Wednesday, 11 January 2012

The Glass Art of Hammer Films

I've been a long time enthusiast for Britain's Hammer Films, having pretty much grown up on these shows.  There's always been a great sense of consistency within the Hammer production catalogue, where meager budgets and unbelievably compressed shooting schedules somehow always seemed to result in a solid, highly professional and polished finished release.  The amazingly ingenious art direction of Bernard Robinson which somehow opened up imaginatively scripted scenarios to a far broader canvas than the extremely confined Bray Studios (really a converted old house) soundstage crew would ever have thought possible.  The same could be said of the consistently high standard of scoring by composers such as James Bernard who managed to lend an air of elegance to the proceedings
The common misnomer was that the little studio just produced horror pictures, whereas the truth of the matter was that many genres were tackled - mystery, film noir, desert adventure, dinosaur epics, comedies, war films and science fiction.  Among the many films made by the studio quite a number still stand the test of time and are excellent cinematic entertainments.  Some of my favourites are THE QUATERMASS EXPERIMENT, CAPTAIN CLEGG (aka NIGHT CREATURES), THE DEVIL RIDES OUT, CURSE OF THE WEREWOLF, TO THE DEVIL A DAUGHTER, TWINS OF EVIL, THE DEVIL SHIP PIRATES, the very under rated VAMPIRE CIRCUS and the deliriously wacky LEGEND OF THE 7 GOLDEN VAMPIRES (a particularly guilty pleasure) to name but a few.
Being a matte shot website I'm going to primarily focus on the many painted mattes and some miniatures from a cross section of the quite extensive range of Hammer product from the material I have.  I highly recommend the outstanding book Hammer Films - The Unsung Heroes by Wayne Kinsey which pays exhaustive tribute to so many of the technicians and creative people behind the studio, with an excellent special effects chapter chock filled with interviews, personality profiles and behind the scenes info. Beware though of some erroneous information with regards to the matte painting work for WHEN DINOSAURS RULED THE EARTH.

Without a doubt the most recognised SFX name readily associated with Hammer from the early fifties through to the mid seventies is Les Bowie.  As I have a Bowie blog retrospective due out soon I'll not delve too deeply into Les here other than to say that Bowie's contribution was immeasurable.  Les must have invented the term 'multi-tasking' as he was adept in all facets of special effects: matte painting, miniatures, pyrotechnics, prosthetics, special props and atmospherics.

Bowie on miniature set of MOON ZERO TWO
I'll cover Les's career in a subsequent article, though it's worth outlining the many visual effects technicians who got their start under Les on Hammer films.  Bowie's long time assistant, matte painter Ray Caple started with Les when just 15 and learned the artform under Bowie's tutelage. Future Gerry Anderson effects wizard Derek Meddings also got his start under Bowie at Hammer as an uncredited trainee matte artist along side Caple.
Eventual two time Oscar winners Brian Johnson and Kit West featured prominently in this era as well, as did Roy Field.

Hammer's 1957 film THE ABOMINABLE SNOWMAN.  I'm not sure who was effects man on this show?

BRIDES OF DRACULA (1960) effects supervisor Syd Pearson, with matte work by Les Bowie and Ray Caple.

Miniature castle  and a wonderfully atmospheric windmill model from BRIDES OF DRACULA

The very good WWII P.O.W story CAMP ON BLOOD ISLAND (1957).  Matte by Les Bowie.  Matte camera Roy Field.

Inexplicably retitled to make it more accessible to the American market, CAPTAIN CLEGG (1961) remains one of my top Hammer pictures with a wonderfully atmospheric story filled with eerie imagery and top notch direction.  Many terrific matte shots and other clever effects shots of the night horsemen on the moors.  Great little film.

Les Bowie-Ray Caple matte painted island:  CAPTAIN CLEGG.

Before and after Bowie-Caple matte composite:  CAPTAIN CLEGG (1961).  Original plate with perennial screen baddie Milton Gaylord Reid shot at Bray's quarry pits - a site used in many a Hammer show.

The incredibly creepy 'Marsh Phantoms' for CAPTAIN CLEGG created with highly reflective Codit paint which was used for road signage, manufactured by the Minnesota based 3M Company - the forerunner of front projection reflex screen material, and quite possibly the first application of such.  The paint was applied to hessian costumes on both the horses and the riders, with two strong lights directed at them directly from the camera position.  The technique would be used many years later on SUPERMAN, which also featured Bowie as an effects supervisor and may well have been his idea.

Eerie, moonlit marsh matte painted by Les Bowie.

More frames of the Marsh Phantoms double exposed against Les Bowie's full frame paintings.

The Scarecrow on Romney Marshes from CAPTAIN CLEGG - a full matte painting executed on hardboard by Les Bowie, with two earlier test paintings shown above.  Beautiful work.

Part of an extremely wide pan across Romney Marshes to the village for CAPTAIN CLEGG.  The shot commences during the opening titles and the lettering obscures the first half of this elaborate shot which was painted on hardboard - around 12 feet wide - by Les Bowie.  According to budding effects assistant Ian Scoones "Les did these wonderful paintings on hardboard, and cameraman Kit West panned across them.  One was the village of Dymchurch which I think Les painted in a phenomenal 48 hours non stop". In an interview for the journal Hammer's House of Horror Scoones told of coming up with a suggestion of putting a small moving figure into the shot: "We drilled two holes and made a tiny cut out figure, put it on nylon, and just pulled it from the back so it appeared to be moving, but you hardly see it in the film because all the lettering was superimposed over the top". As a beginning assistant, Scoones also helped in adding a third dimension to this magnificent matte painting by arranging foreground vegetation and bits and pieces in front of the painting.  I think this is one of Bowie's best matte paintings.

The break through film which put Hammer on the map, although by no means it's first film by any stretch - CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN (1956) featured these two mattes by Les Bowie.  The cropping from academy frame ratio to a pseudo 1.85:1 video format unfortunately destroys Bowie's original composition for the top frame of the castle in the mountains

The under rated 1960 CURSE OF THE WEREWOLF was an excellent film in all departments, supplemented nicely with these moody night skies courtesy of Les Bowie and Ray Caple.

'Twas a full moon on that fateful night'

Beautiful multi-plane glass shot of the clouds parting to reveal the full moon from CURSE OF THE WEREWOLF.

So you thought Hammer only made horror pictures?  ... Well think again.  Here is a glorious glass painting for DON'T PANIC CHAPS (1959) by Albert Julion, a former Poppa Day artist, who was one of Shepperton's top matte men.

I generally love old time movie ad art and posters, but the British quad shown above is one I dislike very much.  Anyhow, DRACULA HAS RISEN FROM THE GRAVE (1968) was pretty good and for reasons unknown utilised the services of freelance matte artist Peter Melrose instead of the usual Bowie Films crowd, who would hire the equipment and facilities at Wally Veevers' Shepperton effects shop to take on projects such as this and others.  Nice work.

More excellent Peter Melrose glass shots from DRACULA HAS RISEN FROM THE GRAVE with very extensive artwork required on several shots as well as a wonderful multi-plane moonlit cloud shot which would ultimately be recycled for subsequent Hammer films.  Matte cameraman Peter Harman with John Grant as assistant.

A stunning Ray Caple matte painting for EVIL OF FRANKENSTEIN (1963) which would be used in at least four other Hammer films over the years.

An out take test frame of the Caple matte temporarily married to the plate.

Upper frames are both enhanced with Caple's matte art to expand limited exterior set.  Lower frame is a partial miniature partial painting by Ray Caple and Ian Scoones, photographed by Kit West.

The end is high - EVIL OF FRANKENSTEIN's explosive finale.  Miniature and painted backing split screened with actors

Day and night views from the dire FRANKENSTEIN AND THE MONSTER FROM HELL (1973).  Ray Caple mattes.

THE GORGON (1963) would see the same castle miniatures reused, with some additional painted enhancements by Ray Caple.

Fantastic poster artwork for HANDS OF THE RIPPER (1971) - some of the best ad art from the studio - though sadly a fairly dull film.  For these interiors of St Pauls Cathedral producer Aida Young called on the services of Cliff Culley at Pinewood.  Apparently front projection was used in this lengthy sequence.

DRACULA or HORROR OF DRACULA (1957) as it's known in many locales had Sydney Pearson as effects designer and I think possibly Derek Meddings painting mattes - although I'm not certain.

Before (Bray backlot) and after composite of same setting with alternate sky and time of the day.

The 1962 KISS OF THE VAMPIRE had some nice effects sequences involving bats, with the lower right matte by Ray Caple enhanced by hundreds of cel animated bats which were supplied by an outside contractor who did effects shots for 'Top of the Pops'.  Oh, and there's that castle yet again.

A rare photo of that Hammer castle miniature as well as an original glass painting.

A favourite of mine on so many exploitation levels it isn't funny!  Shame about the dismal glass shot though which would have worked far better with the painting extending partway down the mountain range and married with a soft blend.

Hammer meets Robin Hood - THE MEN OF SHERWOOD FOREST (1954) - one of around three such RH flicks.

One of only three Dennis Wheatley adaptations that I'm aware of (and the least effective by a long shot).  As a teenaged collector and reader of Wheatley's books in the 70's I was always surprised more screenplays didn't come about as a result of his prose.

No mattes that I could spot, but several nice miniature sets in a pretty wacky off-the-wall show.

Miniature from THE LOST CONTINENT (1967) with effects by Cliff Richardson and creatures by Robert Mattey.

Although I saw MOON ZERO TWO (1968) around 40 years ago I've not got a copy nor any frames - just a few behind the scenes stills such as this.  Effects D.O.P Kit West setting up a miniature shot at Bowie's Slough studio.  Of course many years later West would move out of matte and model photography and into physical effects on many, many huge films.

The very effective HammerScope thriller NIGHTMARE (1962) opened with this wonderful pull back shot of the asylum - a Ray Caple painting mounted behind an Ian Scoones  foreground miniature of gatehouse and trees, all photographed by Kit West at Bowie Films.

The Caple-Scoones-West set up for NIGHTMARE.

Ray Caple's perfect matte painting of the asylum split screened with minimal set.

For Ray Harryhausen's epic ONE MILLION YEARS BC (1965...A.D) Bowie films would be called upon to supply matte paintings by Bob Cuff and Ray Caple in addition to the big 'porridge' lava eruption prologue.

Another entertaining 90 minutes from Hammer, the 1961 PIRATES OF BLOOD RIVER with this Bowie glass shot.

Excellent, provocative sci-fi THE QUATERMASS XPERIMENT (1954) was filled with terrific effects shots and some genuinely disturbing Phil Leakey make up effects.  Les Bowie was in charge of the special effects, with a crew which included his then associate in his FX company, Vic Margutti who's specialty was travelling matte photography.  Others on the fx crew were a very young Ray Caple and Margutti's optical cameraman Roy Field.

Left  -one of Phillip Leakey's horrific make ups, and at right a barely noticeable matte shot adding alot to the frame.

The last 15 minutes of QUATERMASS XPERIMENT occurs in Westminster Abbey, where filming permission was denied.  All interior and exterior shots involved matte art by Bowie and Caple, with prcatically all of this frame paint.

More mattes from the excellent QUATERMASS XPERIMENT on which Bowie told interviewer John Brosnan that he received only 30 pounds per week for his efforts!

Matte art plus a crude yet effective puppeteered monster on a partial model set with painted backing.  Of the monster, optical cameraman on the film, Roy Field said: "Les and Ray made that.  They stitched up rubber and bits and pieces to make these octopus type tentacles.  Oh dear, it was awful (laughter).  They made three of them at different scales - the largest was about 8-10 feet across and the smallest was 12 inches across"

I've a soft spot for extreme perspective painting, and this is a very bold matte for the time, where such a shot design is most unusual indeed.  Matte photography by Roy Field and Vic Margutti.

QUATERMASS fiery finale effects.

Not in the same league as the original, QM2 is nonetheless an interesting film with minimal effects input.

Side by side comparison frames from the black and white release and what I first thought was a re-jigged colourised DVD release, though as it turns out were prepared as part of a parody article.  Effects wise the tasks went to Pinewood's Bill Warrington with Henry Harris and Frank George.

Miniature pyro conclusion.

The 1958 REVENGE OF FRANKENSTEIN opened with this full painting by Les Bowie.

Two miniature castle shots with a painted backing, and at left what I assume to be a multi-plane painted cut out.

A dizzying down view which upsets the equilibrium of your humble author.  Probably a Ray Caple multi-plane matte shot with painted clouds on moving glass on the foremost plane.  Looks good.

Trashed by the critics, I liked SCARS OF DRACULA personally - certainly the best of the latter Chris Lee vampire pictures with Drac's best ever death scene by far.  Effects supervisor was Roger Dicken who supplied numerous special props and make up effects gags.  I asked Brian Johnson who painted this matte shot and he couldn't recall but as he was close friends with Ray Caple it was almost certainly him.

Although my frames are poor, SHE (1964) had many matte shots by Bob Cuff and Ray Caple.  The film wasn't a patch on the old RKO version though - effects wise or entertainment wise.

Broad tilt on full painting: SHE (1964)

Well assembled optical combo for Andress' demise.  Kit West and Ian Scoones worked with Les Bowie.

Veteran miniaturist George Blackwell model set split screened by Kit West with actors in tilt down.

Bold and generally effective mattes and model composites from SPACEWAYS (1952) - possibly Les Bowie's first foray into the realms of Hammer Films after his years at Rank.  Vic Margutti worked closely with Les and they formed a professional partnership which lasted some years.

SPACEWAYS (1952) miniatures by Les Bowie.

I saw this 35 years ago and recall it as being a really tight little 1960 film noir - TASTE OF FEAR (or SCREAM OF FEAR as it was known here) had this marvellous matte shot.  Kit West told of this glass being painted by both Les and Ian in Kit's London flat, with "Les painting the left side, Ian painting the right side - meeting in the middle with a spraygun".

I'm pretty certain this cloudy moonscape was a Peter Melrose multi-plane shot lifted from DRACULA HAS RISEN FROM THE GRAVE  a few years earlier.

TASTE THE BLOOD OF DRACULA (1969) was a Brian Johnson effects show, with Les Bowie called in to provide this full multi-plane painting with the mist on a separate glass in front of the decrepid church-crypt.

Hammer's 1960 oriental thriller THE TERROR OF THE TONGS had this Bowie matte of steamer and Hong Kong hills.

A sorely under rated horror film - and a very sadistic little number it is at that - VAMPIRE CIRCUS (1971) opened with graphic bloodshed and eroticism, followed by this seasonal montage of painted  mattes showing the passage of time.

Ray Caple glass shot from VAMPIRE CIRCUS  (1971)

Local bobby 'pops a cap in Darth Vader's ass'.  An example of Bowie's prosthetic work where a hole the size of a small car is blasted through David Prowse.  The FX creases show in the freeze frames but in action it's very impressive.

I've no idea just who did the effects work on THE VAMPIRE LOVERS (1970) as there are several mattes and a few decapitations - not to mention the utterly magnificent Ingrid Pitt - herself a special visual effect who sadly passed away last year.  We miss ya' Ingrid.
The late Ingrid Pitt - why is her exquisite vision  here? ... because it's my blog and I can, that's why!

Hammer's 1967 VENGEANCE OF SHE with effects by Bowie and future Oscar winner Nick Allder.

With the success of Harryhausen's 1965 Raquel Welch dinosaur epic, Hammer knew they would hit paydirt if the formula were repeated.  WHEN DINOSAURS RULED THE EARTH (1969) would be that film - or so they thought.  American stop motion wizard Jim Danforth was brought on board to produce the effects in England with dozens of effects shots outside of the animation cuts required.  Above is one of Jim's multi part effects shots with stop motion, miniature rear projection, matte art and foreground glass art.  At right the original glass painting by Jim Danforth can be seen on the effects stage at Bray.  Jim's memoir Dinosaurs, Dragons and Drama goes into considerable detail about the machinations of producing the many effects shots for this film and is well worth reading.

With Jim being bogged down with animation and 2nd unit work, some of the matte work was farmed out to a number of artists, with this shot being a collaborative effort mostly painted by Ray Caple (who was personally recommended by Albert Whitlock) but later completed by Jim. Effects creator Danforth wrote of "I enjoyed Ray Caple and I wish I'd have known about him from the beginning of the film. I remember Ray's work as being excellent".

The top left glass painting was initially done by Les Bowie, though producer Aida Young and effects designer Danforth found the result unsatisfactory due to, among other factors, being painted in entirely the wrong colour scheme that were deemed too unrealistic. The only way of saving the painting and integrating it into the picture resulted in Danforth completely re-painting over the top of that same huge glass. Bowie's assistant Mike Tilley in an interview said "Some of those matte glasses were about 6x4 foot, set in big hefty wooden frames, and Les would do one of those paintings in a day in his studio back in Slough".             The middle right night shot is a multiple component trick shot engineered by Bowie with Caple, and is the only Les Bowie matte to feature in the final cut.  Most of the shot is a large glass painting by Ray Caple with the people reflected into the shot via a small mirror in Schufftan Process.  The waterfall is falling salt.  Other matte painters briefly engaged on the film included Doug Ferris at Shepperton and Peter Melrose at Bray.  Though highly competent, none of Peter's work made the final film due to budget and scheduling issues.  Bob Cuff was approached by Danforth to paint on the film but his work in progress on the huge fx show MACKENNA'S GOLD was deemed stylistically not the look Danforth was seeking, so Cuff was passed over.
At left is an unused matte by Jim Danforth, while the matte at right is Jim's second version, repainted to maintain a certain geographic continuity.  These frames are from Jim's essential memoir Dinosaurs, Dragons and Drama - The Odyssey of a Trick Film Maker.

I've never seen this one - X THE UNKNOWN (1956).  Effects by Bowie-Margutti Ltd with Ray Caple painting mattes and Roy Field compositing them.  In an interview Roy Field describes the lower left scene:  "The pylon etc was all a Les Bowie matte painting.  The monster was filmed on a small set some 15 inches wide and the cables were photographed separately with heated tungsten wire to make them glow and pyro for sparking .  These were all shot separately then all the elements were combined in a bi-pack camera by me to make a composite negative".  Correction:  bottom right is actually from THE TROLLENBERG TERROR - another Les Bowie film.  Oooops!  


  1. A fantastic article with some great images. Hammer always managed to make the most of their low budgets and the matte artist was worth his weight in gold.

  2. Terrific article, with some excellent visuals. Thoroughly informative!

  3. Very neat. The color QUATERMASS II images, however, are not from a colorized DVD version. I colorized those myself for a parody available a number of places online. The film itself has never been colorized. -- Ted Newsom

    1. Hi Ted,

      Thanks for that. I must commend you and Dick Klemensen for your tireless efforts over the years to keep the Hammer flame burning.

      I couldn't recall just where those colour frames came from as I've had 'em for a long while - I must look at that parody you mention.

      Oh, and apologies to Hammer fans...I might have screwed up a couple of pic/titles..... some films I've not seen in 40 years and don't have copies of, and just can't recall specifics.

      All the best


  4. In case you want a smile:

  5. Hammer Horror is a lot of fun. Love the blog.

  6. GREAT Work--thanks so much (I'll be back)!

  7. Awesome post! Love the blog and I love Hammer!

  8. Ah, I miss those wonderful matte-paintings and old-school photography...

  9. This is not waste of time to read this article. To me this is more valuable than gathering with friends.
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  10. Hammer was a really cheap nickel-dime studio that carved out a place for itself in history, an example of brains, talent and pluck. Several movies here I've wanted to see but haven't, and several old favorites. You really have to admire the guys who did this stuff. They had to work fast and cheap, probably without much (if any) testing. Those mattes of St. Paul's stunned me: I never knew they were mattes!

  11. I have always loved the artwork & the settings/atmosphere in the Hammer films. Many young people today can't appreciate how well they worked, especially given how Hollywood uses/abuses CGI these days. Too many CGI scenes look cheesy & fake, to the point of being cartoonish.

  12. These guys ruled in gothic scene cinematography!

  13. Much more beautiful than dreary CGI!

  14. The two-storey turreted building which was Roger Morton's home in The Vampire Lovers (seen by day and by night in the pics above) is not a matte shot but a real building called Wall Hall, in Aldenham, Hertforshire. It was a college at the time the film was made, but was sold for development into luxury apartments about a decade ago.