Tuesday, 10 March 2015

Big Screen, Small Matte

Shepperton's matte artist Gerald Larn painted the castle for Roman Polanski's outstanding version of MACBETH (1971) which was matted into an actual landscape.

Emilio Ruiz' glass painting for the period film TAIPAN (1986)
Hello fellow matte shot and trick photography aficionados, it's time for another illuminating look at the wonders of the virtually lost craft of hand painted matte trickery.  Firstly let me say how surprised and delighted I was at the phenomenal response to last month's 2001 special effects blog post.  I really didn't anticipate anywhere near the number of hits (over 44'000 - unbelievable I know!) and emails, comments and communications.  I'd always felt that most fans of the film were more slanted toward the esoteric or philosophical nature of the film rather than the technical side, but it seems I misjudged the huge Kubrick fanbase. Thanks to all who responded and made valuable observations (and a few corrections).

TAIPAN - final in camera composite.
Today I'm taking us back into my comfort zone of matte paintings, with what will hopefully be a fascinating look into the not too commonly revealed world of what could be termed 'micro mattes', or small fix up matted in work that nobody really was ever supposed to see.  Some of these 'small' shots are from big films with vast visual effects callsheets, some are from minor pictures while a few shown here today are very rare test shots that were executed purely as a technical and photochemical exercise primarily for the benefit of the matte artist and the effects cameraman to finely hone their craft.
Jack Cosgrove added in some extra painted oil derricks for GIANT (1956)

While most of the frames fulfill the description of Big Screen, Small Matte, a few other mattes here do fall outside of that criteria and are clearly more substantial in percentage of painted frame to live action than the former as a result of them being just really interesting shots.  It's just that I have so many great matte images it's not always easy to configure a blog article to accommodate them, and I'd rather get them out there for your viewing pleasure than just having them lost in the dark recesses of my hard drive.

So, without further ado, it's a great time to put your feet up and take another journey down that wonderful road of matte artistry - though PLEASE do so on a real computer display and not one of those damned cell phone sized toys!  I will hunt you down!  ;)


Steven Spielberg's gargantuan slapstick extravaganza 1941 (1979) may not have always been especially funny, but what a phenomenal special fx showcase it was.  This frame shows a pretty much undetectable Matthew Yuricich matte painted piece of amusement park combined with a location plate. I've got an entire blog post set to go on the effects from 1941 by the way.  Watch this space.

One of the all time greats in matte artistry was Peter Ellenshaw, and this is one of his least recognised glass shots from the still wonderful Disney adventure 20'000 LEAGUES UNDER THE SEA (1954).  It's a real location with just the bow of the schooner matted in by Ellenshaw.

The excellent Billy Wilder picture ACE IN THE HOLE (1951) featured a rarely better Kirk Douglas in a dark, cynical look at media manipulation.  Seemingly devoid of visual effects this one Jan Domela matte shot was used to paint in additional clifftop and buildings above the 'fun fair', so essential to the plot.  Brilliant film!
Matte painter Ken Marschall was responsible for more than 170 matte shots throughout the 1980's on a variety of films, all of which we will see in an upcoming blog.  Among Ken's amazing and exacting matte painted work which I have been privileged to view are a number of tests and demonstration shots such as this which Ken graciously shared with me.  Ken: "The destroyed Sheraton hotel (painted for practice and demo reel c. fall, '81) --  Shot from the hills overlooking Studio City and the San Fernando Valley, I wanted to show how buildings could be strategically destroyed as if by an earthquake.  Original negative, shot with the Mitchell, black camera tape applied on glass, on the matte box".

Plate with black tape on glass to mask out unwanted portions

Ken's final latent image composite with flawlessly painted and matched 'destruction' that succeeds in it's subtlety.
Both Percy Day and Peter Ellenshaw painted a great many mattes for AN IDEAL HUSBAND (1948) with architectural features extended and in some instances more modern London architecture removed.

The island and creepy manor house that form the central thrust of the scenario: AND THEN THERE WERE NONE (1945)

One of several invisible mattes painted by Percy 'Pop' Day for THE LIFE AND DEATH OF COLONEL BLIMP (1943)
Another Percy Day shot that nobody ever spotted from the same film.

Matthew Yuricich supplied a painted treeline with scientific institute campus for this fleeting shot in Douglas Trumbull's BRAINSTORM (1982)
Here is another of Ken Marschall's matte paintings for a television commercial which Ken describes below.

"Hyundai TV commercial (painted Sept. '86) --  The scene was shot with Jack DeGovia managing the camera, near Bodega Bay, California, and showed a new Hyundai car driving along the road.  I don't seem to have a view of the original photography before the matte was created.  It was either an optical or I painted a black matte on glass before shooting, but whatever it was, it was a very hard matte line.  The road had been wetted down for the shoot, as directors are wont to do in car commercials, but here in this near-final test, shot after the production takes, the water is drying.  I remember the painting and testing process as being a pain, with much difficulty getting the painting to fit well colorwise as well as seamlessly inside the hard matte line".

Disney's THE ADVENTURES OF BULLWHIP GRIFFIN (1967) whereby as best I can detect Peter Ellenshaw painted in the foreground trees and snowbank.
Spielberg's CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE 3rd KIND (1978) where the rockface behind Richard Dreyfuss has been painted in by Matthew Yuricich.

For a time in the mid seventies, Disney made a number of their films in England - much as they had done through much of the fifties.  CANDLESHOE (1976) was one such film and had this Cliff Culley matted in mansion.

It's not at all uncommon to find scores of painted ships matted into period scenes such as this matte from Fox's THE CAPTAIN FROM CASTILLE (1947)
Now this might be a somewhat more extensive matte shot than it first appears.  The film is CAUGHT (1949) with process effects credited to Mario Castegnaro.  The crane boom is certainly painted in, and most likely the construction site as well.  Probably more than a 'small matte' but hey, whatcha gonna do?

Rocco Gioffre painted the stormy clouds as well as the upper ridge line for this shot from CITY SLICKERS (1991)

Ian Fleming's CHITTY CHITTY BANG BANG (1968) had this quick shot with a real Austrian (or German) location supplemented with a Cliff Culley painted castle slotted in.
A flawlessly fabricated White House from DAVE (1993) where artist Paul Lasaine has painted in all of the distant buildings.
George Romero's CREEPSHOW (1982) was a neat, slam bang collection of Stephen King tales.  Several mattes occur, with this painted in beach house being the least noticeable.  Matte artist was Janet Kusnick.

The Indian hut seen here was painted in by Peter Ellenshaw for DAVY CROCKETT AND THE RIVER PIRATES (1956)
An effects shot from FLIGHT OF THE NAVIGATOR (1986) that required 'patch' work by matte painter Ken Marschall, who describes the shot: "For FLIGHT OF THE NAVIGATOR (painted in July, 1986) the paintings for this film were all done in the "orange-base" process and were composited on film using traditional photo-chemical optical printer techniques. We were always very concerned with image quality, so we shot original negative mattes most of the time. In this case, the complex shot needed optical compositing. Using the orange base technique saved a step in the optical printer compositing process so the original resolution of the finished scene is less degraded.  Instead of the optical printer department making an Interpositive (IP) of the matte painting for the final composite, I painted the original art accounting for the orange-base of the IP.  This is quite challenging because I had to paint in "negative" colors (a red color would paint as cyan, a green painted as magenta and a yellow as blue, for example).  Additionally, the IP film stock I was mimicking has an extremely narrow contrast range, so very minor brightness differences in the painting were exaggerated by the orange base film stock. Finally, the composite film stock expects to see an overall orange color which I also had to compensate for (we also used a filter on the matte camera lens to recreate the orange color cast).   The orange-base technique meant I usually had to paint in an odd greenish hue in order for it to color match in the compositing.  We used this technique whenever there was an extremely complex composite shot and wanted to maintain the resolution of the shot and reduce the number of optical printer steps".

Ken's final composite:  "Here is one of the scenes in which I painted just a small area to cover over the rig that held the foreground miniature spacecraft.  I don't have a clip showing the original photography with the rig". The sort of exacting work that isn't at all showy, but was not at all uncommon for matte exponents and optical men to photochemically repair or conceal unwanted 'in frame' rigs or people, or sometimes to correct production errors.

Ken Marschall: "Another view shows an insert matte painting on the black card stock that we always used, to be optically placed in a scene.  The greenish color of the orange-base process is evident.  To give readers a sense of scale, the painted spacecraft is about one foot wide on the black card."
For 20th Century Fox's D-DAY THE SIXTH OF JUNE (1956), Ray Kellogg's matte department had to paint in the formidable German defences with cannon barrel and rocks concealing pillboxes, together with animated muzzle flash.

Another view with clearly matte painted gun.

The thoroughly entertaining DICK TRACY (1990) was a matte painters field day, with scores of grand and fanciful painted cityscapes and wide views of that unique world.  A few of the mattes were less evident such as this one where a great deal of steelwork has been painted in later.

...and also this shot with Mandy Patinkin (so damned good in tv's HOMELAND, though I digress) in the tram barn where, following a pair of extensive and broad wide shots by Michael Lloyd and Michele Moen we then get this quick down view that reveals the trams either side are also matte art.
Now this is interesting.  The very good James Mason picture THE DESERT FOX - THE STORY OF ROMMEL (1951) had lots of effects shots in it, with this sequence being of note.  These are two frames from different cuts in the same set piece where the plane (matted in) is diving on and strafing the speeding car.  The director apparently used the same shot twice for editorial reasons, though to mask the shot as a recycle Fred Sersen made 'patches' to matte out and alter a few areas of the original shot and paint two buildings out of the original shot and replace with vegetation so as to give the illusion of a longer sequence.  Sersen was an old hand at this sort of sleight of hand and did it on other Fox pictures as well such as THE MARK OF ZORRO (included elsewhere in this posting) and others to great effect.  It takes a keen eye and someone with nothing else to do to spot such things, believe me.  :(

Paramount's DESIRE (1936) featured this rather good Jan Domela matte where the frame is actual but the hacienda and it's out buildings have been painted and matted in with a sort of eliptical shaped matte.

We all know EARTHQUAKE (1974) had a proliferation of spectacular mattes by Albert Whitlock, though a few slipped past un-noticed.  I'm pretty certain that this very quick shot, from Genevieve Bujold's point of view as the water rushes down toward the fallen cables is one such shot.  Certainly the before and after wide shots of the setting were large Whitlock matte shots, and I'm sure this and a second quick cut are matte composites as well.

Hammer's THE EVIL OF FRANKENSTEIN (1964) had a few mountains added in by Les Bowie and Ray Caple.

Albert Whitlock added in a mountain top temple and other details - including a climbing Richard Burton figure - for this scene from John Boorman's EXORCIST II-THE HERETIC (1977)
Alfred Hitchcock's last film, FAMILY PLOT (1976) saw Hitch engage his old friend and collaborator Al Whitlock to oversee a solitary matte shot.  Albert's young protoge Syd Dutton painted the matte to extend a police station.

The big budget Gary Cooper-Ingrid Bergman epic FOR WHOM THE BELLS TOLL (1944) had a ton of mattes and miniatures in it - probably more than any other Paramount film.  These are a few examples of the many 'top up' mattes of skies, tree limbs, edges of clifftops and more as painted by Jan Domela and composited by Irmin Roberts.
Hitchcock's terrific FOREIGN CORRESPONDENT (1940) was a winner all the way.  Photographic effects man Paul Eagler oversaw the matte painted extension here with rooftops, upper tree and second floor windows added in.
Ken Marschall perfected his craft in the early 1980's by seeking out and taking advantage of potential 'matte' opportunities such as ordinary day to day situations, from which he'd make matte painted changes.  "The House on hill (painted for practice and demo reel c. fall, '81) --  This was a hillside across from Graphic Films Corp. where Bruce Block and I both worked at the time.  We shot this telephoto view through a second floor window using a Mitchell rack-over camera.  The objective: To remove all man-made things from the scene except for the one house.  It's original negative.  The camera was on a tripod looking out the window (I seem to recall a rainy day), simply placing black tape as the matte on the window glass we were looking through.  We also under-cranked the camera to 12 fps to accelerate the movement of the rain clouds. We were lucky that the wind wasn't too strong or the trees would have been blowing too quickly in the wind.  The magenta frame, before I restored the image, shows how the print has faded over the decades, despite being kept in a cool, dry and very dark place".

Masked off for latent image photography.

Ken's invisible painted alterations blended perfectly on original negative by cinematographer Bruce Block.  For a genuinely eye popping matte shot showcase, tune in for my career interviews and revealing behind the scenes look at the amazing work both Ken and Bruce have done...
The timeless Korda classic, THE FOUR FEATHERS (1939) utilised the services of Percy 'Pop' Day and a very young Peter Ellenshaw on the matte art side of things.

The rather amusing FRIGHT NIGHT (1985) had this (I'm fairly certain) matte painted distant cityscape by Matt Yuricich.
A really impressive mountain top fortress, as painted by a very young Leigh Took for the bitterly disappointing final film for Peter Sellers, THE FIENDISH PLOT OF DR FU MAN CHU (1980).  The mountains etc are real, with just Leigh's fortress being painted, and beautifully blended.

Stunt action made to look more daring courtesy of the matte painter.  Gary Cooper leaps his horse over a non existent crevice in GARDEN OF EVIL (1954)

Another of the many mattes from GARDEN OF EVIL
When initial matte work carried out in Europe failed to work out on THE FOUR MUSKETEERS (1974), director Richard Lester enlisted the skills of veteran British matte artist Doug Ferris to 'drop' a painted castle into the middle of an already busy shot.

A noted film critic once described Albert Whitlock as "the master of the special effect that doesn't call attention to itself".  For the film GHOST STORY (1981) Whitlock was required to 'patch up' a pair of shots where a character jumps to his death from a bridge in New England.  Albert was tasked with painting out the stuntman's crash bag and adding in a painted river with ice flows, rocks etc.  Perfectly invisible patch work.
Yes, I know... it's a big shot, or so it would appear.  GONE WITH THE WIND (1939) remains one of the all time great matte art films in my book and this frame is especially interesting.  Looking at it very closely in BluRay on a big 55" screen it's apparent that most of the frame is an actual physical setting, with just a fairly limited portion of the frame comprising the painted area.  The matte line conforms roughly to an inverted trapezium in shape and can be identified in upper centre of scene when blown up.  Anal, I know... but I am such an inquisitive student of 'the matte line'.

This probably shouldn't be here as the artwork comprises too much of the shot, but I do like it.  Matthew Yuricich matte from GHOSTBUSTERS (1984)

Michael Powell & Emeric Pressburger's GONE TO EARTH (aka-THE WILD HEART-1950) was one of the last films that British effects veteran Percy Day worked on in his very long career.  I'm not sure but think these two frames fulfill this blogs expectations, with the trees at left and the foreground elements in the right frame being Day's matte art.

Richard Donner's THE GOONIES (1985) had some subtle ILM matte effects.  The upper frame has had the height of the sails, masts, rigging and cave wall painted in by artist Frank Ordaz, while the lower frame has a matted in distant view of the ship, though I can't recall if it's a model or a painting?
Frank Ordaz painting the set extension

Turn of the century New York on the Universal backlot for THE GREAT RACE (1966).  Mattes by veteran Albert Maxwell Simpson.

Joe Dante's GREMLINS 2 - A NEW BATCH (1990) included this shot among the other Matte World fx, with this one being an Albert Whitlock / Illusion Arts matte.  The crowd has been replicated through split screens and a small amount of matte art has been rendered for architectural effect.
Matthew Yuricich's painted 'Great Trust Bank' skyscraper as matted into a live action plate for HARLEY DAVIDSON AND THE MARLBORO MAN (1991)

WWII armada matted in for the Robert Mitchum film HEAVEN KNOWS, MR ALLISON (1957)
The insufferable HIGHLANDER (1986) had some good Ray Caple matte art.  Here Ray has painted the top half onto a Scottish ruin.

Same film, where Caple has painted in the streets and neighbourhood at right, complete with interactive light gags and traffic.

David Lean's HOBSON'S CHOICE (1954) employed Bob Cuff's matte talents.  Close examination suggests Bob has painted in all of the far right architecture and rooftops.
A minor patch job on a real location from THE HINDENBERG (1975) where Albert Whitlock and Bill Taylor have painted and matted out modern signage, traffic signals, telephone poles etc.  Bill mentioned to me he'd wished he'd had more time to do the shot.

I've written often about the delirious delights to be found in the utterly insane Japanese teen-horror-ghost-comedy-road movie HOUSE (HAUSU - 1977).  Chock full of mattes and off the wall opticals I should do a whole blogpost on the damned thing.  Anyway the above frame is typical where a seemingly regular scene has been augmented with painted elements such as, in this case, the creeping vines and all of the lower part of the wall.

Another blink and you'll miss it matte painted shot from HOUSE where the unbilled matte artist has added in foreground pillars etc.
The cheesy 80's science fiction swashbuckler ICE PIRATES (1984) with this matte painting by David Stipes where David has added in all of the left foreground detail.

Steven Spielberg's INDIANA JONES AND THE TEMPLE OF DOOM (1984) with a distant hilltop palace courtesy of ILM

Jules Verne's wonderful JOURNEY TO THE CENTRE OF THE EARTH (1959) had many mattes and trick shots but this one was barely detectable.  An extreme downview of our principle characters trekking through caverns with rock walls and huge boulder all added by one of L.B Abbott's matte artists.

Same film
Fitch Fulton's matte painted forest from Zoltan korda's JUNGLE BOOK (1942)

A terrific multi part effects shot from Disney's ISLAND AT THE TOP OF THE WORLD (1974).  Background mountains are 2nd unit plates shot in Norway; the group of people are an additional plate shot in Los Angeles; the reindeer are the same plate re-aligned and rear projected twice and the stands of tall trees are Harrison Ellenshaw's matte art tying the elements successfully together as one very nice shot.

Another Ken Marschall demo matte with the University of Southern California hallway about to be transformed into something quite magnificent via Ken's brush (see below).

Ken Marschall:  "Endless hallway (painted for practice and demo reel, fall, '81) --  Shot in one of the old Spanish-style buildings at the University of Southern California, the goal here is self explanatory.  Original negative, again shot with the Mitchell, black camera tape applied on glass, on the matte box (we must have used a black flag for the harder line on the right).  In the shot at top right showing the matted-off area can be seen Sean Phillips (left), a fellow Graphic Films employee, and myself.  For the production take we staged some action where Bruce and I walked around and looked out the windows."
A very subtle matte that most people miss from Orson Welles' CITIZEN KANE (1941) where Vernon L.Walker's matte department at RKO have painted in a new sign 'Kane's Foods'.

Doug Ferris painted in a broken skylight for a pivotal scene in A KISS BEFORE DYING (1991) for the aftermath of a body crashing through from many floors above.

One of those glorious old school pastel matte paintings by MGM's Newcombe department for LASSIE COME HOME (1943)
A surprisingly poor example of matte work by Les Bowie from the colourful LEGEND OF THE 7 GOLDEN VAMPIRES (1974) - a wacky Hammer-Warner Bros-Run Run Shaw hybrid.

Now this is the matte that instigated this article in the first place - a well disguised Matthew Yuricich painted extension from LOGAN'S RUN (1976) where Yuricich has added in the fluted column and vines at right.  That's what special effects work is all about - to deceive without drawing attention to the fact.

The D-Day landings as seen in THE LONGEST DAY (1962).  Although a 20th Century Fox film the matte shots were made under Wally Veevers supervision at Shepperton Studios in England.  Bob Cuff was primary matte artist.

Another view from the same sequence with all the distant ships painted.
The Joseph Conrad adventure LORD JIM (1965) was a grand affair, with some quality matte painted effects by Peter Melrose at Shepperton Studios.  For this shot Peter was tasked with creating the coast guard station at left as well as a new headland in the distance.  According to Melrose when they showed the shot at rushes, cinematographer Freddie Young scratched his head and said to director Richard Brooks "I don't remember that building being there when we shot this?"

Another of Peter Melrose's mattes from LORD JIM where the cluster of palatial looking buildings in the centre of the background have been painted and very well integrated into the live action.  A later shot from a different angle of other action reveals the non-existence of those buildings in real life.

I've exhibited some glorious matte art from Disney's THE LOVE BUG (1969) in many previous posts but haven't included these minor matte enhancements which lend a nice atmospheric air to the proceedings.  Alan Maley was key matte painter with Jim Fetherolf, Peter Ellenshaw and Deno Ganakes also on board for the many shots.

Same film, with soft, barely visible matte art on a minimalist set working a treat.  A subsequent shot includes a beautiful tilt up to a fog shrouded Golden Gate bridge.
The exquisitely photographed erotic drama THE LOVER (1991) set in 1930's IndoChina.  Matte artist Doug Ferris painted several stunning mattes of sweeping vistas and moody skies though this one is a subtle set extension where Ferris has added the Buddhist temple across the river.

For the bio-pic MACARTHUR (1977) Albert Whitlock painted some sensational shots on a conservative budget that extended the scope of the historical events quite well.  Here, for the important scene of the signing of the Japanese surrender Whitlock painted in the large guns on the battleship as well as adding some other distant ships.

Okay, so it's not really a 'small' matte, but I'll include it anyway.  Hidden among the dozens of mattes in Disney's MARY POPPINS (1964) is this shot where significant architecture and most of the tree have been matted in by Peter Ellenshaw.
An example of throw away patch up mattes used to hide safety pads or unwanted parts of the set.  From MARY POPPINS.

Alfred Hitchcock's remake of THE MAN WHO KNEW TOO MUCH (1956) used mattes and split screen work during the climactic Albert Hall sequence.  John P.Fulton organised the photographic effects and Jan Domela painted rows of 'people' to fill out the audience for different views.

A rare Mario Larrinaga before and after from an unidentified Warner Bros picture where Mario has transformed a flat pasture into a dusty canyon.
Albert Whitlock's entirely fabricated estate for the Rock Hudson television series McMILLAN AND WIFE episode Death of a Monster made in the mid 1970's

Another fascinating piece of trickery from Fred Sersen's matte department at 20th Century Fox.  The film is Tyrone Power's MARK OF ZORRO (1940) and as with some other Fox films the same set or plate is utilised twice with completely different painted elements, in two separate cuts from the same chase sequence!  I never even noticed it until I looked at it on BluRay recently.  Disney also did this sort of thing, with JOHNNY TREMAIN and DARBY O'GILL having the same bit of backlot reused in different matte shots in each film.

The old Charles Laughton-Clark Gable classic MUTINY ON THE BOUNTY (1935) featured this completely painted in island, and I suspect, the ship too as a separate effects element.

The distant scenery and buildings as painted by one of Warren Newcombe's matte artists for NATIONAL VELVET (1944)

Two head scratchers here:  The western ONE MORE TRAIN TO ROB (1971) had some terrific mattes by Albert Whitlock though these two proved most curious.  The shot at left is a very brief cut with a mass of quite roughly painted foliage up and around George Peppard's head.  My guess is that this was some sort of post production fix, perhaps to conceal unwanted crew members, lights or some such thing as the matte serves no narrative point whatsoever.  Peppard's hat even moves into the matte line. The shot at right is less a curiosity though it's clear that the tree has been painted in and quite possibly distant buildings added maybe?  Director Andrew V. McLaglen always liked to have Whitlock on board whenever any of his shows needed matte work.

A strange shot this one, from a classic film, THE OX-BOW INCIDENT (1943) where Fred Sersen's matte artists have painted in the majority of the tree.  Very odd composition here.  Oh, and one way to tell these things is to make successive frame grabs and toggle through them back to back whereby matte line weave or jitter is sometimes visible.
Sailing ship matted into actual setting for MURDER AHOY (1964).  The near foreground looks painted as well?

Sky and distant ocean matte from PLANET OF THE APES (1968)

A none too effective scenic addition from the end of the still terrific PLANET OF THE APES.  I'm not sure if longtime Fox matte artist Emil Kosa painted this or not as he died that same year.
How do you create a cave where there is none?  Ask Jim Danforth to paint it on glass, that's how.  Film is PLANET OF THE DINOSAURS (1977) and that is a rear projection composite in progress.

For the 1952 British film THE PLANTER'S WIFE (aka - OUTPOST IN MALAYA) Albert Whitlock provided the glass painting of the plantation which was then combined with an actual location plate.

British matte artist Ray Caple is shown here prepping one of the in camera glass shots of ships in a harbour for the Michael Caine war picture PLAY DIRTY (1968).
A superb piece of hocus pocus that I'd only ever know about as a devotee of DVD audio commentaries.  On the director's track for the thrilling Lee Marvin show POINT BLANK (1968) John Boorman mentions not being able to find a suitable location with an appropriate penthouse, so he had it painted in as a matte shot. The matte was by Matthew Yuricich and assembled on Clarence Slifer's optical printer as a nice fluid pan and tilt.

Another view of the penthouse which of course is a painted extension atop a real LA location.

Now here's one I like- from a Warner Bros film called POSSESSED (1947).  Nice work here where an actual location has been rendered more compositionally pleasing with painted midground scenic additions at left and right of frame.  Paul Detlefsen was chief matte painter at the studio with artists such as Mario Larrinaga, Lou Litchtenfield, Chesley Bonestell and Cliff Silsby present.

The not too bad PREDATOR 2 (1990) had some well blended Rocco Gioffre matte art of a 'futuristic' LA of 1997 (!)

One of the first CinemaScope pictures was PRINCE VALIANT (1954).  The longboats are painted in here.
The real estate which forms the thrust of the narrative from John Ford's THE PRISONER OF SHARK ISLAND (1936)

Matte art probably by Cliff Culley as seen in THE PURPLE PLAIN (1954).  I'm not sure about the far mountains, but the immediate foreground is all painted.

The rather good pilot movie that never got picked up, THE QUESTOR TAPES (1974) had a number of atmospheric Albert Whitlock mattes in it.  For this scene Whitlock created an optical transition and painted the cave entrance into an actual location.

The great Peter Ellenshaw achieved miracles on QUO VADIS (1950) and should have had screen credit (and an Oscar nomination!).  This seemingly 'effectless' shot in fact has more going for it than one would think.  Peter has painted in the Roman aquaduct, a superb sky and stone work in the foreground
Jack Cosgrove's ornate painted ceiling and features are just one of the numerous Oscar nominated mattes seen in Alfred Hitchcock's REBECCA (1940)

A beautiful REBECCA matte where I think much of the frame is painted, so it really doesn't belong here but I've already uploaded it so what's a guy to do?  Foreground swaying tree branches doubled in probably as a bi pack element to lend some life to the shot, which was a common method throughout the 1940's among most of the matte studios.

A pair of matte shots with the painted aspects being small in the frame, from James Dean's REBEL WITHOUT A CAUSE (1955), possibly rendered by Lou Litchtenfield.
A temple glass painting from the toe curlingly horrendous RED SONJA (1985).  Emilio Ruiz supplied several foreground miniatures and Albert Whitlock supplied the requisite painted mattes, though this set up shown suggests an Emilio Ruiz glass shot (which I don't recall appearing in the dismal film?)

The finale from Marilyn Monroe's RIVER OF NO RETURN (1954) where the entire town has been established as a matte painting as supervised by Ray Kellogg.
Often the matte artist is called upon to cover up the most mundane of unwanted artifacts such as clearly demonstrated here with these Peter Ellenshaw matte top ups from THE STORY OF ROBIN HOOD AND HIS MERRIE MEN (1952)

Same film - Peter Ellenshaw has magically created a river in the woods via split screens and matte art.  Amazing.

Same film - not so much as a hint of a movie trick.

Same film - a scenic top up
Alfred Hitchcock's SABOTEUR (1942) was probably the directors' biggest visual effects show, or certainly his biggest matte painting show.  among the many memorable matte shots were some very subtle shots such as this where the awning and background are painted.  I never spotted it on DVD and just noticed it on BluRay as the man's hat moves through the matte line.  John P. Fulton was uncredited photographic effects chief, with long time Universal matte painter Russ Lawson working with a young John DeCuir also painting and, due to the volume and quality of the mattes, possibly other artists on board as well.
Also from SABOTEUR with trees extended upwards.

SABOTEUR - inside Radio City Music Hall are several mattes such as these where the ceiling has been matted in.
One of Albert Whitlock's mattes from the 1954 New Zealand set adventure THE SEEKERS (aka - LAND OF FURY)

The great Emilio Ruiz del Rio with his glass painted distant valley for the conclusion of John Milius' tiresome CONAN THE BARBARIAN (1981).  Ruiz always preferred to execute his mattes as in camera foreground paintings whenever possible to ensure maximum 'original negative' resolution.  The shot, unfortunately was eventually re-matted optically with a different painted valley made by Jim Danforth though I'm told Emilio's version exists in European cuts of the film - not entirely sure about that.
A Jim Danforth matte from an 80's tv series called SHADOW RIDERS.  Jim has matted together two different locations as one, and blended the plates with a subtle painted element.

David Selznick's SINCE YOU WENT AWAY (1944) with the foreground US army truck being purely matte art.  The shot however, isn't in the final film.  Jack Cosgrove was in charge of the many Oscar nominated mattes and effects.
England's pioneer of visual effects, Walter Percy Day was an outstanding matte artist, with an attention to detail no matter how long the painting took to finish, and with a reckless disregard for studio deadlines.  This shot is from SIXTY GLORIOUS YEARS (1938).  A young apprentice Peter Ellenshaw assisted Day on these shots.

Another Percy Day shot from SIXTY GLORIOUS YEARS

Matte shot from THE SNOWS OF KILIMANJARO (1952)
Now, when it comes to micro matte shots, this has got to be in the running!  Harrison Ellenshaw painted this tiny view of the Jawa's Sandcrawler as seen far away by C3PO on the dunes of Tatooine in the original (and by far the best) STAR WARS (1977).  Harrison reckons this is the smallest matte shot ever made, and he tells me the large glass with his teeny artwork is still in the Lucasfilm archives.

Tyrone Power's not too bad costumer SON OF FURY (1942) has a number of great mattes supervised by Fred Sersen.
One of artist Jan Domela's mattes from Bob Hope's funny SON OF PALEFACE (1952).  Here Jan has painted the town, from which fx cameraman Irmin Roberts has composited into a desert plate for John P. Fulton.

Fox's classic SONG OF BERNADETTE (1943) had some interesting matte work, mostly at the end, though this shot intrigues me more as, upon repeat viewing it is a matte painted shot.  Whether it is just the trees that have been painted in (likely) or the entire upper half of the frame (unlikely)... nice shot.

Another great Hitchcock picture was SUSPICION (1941).  I've chosen this frame as a good example of a matte where you might not be any the wiser had it not been for the top of Cary Grant's head moving under the matte line.  An RKO picture with effects supervised by Vernon Walker, with Albert Maxwell Simpson or Fitch Fulton likely as matte artists.
Peter Ellenshaw painted some 62 mattes for Disney's THE SWORD AND THE ROSE (1953) - the majority of them being grand views of castles and London.  Here are two 'small' mattes Peter painted on the film where sets needed filling out with speed and economy, both of which were second nature to Ellenshaw.

For John Carpenter's misguided THEY LIVE (1988) matte painter Jim Danforth painted these curious billboards which were then matted onto the buildings.  You'd never know it.
The big period costume adventure TARAS BULBA (1962) was a sizable effects show, with a number of contributors to the mattes and other effects.  Russ Lawson received his one and only on screen credit here (after over 30 years as Universal's matte painter).  I include this shot as it's probably the least visible matte in the film, except for the fact that Tony Curtis' cape passes under the matte line when he swirls it - the only giveaway actually.

One of the mattes from TARZAN AND HIS MATE (1934) where a mostly real setting has been enhanced around the periphery by MGM's matte department.

Albert Whitlock's first film when he moved to Universal was purportedly the Doris Day-Cary Grant vehicle THAT TOUCH OF MINK (1962) and one of the shots Whitlock painted was this invisible United Nations interior that nobody noticed.
Percy Day and Peter Ellenshaw shared painting duties on THE THIEF OF BAGHDAD (1940), with not all of the shots necessarily being grand vistas, as evidenced by this hidden matte shot.

Another Percy Day matte from the same film where minor set alterations have been carried out via Day's paintbrush to invisible effect.  I don't think the shot made it into the finished film though.
Universal's intelligent sci-fi picture THIS ISLAND EARTH (1955) with Russ Lawson painting some iconic genre matte shots.  This isn't one of those but stands as a well integrated painted matte that works well enough.  The house, hills and sky are all artwork.

One would never suspect a trick here... Percy Day's matte work from David Lean's THIS HAPPY BREED (1944)

An ingenious matte by Jim Danforth for the unfinished film TIMEGATE where Jim has painted a large, near mural size matte painting for combining with a location plate so as to effect a rockslide in miniature against the large painting to excellent result.  Jim was always a thinker who could come up with ideas outside of the square, so to speak.

An Emilio Ruiz foreground matte painted glass which has still to be correctly aligned...

...the final in camera composite where Emilio's glass matte art merges perfectly with the location set.  I don't know the correct title of the film, though my file says CANTABROS (?)
Fred Sersen made some good effects shots for the 1953 version of TITANIC.  This engine room set has been enhanced by matte painted fixtures, pipes and gantry above.
Audie Murphy's heroic true life story TO HELL AND BACK (1955) had a painted, partially destroyed bridge matted over an actual location for a brief shot.  David S. Horsley was probably in charge here, with longtime Universal matte artist Russ Lawson rendering the effect.

Albert Whitlock created an authentic New York street on the Universal backlot via remarkably loose matte art (buildings, trees and lights in the upper left corner of the frame) for Alfred Hitchcock's under rated TOPAZ (1969)

The still excellent TORA, TORA, TORA (1970) was an effects bonanza, and amid all of the great epic scale action was this minor matte shot by Matthew Yuricich where a row of fighter planes and surroundings have been painted in to the far side of the air field.

Another classic that still stands the test of time for excitement is THE TOWERING INFERNO (1974).  This long shot across San Francisco Bay has been augmented by carefully matted in glass tower and it's sister building next door.  Whether this is matte art or miniature I can't be sure, though L.B Abbott's book states that models were matted in to the location plate.

An odd before and after this!  Mark Sullivan was called upon to do a last minute emergency repair matte to a production shot in the Robin Williams film TOYS (1992).  The unit didn't have time to build a doorway for a particular shot so it seemed faster for Mark to create it as a matte painting.

Walt Disney's first live action feature TREASURE ISLAND (1950) was a sizable photographic effects assignment for Peter Ellenshaw, but one where he proved himself as a vital 'cog' in the Disney creative machine in that it got Peter a lifetime handshake contract with Walt.  I've had the pleasure of looking at Peter's before and after reel, courtesy of his son Harrison, and it's amazing to see how many shots Peter enhanced or manipulated with his oil paint and a sheet of glass.  One such matte is shown above where Ellenshaw has added in the foreground trees as well as significantly altering the contours of the headland and the island.

Another Ellenshaw matte from TREASURE ISLAND with more painted in than first impressions would suggest.

The low budget costumer TRIPOLI (1950) tried to expand it's fairly limited horizons by having matte artist Darryl Anderson paint in various columns and bits of Orientalist inspired fixtures, though the perspective in architectural elements in the frame at left is way off the mark.
I can't recall where I found this shot - I think it was a 1940's era Warner Bros picture where, apparently, the matte department have painted in Abe Lincoln.  I heard once that movie makers were forbidden to film inside those Washington monuments (?) and had to make do with fabricated scenes - not sure if that's true or not?

Matthew Yuricich painted some rooftops and street tarmac for a composite vfx shot in the 1983 tv series V.
Although I've tried to stay with 'smaller' mattes, my enthusiasm often gets the better of me and I tend to throw in somewhat bigger painted shots than originally anticipated.  One such shot is this utterly superb photo real matte by Albert Whitlock from Andrew V. McLaglen's THE WAY WEST (1967) where the entire left half of the frame with it's canyons, cliffs and river have been created by Whitlock.  Astonishingly accurate matching here of hues and tone, with Whitlock's feeling for 'backlight' being his strength.

We don't hear much about special effects artists from Europe, though one matte artist of note is Czech Jiri Stamfest who has provided vfx on many films.  This before and after glass shot is from a, presumably Czech, 1994 picture titled V ERBU IVICE (don't know the translation).
Jan Domela painted in a skylight for the gallery sequence in Alfred Hitchcock's VERTIGO (1958).

The 1960 Jack Lemmon movie THE WACKIEST SHIP IN THE ARMY had this shot where a convoy of ships and some clouds have been matted into an actual location.

Franklin Shaffner's THE WAR LORD (1965) had a few broad establishing mattes by Albert Whitlock though not many people noticed this brief shot as being a matte painted shot.  Whitlock has run his matte straight across the tree and painted everything on up as a believable shot.

A nicely rendered and well blended matte painted set extension from the Ron Howard adventure WILLOW (1988) that doesn't call attention to itself.  The left side of the frame has been altered and a stone walled shaft has been painted in, complete with candlelight effects.  I think Caroleen Green painted this one.  Nice perspective.
Two frames from John Milius' rousing THE WIND AND THE LION (1975) where artist Matthew Yuricich has painted in the US Navy berthed off Morocco.

Westerns are often an ideal genre for the matte artist to ply his trade.  This film is YELLOW SKY (1948) and several shots include painted towns carefully matted into landscapes to good effect.  Fred Sersen's matte artists at the time included Emil Kosa jnr, Ray Kellogg, Menrad von Muldorfer and others.

ILM's matte department were asked to render a long shot of the creepy mansion in the extreme distance atop a hill for the George Miller film THE WITCHES OF EASTWICK (1987).  I think Sean Joyce may have painted this.

MGM's bio pic YOUNG TOM EDISON (1940) included this cleverly devised trick shot where the two trains are in fact the same (real) train, flopped and printed on the other side; the river is a miniature, as is the wreckage in the middle; the damaged train tracks on both sides are matte paintings executed under the supervision of Warren Newcombe.  **Thanks to Robert Welch for this image from the A.Arnold Gillespie collection.

And lastly, here is an on set glass shot from the bizarre 1974 Sean Connery sci-fi picture ZARDOZ.  According to physical effects man Gerry Fisher a large glass was erected on a hilltop and a matte artist (maybe Cliff Culley or another, he can't recall?) painted in various buildings and the giant stone head.
Well, that's about it for now.  I hope this catalogue of mattes was illuminating.



  1. Pete here...

    Apologies for 3 or 4 broken links to great matte images. I've tried repeatedly to 'reload' those frames - such as a great BluRay THE WAY WEST shot, but to no avail! No idea why it's messing me around.


  2. Thanks Pete, this is so interesting!

  3. Another fantastic voyage through the magic of the movies. Thanks!

  4. fantastic as ever....greets,William

  5. Thank you great collection of images, really enjoyed reading these, I loved seeing the worlds smallest matte painting as well, that did make me chuckle.

  6. Hey guys, those broken links must have been my internet connection slowing down as all seems fine now and everything loads okay.


  7. Re: The Goonies longshot in this blogpost, Cinefex's associate editor Joe Fordham dropped me a note on that shot:

    "Pretty sure the shot of the distant pirate ship in your image from "The Goonies" was the four-feet-long miniature 'Inferno' built at ILM under the supervision of Bill George. Optical supervisor John Ellis then composited the ship into the plate, shot on location in Bodega Bay, with animated mattes of interactive waves and aerial haze — that’s based on my memory of the film, and the article in Cinefex 24 by Janine Pourroy."


  8. In the canyon shot from The Way West, it's not just the left side that's painted, the canyon wall on the right along with the foreground is also painted.

  9. Your Blog is a tremendous achievement!!!! I can't wait for the next installment!!!

  10. As always, wonderful stuff Pete. Completely unmissable. And damn you for teasing those upcoming posts!