Monday, 29 November 2010

Whitlock's magic creates Mel's world for HISTORY OF THE WORLD

Although never one known for subtlety nor tact,  the loud and brassy comic Mel Brooks has turned out a great many films of varying quality from the groundbreaking (for it's day) western hit BLAZING SADDLES (1973), the delightful and lovingly crafted James Whale spoof YOUNG FRANKENSTEIN (1974) and Mel's Hitchcock tip of the hat, HIGH ANXIETY (1978) which according to reports the great man himself loved!   Sadly Mel's consistency hasn't always been on target, and today's movie  under my matte shot microscope HISTORY OF THE WORLD-PART ONE (1980) is one of those which although amusing in a 'once over lightly' sort of way is in fact pretty weak with way too much Brooksian schtick. I do however love Mel's use of fantastic art in his movie one sheets and ad campaigns for this and those other mentioned titles - brilliant, and the sort never seen these days, sadly.  That said, I still hold the film quite high on the scale of must see's due in no small part to the astonishing work from Albert Whitlock and Syd Dutton at Universal Studios in what we all will agree is a monumental matte shot roll out.  

Al with Mel during HIGH ANXIETY

Like the film or not, the matte work is absolutely mindblowing and should have at least been up as a nominee in the visual effects category in 1980/81  -but don't get me started again on bloody Oscar injustices over the years!!!!   
Sure it's not a huge ILM space show (which had a considerable number of flawed photographic effects comps) but this little Whitlock showcase was and still is absolutely flawless in it's oil painted honesty - and Bill Taylor's exemplary composite photography pulling it all together beautifully.

I saw this show several months prior to theatrical release back in the day when I worked in the movie distribution industry and naturally the effects shots blew me away.  A few years after that I was fortunate enough to meet Syd Dutton in that very same company preview theatre projection room by sheer chance as he rolled a number of Whitlock-Dutton matte shot show reels for a NZ producer then seeking an effects house for a Vincent Ward film (THE NAVIGATOR) which ultimately got post poned and eventually was made locally with a severely downsized budget and rudimentary, yet effective local burgeoning effects talent.  During that meeting with Dutton (as I've mentioned here numerous times in the past - sorry about that guys) I was priviledged to see these HISTORY OF THE WORLD effects shots in their pristine original negative before and after glory.  Get a defibrillator somebody.... NZPete's heart was pumping at such a rate I fully expected to end up like John Cassavettes at the end of the (dire) Brian DePalma film THE FURY - all exploded to shit  (courtesy of the master of fx make up, an uncredited Dick Smith ... the Whitlock of special make up! .....  though as per usual, I digress).

So with that rambling introduction, I'm very pleased to present not just a photo album of Whitlock's work from the film, but also a step by step progression through a couple of the major matte effects shots whereby we see everything from Al's original photography, rough sketch in, broad layout, test composites and final marry up - but folks don't get your hopes up too high, as many of those special pics are from my very old vhs Albert Whitlock - The Master of Illusion documentary I taped off network tv back in 1980 - and have played probably near to 100 times since!  The quality is pretty poor, but I make up for it with some great BluRay mattes courtesy of my pal and fellow Whitlock afficienado Thomas Thiemeyer in Stuttgart, Germany, who IS still speaking to me despite my derogitory remarks recently about DUNE!   :)

*special thanks to Bill Taylor for kindly answering so many of my seemingly endless questions pertaining to Albert, Syd, matte photography, and effects shots in general.  Not only is Bill one of the industry's best visual effects cinematographers but he's also a heck of a nice guy.

Special Visual Effects - Albert J.Whitlock
Matte Cinematography  - Bill Taylor, ASC
Assistant Matte Painter - Syd Dutton
Matte Camera Operators - Mike Moramarco and Dennis Glouner
Matte Camera Loader  - Mark Whitlock
Key Grip  - Larry Schuler
Matte Shot Assistants  - Lynn Ledgerwood and Henry Schoessler

Setting up the big Rome 'moneyshot' matte with Al's son Mark (in red shirt) rigging the matte camera, and Al's long time assistant and protoge Syd Dutton seen next to Whitlock.  Larry Schuler was Al's key grip for many years and in Al's own words was "indispensible at building the parallells and all sorts of rigs needed for matte photography"
Al pointing out the desired cut off point for the opaque matte during original photography, with Syd Dutton at upper right checking registration of the matte deliniation as Mark Whitlock cuts and staples black card to the wooden frame in front of the camera.  Lower pic shows Whitlock in his home at Santa Barbara - (he lived on the same street and a few blocks from his former mentor Peter Ellenshaw!) - with some of his unused pre-production painted sketches for the proposed, but at that time unmade John Landis version of THE LOST WORLD.  As much as I love many of Landis' films I can't help wonder what the hell he was going to do with that film - with the requisite Landis running gag 'See You Next Wednesday' just never fitting in somehow!!! - Hey -I'm digressing again.  Damned brain...Doh!!
Yes, I know the quality aint there, but it's the best I can do...  Following photography on the Universal backlot (at 'Spartacus Square' no less) the matte dept proceed to render the intended sweeping vista of Ancient Rome as per Brook's and his art department's notion.  Here we can see Syd Dutton pencilling in the drawing of the view of Rome atop of a Chinese White primed large (around 6 foot) sheet of glass.  Whitlock proceeds to block in the sky - a key requirement in all Whitlock painted effects shots is achieving the most accurate sense of light right from the outset, with the colour of the sky at that given time of day being essential, and in fact the key to Al's success.

Behind Whitlock are the preparatory oil sketches for the proposed matte, as well as others for different scenes in the film.  According to Bill Taylor this painting room was spacious and well lit, with the one and only window in the entire department.
The matte gradually comes into a stage of semi-completion with Al very reliant on the carefully positioned mirror to constantly glance and detect perspective and tonal issues as they crop up.  I myself am a (very) amateur painter and have always relied upon the mirror myself as a way of keeping track and seeing the piece with a fresh eye as it progresses, especially in portraiture  - or not!  According to Bill Taylor, Al would frequently sing Cockney rhymes or tell jokes during the painting phase, which seemed effortless to him.

The set without the matte - and the final art.  Below left is an early preliminary composite done on a small length taken from of the excess 300 feet or so of original negative plate photography.  We can see from this example that the split screen blend is clearly visible and obviously needs more work.  Often up to a dozen camera tests were carried out to achieve the best marry up and then the matte is comped with the valuable original plate footage.  No 'undo' buttons here.
Bear with me here folks - the vhs origins betray the masterpiece within, but here are close up details from the same painting, now completed.  I personally love these closer views even more than the full vista, and the impressionist brush work and sense of backlight and soft cobalt violet hues are breathtaking in their own right.  Now who agrees?

After a night in a special low heat drying cabinet Syd and Al carry the final glass painting into the camera room at Universal.  Whitlock said once in an interview that he had broken a few glasses over the years, but had become less accident prone as a result of trying to patch up and rescue broken glasses.  Take note of the many other mattes in the background and on the walls.  The lower pics show Dutton setting up the glass in  the matte camera frame while Dennis Glouner (a relative of long time Columbia effects cameraman Donald G.Glouner) and Mike Moramarco prepare the camera. Bill spoke of the surprisingly old camera set up in the matte photography room:   "Back in the department we used 1950's -era Bausch and Lomb Cinemascope adaptors on the matte stands, which proved to be of very high quality in spite of their age.  They required focusing separately from the prime lens, which was no problem on our locked-of matte cameras.  The camera focus and the adaptor focus was slightly interactive, so we would shoot a 5x5 frame focus series around the best eye focus to get the best result".

Visual effects director of photography Bill Taylor with a later Mitchell matte camera "The picture of me with the camera is a later one from Illusion Arts.  The camera was on our motion-control track setup.  It can shoot 4-perf or 8-perf bipack and roll 180 degrees, but not with the magazine shown!  The camera, which we dubbed the "Mysto-flex" in tribute to the Dykstraflex at Apogee, is now at the AMPAS Pickford Center test lab.  The motion control stand was mostly used for miniature rear projection shots, a late development at Illusion Arts, which we used when we did multiplane shots.  Miniature rear projection as a matte shot technique goes back at least to Kong, and was used heavily at Disney and ILM long before we got into it.  In spite of the great pains we took with our process plates (8-perf, flashed and pull-processed negative, extensive testing to find best plate density and color)  we were never really happy with the projected images.  They were better at any rate than we could get from separations, which had to be developed outside their design range to copy onto negative stock".

Al's final painting.  The shot will eventually have a slight tilt down movement added on the optical printer.

The finished composite as it appears on screen.  With regards to the blending - an aspect that has forever intrigued me in the artform, especially in old school matte work where more often than not the mattes were married with the softest of blends that often ran straight through achitecture and foliage, I asked Bill about Al's methods and the role of the cameraman and this is what he said:  "I must say that the cameraman had very little to do with the blending or indeed with any aspect of the painting.  One of the reasons Al was able to achieve what he did was that he ran the show, while in some other matte departments it was run by the cameraman.  O-neg shots required great care and attention on the part of the cameraman, both on-set and in the studio, but the creative force was Al". When I asked about the edge of the painted area as it meets the live footage Bill then told me "When we set the mattes we made them just slightly soft (out of focus) to extend buildings for example, and quite soft if it ran through something that might move, like trees.  Al made his soft blends in the painting.  He blended in the photography with fine cross hatching (Peter Ellenshaw used a stipple technique) and kept track of where he was in the blend with a widely spaced line of dots of chalk or white paint.  He could judge the blend quite well from a hand developed negative trim, so he could make a lot of progress in a day.  Then he'd touch out the dots when the painting was ready to go."

An old style in camera glass shot in which Al just added the sign  - and on the spot!  I should add too that as with Mel's previous film Albert was requisitioned as a thespian in front of the camera.  His role here was a minor walk on as a 'used chariot salesman' whereas his HIGH ANXIETY role was quite a bit more, as a featured character and plot point.

Richard Schickel once said "Al is the master of the special effects that doesn't call attention to itself" - and here is a fine example of the craftsman at his best.

One of my favourite mattes from HISTORY OF THE WORLD - and one that slips by quickly, almost un noticed.

The ancient port of Ostea - as realised by Whitlock.  A stunning painting, beautifully composited by Taylor with trademark Whitlock gags including the illusion of moving (painted) water and the sail flapping in the breeze.  I was chatting to Bill about just such an effect in the movie CHAPLIN (1992) with a flag fluttering over a painted NYC and he described the above shot as this:  "Al loved to put foreground stuff over paintings when he could. In this case the sail was a miniature element then blue screened into the painting.  The water movement was painted sea with a moving pattern added over it"

Vhs images of the prelimary sketch for the Paris Notre Dame matte sequence.  Also, a view of the matte department, and a pic of Syd Dutton who Whitlock said "Syd showed promise right from the start.  I could make jokes about needing to whip him into shape but it wasn't neccessary". In an interview for Craig Barron's wonderful book The Invisible Art, Dutton said that "Key grip Larry Schuler alsways joked he thought my name was Jesus, because Albert would always mutter 'Jesus' before taking the brushes out of my hand and finishing off in a few minutes what I'd been struggling with for hours".

The finished composite of the Notre Dame matte which includes both a tilt down and a significant 10:1 push in on the live action. Bill Taylor told me about this:  "The idea in all these panning vista shots was to do an original negative in 8-perf (VistaVision) and do the pan or tilt in a dupe in the optical printer.  Since the dupe was usually a reduction from 8-perf it was pretty good quality. The History of the World shots were made with Panavision anamorphic lenses.  We built the lens mounts on our Vista location cameras to slide so that a 4-perf  lens could cover any 4-perf section of the 8-perf frame, and rotate so the squeeze could be on either the short or long axis.  All the tilting shots in "History" were made with the 8-perf camera on its side so that the long dimension of the frame was vertical.
Thanks to the sliding lens mount we could put the perspective vanishing point in the bottom half of the frame without tilting the camera.  This is demonstrated in the Notre Dame shot, where there is a 10 to 1 zoom into a gentleman relieving himself after the matte painting is optically tilted safely out of the frame.
On HISTORY OF THE WORLD I made a set of dupe negatives to splice into each of the four print dupe negatives, so even the dupe matte shots were the same generation as the rest of the film.  If the painting only occupied half the frame, the original taking camera could pan, tilt or zoom, finally locking down in register with the matte.  Of course the optical printer only 'saw' the part of the frame with the matte after the original camera locked off".

Another magnificent tilt composite - from the infamous Spanish Inquistion ("The Inquisition...what a show") segment. Bill Taylor mentioned to me that "Al never worked with Percy Day but was influenced by his style by looking over Peter Ellenshaw's shoulder at Disney in England and in the US.  Ellenshaw never taught Al in any formal sense but Al realised the importance of Peter's influence. Al's painting style derived from scenic painting: use a big brush and a simple palette.  If you don't use a big brush in scenic painting you'll never get done!  The paintings ALWAYS started off with the sky, then the landscape or skyline laid in in big blocks of colour.  Never any fine brush detail until the very end"

The successive shot in the Spanish segment with another grand tilt down off of Al's incredible painted dungeons and onto the live action set piece below. Bill Taylor = "Many of these tilting shots have big perspective cheats in the painting to keep the geometry reasonable.  Since the audience sees at most half of the frame at once, one is never aware that there are multiple vanishing points.  Another Whitlockism:  "If it looks right, it is right."

A rare before and after set of frames from the Versailles segment, shot at Blenheim Palace in England, with subtle painted additions and modifications to the architecture added to existing historical French buildings.
The final composite as seen in the film - which nobody even noticed, not even your humble correspondant! Upon viewing this shot from a BluRay disc a most peculiar matte line type artifact is evident running across the lower cloud area.  BluRay may not always be kind to matte artistry.
The grand finale as they escpe from the guillotine - a genuine masterpiece of visual effects work and a now lost craft.
Whitlock's original painting for the above sequence.
Detail from the same wonderful matte shot.

This scene should have come before the previous matte, but for reasons known only to 'blogger' it just won't re-position!  Well, anyway here is a multi-part composite with the crowd split screened into three separate areas and tied together with a Whitlock painting of distant trees, more people and some significant alterations to the palace location plate whereby some has been remodelled entirely and a central portion has been painted 'out' and replaced with a road and more scenery for a more photogenic composition.

The finished composited matte.
Before and after frames from the spectacular ending....
Now that's an ending!  A great matte with that customary Whitlock gag of the sun coming out and moving across the facade of the rockface.  When I mentioned the effect to Bill he told me: "This was one of Al's favourite techniques  -the use of the cel overlay.  When he needed to isolate or create a highlight on a painting, he would tape a big cel over the dry painting and then paint on the highlights he wanted to control seperately onto the cel.  For example, if he wanted to show cloud shadows moving over hills, he would paint the hills in shadow on the main painting and then paint the highlights on the cel.  Then he would transfer the cel,  in register, to a new unpainted glass the same size as the original.  We would shoot a hand test of the overlay and the original painting on film and develop it quickley in the darkroom, then project that negative onto the new glass to position the cell.   Then the cell would be double exposed onto the painting through a moving foreground glass with, say, cloud shadows painted onto it.  The illusion of moving shadows was remarkably convincing.  You would swear the shadows wrapped around the hills in three dimensions, which of course, they did not"

A frame from the epilogue of HISTORY OF THE WORLD, where a spoof coming attractions trailer entitled JEWS IN SPACE is revealed to us.  A number of optical effects and spacecraft models, though not the work of Al or Bill.  A small independent firm called The Magic Lantern produced all these shots for the film.

Albert J.Whitlock:  1913-1999

Thursday, 18 November 2010

Liberty lady shines her torch - Columbia Pictures matte shots

Todays blog has been a really exasperating effort - with numerous internet problems, including the whole web here slowing up to a near crawl  -which isn't unusual here with our very poor internet speeds.  Several instances of this blog NOT saving as I tirelessly typed away only to find zero at the end of it - causing me to bloody near throw the freakin' computer out of the window.  But we got there in the end (I hope)... so here goes...........

I worked for some eight years from the late 1970's for Columbia Pictures at the New Zealand distribution office Columbia-Warner Film Distributors where we shipped 35,16 and occasionally 70mm prints to theatres throughout NZ and many of the South Pacific territories such as Tonga, Fiji and Samoa.  Those days were the halcyon days of film exhibition where prints were constantly on the move and even films some twenty years old still had life left in them and would always be playing somewhere.  It was a great era for collecting rare one sheets and publicity materials too, the sorts of things that don't even get used nowadays in those cold, faceless multi-plex prisons that call themselves moviehouses.

Never one of the 'giants' of motion picture production unlike competitors MGM, Warners, Paramount and even RKO - Columbia, under the tyrannical reign of one Harry Cohn actually achieved alot with comparitively few resourses.  Similar in some ways to rival Warner Bros the lean,mean Cohn enterprise wasn't afraid to show the warts and all side of life in gritty, politically dangerous productions such as the excellent ALL THE KINGS MEN and all of Frank Capra's exceptional films such as MR SMITH GOES TO WASHINGTON and MR DEEDS GOES TO TOWN to name but a few.  MGM would never dare to lower it's glistening, sparkling self to such a common man level - nor would Paramount Pictures for that matter. As big a son of a bitch as Cohn was (and by ALL accounts, he was) the man should be commended for being a risk taker - something few moguls could compare to, especially now in this cut and dried teflon coated, politically correct, corporate era in which we are burdoned. 

New Zealand born glass artist Ted 'Oscar' Withers at work.
My actual knowledge on the special effects unit at Columbia Pictures is extremely limited I'm afraid.  It by all accounts wasn't on the scale of MGM or the huge Warner Stage 5 unit for that matter, but it seemed to be able to hold it's own with the relatively down to earth visual effects needs of the mainly more compact productions.  A few names seem to constantly crop up in the special effects side to the studio's output -  E.Roy Davidson, Jack Cosgrove, Russ Lawsen, Friend Baker, Ganahl 'Kit' Carson, Ted 'Oscar' Withers, Donald Murphy, Kenneth Wheeler, Leon Barsha, Robert Wright, Donald Glouner and with probably the key name associated being the legendary Lawrence W.Butler.

In my blog on Frank Capra's LOST HORIZON I go into some of these personalities mentioned above, with then director of effects Roy Davidson helming the camera effects department from around 1934 until the early forties whereby he moved across to Warner Brothers to do much the same thing.  Several key names in the world of matte art were associated with Columbia, two of whom I've written about in my blogs extensively - Jack Cosgrove and Russell Lawsen who both did a team stint at the studio in the middle thirties before being snapped up by Selznick International and Universal respectively.  Other matte painters associated with the studio were New Zealander Ted (Edward Oscar)Withers (pictured at left and above right setting up a glass shot) who according to his nephew painted glass shots for Columbia and MGM probably from the late twenties.  Hans Bartholowsky and Juan Larrinaga - the brother of Mario - were other matte artists connected with the photographic effects side of things at the studio until both moved across to Warner Brothers probably some time in the early forties.

Veteran matte man Lou Litchtenfield also worked at the studio for a time, as part of his self mandated gaining of experience at all the majors' in an effort to learn all the tricks of the trade.  Former Paramount matte artist Jan Domela also painted on some Columbia shows in the mid sixties for Lawrence Butler, though to pinpoint exactly which ones is next to impossible as I've not spotted any clues in his family archives.

It seemed that the natural steps of progression were to start at Columbia and after you'd paid your dues to move on up to Warners.  Larry Butler seemed to do the reverse  - having started at WB with his father when he was just 15 and later joining the Alexander Korda operation based out of London in the late thirties working under Ned Mann on all of the big Korda epics.  Butler would resume his US effects career at Warners in the early forties and direct all effects efforts on many films such as CASABLANCA before being taken on by Harry Cohn at Columbia in 1944 whereby he was in charge of all photographic and miniature effects produced at the studio - a station he held pretty much for the rest of his career until finally establishing his own independent effects house around 1960 when Columbia shut down their camera effects department.  Joining forces with long time effects partner, cameraman Donald Glouner they rebranded themselves as Butler-Glouner Films and worked non stop throughout the sixties and beyond on a number of sizable films such as THE DEVIL AT 4 O'CLOCK, IN HARMS WAY, ROBINSON CRUSOE ON MARS and TARAS BULBA..

So with that I'm presenting a collection of matte painted effects shots, plus a few opticals and miniatures, spanning the history of Columbia Pictures Corporation.  Most are from the golden era, some from the latter period where work was entirely outsoursed by external effects vendors and others that may just have been distributed by Columbia.  The films illustrated here are more or less in alphabetical order and cover the gamut - from delightful Arabian Nights fantasies, westerns, Bogart spy thrillers, Rita Hayworth vehicles, little epics to films with that irrepressible Frank Capra social conscience.  So, let's take a look at what Lady Liberty has in store for us shall we?

Columbia was never shy when it came to 'taking the mickey' out of it's own illustrious branding, with this delightful example of Lady Liberty' being scared off by a tiny mouse, from the 1958 Peter Sellers film THE MOUSE THAT ROARED

The rather amusing Phil Silvers' spoof A THOUSAND AND ONE NIGHTS (1945) with very nice Oscar nominated matte shots of ancient Persia.  Effects by Lawrence W.Butler and Ray Cory as visual effects cinematographer.

A nifty little transformation optical, and carried out during a dolly shot to boot whereby Cornel Wilde and Phil Silvers magically change costumes during a continuous moving camera shot, though the frames here aren't a good example.
Two matte shots from Ray Harryhausen's masterpiece THE 7th VOYAGE OF SINBAD (1957) with the top frame what appears to be a painted island, though the considerably grain build up almost suggests it to be one of Ray's Dynamation process screen set ups.  The bottom frame is a beautiful matte painting of the Baghdad bazar, though according to Ray it was a stock matte shot stolen out of another Columbia picture, though I've no idea which one.

Anyone here old enough to recall those so bad they're actually quite good Matt Helm pictures of the sixties? Well, that's good because these are very nice matte paintings from THE AMBUSHERS (1968).  No effects credits but I do know that former Paramount matte painter Jan Domela worked on a few Columbia films around this time so these may be his shots?

Frank Capra's 1932 AMERICAN MADNESS featured this painted set extension to the street outside the bank.

Roy Davidson was nominated for an Oscar for his mostly miniature aerial scenes for the 1939 Howard Hawks feature ONLY ANGELS HAVE WINGS with Cary Grant.  Matte artist was Chesley Bonestell - another of those to soon aspire to greater things at both RKO and Warner Brothers.  One of the few ever Columbia pictures to be nominated in the visual effects category.

Cornel Wilde was Harry Cohn's poster boy for sure, with many stirling leading man roles in pictures like THE BANDIT OF SHERWOOD FOREST (1946) among many others.  No effects credit but there was alot of good matte art throughout the low budget little show.

Also from THE BANDIT OF SHERWOOD FOREST - very nice matte shots with a most curious situation in the upper right frame of the castle and moat (and I'm not making a mention of the lack of painted reflection in the water) this exact matte shot was 'stolen' some 11 years later by, of all people, Warner Brothers (!) and recycled in the Errol Flynn picture THE ADVENTURES OF DON JUAN..... go figure!

The beautiful and quite mesmerising Frank Capra film THE BITTER TEA OF GENERAL YEN (1933) was chock filled with glass shots of revolutionary China.  Possibly painted by Jack Cosgrove and Russ Lawsen who worked at Columbia around that time.  The film is exquisite, and features many impressive glass shots.

BITTER TEA matte shot with added fire effects and mass panic.

Some of the exquisite glass shots from GENERAL YEN.  A quite haunting and arresting film, and so well photographed.
Vintage Columbia matte art from the 1948 film THE BLACK ARROW

"Aaaaaarg, me hearties and land lubbers"..... among the many serials made by the studio was this one THE ADVENTURES OF CAPTAIN KIDD from the late forties with many miniature battles and matte painted locations.


Nice matte art and miniatures - with that style of olde school end title some of us may remember?

Being basically a cheap-jack outfit it would come as no surprise to see a Harry Cohn technicolor pirate yarn such as this, but with some action shots still in black and white!!  Obviously 'borrowed' from another show, possibly a serial.

Nice miniatures also from CAPTAIN PIRATE (1952)

A latter day Columbia blockbuster, CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE 3RD KIND (1977) featured many Oscar nominated effects shots such as this Matthew Yuricich-Scott Squires shot (with curious bleed through of Melinda Dillon's head).  Doug Trumbull's Future General effects outfit supplied all of the effects work in this show, though it is worth noting that old hand Larry Butler was on the payroll as a sort of 'advisor' to the studio.  It was pointed out to me recently that in one scene in the film on the Devil's Mountain, Richard Dreyfuss is introduced to Josef Summer's character named 'Larry Butler' !!  True story.

Mattes from a mid fifties Columbia western CONQUEST OF COCHISE.

Matte shot from the 1947 Humphrey Bogart thriller DEAD RECKONING

Now here's a strange one for you from DRUMS OF TAHITI (1954) ... the same matte shot turning up in two different movies buy two different studions twenty years apart - with the latter being an Albert Whitlock effects show!  I asked Al's cameraman Bill Taylor about this and he was totally baffled, though did tell me of a particular miserly producer of 'B' movies and tv shows on the Universal lot who probably would have had no qualms about just such a rip-off.... a producer who shall remain nameless but whom Whitlock himself characterised as "a dustbin producer".
One of Columbia's big shows of 1961 was the Spencer Tracy-Frank Sinatra disaster film THE DEVIL AT 4 O'CLOCK.  The film is jammed with effects shots - ranging from very poor blue screen with so much spill and bleed through you could drive a motorcycle through 'em (with Tracy's silvery hair becoming a beacon much like a lightbulb attracting bugs to all manner of spill artifacts rendering his hair invisible in at least two shots!)- to mostly very good matte art such as this shot and excellent miniatures.  Although surprisingly uncredited, Larry Butler and partner Donald Glouner handled all of the vast numbers of effects shots on this film, though who the matte artist was is a mystery.  The shot above is outstanding and has all the hallmarks of an Albert Whitlock painting, which wouldn't surprise me as Al was out of Disney by that time and doing several freelance jobs, including several for Larry Butler on shows such as THE PIT AND THE PENDULUM, so this may be Whitlock.  I did ask Bill Taylor but he didn't know whether Al worked on this show or not.

DEVIL AT 4 O'CLOCK matte shot with painted in canyon and rock face.

Excellent huge scale miniature volcano built on Butler's ranch, with in this example good compositing.

Painted set combined with travelling matted model volcano to excellent effect.

Among the effects personel on DEVIL AT 4 O'CLOCK was long time MGM matte cinematographer Mark Davis who had left that studio in 1956 after almost thirty years as effects cameraman for Warren Newcombe and Arnold Gillespie to work on his own.  These shots are combination matte art, miniatures and live action - with some of these shots looking pretty darned good... and a few others having that requisite 'magic marker' matte outline to contend with.

The survivors make their way down the mountain.  A substantial, full glass shot from DEVIL AT 4 O'CLOCK  (1961)

"Well, Pal...I guess this is it" - studio set with matted in miniature background and augmented with foreground matte art.
Artfully created matte work from the bizarre 1952 Dr Seuss show.

More uncredited mattes from THE 5000 FINGERS OF DR T" which may have been painted by Louis Litchtenfield who was at Columbia for a period prior to working at Warner Bros.

5000 FINGERS OF DR T mattes.      Special thanks to my pal Domingo for these beautiful frames.

An utterly obscure little 'B' movie with this uncredited painted in horizon.

A poor frame from a funny film.. Lucille Ball set adrift at sea via split screen matte from THE FULLER BRUSH GIRL (1950)

Matthew Yuricich's Spook Central matte from GHOSTBUSTERS (1984) for Richard Edland's Entertainment Effects Group - formerly known as Future General with Trumbull but soon to become BOSS Films - but not for long.
The very mediocre sequel GHOSTBUSTERS II did at least feature this monumental Mark Sullivan glass painting which was better than all the other effects in the show put together.  Sadly the painting is no longer with us and is resting in tiny little pieces up in matte shot heaven.   :(
Mark's exquisite glass painting as composited into the final film.  The sense of perspective, texture and aging is magnificent, and as good a showcase of Mark's brush skills as anything he's done - and I make a point of trying to see all his work.  As colleague Rocco Gioffre once said  "man can that guy paint",

The last great Harryhausen picture  -THE GOLDEN VOYAGE OF SINBAD (1973) utilised the extraordinary talents of premier Spanish matte artist, the great, one and only Emilio Ruiz del Rio for this utterly convincing and invisible foreground painted city (to facilitate camera pan) which thrilled Ray no end.

Another of Emilio's invisible trick shots from the same great film.  All perfectly aligned foreground art perfectly blended in and 'sold' on the basis that the same light that lights the set lights the matte art.  The man was a genius in my book.

A big Columbia hit film THE GUNS OF NAVARONE (1961) starring the interminably dull Gregory Peck.  These are two of the many Bob Cuff matte paintings featured in the British made film, which won an Oscar for miniatures and mechanical effects courtesy of Bill Warrington.  Sadly, most of the matte shots were printed down so far to render them as indecipherable on DVD, yet quite okay on vhs and 35mm.

Another 1962 British production under the Columbia banner - HMS DEFIANT (aka DAMN THE DEFIANT) a rather good period sailing ship drama with Dirk Bogarde and Alec Guiness. These examples of several matte shots are uncredited but most probably from Wally Veevers matte department at Shepperton.  This shot consists of extras with real ship but with both sides of the street being exclusively glass art.

Another Shepperton matte shot from HMS DEFIANT - possibly painted by George Samuels or Bob Cuff?

A great matte artist at work on a far less than great piece of celluloid - Mark Sullivan painting on the film ISHTAR (1986) the legendary bomb which almost broke the studio.  The sweeping masterpiece Mark is finishing off wasn't used in the final film by the way!

Columbia struck gold with Ray Harryhausen - having the majority of his pictures on their register, with this classic being yet another such example - JASON AND THE ARGONAUTS (1963).  Again the matte requirements were handled by Wally Veevers effects department at Shepperton with a roster of matte painters such as Bob Cuff, Doug Ferris, Peter Melrose and Bryan Evans on staff at the time.  Matte cinematographers were John Grant and Peter Harmon.

THE JOLSON STORY (1946) was a very popular and entertaining bio-pic of Al Jolson, even despite the star, Larry Parks being blacklisted shortly thereafter by that collossal bastard Senator McCarthy - though, as usual, I digress.  The film has a number period matte shots, theatre set extensions and (a pet fave of mine) trick shot glittering light facades featured under the supervision of montage director Lawrence W.Butler.

Washington DC around 1910 - from THE JOLSON STORY

One frame from the jaw dropping night to day matte sequence which blew me away.  Lots of animated neon lights here.

Sequential frames from the above set piece in THE JOLSON STORY (1946)

Even ILM get in on the Columbia game today with this Caroleen Green matte from LABYRINTH (1987)

Larry Butler supervised the mattes for Orson Welles' LADY FROM SHANGHAI (1948)

Very nice, expansive mattes from the updated remake of the film LORNA DOONE (1951)

Another uncredited matte shot from LORNA DOONEI'm a sucker for castle matte paintings.

I wrote extensively in an earlier blog on Frank Capra's LOST HORIZON (1937) though I can't resist re-upping three of the mattes from that show.  Roy Davidson and Ganahl 'Kit' Carson ran the effects on the film.  Matte artist unknown.

Another LOST HORIZON glass shot.  I'm told that at least one of these original mattes still exists.

I particularly like this LOST HORIZON glass shot of Ronald Colman's trek through the snow and glaciers.

A bit of a con here - this soundtrack album cover for the LOST HORIZON mis-judged remake is better than the actual effects shots seen in the film (supervised by Larry Butler).

Another of Columbia's giant British productions - MAC KENNA'S GOLD (1969) which I have mentioned before in other blogs is filled with matte shots, all of which were carried out on 65mm negative in London by matte artists Ray Caple, Bob Cuff,  Lynette Lee and Joy Seddon.  Matte cameramen were John Mackie and Paul Cuff while veteran Larry Butler and Donald Glouner were overall effects supervisors on this epic.

A minor trick shot - the painted in addition of a ship and sky for the Rita Hayworth film MISS SADIE THOMPSON  (1953)

Frank Capra's 1939 masterpiece - MR SMITH GOES TO WASHINGTON with Jimmie Stewart missing a what should have been a sure fire Oscar that year.  As with many films of that period and beyond the artistry of the painted ceiling became a neccessity to top off incomplete sets for logistical and practical reasons.  These are just some of the many different ceiling matte paintings frequently seen in many different angles in the film.  It's a sort of a sub genre of matte art that interests me greatly - not through any bizarre fetish for ceilings on my part - but I just find the trick 'cool'.  For those like minded souls expect an entire blog soon on 'painted ceilings' from dozens of films.

Harryhausen and matte art  - although it's safe to say that Ray was never too keen on the method personally, he had to use it in many of his shows, such as this one MYSTERIOUS ISLAND (1961).  The mattes were produced at Shepperton by Bob Cuff and probably George Samuels under Wally Veevers supervision.

A rare Columbia 'epic' - SALOME (1953) starring Stewart Granger

More painted matte set extensions from SALOME  (1953)

Another one of the Matt Helm spy spoofs, THE SILENCERS (1967) with this painted in cliff face which may possibly have been done by Jan Domela in the latter days of his very long special effects career.

One of the many, many attempts to re-establish that special 'Casablanca' scenario for Humphrey Bogart - with this being the 1951 film SIROCCO, with some very nice painted mattes of Syria.

Another uncredited matte shot from SIROCCO (1951)

The closing matte painted shot from SIROCCO.

Nice technicolor mattes, some of which depict period Austria from  Cornel Wilde's 1945 picture A SONG TO REMEMBER.

I recall this odd little 3-D show, SPACEHUNTER-ADVENTURES IN THE FORBIDDEN ZONE (1983) as being quite a hit here when the gimmick had a brief resurgence in the early 80's with that awful blurry technirama double frame styled 3D, which I'm confident destroyed many a cornea.  Matte painting by Ken Marschall and comp by Bruce Block.

Another Ken Marschall matte shot - and an invisible one at that - this time from the Stephen King hit film STAND BY ME (1986).  Ken was a very busy matte artist in the 80's, working with cameraman-compositor Bruce Block out of the premises of Gene Warren jr's Fantasy II effects facility on many pictures and television shows.  Ken used to paint on amazingly small art board and never glass, with all his mattes composited on original negative.  I'm told his matte studio was not much more than a "broom closet" in size, with just the most bare essentials installed to make a good matte.

Frank Capra's YOU CANT TAKE IT WITH YOU (1938) featured this painted street scene complete with animated el-trains going back and forth just beyond the trees.  No effects credit naturally, but most probably Roy Davidson in charge here.

Burt Lancaster's controversial gang drama THE YOUNG SAVAGES (1961) directed by one of my favourite directors, the late John Frankenheimer.  Of note for being one of only two films ever awarded the rare 'R 21' (restricted to persons 21 years of age and over) censorship certificate here in New Zealand due to problematic gang violence and content.  The other similarly restricted film was Kubrick's LOLITA.

Well, it's been a long road to get this particular blog up and running due to endless internet problems and things that make me want to tear my hair out... but here it is, so enjoy it before something else screws up!