter that Bowie was he had chosen for reasons of his own to largely phase himself out of matte painting by the early sixties and concentrate on other effects work - all other effects work from miniatures, prosthetic effects, mechanical effects and TM composite photography with Vic Margutti.   
With some of the examples of matte shot I have included here I'm pretty well guessing that Ray had a hand in painting them,  or at least assisting on the set ups especially the early films such as THE TROLLENBERG TERROR and the QUATERMASS films.  He did paint extensively throughout the sixties, as was pointed out by fellow matte artist Bob Cuff, with whom he teamed on virtually every Bowie Films effects job.  Cuff described leaving the Shepperton matte department in 1963 to come and work with Les Bowie, by which time "Caple had already been working as Bowies' matte artist since an early age".  Cuff, an experienced matte painter himself with over 10 years experience by that point described Caple as "a gifted painter and modeler who even did his own camera work".  He continued "many mattes over the years were painted and put together by Ray". According to Cuff  "Les Bowie, a brilliant painter, had virtually stopped painting by the time I went to work with him in 1964"Brian Johnson remembers Ray as being "very Welsh and having a great sense of humour" with the pair of them taking every opportunity available to tease poor Derek Meddings, who took it all in good humour.  According to Johnson, Bowie himself would say on numerous occasions that "Ray was a superb artist - matte and otherwise."

Among the many films Ray worked on (uncredited) throughout this era were X THE UNKNOWN, THE PIRATES OF BLOOD RIVER, TERROR OF THE TONGS, SHE, FIRST MEN IN THE MOON and MASQUE OF THE RED DEATH to name but a few.  The 1961 science fiction picture THE DAY THE EARTH CAUGHT FIRE was one particular show singled out by Brian Johnson as a memorable experience whose results up on screen looked far better than the miniscule budget would ever suggest. The first film I am aware of where Ray actually received screen credit (and one of the few he ever did get his name on) was the mammoth BATTLE OF BRITAIN around 1967 - a rare solo contract without the Bowie company's involvement. Ray apparently had his own company for this film, Lowndes Film Technical Services which was owned by producer Harry Saltzman and run by Ray, with Wally Veevers. Brian Johnson recalls that period as one when Ray would drive around in a big V12-E Type Jaguar, and also the time he met his future wife, Lynnette, a trainee matte painter. It should be remembered that around this period there were essentially three or four matte painting outlets in the U.K.  Pinewood had Cliff Culley and Charles Stoneham, while MGM-Elstree had Douglas Adamson. Shepperton had Gerald Larn, Doug Ferris and Peter Melrose, with Ray as something of a renegade outsider, a freelance operator without any studio alliance, which was rare in those days. 

Looking over Ray's catalogue I'd have to conclude that his biggest matte job, and possibly his best was the big 70mm American production MACKENNA'S GOLD in 1968.  This was a huge matte painting job and as such required the services of four painters - Caple, Bob Cuff, Joy Seddon and Lynette Lee.  The paintings were frequently passed from one artist to another so it's difficult to know who painted what. It was rumoured that master matte painter Albert Whitlock was initially approached to paint on this film but declined due to 'artistic differences' over the unsound conceptual aspect of the rising morning sun creating a longer and longer shadow as the minutes pass by - a key plot device.  I'll publish a separate blog just for the lovely MacKENNA'S GOLD mattes later as there are so many really great shots.

Ray painted on a number of films (many of which we'll probably never know for sure) with pictures as diverse as the ballet opera THE SLIPPER AND THE ROSE in 1976 to the trees and grandstand in CHARIOTS OF FIRE in 1981.  Being largely invisible to the outside world (not helped by his reputed shyness and being a constant worrier over everything imaginable) Ray was based at Maidenhead where he established his own specialist matte studio with his wife, Lynette Harboard, who according to matte cinematographer Martin Body "was herself a talented painter". She may well have been the Lynette Lee credited with Caple as matte painter on the 1968 MacKENNA'S GOLD, though it's difficult to be certain.  The seventies saw some extraordinary painting on shows such as the  tiresome Bruce Lee penned head scratcher with David Carradine CIRCLE OF IRON (aka THE SILENT FLUTE).  The mattes are far better than the film from what I recall of it.
With SUPERMAN - THE MOVIE Ray was working with his old mentor Les Bowie again after a number of years, with the team comprising of Doug Ferris, Ivor Beddoes and Liz Lettman the film deservedly won the Oscar for special visual effects, though sadly it proved to be a posthumous award for Uncle Les as he passed away prior to the award ceremony.  I always felt that the otherwise wonderful Craig Barron book The Invisible Art seriously lacked a British perspective of the matte world.

 Of course it often takes either a mega hit or a cult film to establish ones visibility in these sorts of technical fields - ALIEN certainly achieved that on both bases.  If any film gave Ray profile it would be that brilliant Ridley Scott picture, even though the matte load was relatively low, with some mattes landing on the cutting room floor, what remained made a lasting impression upon millions of viewers.  The Alien egg chamber matte painting within the derelict spacecraft was an image that stuck in everybody's mind as much due to Caple as to the inherent creepiness and forboding that the set piece achieved.

A number of films followed, with three more SUPERMAN films, none of which utilised Ray's talents he found work elsewhere nonetheless. Effects supervisor Harrison Ellenshaw wanted to use Ray on the wholly dire and best forgotten SUPERMAN IV, but the latter was unavailable.  Caple was reputedly Ellenshaw's favourite English matte painter.

The dreadful HIGHLANDER featured some dynamic painting by Ray, much of which I'd never have picked if it hadn't been for someone pointing out those amazing Times Square mattes at the end.  Streets, buildings and signs all around the central  rooftop action was "pure Caple". Among other films was the John Landis 'Road' spoof SPIES LIKE US (which would have worked better with Bob Hope and Bing Crosby) where Ray worked under effects maestro Derek Meddings to create the Afganistan sequence.
From MASQUE OF THE RED DEATH - Bob and Ray worked side by side on the numerous mattes for this film.

Another of Les's boys, the late Ian Scoones wrote once that "Ray was an untrained artist who just listened to the way that Les taught him.  Always the quick gimmicks, such as holding two or three brushes at once, one with yellow, one with green and one with a lighter green, and just twisting his wrists and doing a whole tree in seconds".      (from Hammer Films: The Bray Studio Years)

Around 1989, as I understand it, Ray suffered from a serious injury when a Moy mount, a particularly heavy camera mount accidentally dropped on his foot causing significant damage, with the resultant painkilling treatment unknowingly masking an existing underlying clinical condition leading to a burst stomach ulcer which lead to Ray's untimely sudden death.  Ray's friend, special effects supervisor Brian Johnson recalls the shock of Ray's sudden death as "a great loss of a great mate".  Speaking with Brian recently he told me of visiting Ray and Lynn's home - ..."Inside was amazing, all rooms were painted black from floor to ceiling.  There were pictures that he and Lynn had painted hanging on the walls and lit with spotlights.  Very striking way of lighting a room!  The paintings had very bright colours (against black) just seemed to 'float'".  By all accounts Ray was a unique talent in every aspect of his life.

*There is a wonderful website run by 'ALIEN' visual effects designer Dennis Lowe which is essential for all visual effects fans.  Among the treasures are some excellent video documentaries on people like Brian Johnson and Kit West, with the most entertaining and informative one being a 37 minute doco on the  facscinating career of Les Bowie

Below is a photo tribute to some of the matte shots Ray worked on (as best I can verify)...  enjoy.

One of Bowie's eternal embaressments by his own account, the 1958 THE TROLLENBERG TERROR (aka THE CRAWLING EYE), isn't all that bad in fact.  Not knowing exactly when Caple started with Bowie makes it strictly guesswork on my part as to whether or not Ray was involved quite so early on (1957).  Bowie wrote of the shot at the right with a cotton wool cloud literally nailed to the painting which he'd envisioned as a quick cutaway shot, but the producers re-used this same, in Les's words "dreadful shot every time a character looked out of a window".  This film may also mark one of Derek Meddings first forays in to matte painting as another of Les's boys.

Mattes from the cult classic QUATERMASS 2 shown here in original monochrome and recent colourised version. Once again, whether Ray was involved at this early point is pure speculation.  Matte cameraman Martin Body stated that Caple had indeed been working with Bowie for some years before he met him, so it's any ones guess.
The excellent DAY THE EARTH CAUGHT FIRE from 1961 with great widescreen matte work utilising large blow up photographs which were then painted over and substantially altered by Caple. Brian Johnson and Vic Margutti were heavily involved and Kit West was matte cameraman on this show - and all for the staggeringly economic sum of just UK17'500 pounds sterling.

KISS OF THE VAMPIRE made in 1963, with wonderfully atmospheric matte and miniatures, plus original painting and model castle years later seen on display at right
One of Hammer's forays into sheer adventure - THE MEN OF SHERWOOD FOREST

A beautiful painted ship and palms that appear to be an in camera glass shot from PIRATES OF BLOOD RIVER (1961)
Les Bowie and Ray contributed two mattes of Hong Kong wharves and landscape for TERROR OF THE TONGS (1961)

The rather effective 1962 Hammer chiller NIGHTMARE featured these day and night painted additions to manor house.
Also from NIGHTMARE is this creepy asylum - a joint Caple, Bowie and Scoones affair.  See below.

The actual asylum and sky is a Ray Caple painting, with the closer foreground a meticulously built miniature set by Les Bowie and Ian Scoones at Bowie Films in Slough.  The model-painting combo was lit and photographed by Bowie's regular FX cameraman Kit West with a slow push in for the night shot and a long dolly shot for the daytime process plate which was then utilised out of the car windows.

A closer view of the NIGHTMARE miniature and Caple painting on Bowie's effects stage.

The Ray Harryhausen caveman adventure ONE MILLION BC with Bowie-Caple-Cuff prologue matte shots and miniature volcanic eruption and blue screened action all centred around the start of the story.
One of Les Bowie's shows, CITY BENEATH THE SEA (aka WAR GODS OF THE DEEP) from around 1965 utilised the combined matte painting talents of Bowie regulars Ray Caple and Bob Cuff for a number of shots.

More undersea painted effects by Caple and Cuff.

A few frames from a most impressive and unusual climactic demise, though not Dracula this time, but Vincent Price in the above film.  It appears on repeat viewing to be a still enlargement of Price with what I would summise to be carefully hand painted aging effects overlayed as a separate element.  Brilliant stuff and it looks so refreshing after seeing so many of those lap dissolve death scenes from Hammer where problems with plate alignment and registration tend to show up.

Harryhausen and Bowie at work on THE FIRST MEN IN THE MOON. Cuff and Caple were definitely involved with this.
A dazzling example of invisible before and after Ray Caple matte art from THE BATTLE OF BRITAIN, with the rare before plate supplied by matte cameraman Martin Body.  For this film Ray ran the Harry Saltzman owned matte effects company Lowndes Film Technical Services. This was the first of numerous films and television commercials that Body and Caple would collaborate on, usually for Peerless Camera Co  - a leading supplier of opticals in the UK.
Nazi rally matte effects and London devastation from BATTLE OF BRITAINWally Veevers was overall photographic effects supervisor on this show with Martin Body as matte cameraman. The effects could very well have been Oscar worthy in my book, especially the amazing Glen Robinson miniature air battles and Cliff Richardson full scale effects.
The wild and wacky Peter Sellers-Woody Allen CASINO ROYALE featured numerous matte and miniature effects, credited on screen as 'special matte work  by Les Bowie', with  Ray Caple, Bob Cuff and I think, Doug Ferris.
The excellent and beautifully photographed MASQUE OF THE RED DEATH mattes by Caple and Cuff, with stunning production  design by Robert Jones and exquisite scope cinematography by future director Nicholas Roeg.

EVIL OF FRANKENSTEIN (1964) mattes and miniatures giving a sense of grandeur to the small budget.

The mammoth 65mm western epic MacKENNA'S GOLD was filled to the brim with terrific matte work, miniatures, cell animation and visual effects.  Effects supervisor was Lawrence W. Butler, with Donald Glouner and Willis Cook. A large independent British matte unit based initially at the technicolour labs in London was headed by Bob Cuff and Ray Caple, with Lynette Lee and Joy Seddon as part of the painting team.  Lynette Lee may be the Lynette Harboard who became Ray's wife and matte assistant.  Matte cameramen on this show were John Mackie and Paul Cuff.
I can't be certain, but I'm guessing Caple could have done this matte from SCARS OF DRACULA.  The overall effects supervisor was Roger Dicken.

The vastly under rated little Hammer gem, VAMPIRE CIRCUS with these seasonal effects shots by Ray.  Les was effects supervisor and presumably handled the graphic bloodshed such as David Prowse's exploding shotgun blasted bare back.

One of the last Hammer films, FRANKENSTEIN AND THE MONSTER FROM HELL has this beautiful matte shot.
One of a number of matte paintings done by Ray for Brian Johnson on the 1974 cult series SPACE 1999 - "Ray used a room in L and M block at Pinewood to do some stuff but I'm pretty sure most was done from his (Ray's) own studio that could have been at his house in Maidenhead"

Another Caple shot from SPACE 1999.  The show was filmed on Super 16mm, though all visual effects material was given the big screen treatment on 35mm stock, allowing for excellent registration during multiple passes for overlays and split screens - all done in camera, and with beautifully clean original negative results.

SPACE 1999 - According to effects director Brian Johnson "Ray did all the optical lasers and mattes for the show.  Most stuff we did in camera as we had to do 6 shots a day, five days a week.  The impossible in-camera shots I gave to Ray".
Ray's painted in foreground tree makes for a nice compositional shot for SLIPPER AND THE ROSE (1976)
THE SLIPPER AND THE ROSE - thanks to my fellow matte collector Domingo for these correctly proportioned frames.

Ray's beautiful fairy tale castle from the Sherman Brothers' musical THE SLIPPER AND THE ROSE  (1976)

Also from that same film

A cropped matte shot from THE SLIPPER AND THE ROSE - a film I recall fondly as the first film my dear Grandma had seen since around 1945 (!) and loved every minute of it.  She had a deep mistrust of the 'evils' of cinema, not to mention tv - whereby I have distinct memories of being banned from watching STAR TREK as a kid on tv as the idea of man in space and visiting other worlds was seen by Nana as "very dangerous ideas to implant in a young boy's mind".

Long a mystery to film buffs, it's now known that Ray painted the numerous mattes on the delightful LAND THAT TIME FORGOT - a really fun film back in '74 when I was a teenaged dinosaur movie freak (which in itself sounds like a bad Samuel Z.Arkoff drive in movie!!!)

It was during conversations with retired Shepperton matte painter Gerald Larn on that when asked whether he had painted these shots that Larn mentioned he was certain Caple painted on this film, thus solving a long time mystery.

Another uncertain credit here - THE EAGLE HAS LANDED has this wonderful painted stream, sky and beached German vessel - I've really nothing to go on regarding authorship of this matte so it's a guess on my part.
Ray goes cult TV... the misjudged American miniseries THE MARTIAN CHRONICLES made in 1977 was reported to contain some 45 Caple matte shots though I couldn't find that many.  Some of these are really nice, which when compared with the 'you have to see it to believe it' poor miniature work by John Stears and the 'is it a good idea to shoot 'em at f2.8 with a 100mm lens' model cinematography by Bob Kindred.               Jesus!
One more of the many fine Caple mattes from THE MARTIAN CHRONICLES
The beautiful matte painted shots ray supplied for the bizarre Bruce Lee penned - David Carradine mind trip that was CIRCLE OF IRON - also known as THE SILENT FLUTE (1978)

Two more lovely Caple glass shots from CIRCLE OF IRON

SUPERMAN - THE MOVIE... still as wonderful an escapist adventure today as it was back in 1978. SUPERMAN was one of those gems in which all factors fall into place resulting in a marvellous, timeless entertainment that'll stay with us long after the awful CGI remake is long dead and buried.  Chris Reeve, we all miss ya.
I may be wrong on this one - it may be a Doug Ferris painting, and what a magnificent painting and, I believe original negative composite.  A masterpiece of the art formIf I'm wrong I'm sure I'll be informed.
Once again, it's hard to correctly identify who painted what on SUPERMAN, though my guess is probably Ray, with Les Bowie's atom bomb cloud simply and effectively produced in a tank.
Ray gains notoriety - and to think it only too 25 years!  ALIEN - another classic that's as good now as when I saw it at a special advance preview way back in mid 1979.  It blew my mind then and still rocks my world today.  Rarely has an ensemble cast been as impeccable as Ridley Scott's cast in this show.  Above are Gigers' conceptual illustration, Ray's first blocking in of the egg chamber, and the final iconic matte shot in the film.
An extremely rare frame of an unused Ray Caple matte shot of the alien mothership from ALIEN.  For a goldmine of visual effects information on the entire ALIEN series visit effects designer Dennis Lowe's tremendous website which is filled with great behind the scenes photographs, video interviews and more.

Caple ALIEN matte preliminary composite.  The finished shot in the film doesn't look as good as this one.
Several glass shots from ALIEN featuring painted foreground planet and satellite art, though I'm not sure they all made the final cut, with that rings of Saturn painting likely being a casualty.  The fellow with the slate is focus puller Terry Pierce and all of the effects footage was shot at Bray Studios.
A before and after matte composite from Terry Gilliam's BRAZIL complete with detailed animation of flying vehicle and moving lights.
Richard Burton's final film, the masterfully pulled off 1984 - a chilling, arresting dystopian novel brilliantly transferred to the big screen.  Another one of those rare as hens teeth flawless (though necessarily so depressing) adaptations.
The haunting conclusion to 1984 - a substantial Caple matte with painted city skyline, scaffold, big brother screen at left with now 'big brother's team player' (the outstanding) John Hurt and even the foreground grass is Caple paint. 
One of Ray's paintings from the 1986 film  SLIPSTREAM
Two of the numerous mattes by Ray, with co-painters Doug Ferris, J.P Trevor and Leigh Took, from the Tim Burton film BATMAN  (1989)

A dramatic painted moon, sky and distant hills  -from HIGHLANDER  (1984)

above - HIGHLANDER - detail from the painted Scottish castle matte from the scene shown below right.  Ray added the upper tower to an existing ancient archeological ruin in the Scottish Highlands.

The abysmal, yet inexplicably popular HIGHLANDER does, in it's favour, have a number of great Caple matte shots throughout amid the tiresome MTV stylised mayhem.
Caple re-unites with Terry Gilliam for the popular TIME BANDITS for which Ray provided mattes and optical effects gags within his paintings.

More spectacular Caple matte art from TIME BANDITS
A Ray Caple painting from the oddity that was PRISONERS OF THE LOST UNIVERSE (1983)

Under visual effects supervisor Derek Meddings, Caple produced this amazingly believable view of Afganistan for the John Landis spoof SPIES LIKE US

One of the last matte jobs Ray painted on was this television remake of the timeless classic TREASURE ISLAND in the mid eighties.


  1. My name is David Cloke Im married to Lynette Cloke Formaly Lynette Lee Who was married nto Ray Caple. Lynn Lee would like to talk to Albert Whitlock Universal or Mr Harrison I.L.M. Popa Day From a interested Artist Lynette Caple post Matte Artist. Popa Day Adopted farther. Please contact Lynette Lee Matte Artist On English No Please find code Then No 07762064964.

  2. Maybe there should be some note made in this tribute to Ray that he had a first wife - actress Yvonne Boddington - they married 25.3.1961 and their first child was born 23.10.91 Alex, followed by Heidi and Selena. shortly after Selena's birth he left them destitute. (Yvonne was my god mother's daughter)