Friday, 14 January 2011

RKO - the home of Kong, Kane, Androcles, Mr Joseph Young and more

Blog Update:  Just before getting into the first blog of 2011 with todays tribute to the matte artistry skills of Radio Keith Orpheum - better known as RKO I'll just take a minute to mention a few new things that can be found elsewhere in my blogsite.  Firstly I've added several mattes to my Ray Caple page from a few films such as the early Hammer film TERROR OF THE TONGS and the seventies Cinderella musical THE SLIPPER AND THE ROSE.  Sadly the Region 4 DVD transfer on this latter show leaves alot to be desired with dreadful bit rate and encoding and worst crime of what should be a 2.35:1 scope image cropped  down to what looks like a 4x3 tv version  then 'window box' resized to 1.85:1, with as you'd expect a tremendous amount of compositional detail lost not only from the sides but from, I suspect, the top and bottom of the frame as well. 

**STOP PRESS=  I've just had nice correct scope ratio mattes of these shots sent to me by my friend Domingo Lizcano for which I am grateful, and these now replace the others.

**STOP PRESS 2=  Today (17/1/11) I had the extreme good fortune to open my email from matte painter Mark Sullivan and find several wonderful photographs of before and after Al Simpson RKO mattes from the 1940 SWISS FAMILY ROBINSON from Mark's collection.  I'm extremely grateful to Mark for taking the time to supply me with these incredible images, which are now in this very blog!

As well as those mattes I've added the painted exterior long shot by Jan Domela of the Columbia Library and surrounds from the delightful 1957 Clark Gable-Doris Day comedy TEACHERS PET.  This can be found on my Jan Domela page.  I also came across the original 1923 silent TEN COMMANDMENTS Red Sea sequence as executed by Roy Pomeroy and Frank Williams from which I grabbed a number of frames and these are on my brief article about that film in my 'Epic Films' series of articles.  I was actually very impressed with the sequence, not having seen it before, and it stands up very well for the period.


RKO Pictures - The Home of Kong, Kane, Androcles and a certain Mr Joseph Young..

For a studio that produced a number of top line films and many outstanding matte and composite shots over it's relatively short history I'm a little disappointed in that I don't have anywhere near the number of examples of trick shots that I'd like to be able to display here today.  I've got a fair collection here though a great many of the mattes stem from a handful of well known effects heavy productions such as KING KONG, SON OF KONG, ANDROCLES AND THE LION and CITIZEN KANE in particular.  The many RKO shows are pretty hard to come by from where I'm situated so I've done my best.  I'm grateful for several rare RKO frame enlargements, some of them before and after pictures, which came by way of Jim Aupperle's personal collection.

Standing either side of the miniature mast are Linwood Dunn and Paul Detlefsen - each flanked by unknown effects men.

Before looking at the numerous frames I'd first like to pay tribute to the key players who made up the special photographic effects department, or 'special camera effects' as it was termed, that formed the basis for so many wonderful and memorable RKO mattes and trick shots.

Although I don't have a picture of him I think it's generally accepted that cameraman Lloyd W.Knechtel founded the camera effects unit at RKO around 1929.  Knechtel was primarily an optical cameraman and would contribute photographic effects shots to many films throughout the thirties at RKO such as THE MOST DANGEROUS GAME (1932) and both KONG films before moving onto other studios and eventually into first cameraman roles later in his career on films such as the low budget, yet surprisingly well shot David Friedman sexploiter WILBUR AND THE BABY FACTORY in 1970.

Willis O'Brien
From those very early days Knechtel built up a team around him consisting primarily of matte painter Paul Detlefsen, miniaturist Donald Jahraus and a young up and coming visual effects cinematographer, Linwood Gale Dunn.  Former production cameraman Vernon L.Walker soon joined the team that same year (1929) as assistant to Knechtel in the effects unit and would himself eventually become head of all special effects work for the studio -  a role Walker would hold for almost the next 20 years until his untimely death in 1948.
Other important names associated with the visual effects side of RKO would be the legendary Willis H.O'Brien, who's talents are now the stuff of cinematic history, and deservedly so, with his iconic creative expertise which would bring KING KONG to depression era New York city, MIGHTY JOE YOUNG to the aid of a burning orphanage as well as uncredited matte painting and miniature work on several RKO titles such as THE LAST DAYS OF POMPEII.  It's safe to state that a considerable number of well known and highly regarded special effects men got there start at RKO, many under O'Bie and Vernon WalkerClarence Slifer, Clifford Stine, Linwood Dunn, Harold Wellman and several others all worked on KING KONG (1933) and the rest as they say, is film history.

Inasmuch as the matte painting side of things went, there too featured a roster of some of cinema's greatest matte talent, with Paul Detlefsen working on glass mattes in the early formative days before moving over to Warner Bros for most of his career and then back to RKO for what was probably his cinematic swansong, ANDROCLES AND THE LION in 1952 before leaving the movie buisiness altogether and concentrating on a long career in illustration and fine art.

In addition to Detlefsen were the Larrinaga brothers, Mario and Juan - both of whom had long careers in the fileld.  Mario had started in the trade as far back as 1916 as a backing painter for Universal and like so many of his fellow scenic artists moved into glass art and matte effects shots as what seemed a natural progression.  While Mario worked mainly for RKO and later on Warner Bros, his brother Juan would serve RKO and had a career at Columbia somewhat later on.  

Veteran matte artist Albert Maxwell Simpson was another very highly regarded and immensely talented glass artist who had an extraordinarily long career from way back as scenic and glass artist on D.W Griffith's BIRTH OF A NATION (1914).  Simpson painted for the majority of his career for RKO, and upon the folding up of that studio in the late fifties continued on right through to the late sixties in the off-shoot visual effects company Film Effects of Hollywood, established by fellow RKO  veteran Linwood Dunn who bought up all of RKO's process and optical equipment upon the closure of that studio.  Simpson, who unfortunately I've never been able to track down a picture of, was one of the greats, and aside from his RKO career worked many times with Jack Cosgrove and Clarence Slifer at Selznick Pictures International painting memorable mattes for such huge shows as THE PRISONER OF ZENDA and GONE WITH THE WIND among others.  Effects cameraman Bill Taylor worked in his younger days as operative cameraman at Film Effects of Hollywood and told me about a wonderful oil painted landscape by Simpson which would hang prominently upon the wall of Linn Dunn's office.
Ray Harryhausen with Lou Litchtenfield glass art

Other matte artists employed for a time at the studio on some productions were Byron L.Crabbe, who was a key figure on KING KONG and THE LAST DAYS OF POMPEII, Henri Hillinick (sometimes spelled as Hillink) - another KONG glass artists who would later become mentor to Matthew Yuricich in the fifties at MGM; Zachary Hoag, whom I assume to be related to optical effects man Robert Hoag was another glass artist employed during the KONG films and Fitch Fulton, the father of effects cameraman John P.Fulton was another painter who moved around the Hollywood scene and painted on films such as MIGHTY JOE YOUNG, GONE WITH THE WIND and JUNGLE BOOK. The great Chesley Bonestell featured among the credits on some RKO pictures too, with the 1939 HUNCHBACK OF NOTRE DAME being a superb example.  Bonestell worked at RKO for around three years and then for several Hollywood studios, most prominently Warner Bros throughout the forties.  Chesley also contributed to astronomical related shots at Paramount on a few George Pal classics such as WHEN WORLDS COLLIDE.  In later years he would become a much sought after illustrator of science fiction covers and special conceptual art.


Master matte artist Mario Larrinaga seen here sandwiched between two painted glasses during the shooting of KING KONG (1933).  This film probably pioneered the use of multi-planed or layered glass shots and the technique produced many extraordinary results giving that film a richness and texture not commonly seen in largely painted settings..

Byron L.Crabbe seen here painting a large foreground glass for LAST DAYS OF POMPEII (1935) for a shot I could never find in the final film.  Crabbe would sadly pass away prematurely in his early forties during the arduous effects work on GONE WITH THE WIND.

The great Willis H. O'Brien -  a legend among visual effects fans for KING KONG and several other shows.  O'Bie was an accomplished artist as well as cameraman and stop motion animator and in addition to many superb conceptual renderings for films and unrealised projects was also know to paint mattes for some productions.  This utterly wonderful, candid photograph was taken (and signed) by aspiring special photographic effects man Clarence W.Slifer on the KONG effects stage in 1933.

Chesley Bonestell - matte artist and noted astonomical painter for science fiction covers and conceptual art.

Linwood G.Dunn with his early prototype Acme-Dunn  Optical Printer, designed and built with long time colleagues Cecil Love and Bill Leeds.  The Dunn printer and it's variants would become the industry workhorse well up to the very brim of the digital era.

The early days:  Linwood Dunn and matte artist Paul Detlefsen posing behind the miniature radio mast built for that famous logo.  Detlefsen would paint the backing as well as the moving foreground clouds of large plate glass.

At left is head of department Vernon L.Walker posing with Dunn and his printer - circa 1941 CITIZEN KANE era.

A candid snapshot of matte artist Mario Larrinaga taken sometime in the early seventies.  There is a new book out The Film Art of Mario Larrinaga I think it's called, and it's available from Amazon for $24.  From what I've glimpsed it's mainly preproduction drawings and paintings, though there is some material on KONG and SHE's glass shots.

A wonderful portrait of Larrinaga, from the George Turner collection courtesy of visual effects cameraman Jim Aupperle who once mentioned having attended a symposium featuring Mario in the early seventies whereby a member of the audience asked Larrinaga "How do you paint"  - to which Mr Larrinaga responded with a wry smile on his face: "well you see we have these long sticks with hairs on one end..."

THE MATTES - a photo tribute to the glass artists of RKO

I wish I could show you more, but I've always had difficulty finding mattes from RKO films.....

One of RKO's least impressive films had in fact some of their most memorable mattes - ANDROCLES AND THE LION (1952) featured numerous Paul Detlefsen mattes such as the before and after shown above.  The glass art is substantial in size and has three areas for inclusion of people in live action plates.  The shot is a push in and for the most part obscured with the title, though it does crop up again unencumbered later on. Linwood Dunn was effects supervisor and long time RKO effects cinematographer  Russell Cully as matte cameraman. In chatting about the above matte, visual effects cameraman Jim Aupperle had this to say: "Many thanks for those frames from ANDROCLES AND THE LION, always liked that film for some reason. I remember Linwood Dunn showing his reel from ANDROCLES at one of his outstanding effects lectures and he mentioned that the shot with the title "Rome 161 A.D." used rear projection for the three live action elements that are deep in the background but the live action of the three Roman soldiers on the left of frame was added on the optical printer. He said that the sharpness of a R.P. dupe was fine if you could reduce the element within a shot but since the soldiers on the left foreground were a 1:1 copy they needed to be added on the optical printer to maintain acceptable quality. I still have one of those projectors from the RKO matte department that you can see in the behind the scenes shot you posted. I think there were five of those projectors made. I used mine on a number of shows back in the good old days of film. Great little machine that's still in fine working order after all these years though it's currently dismantled and boxed away. Someday, if I ever have a place with enough extra space, that projector is something I want out on display.The RKO matte projectors do resemble the projectors that were built for MIGHTY JOE YOUNG so I've wondered if Harry Cunningham had a hand in making the RKO units as well".

Another Paul Detlefsen matte from ANDROCLES AND THE LION
Mostly Detlefsen oil paint with a minimal set.

The components of the Colloseum matte shot from ANDROCLES AND THE LION

The finished composite.


A perfectly blended composite by Linwood Dunn and Russell Cully.

Also from ANDROCLES - Jim Aupperle spoke of seeing these all on a Linn Dunn before and after effects reel in the seventies at an AMPAS lecture from which he was spellbound.

Detlefsen's glorious 'money shot' of Rome with three live action elements composited by Linn Dunn.

Another Detlefsen composite from ANDROCLES AND THE LION (1952)  -as I understand it, Paul's swansong to the visual effects arena, from which he would become a successful calender artist and illustrator.

A magnificent and extensive matte from BACK TO BATAAN (1945) is one of RKO's grandest trick shots.  Matte artist unknown but possibly Albert Maxwell Simpson, under Vernon Walker's supervision.

Another stunning matte from the John Wayne-Anthony Quinn picture BACK TO BATAAN.

Both from BACK TO BATAAN (1945) with the shot at right comprising three elements - a studio 'beach' set, split screened actual breakers and sea, with glass painted foreground palm trees added later.
Another tremendous composite shot from BACK TO BATAAN where numerous elements have been combined in the optical printer - substantial matte art, several pockets of live action marching soldiers and foreground foliage added to help hide the seams.  A fantastic piece of work.

The 1946 Val Lewton show BEDLAM with Boris Karloff started off with this matte painted asylum zoom in composite. Effects by Vernon Walker, matte artist Al Simpson, process by Harold W.Stine, opticals by Linwood Dunn.

Several mattes from the Bing Crosby hit THE BELLS OF SAINT MARYS (1945).  It's been rumoured that stop motion ace Willis O'Brien may have 'quietly' painted mattes on this show during a volatile union strike at the time.(?)

Another set extension from THE BELLS OF SAINT MARY'S

Mario Larrinaga's dual matte paintings showing the same street during different time periods from the 1931 CIMMARON

One of my favourite films and fave matte shows too... CITIZEN KANE.  Above is a full painting with small mid section live action plate and a slow optical push in.  Some gag effects are evident to simulate 'live' people in the audience.

I love this shot... a multi part comp from CITIZEN KANE with mostly painted theatre, live action elements with stage and standing observers, and a split screened in viewer in the near foreground.

Another CITIZEN KANE three part composite - the road and sea are separate plates split screened together, with a Chesley Bonestell painted beach, treeline and sky... beautiful!

One of the many, many visual fx masterpieces that fill Orson Welles' CITIZEN KANE (1941).  Practically everything here is matte art (by Mario Larrinaga or Fitch Fulton) with even the reflection upon the polished floor being matte art.

A sensational Chesley Bonestell painted in setting from CITIZEN KANE
A Larrinaga masterpiece, sadly not shown to it's best advantage in the film due to over zealous comittment of foreground action and this beautiful painting ending up as little more than a process background.

Several more CITIZEN KANE mattes by the Larrinaga, Bonestell, Fulton team.
The components from the Chesley Bonestell NY Newspaper office matte shot.

One of the many eerie Xanadu mattes from CITIZEN KANE

One of the original glass mattes from CITIZEN KANE which would later be augmented with stop motion animated construction vehicles and this comp in turn used as a process projection plate behind foreground actors.  Some of the Xanadu paintings I felt were not shown at their best due to too much foreground action such as the night time Charles Foster Kane zoo shots.

A rare CinemaScope show from RKO, John Wayne's controversial (for many reasons) THE CONQUEROR (1956)

An Albert Maxwell Simpson matte from THE CONQUEROR

The classic THE DEVIL AND DANIEL WEBSTER, originally shown as ALL THAT MONEY CAN BUY (1941) featured several subtle Vernon Walker optical effects for Walter Huston's 'Mr Scratch' character as well as this lovely, evocative matte painting by Albert Maxwell Simpson that is a splendid example of forties matte art styling and design that I love so much.

A stunning matte from the 1946 Robert Wise production GAME OF DEATH.

The 1939 Cary Grant classic featured an astonishing title sequence involving glass art, live action figure and a delightful shimmering optical each time the man bangs the title gong.  A curious matte show as both Mario Larrinaga and fellow glass artist Jan Domela from rival, and in fact immediate neighbouring studio Paramount, had a hand in producing the matte work for some odd and unknown reason.  I wonder if it's a favour for a friend as Jan's daughter told me of her dad's lifelong friendship with fellow artist Bonestell.

Another matte from GUNGA DIN, by Domela according to Jan's correspondance.

The 1939 Charles Laughton HUNCHBACK OF NOTRE DAME showcased Chesley Bonestell's painting skillsSupposedly a miniature cathedral was utilised for one or two shots though obviously not this one.  The Bonestell painting was combined with a rear projection plate of the town square, and this composite was in turn utilised as another rear projection plate behind the window, with the camera pulling into the room as the actors move to the window.

I've read various accounts of the matte work in this show with some sources stating British matte artist Walter Percy Day as being involved, though I can't see it myself and can't understand why RKO would engage an artist from as far afield as Britain, especially on the eve of WWII. There is a photo in the Percy Day archives of Day with Charles Laughton, possibly on the set of this film, so I may be wrong.  Regular RKO artists Al Simpson and Fitch Fulton were heavily tied up with Selznick's GONE WITH THE WIND at the time, though both Juan and Mario Larrinaga would no doubt have been available.  By the way, I adore great perspective work in matte painting and that lower left up view is an absolute stunner by my book.

Huge production values via simple matte art - THE HUNCHBACK OF NOTRE DAME

A sensational aerial matte painted composite from THE HUNCHBACK OF NOTRE DAME  (1939) with all live action shot either on the backlot or mostly in the purpose built 'Paris' at the RKO ranch in Malibu I believe.

An excellent example of how the matte artist can create period Paris from a studio backlot set.

The massive pullback effects shot from the final scene in HUNCHBACK OF NOTRE DAME with camera starting off from an extreme close up of Laughton's face and smoothly pulling back to reveal the entire painted cathedral.  A viruoso composite scene put together by Linwood Dunn and Vernon Walker.  According to process cinematographer Harold Wellman "like KING KONG, we made extensive use of background projection, stop motion, miniatures and process.  One shot [the final pullback] for instance, pulls back from a 2x2 inch background image of Laughton, sitting by a gargoyle, to a long shot including the entire facade of the matte painting of the Cathedral of Notre Dame"

Now normally I'd not give a fleeting chance to the evils that are so-called colourised classic film, though I've included this Larrinaga-Crabbe iconic glass shot of Skull Island from KING KONG (1933) only as a curiosity.

Now...Skull Island as it was meant to be seen... and from BluRay this time.  A masterpiece in all respects.

The 8th wonder of the world... KONG amid a multi layered in camera set up involving partial miniature setting and up to three individual painted glasses, each with differing degrees of artwork, with the furtherest glass being the most densely painted, the middle glass having more peripheral foliage and detail and the glass nearest to the camera generally having minimal painted detail, often applied in sillouette as a compositional  framing device.  The many matte artists on this show included supervising painters Byron Crabbe and Mario Larrinaga, with additional art by Juan Larrinaga, Zachary Hoag, Peter Stitch, Albert Maxwell Simpson and Henri Hillinck.

NYC aerial views were all layered detailed glass paintings by the Larrinaga brothers and Zachary Hoag.

I was thinking of doing an entire blog on KING KONG as it was the film that got me into this fascinating area of interest.  I never tire of the sense of wonder that is still evident in these jungle glass shots - the greatest examples of foliage matte art ever committed to celluloid in my opinion.

More from KING KONG.

Larrinaga (L) and Crabbe (R) at work on one of the wonderful Gustave Dore inspired KONG environsMy God how I'd love to actually view one of those glasses, though according to Craig Barron, none appear to exist any longer.
The 76 KONG was entertaining in certain respects (and Jessica Lange was definitely easy on the eyes for a 14 year old film nut at the time) though the production design aspect was appalling to say the least!  The miniature and matte environs of Skull Island were abysmally concieved, lit, executed and photographed -with no attempt to create atmosphere, danger nor sheer wonder as the original film did so successfully.  Peter Jackson's version on the other hand was another story.  Still not quite 'Larrinaga/Crabbe' in texture but actually pretty good in it's recreation and simulation of the suffocating environment, much of that courtesy of former ILM matte painter and now vfx art director, the astonishingly talented Michael Pangrazio.  The monochrome of the day of O'Brien's vision worked so well in it's favour I feel.

Nice on set still photo of a typical O'Brien set up, with model dinosaur, miniature foreground trees and painted glass backing which beautifully extends the set up into a dank, frightening world where anything could lurk behind a tree.  The stop motion tie down 'floor' is also evident here.

Willis O'Brien seen at left while artists Mario Larrinaga and Byron Crabbe are seen at right in front of one of their magnificent and sizable painted glass settings.

One of KONG's greatest set pieces - as illustrated in the superb book 'The Making of King Kong' by George Turner and Orville Goldner published in 1975.  The 76 KONG interpretation of this set piece was excrutiating to watch and so much of a let down for this viewer after knowing the '33 version so well.  The DeLaurentiis show felt that a bald clay cliff with a few bits of shrubbery and a golf course styled forest was sufficient!!  Unbelievable..... it may have stolen an undeserved Oscar for effects but at least it didn't get a nomination for the awful art direction..... but don't get me started on bloody Oscar injustices such as SUPERMAN missing out on cinematography and art direction....ooops,  too late...I'm off on a roll.... somebody stop me.

A set of photographs taken on the KONG set showing Larrinaga with a multi plane glass shot, Willis and Mario in a joke pose painting a glass and lastly another view of one of the animation set ups with Larrinaga having a laugh during the final preparation of a large glass shot.
Another excellent still from KING KONG (though possibly actually SON OF KONG in fact), courtesy of Mark Sullivan, showing miniature foreground and creature, rear screen process actors and atmospheric painted glass backing beyond

Close up detail of the Crabbe-Larrinaga glass style.  I've so often said it, but as far as this KONG went "the music maketh the matte" in so many instances.  Max Steiner went all out with the score of his career.  That said I'll have to confess that John Barry's score and in particular main titles for the '76 KONG was sublime and his career best as well.  Jackson's '05 KONG was great but the score was utterly forgettable, aside from the brief ice skating' sequence near the end which was the stuff of angels!

Byron Crabbe's glass shots of ancient Rome from the Merian C.Cooper film LAST DAYS OF POMPEII (1935).  This shot I'm pretty sure turned up again, recycled, in the later ANDROCLES AND THE LION in 1952.

Willis O'Brien, effects supervisor, on the miniature set for LAST DAYS OF POMPEII.  I wrote an entire tribute piece on this film which may be found further back in my matteshot blog for those interested.

My favourite Crabbe glass shot from LAST DAYS OF POMPEII showing Jeruselem.

A wonderful before and after example taken from an extremely old Popular Science magazine from the period.

The final shot as it appeared on screen with the addition of travelling matted in foreground.

Some of the many mattes seen in Orson Welles' emasculated cut of THE MAGNIFICENT AMBERSONS (1942)

More mattes from THE MAGNIFICENT AMBERSONS, probably by Chesley Bonestell, Al Simpson and Fitch Fulton.

John Ford's MARY OF SCOTLAND (1936) used matte art for numerous castles with the above shot having a real river split screened into the painting, possibly painted by Byron Crabbe who was active in the studio at that time.

Another castle matte from MARY OF SCOTLAND - an odd choice of film for director John Ford.

The closing scene from MARY OF SCOTLAND had Katherine Hepburn walk up to camera while in one continuous shot the camera tilts up from  (maybe rear projected plate) of Hepburn up over the castle parapets to a night sky as she faces her executioner.

An unknown matte shot - from the collection of Jim Aupperle.

The grand, epic opening matte composite from MIGHTY JOE YOUNG (1949).  A trio of great matte talent painted on this show, Jack Shaw, Fitch Fulton and a young Louis Litchtenfield.  The shot is marvellous, though a curious anomoly appears during this shot whereby a curious reflection of automobiles can be seen in the real water plate, just below the painted palm trees in the centre left suggesting it was shot next to a highway or road somewhere for later matting into this painting.

A sensational and very rare test frame of a Fitch Fulton glass shot from MIGHTY JOE YOUNG, courtesy of Jim Aupperle.

Some frames with painted glass art from MIGHTY JOE YOUNG

MIGHTY JOE YOUNG - a great little film which as we know won the Oscar for special effects - apparently much to the chagrin of Fitch Fulton's son John, who too was nominated that same year  (1949) for TULSA.  Record has it that this was a sore point and touchy subject in the Fulton (jnr) house for some time to come.  The lower left nightclub shot is a really great and complicated shot, with small partial set enhanced by significant matte art and a complicated camera move added to the whole deal.

Most probably a foreground miniature sign and foliage with a painted backing.

Although not matte art I've added these shots anyway as it's a great sequence with miniature orphanage and stop motion truck arriving.  Lots of great Linwood Dunn optical combinations here to place actors amid the conflagration.

A rare original matte on masonite which has been documented as to having been from the 1948 Cary Grant picture MR BLANDINGS BUILDS HIS DREAM HOUSE, though no such scene, nor anything resembling it appears in the finished film.

Now these shots are from the hilarious MR BLANDINGS BUILDS HIS DREAM HOUSE.

Alfred Hitchcock's MR AND MRS SMITH (1941) was a strange film for Hitch.

Another matte from MR AND MRS SMITH, possibly painted by Mario Larrinaga or Chesley Bonestell.

Hitchcock's NOTORIOUS (1946) with final composite above and unfinished test shown below.  Courtesy of Jim Aupperle

Also from Hitchcock's NOTORIOUS.  Larrinaga had left for Warners, as had Bonestell by now so possibly Albert Maxwell Simpson created these mattes?


One of numerous unidentified RKO matte composites from the Jim Aupperle collection.  Thanks so much Jim.

Half of an unidentified RKO matte shot also from Jim's attic.

An interesting still from Jim's attic, from the film GOVERNMENT GIRL (1943) with an explanation inscribed on the back of the photo by the matte cameraman, presumably Russell Cully, who was with the fx unit for many years.

Another painted matte shot from an unknown title courtesy of Jim Aupperle.

Some of Byron Crabbe's numerous glass shots from a dismal public domain edition of THE MOST DANGEROUS GAME, made in 1932 back to back with KING KONG, often on the exact same sets with the same props and actors in some cases!

More Crabbe glass shots from THE MOST DANGEROUS GAME, and no, your eyes are not decieving you, that log across the chasm is from this film and yes the same set was used for both but with different matte art applied each time as evidenced below.  Still one hell of a set piece no matter what film you see!
The log shot - as seen in KING KONG at left and DANGEROUS GAME at right, with Crabbe below.

Amazing for it's time is the frequent and effective use of the Dunning bi-pack double printing TM process.

Two more Byron Crabbe glass shots from MOST DANGEROUS GAME  - a film rehashed a zillion times!

What... is that CITIZEN KANE in technicolor I hear you ask???  Well, yes, and no.  These frames are from the rather good  John Malkovich (one of the industry's most compelling actors) nineties film RKO 281 which was a semi-fictional account of the trials and tribulations of the making of that great film.  If my memory serves me correctly those pseudo KANE glass shots in the background were created by British effects man Leigh Took.  Leigh had his origins in matte art under Cliff Culley at Pinewood in the late 70's.  

Also from RKO 281, the fabrication of the old radio mast logo for the nineties pictureEffects supervisor was Steve Begg

Another view of the finished miniature and painted glass set up in preparedness for shooting.  This is a wonderful flashback to the old Detlefsen/Dunn set up from 1930.

An unusual and somewhat over the top matte composite from the Lucille Ball comedy SEVEN DAYS LEAVE (1942)

A typical 40's soundstage matted addition, also from SEVEN DAYS LEAVE (1942)

The wonderful 1935 version of SHE featured dozens of superb mattes by Mario Larrinaga and possibly Byron Crabbe as well.  If anyone's keen, I wrote an entire article about this and the Hammer remake in an earlier blog posting. Check it out!

One of the terrific Larrinaga painted cave interiors from SHE (1935)

Another of the many fine mattes from SHE
Vivid technicolor mattes and miniatures from the 1947 film SINBAD THE SAILOR which had a joint fx credit (uncommon) to both Vernon Walker and Harold Wellman who was effects cameraman. Walker died around this time so perhaps Wellman completed the effects shots on the show?

More from SINBAD THE SAILOR, with shot at lower left a paste up of a large pullback camera move *Thanks to my pal Domingo Lizcano for sending me these rare shots.

The very disappointing 1933 SON OF KONG (what the hell was Cooper thinking?) did have great animation, process and some brilliant glass shots, though as this one occurred during a dissolve, and had a title supered over it the generational loss and grain build up was significant.

Now that's what I call a masterpiece of the medium... Skull Island as re-envisioned by Larrinaga and Crabbe for SON OF KONG... an even better painting than the original shot.

Two more very nice glass shots from SON OF KONG - an otherwise dismal, misjudged, cheap film.

Gorgeous jungle glass art with process projected cast and stop motion beasts.  This show went all out in the miniature rear screen trick shots, and aside from a curious glowing hot spot in some shots, was pretty ambitious and worked well
Seagoing miniatures and, at lower left, a matte shot, from the 1945 technicolor adventure THE SPANISH MAIN.  I understand that all the model ship sequences in Harryhausen's 7th VOYAGE OF SINBAD (1957) were culled from this film.   *thanks to Domingo Lizcano for these frames

A poor vhs grab from THE SPIRAL STAIRCASE (1946)

Mattes from the Alfred Hitchcock film SUSPICION (1941)

Again, as much as I despise 'colourisation' here is an example from SUSPICION for those who are intrigued.

One of some 14 contendors up for the 1940 special effects oscar was this version of the much loved classic SWISS FAMILY ROBINSON starring Freddie Bartholemew.  Vernon Walker was nominated here as head of department though all of the work was done by matte artist Albert Maxwell Simpson, optical man Linn Dunn and fx cameraman Russ Culley.

A film now largely forgotten, SWISS FAMILY ROBINSON had some excellent effects work such as these wonderful 'boys own adventure' painted mattes which are so perfect in keeping the flavour of the original story alive.
The first of four wonderful sets of rare before and after Al Simpson mattes, sent to me by matte painter and visual effects maestro Mark Sullivan, to whom I'm ever so grateful.

The second before and after SWISS FAMILY matte which in every respect is so typical of the methods and style of the forties (my fave matte era) with a soft split running right through the studio scenery and artist Albert Maxwell Simpson's flawless blend bringing the two elements together.  Clarence Slifer often wrote of Simpson's craftsman like ability in tying together painted elements to live action seemlessly duting the effects shoot of GONE WITH THE WIND (1939)

Another glorious soft blend Simpson matte shot from SWISS FAMILY with even the foreground foliage the work of Al.

The last of the rare before/after photo sets sent to me by Mark Sullivan showing far more of the glass artists' additions than one would suspect, with not only the substantial background painted in but also the rocks and mist in the foreground added by Simpson, and composited by Linwood Dunn and Russell Cully.

I prefer the look of the RKO version over the later Disney version, with the novel treehouse being just delightful.
RKO made a whole series of TARZAN adventures, and although they were quite weak when compared to the grander MGM versions, some had great matte work such as this one, TARZAN AND THE AMAZONS (1945).

Some of the many matte shots from TARZAN AND THE AMAZONS, though the one at lower left has serious perspective issues.  Matte artist possibly Fitch Fulton as both Larrinaga brothers and Bonestell were long gone by now and employed at Warners and Columbia.


An untitled matte from the 1940's which used the main studio gate as the live action plate.

Although not a matte shot I've included it here as a nice example of the art of the painted backing - from the 1934 Ginger Rogers film ROMANCE IN MANHATTAN

Howard Hawk's classic and still scary THE THING FROM ANOTHER WORLD had this one solitary matte shot which extended a small backlot set to a broader canvas.
Two mattes from the 1943 Charles Laughton picture THIS LAND IS MINE.

I found this in an old magazine clipping, though the explanation as being a Dunning Process Shot I think is remiss, as it's really only a standard split screen matte comp and nothing more - unless some live action was later added over this comp via the Dunning travelling matte technique?
Linwood G.Dunn and his Acme-Dunn Optical Printer assembling opticals for CITIZEN KANE.
Former RKO effects chief Linn Dunn's Film Effects of Hollywood company initially established in 1957 after the closure of RKO studios.

Dunn with long time associate Cecil Love shown here shooting the titles for WEST SIDE STORY.


  1. A feast for the eye. Thanks, Pete for all those memorable matte moments.
    Have to get my hands on this King Kong Blu-ray. It looks fabulous.

  2. Fabulous! Great work and thanks for sharing.

  3. Chesley Bonstell was definitely involved in Huchhback of Notre Dame.

  4. Hi Steve

    Yes, for sure Bonestell was a key fx person on NOTRE DAME, but it's Percy Day's involvement that perplexes me somewhat. I just can't see why the studio would bring in Day all the way from London to paint on this show (and, as legend has it, on Fox's HOW GREEN WAS MY VALLEY a couple of years later)when there were so many matte artists readily available in Hollywood.
    We may never know for sure.


  5. I have to say I'm awed by the amount of work you put into this, the post just goes on and on. The shots from Back to Bataan (particularly the church) are very impressive. I'm going to read through 2010, see what I missed, you see if I don't.

  6. Hi Ashley

    Thanks for those positive comments - I'm glad so many people still place value on this hand made stuff.

    Future blogs will include: A comprehensive review of many visual effects publications, books and journals from my collection. This will be in a week or so.

    Also more MGM mattes, Pinewood mattes, Shepperton mattes, a tribute to Syd Dutton & Bill Taylor, another series celebrating the wonderful old Disney matte shots, a look at Les Bowie and more!!!


  7. Pete -

    Thanks for making my day, as usual, with your fantastic tribute to these amazing artists!

    My life as an artist is strongly tied to an early fascination with these films and their special effects - most of all those glass mattes.

    Thanks again!


  8. Many thanks for another great Post - this time on my favourite studio!

    Concerning "don't get me started on bloody Oscar injustices such as SUPERMAN missing out on cinematography and art direction..."

    Here at my local cinema in Belper, Derbyshire, every June I organise our own International Film Awards ("The Ritzys").

    In shortlisting for our "Best Cinematographer" category, we have a strict rule on films with a bare minimum of Digital Enhancement. That's why Roger Deakins has been nominated for the last four years and has become a running gag on the night...

    To see some of the Oscar winners in the category over the past few years, it's almost impossible to say whether the "look" was the work of a D.P or a teenager, slaving away on an Apple, six months later...

  9. Hi Andy

    That's great. One that always annoyed me, and not just because he's a fellow Kiwi, is the great cinematographer Michael Serisen who did astonishing work on almost all of Alan Parker's films, such as ANGEL HEART, FAME, ANGELA'S ASHES and MIDNIGHT EXPRESS to name but a few and he never even had so much as a nomination! Serisen set the benchmark for jaw dropping, painstaking use of colour and subtle diffused light in 1978 for MIDNIGHT EXPRESS, way before anyone else was doing it (and now it's done by everyone - ad nauseum)...... but as I say, don't get me started on bloody Oscar injustices (oh....I see, you already did!)

  10. Re: Michael Serisen - I totally agree that his continually being overlooked is ridiculous. I happen to know that Alan Parker thinks that, too.

    For a very neat showpiece of his work that is characteristically technically perfect while at the same time managing to be un-showy or flash, try the one-take short "Parc Monceau" from "Paris Je T'Aime".


    Just lovely.

  11. I am correct that some of the RKO dvds like Suspicion or Gunga Din seem a bit visually fuzzy making it difficult to see the matte paintings well (I assume because original elements haven't fared well) ?

  12. Hi Steven

    No actually those frames are taken from vhs copies as that was all I could find.
    Generally the dvd transfers are good, but not as sharp as some name labels such as Warner who normally do a superb job with old films. I recently hired a set of RKO TARZAN pictures and the quality was so abysmal (especially on a 55" TV I had to give up part way through.

  13. The canyon painting from Blandings IS in the film - after the titles there is a brief narrated introduction about the history of man wanting to build dwellings and that painting is in there for a moment I believe.

  14. Steve

    It's not in the versions I have - either on DVD or VHS so it's a mystery?


  15. Linwood Dunn came to the optical house in the 80's. (Peerless Camera Co) I was working at and told us about the shot in Hunchback, looking down on the town and the morning of the shoot he quickly ran off a short test in the locked off camera and developed it in a small developing tank and checked the line up and exposure of the matte painting. I can't remember if the roll of film loaded to shoot the scene already had the matte painting exposed onto it and he ran off a few feet and developed it, or he loaded a small wedge test roll of the painting.

  16. Hi there Stephen

    I'm keen to know more about your days at Peerless, should you wish to contact me by email. Also, your own posting of the GIVE MY REGARDS TO BROADSTREET matte set up is of great interest to me too, and I'd love to get more info on that.


  17. Hi

    Always enjoy your fabulous site. The matte from MR.BLANDINGS, which is an accurate representation of the cliff dwelling of the Ancestral Pueblo at Mesa Verde, is from the trailer to the film. Presented by Melvin Douglas, it introduces the film with a montage of the history of man pursuing his dream home up to the modern city dwelling 20th Century denizen Cary Grant.


  18. Hi Rick

    You wouldn't be the former owner of that (and other) vintage matte paintings, would you?

    Thanks for the info. I could never spot it in the film so I'll try and find the trailer online. It's a beautiful painting - maybe by Larrinaga, Bonestell or Simpson.