Welcome fellow matte painting enthusiasts to another edition of NZPetes Matte Shot, where today we will continue our in depth interview and tribute to the incredible and largely unheralded matte work of artist Ken Marschall and visual effects cameraman Bruce Block. I am sure those of you who found last month's article both fascinating and revealing will not in the least be disappointed with what I have in store for you here today. Once again we will be treated to scores of Ken's wonderful hand painted mattes that worked on screen so successfully thanks to Bruce's pragmatic camera savvy and strong adherence whenever possible to the 'original negative' methodology to bring Ken's exquisite art to life, largely unnoticed. The results speak for themselves.
Today we will carry on where we left off with some astounding matte work from films such as James Cameron's THE TERMINATOR, Rob Reiner's coming of age classic STAND BY ME and many more trick shots that I am certain nobody ever realised were mattes. Gene Warren jr from Fantasy II Visual effects will be joining us as well for a frank discussion on the glory days at Fantasy II with Ken and Bruce. Also we will take a real life journey beneath the waves to the darkest of depths of the vast Atlantic ocean with Ken as he tells us about the coming to fruition of his lifelong passion for all things Titanic.
Again I owe more than a debt of gratitude to Ken and Bruce for their generous input in bringing this article to fruition. To Ken I applaud not only his astonishing talents as an artist, but his sincere archival efforts which have seen the vast majority of his original matte art, along with conceptual sketches, layouts, 35mm trims and tests all stored safely for more than two decades. To Bruce I extend my thanks and appreciation for his remarkable knowledge of practically each and every matte shot made by the Matte Effects company over the years, even though there still remain a couple of mystery shots that baffle both gentlemen. This blog would not have been possible without Ken and Bruce's monumental input, where no 'ask' on my part was too great. On behalf of my readers and all interested parties, I thank you both.
Now, for the bad news. I had hoped to wrap up Ken and Bruce's story with this second part, but due to successive and unrelenting technical problems with Google Blogger's site I have no choice but to reserve the remaining interview material and imagery as an unplanned but now necessary 'Part Three' - depending of course whether the 'system' will cooperate. As much as I take a certain degree of pride and pleasure in writing these matte shot blog posts and sharing the wonderful world of 'hand made movie magic' with you, the technical web based process of actually bringing each blog to cyber-life has been an uphill battle. Just when I thought I had tamed the beast that is 'Google Blogger' - itself a vengeful and unforgiving behemoth of a publishing platform - the constant difficulties that arise when assembling and laying out these articles just makes the process less and less user friendly with each and every blog post. The reader would not believe the stumbling blocks faced by your humble editor just on the last few posts alone. It seems the Google Blogger platform is intent on having NZPete bodily hurl himself under a bus in a fit of sheer and utter hopeless despair, it's gotten that bad folks. Given the monumental issues I've experienced lately, this post may well be the last one and I may be forced to call it a day.
|One of a pair of unused matte shots from the Diane Keaton picture BABY BOOM. Your humble editor incorrectly added the wrong painting for this shot in part one, so here it is rectified.|
A comparison of the original image I was given (left) and the final widened and altered image, for THE HOLIDAY, completed in November 2006. My task was to make the Northern California house and location look much less appealing –– make the windows much smaller, add staining and dirt, make it winter, make the asphalt road all cracked and old, add ugly power lines, and so forth. I enjoyed it. No airbrush, no paint to mix or brushes to clean. Bruce would show the progress to Director Nancy Meyers and get back to me with further suggestions until it met everyone’s satisfaction. The whole thing was done via e-mail.
|We were called upon to do two mattes for DRUG WARS: THE CAMARENA STORY, a miniseries broadcast on NBC in January 1990. For this shot a plate was photographed in the Californian semi-desert with fake marijuana plants lining a dirt road. My painting considerably extended the limited location set into a vast Mexican drug plantation. Although admittedly this is a fairly simple, straightforward shot, I thought it turned out rather well. The painting and close detail is shown below.|
|The other painting is an aerial view of the marijuana crops. No matte for this scene, just a full painting.|
|Close up detail of the above painting.|
For the made-for-TV/video JOURNEY TO THE CENTER OF THE EARTH, released in the U.S. in July 1989, one matte shot called for a wide view of a huge cavern interior. Here is the small bit of live action. Image 2 -- The painting.
Image 3 -- Final composite, completed in Oct. 1987, with small, flickering, distant fires DX'd on a second pass.
Another scene in JOURNEY TO THE CENTER OF THE EARTH called for a wide view looking up at an underground city. At left is my basic layout for it. The full painting, also finished in Oct. 1987, is shown at right, which I believe was shot or timed much darker for the movie.
My hand touching the painting shows the scale of the artwork. We may have DX'd a few blinking lights or something, or perhaps hovering vehicles or other movement was added optically. I don't remember.
The first of two mattes painted for HANKY PANKY in January 1982. Both were from the same camera location inside a large facility of some type, one scene with overhead lights on, the other dark. I had to make this place look like it’s gigantic and underground, extending endlessly off into the distance, cavern after cavern. The snapshot shows me working on it the painting, and the one with my hand on it illustrates the compact scale of the artwork. The overhead lights were DXed with backlight for greater brightness, and red lights were made to blink on and off over the red “Restricted Area” sign. The last image is the final scene.
Here’s the “lights off” version of the HANKY PANKY underground facility. The slate is prominent in the foreground of
the first image. Lights are on in the far distant cave, and again an additional backlit element was DXed for this.
Standing next to the massive 44-foot miniature built by Digital Domain in 1996 for James Cameron’s TITANIC, during the shooting of National Geographic’s TITANIC: THE FINAL WORD in October 2011.
The cover of the thick, heavy volume Exploring the Deep: The Titanic Expeditions, for which I did much image enhancement and mosaic work and contributed several paintings, including the dust jacket. It was published around June of 2013.
Mike Minor’s concept rendering for the “Graveyard” matte shot, followed by later renditions and Mike’s notes to me.
The “Graveyard” painting for SPACEHUNTER, from original photography (before the matte was added optically) to final composite. The 3-D effect was created by simply shifting the painting slightly laterally behind a black foreground matte. The sun and clouds were separate burn-ins. I can’t explain now, 32 years later, why the sun appears in two places and two sizes and the mountain “fortress city” is considerably different between the test clips. Maybe a drastic change was made to the entire concept, and I had to repaint almost the whole thing. But here’s the mystery: The final film, which can be found online, has the large sun, yet my final paintings have the small sun. The background painting and cloud DX art that I have today are obviously what we shot in the end; I don’t have two different sets of paintings. Very strange. In any case, the clouds were really needed on the right side to help confuse and hide the very hard matte line. That line was a bitch.
painting and live action don’t match at all. It’s ghastly. As I said before, I don’t know what happened. It looked fantastic when we turned it in.
Two concept sketches for the Hoover Dam scene in CHERRY 2000, done by another artist. The second one indicates an old vermilion-colored Mustang that would hang by a crane cable in the foreground.
Hoover Dam location reference photos mosaiced into a wide panorama; the original VistaVision plate, before matte; then the matted area; and the painting, showing the unusually “large” size.
A close-up of the painting, with my hand, to show the scale of the work; two backlight elements used to create water movement and faint sparkles; final composite; and the last image is a recent grab off YouTube showing as much of my painting as survives, at least in that edit. Not only is this disappointing, but to add insult to injury, the color of the painting and the action isn’t matched at all. Utterly baffling.
KM: ‘NIGHT, MOTHER, worked on from Feb.-June 1986, was interesting because, in addition to a few regular daytime mattes, we shot scenes at twilight that I had to turn into night and, amazingly, one scene at twilight that needed to appear like full daylight.
|Above, a blueprint of a series of storyboards for a few of the matte shots for ‘NIGHT, MOTHER.|
The images shown here from NIGHT MOTHER are self explanatory. In this scene the distant hills needed to be made
lower and the trees changed to late fall.
Now, here’s a switch: Dusk photography needed to be turned into broad daylight. What original exposure the house
had needed to be augmented and tinted warmer and the negative printed much lighter. I’ve added sun shadows against
In this one, again missing the original photography, I just had to add the new upper part, lights in the windows and
an extension on the house.
| one where the background needed to be altered. Again, unfortunately I'm missing an image of the original plate |
before the matte.
|For this scene dusk
photography needed to be changed to a later time, skyline and trees altered,
and glow added to |
Q: Those NIGHT MOTHER shots truly qualify as‘The Invisible Art’ – or as Albert Whitlock phrased it ‘the true special effect is one that nobody notices’. I do wonder why the production went to so much trouble in post production whereas those shots could easily have been achieved 'live'. What else can you share with us Ken.
KM: The burned-out house for PSYCHO IV: THE BEGINNING was nice. I enjoyed that one. We presented the painting to the director.
The matte painting, showing the original plate, the matte and the final composite. Light smoke drifts up from the burned-
out house, added optically by Fantasy II’s optical department. The black and white image is a DX element to flash over
a pre-fire plate to simulate lightning. I can see that although the house and trees appear to be at the exact same angle,
there are no foreground steps in the painting, so I’m not sure what’s going on there. The paintings were done in July 1990.
KM: I had fun doing the ROSWELL project, too, no doubt because of the subject matter.
|For ROSWELL: A conceptual render, artist unknown, and instructions for the saucer.|
We start with the original plate; then with the matte in place; my first color-chip test (notice the large white square to gauge pure white, which was standard); the painting, done in January and February 1994, and a closeup; the final composite; and below, another 2015 shot of me holding the painting to convey the size of the artwork.
The initial concept render for the other matte shot I painted for ROSWELL (artist unknown) showing bombers parked
on a tarmac, and a second copy of it with notes.
Here’s the progression of the final scene, beginning with the matte in place (I don’t have a frame showing the
original location photography, sans matte). Next is the roto, traced on the back of the card stock used to do the painting.
The matte line is drawn in green pencil here. Next is my first color test, followed by the painting. The last image is the
final composite, with an extra burn-in for the sun.
An orange-base painting for FLIGHT OF THE NAVIGATOR, done in mid-1986. As I remember, animated or stop-motion
steps appear from nowhere and descend, one by one from the alien craft.
Another orange-base painting done for THE BURNING SEASON in mid-1994. Once again, I unfortunately don’t have
an image of the original plate without matte.
|CYBORG: Director Albert Pyun's notes and a very preliminary diagram together with my proposal/concept rendering with Bruce's notes.|
An orange-base matte was painted for CYBORG. The scene was to be an elevated view over a freeway, looking toward Atlanta, years after the apocalypse. Being orange-base (the odd green hues), the painting’s obviously intended to be an optical job of some sort, and Bruce’s note indicates that the artwork was to be extra tall to allow for a slow upward tilt. But the final painting doesn’t show any unusual height, so the tilt must have been a small one. The original plate, shot from the roof of Fantasy II looking across North Varney Street at the small area of live action set up in the parking lot opposite. The last two images are self explanatory.
A page in Bruce’s “Matte Log” binder details the extensive filmed tests for the CYBORG Atlanta freeway matte in
the summer of 1988.
This painting for DANGER ISLAND, a.k.a. THE PRESENCE, and is all I have from this project. Not a single clip of test
footage was found. We called it “The Habitat.” The last image is a low-res grab off YouTube showing the final composite
with the action. The artwork was done in mid-1992.
|Argentia Bay -- The original plate for a scene for THE
WINDS OF WAR, shot in the miniatures tank at Paramount.|
The painting and final composite as completed on Sept. 1, 1982, and broadcast by ABC television in the mini-series in Feb '83. The "sun" reflection and vessel positions vary somewhat from the original plate, so perhaps the plate was for a different scene, but it's the best match I have for this matte shot.
THE WINDS OF WAR - Image 1: Red Square Concept painting for scene where Robert Mitchum stands in a large archway
with his back to us, then walks off into the snow-covered square below Spasskaya Tower. Barrage balloons float over the Kremlin. The original idea was to have clouds in the sky, but this was later changed to a clear sky. Image 2: Getting ready
to shoot the archway which would be optically composited with several other elements. The date on the slate looks like Feb.
28, 1982. Image 3:A suitable building was dressed to represent the lower part of Spasskaya Tower, and all action was shot
in this scene. Image 4: My rotoscope tracing of the relevant edges of the filmed building, upon which I drew my layout for the tower. Other distinctive Kremlin buildings can be seen in the distance behind the wall, evidently later dropped from the final painting.
THE WINDS OF WAR - Convoy1 -- Horribly faded/color shifted after 33 years, here's a raw scan of a film clip showing a convoy of miniature ships, shot at the Paramount tank with a large painted sky backdrop. Convoy2 -- The same setup
after color-correcting. The miniatures have moved closer to the camera.
|Convoy8 - Close-ups of the two lightning elements
employed in the above matte shot which were backlit and DX'd during a second & third pass through the camera.|
1 -- The original scene, shot at the Paramount Studios tank in 1982, for the ABC television miniseries THE WINDS OF WAR (1983), with large miniatures of U.S. and British cruisers depicting the naval rendezvous in Ship Harbour at Argentia, Newfoundland, for the meeting between President Roosevelt and Prime Minister Churchill on August 10, 1941. This scan shows the very faded state of the 33-year-old film I had to work with, despite its having been carefully stored all this time in darkness and away from the elements. While many of the old film clips have turned magenta, others have not and remain remarkably stable. It has to do with the type of film and the chemistry used to process it, I'm sure. Using my Epson scanner, step number one was either to scan using its "Color Restoration" option or to manually try to shift and adjust hues and colors. Sometimes the Color Restoration setting performed miracles without much further color massaging, while at other times it produced an unacceptable result requiring complete manual adjustment instead. The adjustment settings in the scanning software get you in the ballpark, but the resulting scan must invariably be further adjusted in color hue, brightness and contrast. I sharpen the scan as far as I can before it takes on any "fringey" look. The film grain then becomes apparent, so I sometimes back off the sharpening a bit.
I crop to the edges of the frame and clean the image of dust and scratches using Photoshop's Healing and Smudge tools.
2 -- The color-corrected, cleaned scan.
3 -- This, I believe, was an optical matte, and here we see the matte applied. Its edges formed an unexpected and disturbing "fringe" that was difficult to deal with.
4 -- The finished painting. During the numerous tests trying to make the matte line go away or at least be less obvious, a lot
of airbrushed "fog" was added here and there to double expose over the original photography and help disguise the matte
line or add to the atmosphere of the scene.
Gene Warren Jr. on the scaffold built to shoot one of the plates for the HBO movie THE BURNING SEASON
in southeastern Mexico, 1994 (see matte painting earlier in this interview).
in 2002. Bruce and Ken developed a unique system in that room. The camera (4 perf and
Two baby spots (1000-watt quartz bulbs) were fixed about seven feet away at a 45-degree angle on both sides of the stand. The lights and camera lens were polarized.
era they were the smallest I ever encountered.
painting at home, and he and Bruce would meet about half way
returned to Ken for more work. He used a light table and loop at home to view the film
Examining a test for one of the matte shots we did for MOBSTERS in February 1991 using a small magnifying glass given to me by my maternal grandmother when I was a young teen. I used it constantly for every matte painting I ever did.
Foolishly never writing down the family history of it, the best that I can vaguely recollect is that it may have belonged to
her father who was also an artist and that it dates to the Civil War period or even earlier. My grandmother died in 1987 at
the age of 95. As you can imagine, I am hugely disappointed in myself that I didn’t record the story when I had the chance. In any event, I treasure this thoughtful little gift from Grandma, and to this day it is never out of reach.
because the shiny black card stock was floppy. If the tape stretched or something else
caused misalignment, Ken would travel to Burbank and study the error, and then with one
or two tests that took an hour two (a short piece of test footage [color] was developed in a
can), he would realign the painting. Bruce did the entire camera work and color film
development and probably realigned a few times himself. I know I developed a color test
negative in a can at least once.
testfootage went to the lab. I mentioned all of the above only to point out that there were
sometimes multiple paintings at different stages being painted by Ken and photographed by
Bruce in the one small room on the same camera and matte stand.
into one of Fantasy II’s optical printers to add the live action and then be taken to the lab
for development. The same cycle of testing, similar to original negative (latent image)
process was employed. I don’t have an exact count, but I think Ken did at least a dozen IP
paintings over the years. He had an incredible eye and color sense. Most often he found the
pallet and finished the paintings with only a few more tests than it took on original negative.
I think they were both latent image original negative. A third anamorphic painting was a
retouched photographic print used as a background for a bluescreened falling werewolf.
One of three anamorphic paintings I did for FRIGHT NIGHT PART II between Dec. 1987 and Feb. 1988, the frame seen
below showing roughly how the image was projected at 2.35:1 ratio for cinema audiences.
The second anamorphic painting for FRIGHT NIGHT II. As this was so long ago, I cannot explain why the sky in what is obviously the final painting is entirely different from the final production shot. A moving cloud element must have been
added, along with the moon burn-in.
|The final unsqueezed 'scope' matte shot(s) as seen in two separate cuts in the film FRIGHT NIGHT II. Two skies were painted to represent two different nights, one with a full moon and one without. For the one with the moon a moving cloud element was added, if I recall, along with the moon burn-in..|
This was merely a photographic print enlargement that I extended and retouched and was used as a background under
a bluescreened falling werewolf.
“Fourth, in order to save a generation on a very complicated and difficult shot, I asked Ken to paint in negative. He pulled it off brilliantly.
“Fifth, for the film BLUE STEEL I asked Ken to paint 8 frames (moving camera) in IP colors to remove a very visible handgun that flew out of a stuntman’s hand when a car hit him. In the next cut he still had the gun. This was before a computer solution (wire/gun removal) was possible. The director, Kathryn Bigelow, and her editor couldn’t figure out how we did it. I never told her.
“I hope this will to bring more attention and recognition of the amazing contributions of Bruce and Ken. Unfortunately, Matte Effects and Fantasy II were always busy doing the work and failed to blow our own horns. Maybe now we can partially remedy that lapse on our part and help update the historical record.”
Gene Warren Jr.
Q: So Bruce, I understand you are these days tenured at a University. Are you involved with teaching cinema/media related courses.
BB: I’ve actually been teaching at USC since 1977. Besides producing movies and doing matte painting photography, I developed and taught courses in the relationship between the visual structure of a film and the story structure of the script. I wrote a book about it called The Visual Story. It’s published in seven languages and is used all over the world by working
Q: Sadly, in my ongoing research into this fascinating artform, it seems so much original matte art from the past has been lost or destroyed. It was common practice in many studios to scrape off old glasses and reuse these for other paintings, and some studios such as 20th Century Fox would routinely dump Masonite matte art into incinerators I’m told. So much has gone forever. Did you manage to save many of your own painted mattes.
One of the lecturers during that USC course I took told of how he was walking through a studio lot one day and heard what sounded like the deliberate shattering of glass. It was a man methodically breaking up old matte paintings and tossing the shards into a dumpster. He’d been told to do so. I believe the one relating the story said that he intervened and either able to put a stop to it or save a few paintings for himself. All of us in the class were aghast at the very thought, of course. At Fox Studios Baja in Mexico, after the full “ship” set (Stage 1) was no longer needed for TITANIC and only the forward part of the set remained to be filmed for the final sinking scenes, I was horrified, during a visit to the lot, to find that the whole aft (rear) part of the exquisite set had been dismantled and was in bulldozed piles of debris on the south side of the lot, awaiting transport to a landfill.
|I had to paint a cavernous interior full of Cray computers, inside a large bank in New York, for REMO WILLIAMS: THE ADVENTURE BEGINS, released in Oct. '85. I don't have a clip showing the original scene without the matte in place, so this first view shows the matte, with the bank lobby in the foreground where the actors would walk through. 2 -- My rotoscoped layout for the painting. (The original working title for the project was REMO THE DESTROYER.) 3 -- My tracing of the layout, which I used to transfer it to the card stock before painting.|
|REMO WILLIAMS -- The design for two massive Art Deco light fixtures that would hang above the marble lobby corridor. Right, the design for an elaborate Deco bronze sconce, drawn by someone else.|
|At left a final (or late) test, undated. At right: I believe this is the last test, with two actors beginning to enter the scene at bottom, although I notice that most of the lights in the computer room are missing. These were added again in the final production shot. Obviously we have another mystery here: What happened to the prominent light fixture in the center? I remembered having to add the large chandelier -- or take it away -- at the art director's request, but it's there in the actual painting today, which is of course the final version that was filmed. So how the hell does it disappear in the movie?! As mentioned earlier, Bruce usually shot two production takes with the actors so that we had an extra one as insurance. Some 30 years later I can only guess that we shot (used) both production takes, one before I added the chandelier and one after, and the director ultimately decided against the light fixture and used the take without it. I double-checked the movie, and there is no center chandelier in the scene. It's just been too long since I worked on these projects; I have no memory of how some of these "mystery mattes" went down.|
In any event, this painting has always been a favorite of mine. I think the scene works wonderfully.
|The painting. The illuminated parts of the lights would be DX'd on a second pass, and various lights, some blinking, were DX'd in the computer room.|
|REMO WILLIAMS - close detail view of art.|
|REMO WILLIAMS composite|
|The book Titanic: An Illustrated History, authored by Don Lynch, was inspirational to Cameron in the conception of his 1997 epic movie TITANIC|
End of Part Two.