Wednesday, 1 June 2011

The Artist at Work: matte painting in progress

There isn't much in this world which thrills me as do photographs or video footage documenting the matte painter actually at work creating some form of movie magic - even more so when that material harks from the golden era of Hollywood and British special effects work, which sadly isn't often a treat we are privy to very often, mainly due to the secretive nature of this sort of work at the time.

This blog article will take a well deserved trip down memory lane as we look at a great many examples of the matte artist at work on glass shots from across the decades with some truly memorable artwork and practitioners therein.

Regrettably, as already mentioned,  behind the scenes matte set up images from the older era films are as rare as hens teeth, so some pictures here I've borrowed from other sources out of necessity. Most matte art documentation associated with George Lucas and his cohorts are perhaps over represented simply due to the availability of published information that has come about largely since the release of STAR WARS in 1978 which saw publications such as Starlog, Fantastic Films, Cinefantastique, Starburst and later on, Cinefex which would dedicate page space to these effects and interview celebrity matte specialists such as Whitlock, Yuricich and Ellenshaw jnr who were more than happy to finally have a voice and a receptive medium.

Some of the following images have appeared previously in various articles on my blog and I'm always  hesitant to re-publish older material though I take into consideration newer readers who may have not seen earlier articles and may not catch key material due to the sheer size of my average blog, which by blog standards are pretty considerable, so gems tend to get lost in the stampede, and I tend to feel so many of these pictures and snippets of information really must be seen.  There are some great photographs of some of the titans of glass painting as well as some lesser known exponents too, so what follows is, hopefully, a fascinating look at the matte painter at work.    Enjoy.


Anyone familiar with my blogs will know how much I love the work of Peter Ellenshaw (with much more bloggery still to come).  This is one of his amazing foreground glasses painted for Disney's 20'000 LEAGUES UNDER THE SEA (1954).  As this was the studios first stateside live action effects film there wasn't any actual matte dept constructed yet, so Peter was forced to paint his glass shots in a corridor near the art dept as I recall, with many others painted on location.  As I understand it, all of the mattes were either in camera latent image wind back composites or foreground glass paintings.

Another pair of Peter's foreground paintings for 20'000 LEAGUES - with these being painted outdoors on the 20th Century Fox backlot as odd as that may sound!  In addition to painting mattes, Peter was 'ordered' by Walt to oversee all of the miniature set ups involving the Nautilus which were being shot by Ralph Hammeras in the big tank at Fox, just behind Ellenshaw's easel.  Star James Mason, seen above, was reported to have said to Peter "I'm so envious of what you do", with Ellenshaw's in thought only response "I'm so envious of what YOU do!".  Classic.

Doug Ferris painting a vast aerial view of a Tibetan town for for "7 YEARS IN TIBET" (1997) for a simulated pan across view through a telescope.  The effect was originally a digital shot but was rejected by the director as "fake", whereby Ferris was called in to paint this in his old studio at Shepperton, where happily, the painting still survives.

American all round effects artist Robert Skotack at work on the gateway space station painting for James Cameron's ALIENS (1986).  The matte was painted and photographed at Dennis Lowe's Slough UK effects house, Arkadon.

Shepperton Studios key matte painter Gerald Larn at work finishing off a significant set extension for the 1965 film THE AMOROUS ADVENTURES OF MOLL FLANDERS.  Gerald told me that the glass was started by fellow artist Peter Melrose who took sick, whereby effects head Wally Veevers asked Gerald to finish it off.

Another matte shot in progress by Shepperton's Gerald Larn - this beautiful matte for the excellent Richard Burton film ANNE OF 1000 DAYS (1969).  The frame at left is a temporary comp to test for blend and colour, with the separately filmed miniature elements of traitors gate still needing refinement.  The right frame is the final composite shot of The Tower of London.  The sky is a real one 'burnt in' by matte cameraman John Grant with the model component handled by Doug Ferris.

The Tim Burton film BATMAN had a roster of top British matte artists aboard such as Leigh Took, Doug Ferris, Ray Caple, Steve Mitchell and this fellow, J.P (Jean-Pierre) Trevor.  Apparently trained in matte painting under Disney's Harrison Ellenshaw on films such as STEALING HEAVEN and possibly even STAR WARS.  Derek Meddings ran the BATMAN fx shoot with cameramen Angus Bickerton, Peter Hammond, Peter Talbot and Mark Gardiner shooting and compositing the many mattes and opticals.

Yuricich protoge Michelle Moen at work on a spectacular glass shot for BATMAN RETURNS for Matte World Inc.

The mighty money shot from the 1959 BEN HUR and it's creator, Matthew Yuricich.  Lee LeBlanc was in charge of the mattework with Clarence Slifer and Clifford Shirpser assembling the shots.  A true masterpiece of matte-dom.

Rocco Gioffre is seen here finishing off one of his mattes for Ridley Scott's immaculately designed and assembled sci-fi classic BLADERUNNER (1982). I heard somewhere that they were going to remake or 're-imagine' (!!) the story.... God help us!

Matthew Yuricich in early block in stages of his key matte shot for BLADERUNNER which would necessitate the use of the complicated and frustrating internegative stock photographic process, as dictated by effects supervisor Douglas Trumbull.  A not entirely satisfying cinematic experience, but one of the most exquisitely designed, photographed visual effect films ever made where each and every optical is a thing of great beauty and always at the service of the narrative and so aesthetically pleasing, and never overbearing nor gratuitously bombarding of the viewer as all seem to be nowadays - which is something film makers and so called 'visual effect producers' of today would be well advised to look and learn!

A real mixed bag, effects wise, THE BLACK HOLE (1979) was a huge effects show with many, many mattes that ran the range of poor (presumably due to Disney's reliance on often muddy rear screen elements for compositing mattes) to outstanding.  Matte supervisor was Harrison Ellenshaw, with artists Deno Ganakes and David Mattingly assisting on 100 odd mattes.

Golden era matte and conceptual artist Byron Crabbe seen here at work on a large (and not used) glass shot for THE LAST DAYS OF POMPEII (1935).  Crabbe was instrumental in the look of numerous RKO films as visual fx art director and matte painter on Willis O'Brien's CREATION, the two KONG films, THE MOST DANGEROUS GAME as well as the Selznick films THE PRISONER OF ZENDA and GONE WITH THE WIND.

The film that made Bill Murray a star - CADDYSHACK (1979) featured some of the first matte shots at Dream Quest Images with Rocco Gioffre painting and Hoyt Yeatman photographing the mattes.  This shot required Gioffre to add two huge smoking holes to the golf fairway for the end of the film.

Long time Pinewood matte specialist Cliff Culley is shown here (in light sweater) putting finishing touches on his Swiss landscape top up for Albert Broccoli's CHITTY CHITTY BANG BANG (1968).  The film and the mattes were shot in 65mm with both the 65mm process projector and the taking camera shown here.  That's famed optical man Roy Field manning the matte camera behind Culley.  Incidentally I'm pretty sure significant rotoscope work has been done to eliminate the ramp under the car and to add a shadow to the grass.

One of my favourite movie magicians, the late great Emilio Ruiz del Rio, at work on one of my least favourite films, CONAN THE BARBARIAN (1981).  This foreground glass shot was ultimately eliminated from the final cut.

Veteran matte shot pioneer Paul Detlefsen did thousands of mattes over the decades - from the early twenties on films such as this one, DANCER OF THE NILE (1921) right through to ANDROCLES AND THE LION (1952) his last film, from which he pursued a successful career for more than twenty more years as a fine artist.  Detlefsen  learned the ways of the matte process from his mentor glass shot pioneer Ferdinand Pinney Earle and was  chief matte artist at Warner Bros for many years under Byron Haskin and Laurence Butler.

Another golden era matte exponent, Chesley Bonestell, shown here painting a matte for an unknown title around 1943 during his tenure at Warner Bros in the forties and early fifties. I'm astounded at the small dimensions of the painting in comparison with other studios such as Selznick for example where artwork was very large.

Paul Lasaine painting an utterly convincing White House for the Kevin Kline comedy DAVE in the mid 90's.

Rocco Gioffre's stunning snowscape vista for the not very good Sylvester Stallone actioner CLIFFHANGER.

Also from CLIFFHANGER Michelle Moen paints a vast rock wall which will have star Stallone projected into the blank area.  The size of the painting is needed for a vast and dramatic pullback from Sly clinging on by his fingernails.

Another Stallone film, and a better one this time - DEMOLITION MAN required the services of three matte artists - Mark Sullivan (shown above), Brian Flora (shown below) and Mike Pangrazio (not shown here at all) for just three mattes.

Brian Flora painting futuristic Los Angeles for DEMOLITION MAN

An Oscar winning art director nowadays, for AVATAR, Robert Stromberg cut his teeth cinematically on traditional matte art for Illusion Arts, with this series of pics from DENICE THE MENACE which clearly show the Whitlock method as passed on by Syd Dutton.

I'll be doing a full on DICK TRACY retrospective soon, so here's a taste where the worlds biggest matte (?) is, quite unusually,  being painted by six artists - an idea I'd imagine to be fraught with problems of style, approach not to mention sheer bloody elbow room!!  As best I can identify the figures in the group shot are: Michael Lloyd, Paul Lasaine, Michelle Moen, Harrison Ellenshaw, Tom Gilleon and lastly David Mattingly.  Peter Ellenshaw also worked on it for a day or two,  mostly on the sky.

A terrific DICK TRACY photo of, I think, another of the big dolly shot matte paintings with artist David Mattingly shown in the foreground and Michelle Moen in the rear.  Mattingly is first and foremost a noted sci fi cover artist though he has dabbled in mattes on at least three films that I can think of just off the bat - all of them Disney: THE BLACK HOLE, A WATCHER IN THE WOODS and this one.  Moen of course has had a long career as one of the few women in the matte game, with only Jena Holman and the delightful Caroleen Green the only others I can recall.

Supervising matte artist Michael Lloyd airbrushes what to me appears to be a final concept painting for a major matte shot sequence in DICK TRACY.  Paul Lasaine is looking on.  All up, an exceptional effects show that should have had at least an Oscar nomination in my book, and leaps and bounds above most of the Buena Vista Visual Effects efforts of the 90's such as the abysmal ESCAPE FROM LA.

The great Walter Percy Day, better known in the British industry as 'Pop' Day is pictured here painting a gigantic foreground glass for the 1925 French production LA TERRE PROMISE.  Day's stepson, Peter Ellenshaw commented that the area for the live action was later scraped away from the huge glass before filming on location and said on more than one occasion that Day never did things the easy way... "if a 3 foot glass would suffice, the old man would  go and paint a 6 foot glass".

One of my favourite candid 'snapshots' of a matte artist at work - this being long time Paramount matte man Jan Domela who must have had the longest career out of any matte practitioner.  Jan started in the business around 1927 and worked constantly, mainly for Paramount right through to around 1968 painting thousands of matte shots.  The painting here is sadly unidentified, but is probably from the late thirties.

An artist who seems to have dropped off the radar, Bill Mather, seen here painting one of the magnificent mattes for Francis Coppola's BRAM STOKER'S DRACULA  in 1992.  Mather worked for Craig Barron at Matte World in Northern California for some time I believe.

Another wonderful Matte World painting from DRACULA, with Brian Flora at the easel this time.  Brian is another one of those clandestine matte guys in all probability, chained in the cellars of Matte World and only let out for special jobs (!) such as this and GREMLINS 2 - at least that's my view.  Talented guy.

Alan Maley trained with Bob Cuff and possibly Albert Julion at Shepperton under Wally Veevers in the fifties and would go on to work mainly for Disney, effectively replacing Al Whitlock around 1963.  This is one of Alan's ILM jobs, DRAGONSLAYER (1981) with the photo at left a joke one taken by Craig Barron at the request of Maley who said he was always perplexed at behind the scenes matte pics where the artists always seemed to hold the smallest brush imaginable against a vast canvas.  Alan tragically died suddenly at a youngish age in the mid 90's.

Syd Dutton working on one of his DUNE paintings.  See my Illusion Arts blog for more on Syd and Bill.

Another pic of Syd Dutton at work on an unidentified matte painting.

An instantly recognisable snapshot - with Harrison Ellenshaw loading up the brushes with acrylic for an EMPIRE STRIKES BACK  (1980) matte shot.

A very rare set of photos, courtesy of my friend Domingo Lizcano, of noted Spanish glass shot artist Alfonso de Lucas preparing a foreground glass for EL HIJO DE LA NOCHE (1949).  The Spanish film industry is rich in astonishing matte artistry and trick shots... as the next picture will attest.

The legendary Spanish visual effects maestro, Emilio Ruiz was a man whose ingenuity and pragmatism I still find enthralling.  These frames are, as I understand it, from a matte painting demonstration film highlighting the techniques that Ruiz had mastered over his long career.

None too subtle as a director, James Cameron was formerly a matte painter on shows such as John Carpenter's 1981 film ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK (shown above) with fellow artists Jena Holman and Robert Skotack as well as things like Roger Corman's BATTLE BEYOND THE STARS and GALAXY OF TERROR.

An exceptional matte artist at ILM, Sean Joyce contributed to many top fx shows for LucasFilm and others in the 80's such as this shots from the Joe Dante misfire EXPLORERS (1986)

Forgive me readers, but ILM's Caroleen Green was (and probably still is) the matte of the month pin up artist for me!

Another picture of ILM's Sean Joyce painting for EXPLORERS.  Sean left the film industry on the eve of the silicone chip coup de tat as he was quoted as not the least bit interested in pursuing this new 'brushless' artform.

Pioneering matte effects creator and inventor, Ferdinand Pinney Earle seen here at work on his own epic THE RUBIYAT OF OMAR KHAYAM (1925) - a film now lost but reportedly laden in glass shots.  Earle was in and out of courtrooms fighting fellow pioneer Norman Dawn on the rights to the matte patent for years and by the account of Earle's very own son, who was a Disney background artist, was a cruel tyrant.  Noted matte painter Paul Detlefsen trained under Earle.

Multi layer foreground art for Ray Harryhausen's THE FIRST MEN IN THE MOON (1964) with matte painter Les Bowie visible here touching up the Earth.  Under Bowie were Bob Cuff and Ray Caple for the other numerous matte/model shots.

An excellent example of the on location in camera glass shot as used for the film A FLAME IN THE WIND.

The low budget adult spoof FLESH GORDON (1974) had great effects throughout, with nice work by Jim Aupperle, Bill Hedge, Jim Danforth, Tom Scherman and maybe David Allen too.  These glass shot set ups show artist Joe Musso working on a multi plane glass shot, and at right, another unidentified artist.  Most of the remaining mattes were done by Jim Danforth.

The kiddie adventure FLIGHT OF THE NAVIGATOR  required numerous painted skies and dramatic earthly views, courtesy of painter Jena Holman with David Stipes photographing same.

The 1979 television series BATTLESTAR GALACTICA had numerous mattes, some such as this shot painted by Dan Curry and composited on original negative by David Stipes.

Dan Curry holding up the slate for the o/neg shoot of another of his GALACTICA matte shots.

Matte painter Richard Kilroy at work on a matte for THE BIG ONE tv movie of the early 90's.  I chatted with Richard recently and he mentioned with some regret of the demise of the finished painting:  "Here's a shot of me at work on one of the mattes for 'The Big One'.  This panel went on display for earthquake preparedness day in the Bonaventure Hotel in downtown Los Angeles.  The mayor was on hand as well.  The painting was stolen during the event - whisked off in an elevator right from its easel - never to be seen again.  I hope they took good care of it"!

UK matte artist Charles Stoneham at work on a matte to conceal modern architecture for Richard Attenborough's Oscar winning GANDHI (1982).  Stoneham was tutored in the artform by Pinewood's Cliff Culley and painted on numerous British films from the late sixties through to the late eighties such as BRITANNIA HOSPITAL, RETURN TO OZ, LABYRINTH and LAST DAYS OF PATTON.

Paul Swensden painting an evocative matte for a French production GEORGINO.

Master matte artist Matthew Yuricich painting his wonderful and vertigo inducing storybook shot for Ivan Reitman's hit GHOSTBUSTERS (1984).  I just love painted mattes with exaggerated perspective lines such as this and when used as this was as part of a massive pullback they look tremendous.  This original glass painting recently came up for auction and sold fo either US$12'000 or $21'000 - I forget which (no memory for numbers).  Cest magnifique!

My childhood hero, the late great Derek Meddings applying finishing touches to a massive Brian Bishop glass painting on the SFX set of the Bond film GOLDENEYE (1996) with the final first generation composite with action seen at right.  Derek began his film career under Les Bowie as a title artist and then, along side Ray Caple was trained in matte painting in Bowie's original 'studio' which was in fact an old disused movie theatre whereby the old projection booth was used as the matte painters studio and the 'stalls' as the effects shooting stage.

Another absolute hero in my book - well two actually if you count Ray... the amazingly resourseful and much in demand Emilio Ruiz, seen here on location in Spain with one of his classic foreground paintings for the brilliant Harryhausen adventure THE GOLDEN VOYAGE OF SINBAD (1973).  An incredible artist, cameraman and miniaturist with such an intuitive eye for 'selling a shot' Emilio would almost exclusively execute his matte effects in camera as first generation composites on set, with always the most crisp, authentic look to his tricks that so much passed me by over the years I'm only now discovering many of his effects where I never expected them.  This matte of the walled city is magnificent, and, as with many of Ruiz's mattes was painted onto a sheet of aluminium which would then be carefully cut out and mounted in front of the camera, thus allowing a completely believable sense of natural light and a nodal head pan.  Bravo!  I have a vast collection of Emilio's shots and I really want to dedicate an entire blog to the man, but the titles of many are lost on me.

I've already mentioned Jan Domela, and covered his whole career in depth in an extensive blog article last year. This is a stunning matte painting, and one of the last he created in fact, from the huge MGM epic THE GREATEST STORY EVER TOLD (1965) - a film chock filled with so many exquisite painted mattes by Matthew Yuricich, Albert Maxwell Simpson and Jan.  A big effects show which was nominated for the visual fx Oscar, but was robbed blind by the excruitiatingly poor effects work in THUNDERBALL.... but don't get me started on bloody Oscar injustices... It's winter here now yet it's still unbelievably warm and sunny...T-Shirt and shorts weather..... lets hear it for Global Warming.... Screw you Al Gore!

British icon and special effects legend, the crusty Percy Day, seen here painting his winter view of Henry's castle for Laurence Olivier's HENRY V (1944).  As mentioned previously, Day had a propensity to paint his glasses extraordinarily large, which wasn't necessary really due to small cinema screens and film grain of the time.  Many of the mattes in this show all looked oddly 'illustrative' in nature and not at all lifelike, though this was by choice of director/star Olivier and the production designer Paul Sherrif who wanted to maintain a sort of illuminated manuscript look to the film.

Another full painting from HENRY V (1944) - with the added twist that although it's a Percy Day painting, that's not Day with brush in hand, rather it's Shepperton matte artist Gerald Larn who, upon the suggestion of cameraman John Grant posed with the iconic Day glass when things were a bit slow in the effects department one morning around 1964. This painting still exists to this day in a private collection in the UK.

THE HINDENBERG (1975) was Albert Whitlock's second Oscar win in two years - and an utterly deserved one at that. This is one of 72 matte paintings created by Al for the film, which also had much blue screen and model action as well.

Albert again, this time with the extraordinary visual effects from the very ordinary Mel Brook's HISTORY OF THE WORLD, PART ONE (1980).  As much as it would have struggled that year as a potential contendor in the Oscar stakes up against EMPIRE STRIKES BACK and such, I'd love to have seen at least a nomination to Al, Syd and Bill for their flawless and honestly magnificent work.

The Fred Sersen matte department at 20th Century Fox, with unidentified artists at work on HOLLYWOOD CAVALCADE (1939).  I'm a huge fan of painted 'neon signs' and theatre marquees from the golden era and proudly own a beautiful MGM Newcombe colour matte painting from the fact it's framed on the wall right in front of me as I type this.

A  'modern era' matte artist whom I respect enormously - Mark Sullivan (shown upper left) and his jaw droppingly eye popping matte for the exceedingly dull HOOK (1992).  The fellow in the lower picture is a visitor to ILM and is equally taken with this beautiful piece of artwork.

The always effervescent Caroleen Green pictured adding finishing touches to a Chis Evans painting for INDIANA JONES AND THE TEMPLE OF DOOM (1985).

Another of ILM's talented young matte painters of the 80's era, Frank Ordaz who is seen here with one of his numerous paintings for THE EWOK ADVENTURE made for television special, which incidentally had dozens of amazing, and pristine matte shots, many of which were original negative.

Peter Ellenshaw again - and this time the huge matte heavy Disney adventure IN SEARCH OF THE CASTAWAYS (1962). This glass shot, as with many of those in this show were on set foreground glasses rather than separately filmed elements blended later on.  I'll have a blog on this and other Disney matte shows soon, so stay tuned.

Mark Sullivan again, and wow, what a painting that never saw the Xenon lamps of a projector!  An unused (and I think un filmed) painting for the disasterous Warren Beatty show ISHTAR (1986).  According to Mark: "The Ishtar painting was worked a bit oversized because I was nervous that it was a full frame painting, and it featured a lot of architectural details, along with some visually delicate construction cranes. I was working on the shot for Cinema Research Corp., and they were going to photograph and composite a helicopter into the shot. The shot or sequence was excised from the movie before I was able to finish the painting".

Linwood Dunn's Film Effects of Hollywood had the contract to supply trick shots for the huge IT'S A MAD, MAD, MAD, MAD WORLD (1963) with this amazing climactic set piece involving miniatures, stop motion (devised by Willis O'Brien and executed by Jim Danforth), live action and extensive matte art.  Former long time MGM artist Howard Fisher painted this matte while effects cameraman James B.Gordon and matte painter Cliff Silsby - both former 20th Century Fox veterans too handled other shots.

Veteran matte shot wiz Jack Shaw pictured here painting a non existent ceiling for a set - a very common need in the golden era.  Jack painted for Jack Cosgrove on PRISONER OF ZENDA (1937) and later on the mammoth GONE WITH THE WIND (1939).  Other pictures included ONE MILLION BC, BLOOD ON THE SUN, ANIMAL WORLD  and HELEN OF TROY.  Much of Jack's work was done for Warner Brothers under Lou Litchtenfield and Mario Larrinaga.

Jim Danforth was a key member of the reknowned Cascade Films group in the 70's and painted many mattes with such noted fx names as Dennis Muren, David Allen, David Stipes and Harry Walton.  This matte of a Shangri-La setting was for a VolksWagon tv commercial in the 70's which cameraman David Stipes mentioned to me as being "just beautiful".

A Disney glass shot in progress, for the 1961 film KIDNAPPED with Peter Finch (in uniform watching on).  Ellenshaw and Whitlock both painted on this film with many of the mattes being in camera first generation glass shots with sailing ships at sea and so forth.  Not sure who the other technicians are here though? 

The father of British special effects, Les Bowie with one of his beautifully painted foreground glasses for a non Hammer film.

Lee Le Blanc - a career matte artist for Warren Newcombe at MGM and later Fred Sersen at Fox as well as a noted wildlife gallery artist.  LeBlanc succeeded Newcombe as head of matte effects back at MGM again for a return visit in the late 50's and oversaw the matte work on films such as BEN HUR, GREEN MANSIONS, MUTINY ON THE BOUNTYand PLEASE DON'T EAT THE DAISIES.  Matte shown above is an unknown Fox film from the early 50's.

The low budget rush that is television, especially British tv of the early 70's is evident here in this loose, yet effective in camera foreground glass painting of a Roman ampitheatre for the often hilarious BBC series THE GOODIES (1973).  The show's studio interiors were videoptaped but all of the quite outstanding slapstick sight gags (of which there were many) were shot on 16mm film.  Several effects supervisors worked on the long running show, such as Ian Scoones, Peter Wragg and others - all of whom came up with brilliant Mack Sennett styled gags and amazing jump cut dummy to actor gags which still look great.  Matte artist and effects man shown here unknown.

Yeah, I know... I've posted this one before, but I think it's sensational so here is the Mark Sullivan GHOSTBUSTERS 2.

KING KONG - the 8th wonder of the world.... sure is, and due in no small part to the richly textured settings created by matte artists and conceptual designers Mario Larrinaga (bottom left) and Byron L.Crabbe (bottom right).  The use of multi layered glass painted jungle and other settings was landmark stuff and few if any films have ever captured this humid, fetid, danger laden environ through matte art so successfully.  Top left we see Larrinaga at work on a dual plane glass shot of the native village, and at top right, both Larrinaga and effects chief Willis O'Brien are posing with a glass.  O'Brien himself was a noted artist and also painted mattes for several films to put food on the table in the forties.

An unidentified artist at Warner Bros circa 1942 working on a multi plane glass shot, an in house specialty of the amazing Warner Stage 5 Effects dept throughout the thirties and forties especially.  According to Byron Haskin's own memoirs, as department head in the 30's and 40's he employed 8 matte artists at a time, most notably Paul Detlefsen who was chief matte painter, as well as Hans Bartholowsky, Mario Larrinaga, Jack Shaw and others.  Stage 5 was one of the biggest Hollywood effects units and at it's peak mid forties employed as many as 140 staff with it's own editors, art directors, cinematographers and so forth... mostly unknown to studio head Jack Warner!  The quality and moreso the boldness and sheer complexity of the visual fx work from Warners in the 40's put the other studios to shame with landmark trick shots such as the head spinningly complicated YANKEE DOODLE DANDY and ADVENTURES OF MARK TWAIN work still bloody amazing that they pulled it off.  See my Warner Brothers tribute article for more (much more) on this topic,

Derek Meddings again - this time at work on KRULL (1983)

Journeyman Brit matte artist and visual effects supervisor Leigh Took painting a Nazi rally for the 1983 picture LILI MARLENE.  Leigh was taught the tricks of the trade by Pinewood veteran Cliff Culley and has turned great shots.

While technically speaking a painted backing, this is still a wonderful example of the style of Les Bowie as he paints vast outdoor backings simulating French countryside during WWII (though filmed in Malta of all places!) for the picture MOSQUITO SQUADRON (1969).  The backings were effectively used behind miniature bombers for POV shots.

And here is the miniature set up being photographed by Kit West for the above film.

Matthew Yuricich at work on the spectacular opening shot from the 1962 version of MUTINY ON THE BOUNTY.  The rowboat is a mechanised model in the studio tank, the tall ships are pure Yuricich, with the added gag of mounting large white canvases beyond the matte line to cast the appropriate reflective effect on the rippling water.  Lee Le Blanc was matte supervisor on this show with Matthew being uncredited - as indeed he remained until LOGANS RUN in '76.

One of Cliff Culley's last matte jobs consisted of a number of excellent mattes for the Clive Barker horror show NIGHT BREED (1990) with Culley shown in overalls pointing out his latest painting to a journalist and art director at his own effects  company Westbury Design and Optical Ltd.  Additional matte artists at Cliff's facility were Terry Adlam and Bob Bell with Cliff's son Neil as matte cinematographer on this and several other projects.

A Paul Grimm glass painting being set up on the backlot for the silent NOAH'S ARK circa 1927.

While making Peter Jackson's rather good version of KING KONG here in New Zealand, former matte painter Michael Pangrazio took on a side project for Jackson as part of the comprehensive documentaries being made on both Jackson's KONG as well as the original Willis O'Brien KONG.  Pangrazio was  firmly ensconsed at WETA Digital as VFX art director and was commisioned to re-create the Larrinaga/Crabbe multi layered glass shot technique for demonstration purposes.
Pangrazio commented in the documentary as to just how darned difficult it was to go back to painting things by hand and with brushes and oils as opposed to the computer.... a very sad enditement from one of the most talented artists of his generation.

The final overall animation/glass layer set up at WETA, Wellington, New Zealand

The multi-talented effects man Jim Danforth paints a rear projection glass shot for his PLANET OF THE DINOSAURS.

Possibly the first ever glass shot - Norman Dawn's film about the convict history of Tasmania, Australia, circa 1910(?)  Apparently the state museum of the moving image in Australia still has pieces of this original glass matte in storage.

Russian born matte painter Pierre Schildnick who would go on to be a major matte painter for the Spanish film industry in the forties, is pictured here painting for a Spanish production.

One of the few female matte artists, and at the time this was taken possibly the only female artist - Jena Holman, seen here finalising a matte for David Allen's THE PRIMEVALS (1978)

An artist (possibly Emil Kosa snr) creating a 'Sersen Shot' at 20th Century Fox for the Oscar winning effects extravaganza that was (well deserved) THE RAINS CAME (1939) with the finished painting used as a rear projected comp at right.

The Newcombe department at Metro Goldwyn Mayer in 1939 with matte artist Rufus Harrington at work on unknown film.

ILM's Mike Pangrazio with one of his many RETURN OF THE JEDI (1983) paintings - though this never made the film.

Ray Kellogg began as Fred Sersen's chief matte artist and right hand man in the thirties at Fox and proved to be a valuable ally right on through to Sersen's retirement around 1952 and assumed headship until around 1957 whereby Kellogg left to take up 2nd unit direction and even co-directed John Wayne's much maligned GREEN BERETS (1967).  Ray did great work on TORA TORA TORA (1970) among others.

One of Percy Day's protoges was Polish born artist Joseph Natanson, who would paint at Shepperton for years before leaving in the mid fifties to work in Rome.  Among the films Natanson was noted for was the outstanding RED SHOES.

The Walter Murch fantasy reboot RETURN TO OZ (1985) had much matte work by British painter Charles Stoneham and American artist Bob Scifo (shown here with airbrush).

Silent era glass artist Paul Grimm is painting here for THE CHALLENGE OF RIN TIN TIN (circa 1924) while matte cameraman and future fx head of RKO, Vernon Walker sits by camera.

Rocco Gioffre's 1985 matte of ROBOCOP police headquarters.  Gioffre mentioned that he sold this matte years ago to a persistant collector, and regretted it ever since.  It's worth noting that Rocco still maintains an archive of his old works.

Little known ILM artist Richard Van Der Wendt paints the Death Star trench for RETURN OF THE JEDI (1983)

Christopher Evans and his glorious Ewok tree village from RETURN OF THE JEDI.  I commend Lucasfilm for their thorough cataloging and archival work of all of these wonderful 80's matte shots from ILM's apex.

Hector Serbaroli - half of a father and son painting team for Fred Sersen at Fox in the thirties and beyond working here on a complex and invisible matte shot for the opening sequence of THE RAINS CAME (1939).  See my special blog on this film for many more great effects shots.

Rocco Gioffre once again, and this time with a wonderful and photo real painting of a Parisian street which, if I recall correctly was commissioned for a Japanese music video or tv commercial of the 80's. Rocco said: "I never scanned the film of the Parisian road scene to digital. That shot was done on original negative like most of my work up to the mid-1990's. So I recently snapped a picture of that painting with a digital camera - it is one of several old paintings mounted on the walls of my shop. I'll try and scan a film frame of the final comp in the near future and send it along. This shot was used in a Japanese music video and also a related T.V. commercial tie-in".

Rocco.... an early Dream Quest matte from I think, 1981 or so, which if memory serves me correctly was for a commercial and Rocco was very proud of the quality of the final shot as being good enough for the big screen rather than TV.

A title which eludes me, though Emilio Ruiz has painted an extraordinary and convincing foreground matte.

Disney's ROBIN HOOD AND HIS MERRIE MEN (1952) was a big matte show for Peter Ellenshaw with the effects shots being accomplished at the old Denham Studios near London where Ellenshaw had learned his trade with Pop Day some 17 years earlier.  At left the painting is visible on the matte stand as Walt confers with Peter.  Apparently a short documentary was filmed of the matte process and shots Ellenshaw used on this film, though I've never located it.

Jesse Silver at work on one of the matte shots for Disney's SOMETHING WICKED THIS WAY COMES (1982) -  and as is often the case this matte never made the final cut.

Former Disney matte painter Alan Maley completing one of the SPY WHO LOVED ME matte shots.  This shot was part of an extended sequence of mattes to enhance and extend the Cairo location, with the entire audience at the Sphinx tourist show being Maley's oil paint.  An interferance device was employed behind the glass to simulate clapping hands as Roger Moore approaches on the live action plate.  Maley also achieved some stunningly complex visual effects shots with camera moves which reminded me alot of the old 40's Warner Bros trick shots where painted mattes, models, projected elements, cut outs and live action would be combined seemlessly in one continuous camera move.
One of my favourite films, SUPERMAN THE MOVIE (1978) and one which still stands up today as pure entertainment and a joy to watch and hits the bullseye all the way.  Here's matte supervisor Les Bowie working on a glass shot for the dam burst sequence.  Under Bowie was his former protoge Ray Caple who had trained with Les as far back as 1954.  Also on matte duties were Doug Ferris, Ivor Beddoes and Liz Lettman.  I'm reliably informed by the BFI that several SUPERMAN mattes were bequeathed to the British Film Institute by the family of Ivor Beddoes and are in storage.

Peter Ellenshaw painting one of the dozens and dozens of mattes for the last of the quartet of British made Disney historical adventures, THE SWORD AND THE ROSE (1953).  Albert Whitlock joined peter on this film and would soon follow him Stateside to have a six year career in the Disney matte department under Peter's headship.  The mattes on SWORD were painted and filmed at the old Denham Studios with future top rung lighting cameraman Alan Hume shooting the paintings.  Just look at those trademark Ellenshaw clouds.... wow.

The 1990 Oscar winner for effects, TOTAL RECALL featured some good Dream Quest visuals supplemented with Bob Scifo matte paintings such as this closing view in the film.

Jim Danforth paints a schooner for the tv movie SHADOWRIDERS in the 80's.

Michael Pangrazio adds fine detail to the opening matte shot for THE SHADOW (1994) - a film so vast in mattes and effects that numerous fx houses were involved, with, chiefly Illusion Arts and Matte World contracted to do matte shots

Shepperton Studios matte department 1967 under Wally Veevers control with artists Peter Melrose (far left) and Bryan Evans (right) painting glasses for Roman Polanski's THE FEARLESS VAMPIRE KILLERS and a Hammer DRACULA title respectively. The Melrose mattes for the Polanski film were particularly good and will be included in a subsequent blog.

ILM's Frank Ordaz puts bush to glass for STAR TREK IV - THE VOYAGE HOME (1986)

While on STAR TREK, this was Matthew Yuricich's version of the planet Vulcan for the first film, though I seem to recall it was dropped in favour of a quite absurd fire and brimstone matte which belonged more in DANTE'S INFERNO.

Probably the most widely publicised matte outside of Whitlock's EARTHQUAKE vista is this  iconic pop culture artifact from STAR WARS painted by a young P.S Ellenshaw before he became 'Harrison'. The story goes that father and son were sitting in the Disney commissary one day and an executive stopped by and congratulated Peter senior on his wonderful work on STAR WARS - to which the elder Ellenshaw, with complete poker face responded, "why, thank you".  Young Ellenshaw (Peter junior) in utter wide mouthed dismay proclaimed there and then "that's it.... I'm changing my name dad".

The man who did more for STAR WARS success than perhaps even Lucas... the visionary Ralph McQuarrie who as well as providing the whole look and world of that universe so far away also painted some of the mattes.

Ellenshaw jnr blocks in a matte for STAR WARS and the final shot with added blue screen moving foliage.  Some of the STAR WARS paintings were carried out at the ILM facility in Van Nuys on nightshift while some others were painted at homebase Disney studios using the Disney cameraman.

The pier at Santa Monica is transformed into depression era Chicago via the matte art of Albert Whitlock for THE STING.

Whitlock's grandest moment - the early morning Chicago painting from THE STING (1973) with matted in stop motion El Train model, combined with live action street - pure magic all the way.  Matte cameraman Ross Hoffman.

Percy Day and a young Peter Ellenshaw work side by side on the 1937 Vivien Leigh feature STORM IN A TEACUP.  Ellenshaw well into his later years credited his mentor for teaching him all he would ever need to know as a successful  painter

Once a matte painter, always a matte painter.  Derek Meddings paints Christopher Reeves' view of Earth from space for SUPERMAN, THE MOVIE  (1978).  I believe this same globe was used in SPIES LIKE US (1985).

The utterly dire and toe curlingly abysmal SUPERMAN IV - THE QUEST FOR PEACE (1987) was one of the worst effects films (and films in general) of the decade with even the talents of Peter Ellenshaw squandered.  This beautiful painting was omitted from the final cut but cropped up in European versions, or so I'm told.

Harrison Ellenshaw was effects supervisor (unbelievably) on SUPERMAN IV with dad Peter as primary matte artist with newcomer and former storyboard artist Martin Asbury assisting.

Martin Asbury with his Red Square matte painting for SUPERMAN IV.

One of Percy Day's former painters of the late 40's, Ivor Beddoes completes a matte for SUPERMAN 2 (1980)

Busy British matte artist Leigh Took working with his mentor Cliff Culley on one of the many glass shots for the made for tv version of THE LAST DAYS OF POMPEII in the eighties.

James Cameron's TERMINATOR 2 used Richard Kilroy's matte artistry to nuclear annihilate Los Angeles

One of the many Illusion Arts matte shots painted by Syd Dutton for the STAR TREK spin off tv shows.

Oscar nominated effects work for the Hal Roach comedy TOPPER TAKES A TRIP (1939).  The matte painter may be Louis McManus or Jack Shaw, both of whom painted for effects man Roy Seawright at that time period.

The sole matte painted shot in an otherwise effects heavy show, TRON (1981) with Harrison Ellenshaw very busy!

The always occupied Leigh Took works out the perspective on a foreground glass shot for an unknown show.

New Zealand's only ever matte artist to the best of my knowledge, Edward Oscar 'Ted' Withers (centre) who worked extensively for Columbia Pictures under Roy Davidson in the thirties and for a time, under Newcombe at MGM before becoming a calender and pin up artist. I suspect Ted may have painted on LOST HORIZON (1937).

Another good example of one of Leigh Took's matte paintings, though again from an unknown production.  For a whole lot more on Leigh, check out my extensive article on him from 2010.

David Stipes extends the alien ship via oil paint for the 1983 series 'V'

A very young Albert Whitlock, presumably at Gainsborough Pictures, London in the forties I'd guess.

A beautifully expanded setting courtesy of the skills of Mark Sullivan for WHAT WAITS BELOW (1988)

The 1987 Madonna screwball comedy WHO'S THAT GIRL featured several great matte effects by Rocco Gioffre and Mark Sullivan with this shot being of special interest.  Mark described it as thus: "The shot of the car that has broken through the wall of the parking structure was a shot I did a lot of work on. Working with Bob Bailey on a stage at Warner Bros, we shot a plate of actor Griffin Dunne opening the car door, and acting very surprised to find the car is suspended a few stories high. This element was intended to be reduced down in the film frame and surrounded by a matte painting. Unfortunately, the plate suffered from the conceptual problem of a man wearing a black tuxedo, performing in front of a black car, and in the shadow side of the car. As you'd guess, -not much there to work with, especially if it was to be reduced down in frame. This ended up being a stop motion shot. I reused a human armature I'd built for "House 2", and painted a glass painting to work with a miniature perspective set up. Talented model builder Henry Darnell made the miniature car at a 2" to the foot scale, to work with the scale of the human puppet. We were still faced with the problem of black on black, so I tried to emphasize Griffin's shadow on the wall as much as a possible, so there would be a clear visual clue he was up there struggling to hang on".

The Ron Howard film WILLOW (1988) had a multitude of fine matte shots as well as an overall exceptional visual effects showcase, with this matte being the work of Sean Joyce.

The closing shot of WILLOW, and a beauty it is at that with such a magnificent Chris Evans painting.

I read somewhere that Richard Swensden was ILM's least known matte artist, and I for one can never recall seeing a screen credit for him.  This shot is from WILLOW.

Sean Joyce's rendition of the manor house intended for the ending of THE WITCHES OF EASTWICK (1986) but ultimately edited out of the final theatrical print, sadly.

Lastly, yet another ILM shot - a Mike Pangrazio rendering for YOUNG SHERLOCK HOLMES (1985) which was called THE PYRAMID OF FEAR over here for some odd reason.  It reminds me of Whitlock's 1961 painting work on Disney's GREYFRIARS' BOBBY in texture, tone and colour palette.

Here are a few late additions, with the first being a great picture of a young Harrison Ellenshaw back when he was still know professionally and personally as Peter jnr, at work on a matte for Disney's NO DEPOSIT, NO RETURN  (1976)
One of Derek Meddings' protoges, Mike Trim seen here painting the French Riviera for what is effectively a backing for Gerry Anderson's wonderful THUNDERBIRDS tv series (1966). Dozens of miniatures bulbs were wired behind window cut-outs to enable us to film the scenes at night.

And here's Derek himself painting a glass for THUNDERBIRDS - "We usually paint our sky backings on canvas,but glass was also used if we want to create a storm effect or to shoot a vehicle flying in a cloud bank"

As an added bonus I was going to include here a collection of quite wonderful old studio painted backdrops in progress which I've acquired from a number of sources but I feel the blog is plenty long enough so I'll save those for another time..


  1. thank you very much for your effort giving us this wonderful pictures!!!!. For those who are in love with matte paitings, this blog is a golden piece!!!

  2. Thanks for that. I'm always thrilled to get feedback especially in this day and age with all this hi-tech eye candy around us.

    Klaatu Baradu Niktu :)

  3. Amazing pictures. I love the 'handmade' quality of that paintings. Yet they look so convincing on screen. True cine-magic.
    Thanks for sharing those moments.

  4. I don't remember when my mouth closed while reading this blog...oh in fact it's still open wide !Even if I can now (most of the time) see the tricks from the "good old time" movies,I am still very impressed by the high work quality...
    and an artist with paint tools will never be replaced
    by an artist with infodigitalcomputerilistic ones... Thank you Peter to confirm that on your blogs.

  5. This site is terrific ! Congratulations !

  6. First of all congratulations on this wonderful blog. I wish I didn't have to work, eat or sleep so that I could spend more time pouring over every image. So much information and visual content.I can't figure out how you do it! There is one, tiny thing I wanted to point out. One of the pictures of Jim Danforth painting says "HIS Planet of the Dinosaurs". A minor thing, but it suggests he had more to do with the movie than the two matte shots he provided. All other FX were the work of Jim Aupperle, Stephen Czerkas and Doug Beswick. Thanks for this important site.

  7. Great blog!- Would you consider adding in the full history of mp up until today's date.?
    And Dont forget Paul Huston ILM

  8. That's something I've been thinking about actually. I'd only make brief mention of the digital era in historic chronological terms though. Watch this space...

  9. Amazing work all round!!!

  10. The content was really very interesting. I am really thankful to you for providing this unique information. Flower shop Van Nuys
    Please keep sharing more and more information......

  11. What an awesome blog! My cousins and I have very fond memories of visiting our Grandfather, Benjamin Resella, when he worked as a Scenic Artist (JC Backings) over at MGM. The size of those paintings were awe-inspiring....especially to a young kid! I so very appreciate you giving him credit in your blog for the amazing painting from Earthquake. Although he was a very humble man, that piece of work is a part of the amazing legacy he left all of us with. He would be proud to see that his contributions to the industry are recognized to this day.

    1. Kamusta Ka

      You're most welcome. I'd love to learn more from you on Ben if possible.


  12.'s never a difficult thing to talk about him. My cousin put together this website about him. Coincidentally this weekend is the 5 year anniversary of his passing. A year before he passed (at 91) a movie with made about him called Script For Sale. Here's is the promo for it:

    Feel free to email me at I can put you in touch with my Aunts and Uncles who have much more info to share.

  13. Also this website has a great biographical section!

  14. Thank you very much for putting such an effort in sharing this!. It's a beautiful profession, and I look at it with nostalgia while I damn CGI; I'd rather be painting on glass than sitting in front of a computer.