Wednesday, 18 December 2013

Mattes Ride The Range: The art of the matte shot in Westerns.

Prairie gallery art by MGM matte artist Clyde Scott.
I won't try to hide it, I'm a lover of that true to form iconic slice of Americana we all know as 'the western'.  I grew up in the 1960's and on into the 70's watching cowboy double features on Saturdays at the local picture houses such as the Crystal Palace or The Mayfair here in Auckland.  A number of westerns are among my all time favourite films, especially a sizable number of those featuring The Duke - John Wayne.  Shows like TRUE GRIT, BIG JAKE, THE SEARCHERS and especially EL DORADO were and remain solid, top shelf entertainment decades later.  If there had been any Hollywood legend whose hand I'd have liked to shake, it would have been Duke (followed by the inimitable Groucho Marx - now there's an intriguing duo for you!).   Other memorable westerns that struck a chord with me were SOLDIER BLUE (even in severley truncated form), HIGH PLAINS DRIFTER (one of Clint's best) and WILL PENNY (probably Chuck Heston's all time best), PAT GARRETT AND BILLY THE KID (Coburn was never better) - though none of those had matte work I mention them all the same.  Among the smaller projects that deserve praise was the outstanding Peter Fonda picture THE HIRED HAND - a most remarkable and worthy little film.

Peter Ellenshaw's DAVY CROCKETT Alamo matte, revised for framing.
Although I've sat through a hundred so called Spaghetti Westerns in my day I can't say they particularly resonate with me - largely due to the awful dubbing and that one solitary 'gunshot' sound effect used a hundred times in each and every Italian/Spanish western (and Italian police thriller), which drove me utterly insane!  For God's sake, couldn't those guys break the monotony and record a few different gunfire cues for the effects track?  Sure, there were some terrific Spaghetti Westerns such as ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE WEST - a true classic.  As an avid soundtrack collector I do however absolutely adore those unforgettable scores heard in the Continental westerns. Ennio Morricone, Luis Bacalov, Bruno Nicolai and others were miracle workers within their own particular specialty as musical composers and arrangers.  It was a delight to hear Franco Micalizzi's THEY CALL ME TRINITY title song play out over Tarantino's recent DJANGO UNCHAINED - arguably Quentin's least self indulgent project and one of his best!  Morricone is often cited for his THE GOOD, BAD AND THE UGLY score but it pails next to his TWO MULES FOR SISTER SARA which is a bona fide musical masterpiece as far as scores go.  On the US side, it's pretty hard for most composers to hold a candle to the great Elmer Bernstein, whose scores for THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN, TRUE GRIT and notably BIG JAKE among others are standouts... though as usual, I digress.

Gallery art of the old west by matte artist Fred Sersen.
Of course matte art has for a long time played a major part in Hollywood's recreation of the old west, with effects shots ranging from simple top ups of mood enhancing skies right through to entire recreations of frontier settings to often wonderful effect.

A beautiful western landscape by Disney matte artist Jim Fetherolf.
Todays blog will take a look at some of those marvellous visions - the product of the many often uncredited artists who worked tirelessly in the various studio matte departments.  Some studio work is well represented here, such as Warner Brothers as a good example, with not only a strong 'frontier' movie output, but also a remarkably unconstrained attitude in using mattes and other novel photographic effects to their best and often most spectacular advantage - an asset I'd suggest was no doubt promoted by the in house art directors and their close relationship with the large special effects department.  The Selznick studio was another enterprise that would openly embrace the medium of matte artistry in virtually all of their films, and indeed went the 'whole hog' with stunning and plentiful mattes on DUEL IN THE SUN.  Universal churned out many western pictures, as did Paramount and to a lesser extent Fox, though the prestige studio MGM seemed not to be as keen, with much of their product being glossy, big budget musicals and such.  Of course the so-called 'Poverty Row' production houses such as Monogram and others made the genre their bread and butter and as such churned out low budget quickies in the form of full length features and the popular serials of the day.

Technicians in the Warner Brothers Art Department constructing a scale architectural model town and surrounding countryside for an unknown studio western.  Photo taken in 1938 for LIFE magazine.

Not all of the frames which follow are fully fledged 'westerns', as sometimes a few sequences in other genres may include a scene or two in what could broadly speaking be seen as a 'frontier' or wild west type environment as part of the narrative.  The same goes for a few Canadian mounties type shows which aren't really westerns at all but have horses, mountains, frontier type settings and some nice matte art such as the Shirley Temple vehicle SUSANNAH OF THE MOUNTIES which is loaded with wonderful matte shots.  Likewise a couple of Civil War pictures I've included here.  Not exactly westerns but close enough for me.

So, with that said, let's mosey on down to the corral and with a shot of rotgut under our belt, see just what those confounded varmits in the matte departments have come up with today.....


Not exactly a western per se, but it qualifies for inclusion here I think.  THE ADVENTURES OF MARK TWAIN (1944) with Paul Detlefsen as chief matte artist and John Crouse as matte cinematographer under Lawrence Butler's special effects supervision.

Harrison Ellenshaw painted this opening shot for Disney's THE APPLE DUMPLING GANG (1975)

I'm not entirely sure here, but this is possibly a matte painted homestead as seen in Burt Reynolds' 100 RIFLES (1969)

Rocco Gioffre painted this fort and surrounds for the Chris Farley comedy ALMOST HEROES (1998)

Before and after with additional branches and moving foliage bi-packed into the final comp to lend a sense of movement.
ANNIE GET YOUR GUN (1950) included several miniatures such as this train and an ocean liner supervised by Buddy Gillespie, as well as several atmospheric mattes supervised by Warren Newcombe.

ANNIE GET YOUR GUN - multi layered matte art on a triple tiered revolving rig,with separately photographed foreground action added via blue screen travelling matte by Irving G.Ries of MGM's optical fx department.

Period matte art top up to soundstage set from ANNIE GET YOUR GUN
The great Emilio Ruiz del Rio executed this foreground painted cutout of a frontier township for the Lee Van Cleef spaghetti western BAD MAN'S RIVER (1972)

Albert Whitlock painted the top half of this shot including town and mountains for Doris day's THE BALLAD OF JOSIE (1967) - one of the many matte assignments Al would do for director Andrew V. McLaglen.

Also from THE BALLAD OF JOSIE another Whitlock shot.

John Wayne's rousing BIG JAKE (1971) - certainly one of the most violent films I saw as a kid (along with DIRTY HARRY).  Here's a death defying stunt that's mostly Albert Whitlock matte art, enabling Chris Mitchum to jump a non existent canyon.

Another BIG JAKE matte by Al Whitlock.  Interestingly, the BluRay shows up some weird matte line artifacts with the join running vertically up through the sky, though this DVD grab doesn't show it.
BIG JAKE storm photographic effects by Al Whitlock.

A broad, sweeping multi part matte composite by Jim Danforth for the 1982 miniseries THE BLUE AND THE GREY

Jim Danforth's Civil War era matte from THE BLUE AND THE GREY

Jim and Karen Danforth with the glass painting used for the above shot.

Michael Curtiz would frequently employ trick shots on his films, especially those made at Warner Bros.  The 1950 Gary Cooper show BRIGHT LEAF  was no exception, with matte art being extensively used.  Note the painted foreground here as well as the distant scenery.

Another matte from BRIGHT LEAF.  A variety of artists worked in the Warners matte department such as Louis Litchtenfield, Paul Detlefsen, Mario Larrinaga and Chesley Bonestell.


BRIGHT LEAF matte shot

Fox's BROKEN LANCE (1954)  

Fred Sersen's effects department at 20th Century Fox provided mattes for BUFFALO BILL (1944)

Peter Ellenshaw's busy harbour matte shot from Disney's THE ADVENTURES OF BULLWHIP GRIFFIN (1967)

Another atmospheric Ellenshaw shot from the same film.

Visual effects cameraman L.B (Bill) Abbott sets up a foreground glass shot for a key scene in the George Roy Hill film BUTCH CASSIDY AND THE SUNDANCE KID (1969)

The finished scene from BUTCH CASSIDY

Not really a western, but noteworthy as an interesting shot which appeared in two movies from two different studios.  It's a Paul Detlefsen matte - his first for what would be a long career at Warner Brothers - for the Michael Curtiz film CABIN IN THE COTTON (1932), and was 'borrowed' a few years later by 20th Century Fox for the Shirley Temple vehicle THE LITTLEST REBEL (1935).

The opening shot from the John Wayne gunslinger action show CAHILL, U.S MARSHALL (1972).  Matte artist Albert Whitlock.
Doris Day's CALAMITY JANE (1953) Warner Brothers matte shot, maybe by Lou Litchtenfield.

Also from CALAMITY JANE, though in typical Warner Bros fashion, it's actually a recycled matte shot which originally appeared as Sydney, Australia (sans 'Chicago' title) in the exceedingly dull Hitchcock period piece UNDER CAPRICORN (1949).  Mario Larrinaga painted some of the mattes on the Hitchcock picture so this may be one of his. 

I've got two different titles associated with this Emilio Ruiz foreground matte.  One sourse states it as being from CANNON FOR CORDOBA (1971) while another mentions the Alain Delon version of ZORRO.

Emilio Ruiz with his foreground cut out.  This method was Ruiz's secret to his long and successful career.

Russ Lawsen mattes from Universal's CANYON PASSAGE (1946)

An uncredited matte from John Ford's CHEYENNE AUTUMN (1964).  As it's a Warner Brothers show the matte artist was most likely Lou Litchtenfield.

Cinemascope matte work from Universal's CHIEF CRAZY HORSE (1955)

Another CHIEF CRAZY HORSE matte, probably by Russell Lawsen.

Impressive matte shot from the same film.
Mattes from the 1967 Rod Taylor western CHUKA.  Paul K .Lerpae was effects supervisor.

A reader of my blog sent me this shot which he said was from a very early silent version of CIMARRON, though I've not been able to find out anything about it, with 1931 and 1960 versions being about all I'm aware of.  Any info welcome.

CIMARRON (1931):  Mario Larrinaga painted both of these mattes which show the same street at different periods in time.

One of Rocco Gioffre's matte shots (the stormy sky) from the comedy western CITY SLICKERS (1991)

Another sky and horizon painted by Gioffre from CITY SLICKERS.

CITY SLICKERS full painting with actual foliage added in foreground.

One of Rocco's original painted mattes prepared for CITY SLICKERS, with resulting comp shown below.
Emil Kosa multi element matte shot from the John Wayne picture THE COMANCHEROS (1961)

Another view from the same film.

Some mattes from the 1953 William Castle film CONQUEST OF COCHISE.  A Columbia film, the mattes may have been the work of Juan Larrinaga or another unknown artist.

Kevin Costner's epic DANCES WITH WOLVES (1990) included a couple of mattes, with this one by Matthew Yuricich.

Also from DANCES WITH WOLVES is this Rocco Gioffre matte.

A spectacular railway explosion from CUSTER OF THE WEST (1968) was the work of Emilio Ruiz.

Spanish visual effects wizard, Emilio Ruiz, shown here with the large scale miniature behind.
Disney's DAVY CROCKETT, KING OF THE WILD FRONTIER (1955) was loaded with matte shots.  Peter Ellenshaw was in charge and chiefly responsible for the mattes, though Albert Whitlock also painted some as Peter's assistant.

DAVY CROCKETT  -  almost all painted except the small rowboat and some of the water.

DAVY CROCKETT - with much of the action taking place at The Alamo, Ellenshaw painted many views of the fort, often virtual full paintings with just a small strip of live action.

DAVY CROCKETT - another of the dozens of mattes from the film.  This and the sequel were cobbled together from several episodes of the Disney television series of the day and released theatrically.

DAVY CROCKETT - all oil paint here except the little strip of trail where the horsemen are riding.

DAVY CROCKETT - wonderful Peter Ellenshaw matte art.

DAVY CROCKETT -  The finale at The Alamo.  Much more painted here than you'd think.


The sequel DAVY CROCKETT AND THE RIVER PIRATES also featured many mattes, some of which went by un- noticed as this before and after here.

More from DAVY 2.  Note the frame at left where the Indian hut has been matted into the live action.

My cut and paste is crap I know, but it's an ambitious Ellenshaw pan shot from the first DAVY CROCKETT film.

Davy heads to Washington.  Almost all matte art here.

I love this one.  A beautifully rendered matte (a full painting) of The Alamo as seen in the first of the two DAVY films.

Davy's snow bound cabin.  All Ellenshaw oil paint.

Another Peter Ellenshaw before and after from the same film.

DAVY CROCKETT - I love those Ellenshaw skies.
An Emilio Ruiz foreground painted town from the Stacy Keach film DOC (1971)

A great Errol Flynn western, DODGE CITY (1939) where we are treated to many stunning Technicolor matte shots.

DODGE CITY - one of my favourite mattes from the Golden Era.  Effects overseen by Byron Haskin, with several of Warner Brothers' best artists working on the matte shots.  Paul Detlefsen, Hans Bartholowsky and Mario Larrinaga.

DODGE CITY - painted top half of frame.


Nice subtle matte from DODGE CITY (1939)

A matte painting by Jan Domela for an untitled Paramount western, probably from the early 30's.

Live action plate and masked off black matte for above painting.

Final composite.  Film unknown.
Fred Sersen's effects department supervised these mattes from Fox's DRUMS ALONG THE MOHAWK (1939)

The pretty funny Goldie Hawn western THE DUCHESS AND THE DIRTWATER FOX (1976) had a few mattes, possibly by Matthew Yuricich.

Matte painted Salt Lake City from the same film.

Same film, different matte.
David Selznick's DUEL IN THE SUN (1946) is positively packed with wonderful matte work, supervised by the great Jack Cosgrove with artists Jack Shaw, Spencer Bagtoutopolis and Hans Ledeboer.  Clarence Slifer was fx cameraman.

DUEL IN THE SUN - Cosgrove shot.

A very rare original Jack Cosgrove painting from DUEL IN THE SUN

DUEL IN THE SUN - they don't get much better than this folks!  The sky is sublime to say the least.

Another Cosgrove matte painting from the same film still survives six plus decades later.

DUEL IN THE SUN - awe inspiring matte art.

DUEL IN THE SUN - another on my list of the greatest matte shots of all time.  Damn, this is a stunner.

Another rare matte that still survives from the same film.  Note the amazingly loose brush work which was not at all in vogue during that era where far more precise 'illustration' was the practice.  From the examples I've seen, Jack Cosgrove seemed indeed to favour a more impressionistic style, years before artists like Ellenshaw and Whitlock adopted the methods.

One more of the remaining DUEL IN THE SUN matte paintings.  The dog and the horse with rider were later added in as bi-pack elements by cameraman Clarence Slifer.

One of my absolute all time favourite westerns, Howard Hawks' EL DORADO (1967) is a sheer delight from start to finish.  John Wayne, Bob Mitchum, James Caan, R.G Armstrong, Arthur Hunnicutt and an excellent Christopher George (who was never better) make for grand entertainment.  Anyway, a couple of subtle mattes such as this sky, supervised by longtime Paramount veteran Paul K. Lerpae.  Matte artist unknown.

An oddball mix of sex, cowboys and lewdness - the Australian picture THE TRUE STORY OF ESKIMO NELL (1974) is more or less a western, with Jim Danforth providing this matte.  Bill Taylor was also involved.

Jim Danforth's matte painting.  Thanks to current owner Harry Walton for the photo.

An Albert Whitlock matte shot from an obscure tv movie EVIL ROY SLADE (1972)

From the same tv movie, though oddly not the work of Whitlock, it's a shot stolen straight out of an old Fox film called HEAVEN CAN WAIT.  It's not the only stolen shot as there's another in the show pinched from a 50's Columbia movie as well!

Universal's THE FAR COUNTRY (1955).  Matte artist Russell Lawsen.

Also from THE FAR COUNTRY is an interesting avalanche.  I think Cliff Stine was effects chief here.
Matte from the 1953 William Castle show FORT TI.
A huge quota of matte shots are featured in the 1954 Gary Cooper western GARDEN OF EVIL.   Matte supervisor Ray Kellogg with Emil Kosa, Ralph Hammeras, Menrad von Muldorfer among the artists.

More from GARDEN OF EVIL.  Note the upper right frame where horse jumps chasm with the help of matte art.



same film

More of the dozens of mattes from the same film.

Same film.

Same again.

So many mattes.......
GARDEN OF EVIL - This isn't all of them, but you get the general idea.

Not really a western but it's my blog so whatcha gonna do?  Sue me?   GONE WITH THE WIND (1939) Jack Cosgrove shot that's every bit as 'western' as a Randolph Scott oater.

Another GONE WITH THE WIND shot (one of around 50 odd)

Not 100% sure, but I think this shot from THE GREAT RACE (1966) is a matte.
A Mario Larrinaga matte from the silent picture THE GAUCHO (1927)
Albert Whitlock matte shot from THE GREAT NORTHFIELD MINNESOTA RAID (1972)

Peter Ellenshaw's view of period Washington DC form THE GREAT LOCOMOTIVE CHASE (1956).  Apparently Peter completed this beautiful panoramic painting in just a few days.

A revealing look at Peter Ellenshaw on location setting up an in camera glass shot of a trestle bridge and scenery for the same film.

Finished shot as seen in the film.

More from THE GREAT LOCOMOTIVE CHASE.  Al Whitlock would assist Peter on the mattes for this film.

Same film, with this painting still surviving in the Disney archives.

Four more mattes from the same Disney film.
One of screen trick shot pioneer Norman Dawn's last matte shots which he completed when working at MGM.  This film is THE HARVEY GIRLS (1946).  By the time he made this shot Dawn was apparently tired of the business, especially working under Warren Newcombe and Cedric Gibbons, and wanted out.
Uncredited matte from the Mirisch film THE HALLELUJAH TRAIL (1965)

Albert Whitlock shot from HEC RAMSEY (1972)

Terrific Whitlock matte work from the tv movie HEC RAMSEY - THE CENTURY TURNS (1972)

These two mattes from HELLER IN PINK TIGHTS (1960) are interesting as the exact same piece of location foreground was utilised for two different matte shots at different stages of the film.  Matte artist was Jan Domela and effects chief was John P. Fulton.

An invisible Albert Whitlock matte from the Yul Brynner show INVITATION TO A GUNFIGHTER (1964)

Well.... here's one that both Ford and Hawks passed up on surprisingly.  The indescribably bizarre JESSE JAMES MEETS FRANKENSTEIN'S DAUGHTER (1966) - an oddity from director William 'One-shot' Beaudine.  No clue as to the matte shots here?

Jack Cosgrove painted the town and scenery here for Joan Crawford's JOHNNY GUITAR (1954)

One of Matthew Yuricich's mattes from the Paul Newman show THE LIFE AND TIMES OF JUDGE ROY BEAN (1973)

Same film.

The plate, masked off in readiness for Jim Danforth's matte painting for the tv series KUNG FU, circa 1973.

Jim's final composite.

A matte from one of the many Universal cowboy pictures, this being KANSAS RAIDERS (1950).  This, as with many other mattes, would tun up in other Universal westerns over the years.
Jan Domela's matte work fleshes out a scene from Mae West's KLONDIKE ANNIE (1936).

Some of the mattes from the old 1936 version of THE LAST OF THE MOHICANS.  Matte artist unknown.

Russ Lawsen mattes from Universal's THE LAWLESS BREED (1954)

British matte artist Leigh Took painted this for a film whose title eludes me.

A revealing behind the scenes picture of Paramount's matte painter Jan Domela at work on a western themed matte for an unknown film of the thirties.
The Italian KILL THEM ALL AND COME BACK ALONE used one of Emilio Ruiz' foreground tricks to add mountains.

A Jan Domela matte from LAST TRAIN FROM GUN HILL (1959)

Another Domela shot from the same film.

Peter Ellenshaw mattes from Disney's THE LIGHT IN THE FOREST (1958)

An example of the art of the painted backing, possibly from an unknown MGM film.

Minor matte top up from one of the Marx Brothers' lesser efforts GO WEST (1940).  Not a patch on DUCK SOUP or A DAY AT THE RACES both bona fide masterpieces bar none.

Matte from the Mae West/W.C Fields classic MY LITTLE CHICKADEE (1940).  Possibly the work of future art director John DeCuir who was painting mattes for Universal at the time.

Jan Domela matte from Cecil B.DeMille's NORTHWEST MOUNTED POLICE (1940)

Same film.

More Domela matte art from the same film.

A really superb and barely detectable matte from NORTHWEST MOUNTED POLICE with almost all of the frame above the rider's head being painted by Jan Domela and composited by Irmin Roberts.

Last matte from the same film.

One of those mattes that's hardly noticed.  An Albert Whitlock shot from the George C.Scott oil boom show OKLAHOMA CRUDE (1973)

Whitlock at work on the painting.

Whitlock's painting.  Photo courtesy of Craig Barron.

An extensive painted matte by Rocco Gioffre from OLD GRINGO (1989)
MACKENNA'S GOLD (1968) - A mammoth western with a hell of alot of effects shots.  Miniatures, mattes and opticals abound.

Same film.  Matte artists were Ray Caple, Bob Cuff, Lynette Lee and Joy Seddon.  It was initially offered to Albert Whitlock as an effects project but he declined after fundamental artistic differences with the film makers.

Bob Cuff matte art from the same film.

Same film... more mattes.

Same film.  All of the MACKENNA mattes were photographed and completed on 65mm

Same film.

Also from MACKENNA'S GOLD -  this spectacular finale where the earth opens up and almost swallows the horsemen.  An impressive miniature overseen by Lawrence Butler and Willis Cook with the riders optically laid in.

Albert Whitlock matte from ONE MORE TRAIN TO ROB (1971) - another of the many Andrew V. McLaglen films the pair would collaborate on.

More Whitlock matte art from same film.

Same film.  Beautiful sky and sense of density to the composition.  Practically all paint here.

Same film.

One of the first mattes by a young Matthew Yuricich: THE OUTCASTS OF POKER FLAT (1952)
The superb OX BOW INCIDENT (1943) used mattes such as this, supervised by Fred Sersen.

Same film, though here it becomes apparent that the coachman's head has vanished and reappears as the coach passes under the matte join.

The classic Bob Hope western spoof THE PALE FACE (1948) was enhanced with several Jan Domela matte shots.


THE PALE FACE barely detectable set extension via painted matte art.

The Cornel Wilde film PASSION (1954) had this shot - possibly painted by RKO's resident Albert Maxwell Simpson.

Cecil B. DeMille's THE PLAINSMAN (1936).  Matte artist Jan Domela.
The Dean Martin-Jerry Lewis comedy western PARDNERS (1956) used mattes such as this shot by Jan Domela.
Albert Whitlock's vast landscape and walled homestead from Andrew V. McLaglen's film THE RARE BREED (1966).  All pure Whitlock here except for the road and people.

Universal's RIDE A CROOKED TRAIL (1958) with matte art by resident painter Russ Lawsen.

Another of the numerous Errol Flynn westerns made at Warner Brothers, SAN ANTONIO (1945) with much saturated Technicolor and mood enhancing painted mattes.

Errol Flynn again - this one being Michael Curtiz' SANTA FE TRAIL (1940) is a superb example of those wonderfully evocative Warner Bros. painted skies and overall atmosphere, which the artists in Byron Haskin's effects department exceeded at so well throughout this period.

Gary Cooper's SARATOGA TRUNK (1945) is another of the matte heavy westerns from Warner Bros. of the time.


Same film.

Same film again.

Again, not really a real western by any stretch, but with the Civil War element I'll include it.  The made for tv's bio-pic THE SCARLET O'HARA WAR from the mid eighties had this curious sequence recreating the burning of Atlanta as they shoot GONE WITH THE WIND.  Jim Danforth made the shot from elements of the Fox classic IN OLD CHICAGO, with limited colour hues added, and this split screened with a live action foreground.  Jim told me a while back he was never too happy with the shot.
SEVEN BRIDES FOR SEVEN BROTHERS (1954) had several matte shots and a miniature avalanche.  Warren Newcombe supervised the mattes and Matthew Yuricich worked on some shots as one of his first MGM assignments.

Painted set extension topping up a partial set from SEVEN BRIDES FOR SEVEN BROTHERS.

More from the same film.

In Don Knotts' THE SHAKIEST GUN IN THE WEST (1968), Albert Whitlock created this period train station on glass.

The excellent Andrew V. McLaglen Civil War story SHENANDOAH (1965) again used the artistic services of Albert Whitlock to expand many settings and historic incidents.

Same film.

Significant painted additions by Whitlock from SHENANDOAH.

Same film.  A substantial matte extension once again.

Same film.  I really like this shot, especially Albert's bold choice of matte line, which runs as a semi-circle right through the middle of the upturned cart and above the heads of the actors.  Mattes photographed by long time Universal effects cameraman Ross Hoffman, assisted by Jim King.

Lousy tv grab from an unknown RKO western.
Mattes from the 1950 Audie Murphy show SIERRA.  Matte artist Russ Lawsen.

A Jan Domela matte from Bob Hope's SON OF PALE FACE (1952).

Same film.

Same film again.
Same film - a combination live action, Domela matte art and Paul Lerpae opticals.

SON OF PALE FACE - optical travelling matte.

Her films are pretty insufferable these days, but some have great matte work, and SUSANNAH OF THE MOUNTIES (1939) is no exception.  Many great matte shots here made under Fred Sersen at 20th Century Fox.  These frames are from a colourised print and for once look pretty good and not a bit as atrocious as similar colourised films as HEIDI..

Also from SUSANNAH OF THE MOUNTIES.  Matte painters active at Fox around this time were Ray Kellogg, Emil Kosa jnr, Menrad von Muldorfer, Gilbert Riswold, Max De Vega, Ralph Hammeras and Hector Serbaroli.

Same film.

Same film.

Same film

Same film.

Last one...

Raoul Walsh's epic THE BIG TRAIL (1930).  Mattes overseen by Fred Sersen.

A sensational matte also seen in THE BIG TRAIL

A pair of Albert Whitlock mattes from Disney's TEN WHO DARED (1960)

Colourised matte from Shirley Temple's THE LITTLE COLONEL(1935).  Fred Sersen in charge of effects.

Before and after frames from the 1924 Paramount picture THE SAINTED DEVIL.

Albert Whitlock provided some shots for an episode of the television series THE VIRGINIAN in the late 1960's.  This episode was entitled 'Holocaust'.

Another strong Errol Flynn picture for Warner Brothers - THEY DIED WITH THEIR BOOTS ON (1941) was an excellent showcase for the matte artists at Warners.  Byron Haskin ran the large effects unit with a team of eight painters and as many cameramen working under him.  Paul Detlefsen was principal matte artist at the studio for twenty years from 1932.

Same film.

Same film.  Not surprisingly, several of these shots would crop up again in other Warner pictures, also with Errol Flynn.

Same film... glorious matte art featuring those trademark Warner's clouds so prevalent at the time.
Same film.

Same film... wonderful art direction and matte execution.

Peter Ellenshaw's matte art expands a limited set for Disney's TOBY TYLER (1960)


I've always loved this shot from John Wayne's THE TRAIN ROBBERS (1973).  Albert Whitlock was matte artist here.

Cecil B. DeMille's UNCONQUERED (1947) had a number of different effects shots made under Gordon Jennings' supervision.  This one is a Jan Domela matte shot.

More from UNCONQUERED.  Upper right is quite odd as the tombstone and grave have obviously been matted in later, no doubt due to post production tinkering.  The lower left shot is a multi part optical set up with several elements combined in the optical printer.

Same film... complex optical fx sequence by Paul Lerpae where quite separate river and a waterfall have been cleverly matted together for the long shots with hand inked animation of the principles falling onto and grasping the protruding branch as canoe falls to it's doom.  It looks better in motion than it sounds.  A combined effort of Paramount's effects boys - process cinematographer Wallace Kelly, process chief Farciot Edouart, matte cameraman Irmin Roberts and others

Another Cecil B. DeMille epic - this time it's UNION PACIFIC (1939).  A cleverly orchestrated set piece here with miniatures by Ivyl Burks well integrated with live action.  Special effects by Gordon Jennings and Dewey Wrigley

Debbie Reynolds' comedy THE UNSINKABLE MOLLY BROWN (1964) took her all over the world courtesy of the MGM matte department.  Jan Domela painted many of the matte shots along side Matthew Yuricich.

Another MOLLY BROWN matte, most likely by Domela as the sky is very much his unique style as seen in the George Pal movies from Paramount a few years previous.

Errol Flynn time again, this time it's Michael Curtiz' VIRGINIA CITY (1940) with more of those terrific Warner Brothers skies and mood..

Before and after showing the soundstage set and completed matte shot

The Joel McCrea western THE VIRGINIAN (1946) was pretty good, and had a few interesting mattes by Jan Domela.


Lee LeBlanc painted mattes on Fox's VIVA ZAPATA (1952)

For the Alex Cox picture WALKER (1987) it mainly takes place in Central America, but has the feel and look of the 'old west', so I'll include this shot by Rocco Gioffre.  The film doesn't really work, though the wonderful Ed Harris is cause enough to watch it.

After a solid career in special effects, Byron Haskin turned to directing, with this film WAR PATH (1951) being one among many pictures he made.  I can't recall but possibly Jan Domela did the matte shots here?

A spectacular shot by Albert Whitlock from the John Wayne-Kirk Douglas pictureTHE WAR WAGON (1967)

Same film

Same film.  Real pyro and upper frame, with lower half an Al Whitlock matte painting.

The always excellent Richard Widmark and the always reliable Henry Fonda starred in WARLOCK (1959), a solid and exciting western, though this opening matte painting misses the mark somewhat.  Emil Kosa was matte supervisor.

Same film - poor painting but a good matte blend.

As far as skies go, Albert Whitlock was in a class of his own.  This shot is one of Al's from THE WAY WEST (1967) complete with moving painted clouds, lightning and rain.  Effects cameraman Ross Hoffman.

More Whitlock matte art from THE WAY WEST

Same film...same artist.

Same film

Same film

Last matte from THE WAY WEST

Paramount's WELLS' FARGO (1937) with matte by Jan Domela.
Mark Sullivan matte composite from WYATT EARP (1994)

Close up detail from Mark Sullivan's painting as used in the above shot.

Even though it's not remotely a western, the wonderful YANKEE DOODLE DANDY (1941) does travel westward at one point and I'm sure this effects shot was also used in other Warner Bros shows.
Disney's ZORRO television series featured a number of matte shots, some by Peter Ellenshaw, some by Albert Whitlock and others by Jim Fetherolf.

More from tv's ZORRO
ZORRO again.  I think this is a Whitlock shot.

ZORRO - from the episode 'Presenting Senor Zorro'.  Mattes painted here by Albert Whitlock.

More matte art from Disney's ZORRO.

Last matte from ZORRO
Alan Ladd's WHISPERING SMITH (1948), with mattes by Jan Domela.

Same film.

Last frame from WHISPERING SMITH.


  1. Wonderful site, keep it up! Interestingly, I believe you almost as many shots of the Virginia and Truckee locomotive "Reno" as of any particular matte artist. Maybe this was also the Reno page!

  2. Awesome post ! How long did it take to find all those pictures though !?

    1. Hi Andrew

      Well it's really just a matter of digging through all my archive, one studio or artist at a time and pulling out stuff as I go. My abysmal memory for most things thankfully doesn't extend to matte shots (yet!) so I have a pretty good idea what's what and where it is located. I have more but others are lousy quality and not easy to view.


  3. The before shot from Sainted Devil is the outside of Paramount's NY studio in Astoria, Queens, NY. Now it's The Museum of the Moving Image and includes on display the matte painting of the . mansion from Age of Innocence. Also, where did you get the images from One More Train to Rob, as I can't find any dvds of it ?

    1. Hi Steve

      Good to hear from you. Thanks for that good info. I was last in NYC in '99 and would love to see that museum. The Whitlock shots you ask about were sent to me by my good matte friend in Spain, Domingo, so perhaps it's on Spanish DVD? I was in Spain last year and picked up several DVD's (in English) that I'd not seen on Amazon etc.

      All the best for the Xmas holidays from down here in NZ


  4. think that Leigh Took Matte is from Hound of the Baskervilles, he is still around at Bray Studios might be worth pinging him an email, Mattes and Miniatures is his company. As for your Cut and Paste disaster if you have anymore like that please ping me a email and I will do that for you seamlessy. My way of paying you back because I absolutely love this blog of yours. Learn more on here that anywhere else. Thanks, Richie

    1. Hi Richie

      Thanks for that... it certainly looks just like a Baskervilles Moors type setting now that you mention it. I'll ask Leigh.
      As for my cut 'n paste thing... I'm a little better at it these days but THIS shot I could never get even remotely satisfactory no matter what I did. If you give me your email address I'll send the "elements" to you. This may qualify you with another 'Visual FX' credit for this you know.... IMDB= "NZPetes Blog 2013" !!!!

      All the best


  5. What a lovely Xmas gift. Thank you so much. Re: "El Dorado." Remember that Albert Whitlock repeatedly mentioned Howard Hawks and "Rio Bravo" but I am sure he confused it. So it was him who worked on "El Dorado".
    Happy New Year 2014 and looking forward to seeing more great entries,
    Rolf Giesen

    1. Hi there Rolf

      So good to hear from you. I always enjoy your wonderful nuggets of info related to your friend Albert. Must be EL DORADO as I can't recall any mattes in Hawks' next film RIO LOBO - though it has been a long time since I saw that one. I'd like to see a full and complete filmography of all the films, tv shows and whatever else Albert worked on. I'm sure there are far more than we know about.

      All the best to you and all my readers/followers from down here in New Zealand.


  6. Wonderful article! Mattes at one of my favourite genre, Western. Thanks for that beautiful compilation.
    That village over the rocky mountain painted by Emilio Ruiz it belongs to Cannons for Cordoba (1971) He also painted some mattes for El Zorro (1975) starring Alain Delon, and many other Euro westerns.

  7. ton blog est vraiment top, merci

  8. Wonderful site. Is there a place I can look to find out exactly how mattes work? I get that they substitute a painted image for part of the frame, but I'm not clear on how it's done. Is there a good source, especially one with images depicting how it's done? Thanks.

  9. NZPete I absolutely love your site!!! I have always been fascinated by matte paintings thanks to Peter Ellenshaw and Albert Whitlock.

    Is there any way you could tell me who the artist is for the THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN painting at the end of this article? I can see the signature at the bottom left but the pic is too small the the resolution is not that great. Also is it possible to send me a copy of the painting at a higher resolution and a larger size?

    Keep up the good work! It is appreciated.