Tuesday, 27 December 2011

Jena Holman - matte art and the feminine touch.

Christmas Greetings to all and sundry who tune into my blog on occasion from all corners of the known (and unknown) Universe.

Before jumping into today's matte blog I'd like to make a moment to mention the long awaited and eagerly acquired memoir of visual effects artist Jim Danforth, DINOSAURS, DRAGONS AND DRAMA - THE ODYSSEY OF A TRICK FILM MAKER which has just been released.  I've waited years for this to come out and finally have it.

The good news is that it's chock filled with wonderful anecdotes, production details and fascinating stories from the earlier part of Jim's career from boyhood 8mm film experiments right through to the big time effects showcase that was When Dinosaurs Ruled The Earth (1969).  Jim's talents as a matte painter were my primary reason for purchasing the memoir, though naturally I am also a big fan of his stop motion animation.  There are terrific chapters on Jim's involvement with Albert Whitlock and Peter Ellenshaw, as well as rare as hens teeth examples of many of Jim's own mattes and trick composites.

The bad news is that the memoir isn't a printed 'book' as one would dearly have preferred, rather it's actually all in CD-ROM format, no doubt to make publication so much cheaper.  For many this won't make any difference, especially those who are of the 'iPad', 'Kindle' generation (I don't even own a cell phone).  For me, I find this mode of reading incredibly cumbersome, awkward and downright annoying and prefer without question the old fashioned printed volume. In fact I've gone and printed off a number of chapters to facilitate a much more pleasing reading experience.

That said, the Danforth e-book is jam packed with illustrations and clocks in at around 800 'e-pages'..... and this is only Volume One, with a companion volume promised later, which I'll no doubt grit my teeth and buy as there's just no other way to acquire the content.

The publishers were also responsible for the titanic master-works MASTER OF THE MAJICKS on maestro Ray Harryhausen (on actual 100% genuine printed paper!!!) and utterly essential tomes.

For those who want to know more, contact Ernie Farino at www.archive-editions.com


Jena Holman - matte art and the feminine touch

Well here's another blog, although a fairly small one again, though on this topic it's really down to sheer lack of available material more than anything else.  Today I'm presenting a little tribute to one of the lesser known matte painters of the late 70's through to early 90's, Jena Holman - possibly the first female matte artist (at least the first I'm aware of) in the US until Michelle Moen and Caroleen Green came along in the 80's.

The little I have on Jena came to me largely from her frequent collaborator and visual effects cinematographer David Stipes who had nothing but kind words for Jena as both a skilled matte painter and as a person.  According to David, Jena was active in matte work from around 1977 or thereabouts through to her untimely death as a result of a brain tumour in the early 1990's.  David and Jena worked together at David's VFX house, David Stipes Productions, on a number of projects, many illustrated here, including the 1979 tv series BUCK ROGERS IN THE 25th CENTURY, BATTLESTAR GALACTICA and FLIGHT OF THE NAVIGATOR (1986) to name a few.

Among her other matte jobs were the Jeff Bridges courtroom drama JAGGED EDGE (1985), the unfinished David Allen stop motion adventure THE PRIMEVALS (1977), Phil Kauffman's THE RIGHT STUFF (1983), the controversial nuclear strike film THE DAY AFTER (1983) and John Carpenter's ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK (1981) as well as various television commercials.

By all accounts Jena was a somewhat shy, quiet woman who kept a low profile.  David told me how tricky it was to snap a photo of Jena at the easal as she'd shield her face from the lens much of the time.

As I've said, there isn't much material on Jena so I'll try to make do with what I have as I'd particularly like to pay tribute to the lady...possibly the first time many of my readers would have even heard the name 'Jena Holman'.

Snapshots of Jena working on a matte for BUCK ROGERS and, at lower right, THE PRIMEVALS.

Jena's painted view of New Chicago for the 1979 series BUCK ROGERS IN THE 25th CENTURY.  The pilot episode was released theatrically in many countries with dazzling matte work by Syd Dutton (and I'm sure, Al Whitlock, uncredited).

Detail from Jena's matte painting.  For the television series the matte art duties were divided between Jena and Dan Curry who were based at the Universal Hartland effects facility along with cameraman David Stipes and a large fx crew.  David told me that on a few occasions Syd Dutton would visit the off-lot effects house and offer advice and words of encouragement to Jena.

A slightly different variation, flopped and with a near cloudless sky from BUCK ROGERS (1979-80)

The New Chicago matte painting still in progress at Universal Hartland.

Another BUCK ROGERS matte, presumably by Jena Holman.

Again, another BUCK ROGERS glass painting.

Before and after BUCK ROGERS matte shot painted by Jena and composited by David Stipes.

Matte cinematographer David Stipes with multi-plane glass painting set up - maybe BUCK ROGERS?.

Jena was one of three painters on John Carpenter's ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK along with James Cameron (yes, the future AVATAR director) and Robert Skotak.  I don't know which individual matte shots were done by whom.

Another terrific ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK matte painting, possibly a combined effort.  John Carpenter's outstanding score adds so much to these shots (and the film in general) as I've written before, "the music maketh the matte".

Jim Cameron with a foreground glass shot from ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK.

Composite of the above glass shot.

The mediocre made for TV film THE DAY AFTER (1983) wasn't a patch on the utterly chilling British nuclear holocaust drama, THREADS (1984) - a film which lingered long in the psyche after viewing without any of the Hollywood histrionics of the American film.

Jena Holman's post nuke neighborhood in THE DAY AFTER.

Before and after.

Jason Robards in the matte painted rubble of Washington DC (I think?).

Robards surveys the devastation.  Jena Holman painting with Robbie Blalack overseeing photo effects.

Nice Holman matte suggests some Al Whitlock - THE DAY AFTER.

The bizarre reincarnation of Agent 86 Maxwell Smart, THE NUDE BOMB (1980) aka THE RETURN OF MAXWELL SMART featured this minimal set that would be expanded considerably by Jena and David.

Jena's painting and the final composite by David Stipes - THE NUDE BOMB.

Two matte augmented shots that Jena painted for JAGGED EDGE in 1985, with the house, hills and a moving sky added.

Jena.... caught at last by roving photographer!

Jena busy on a substantial painting for an unknown television commercial in the late 80's.

Another of Jena's multi plane paintings from possibly the very same commercial.  The set up shown here is for a dolly in perspective move.

Holman at work on one of the numerous lunar module POV's for Philip Kauffman's THE RIGHT STUFF (1983).

At work on the aborted David Allen stop motion sci fi show THE PRIMEVALS in 1978.

Close detail of Jena's mountain top fortress painting shown above.

Another beautiful painting which Jena completed for THE PRIMEVALS.

Close up detail showing Jena's brush style and choice of colour.

The 1985 kid fantasy FLIGHT OF THE NAVIGATOR required a number of stunning stratospheric views such as this.
The eternally shy artist with stunning painting in progress - FLIGHT OF THE NAVIGATOR.

FLIGHT OF THE NAVIGATOR - Jena Holman POV painting.

Effects D.O.P David Stipes (top, with coffee cup in hand) sets up Jena's 'earthly' vision- FLIGHT OF THE NAVIGATOR.

As part of a special promotional short produced for the then new 'Galactica Cylon attack' ride at Universal Studios around 1980, the Stipes-Holman duo shot this original negative matte shot.   I particularly like Jena's sky here.

Actual location plate or the movie CRASH ISLAND.

Plate photography with mask in place:  CRASH ISLAND.
Jena Holman's matte painting of the island, sky, sea and even most of the plane:  CRASH ISLAND

Final original negative composite by David Stipes:   CRASH ISLAND

An unknown Holman painting on the matte stand at David Stipes Productions.

Jena cleaning her brushes after a day 'on the matte'.

I don't believe it.... an entire blog article without a single 'log out'!!!!!! Is this the sign of better days ahead he asks??  Watch this space as I've got a giant of an ILM tribute sitting on the proverbial back burner, along with sundry other tidbits.......




  1. fantastic post and thank you for putting out the Jim Danforth CD. Jenas paintings are wonderful and the one from flight of the navigator is just simply stunning thought that was a NASA photo at first.

    May I also take the time to wish you a Happy New Year and I am looking forward intently to your next blog post.


  2. Hi Rich

    Thanks for that my friend.... I just wish I'd had more material on Jena to upload, but I suppose this is better than nothing. She also worked on David Allen's CAVEMAN, though I believe she just painted miniature scenic backings along with Rocco Gioffre.

    All the best for the New Year from down here in Hobbiton-Middle Earth.


  3. wow! What a fantastic blog you have here! Great posts. Happy New year and keep up the amazing job you are doing!

  4. Awesome post. Seeing Jena's multi plane paintings and Jim cameron along with a matte painting made my day! Happy new year to you Pete.

  5. Pete - many thanks for the info on Jena. Though I was not familiar with her name, I had seen some of the work before, including the promo on Battle Star Galactica.
    I just got my copy of 'Dinosaurs, Dragons, and Drama' and it looks wonderful. I am so grateful for letting us know about it. Having grown up in the 50's and seeing films like 'Jack the Giant Killer' and being familiar with Danforth's work, I know this will be a valuable addition to my collection.

    thanks again
    Michael Goldberg
    Nashville, TN

  6. I remember watching "Threads" and copied it onto VHS, back in the day. I finally found it and bought Threads on DVD.
    I never knew who did the matte paintings, but, I'm glad I found your blog. Jena's paintings are (to me) a master artist.

  7. Hi Pete,
    Just want to say you're doing a fabulous job.
    Keep up the great work, if you can!
    anonymous painter

  8. This is a wonderful tribute to Jena's amazing talent. Thank you, Peter.

  9. Wonderful tribute. Thanks for posting. Anyone know what she is up to these days? I always wonder when technology changes where these talented artists go? I miss the days of films that used matte paintings.

  10. Very cool. Jena and I were a couple ca. 1975-79. I have some hand-colored prints she gave me. I wish I could say I remember seeing her paint, but it's so long ago... I did meet Dennis Muren, who came over to our place on Edgecliffe Drive to see her once. She was a wonderful lady and a very cool artist. I have a slide I took of a painting she did of Gandalf, a scene from The Lord of the Rings, which she loved. I seem to remember that she intended to do a series from the Tolkien books, or perhaps a calendar? Jena also introduced me to Unity, once upon a time. She should still be with us. (Paul)

    1. How sad, she's dead now? She must have died young. How long ago? I'm really sad hearing about this - I was hoping to contact her. Her paintings are beautiful.

    2. How sad, she's dead now? She must have died young. How long ago? I'm really sad hearing about this - I was hoping to contact her. Her paintings are beautiful.

  11. Hi Paul

    I'm so glad you liked the article. I hope it did Jena's memory justice.


    1. It's an amazing site; thanks, Peter. Knowing her seems a lifetime ago, but it's so cool seeing these pictures of her matte work.

    2. You're right Paul, she should still be with us.
      Remember how she called the hills swinging outta Loma Mar the "Tolkien Mountains"?
      I can still see her up in that little cabin, windows thrown wide open and Bach drifting into the air beneath the redwoods.

      She is an extraordinary human being.
      And I miss her still.

  12. Oh this makes me so sad. What did she die of and when? I was hoping to contact her and tell her how much I loved her paintings. I think everything she did was marvellous and it's a shame she is no longer around.

  13. Jena worked with me on The Right Stuff. There is no overestimating her value to the movie, both in terms of the high quality of the work and the high quality of her spirit. As a young VFX supervisor, I learned so much from her that is still part of my mindset. I simply cannot imagine the movie without her work. She enriched my understanding of art and life.

    Some of her work can be seen on my website in the Right Stuff montage and Gallery. Also visit the group, Practical Effects Group, where i just posted a photo of her at work on one of the many Earth from space paintings.

    I love that gal. - Gary Gutierrez