Wednesday, 30 June 2010

George Pals' THE NAKED JUNGLE - more ants than you can shake a truckload of pest repellant at!

Another favourite visual effects extravaganza here, George Pals' 1953 "THE NAKED JUNGLE" starring a young Charlton Heston and Eleanor Parker as a dysfunctional couple on a plantation in South America which is under siege to billions of flesh eating ants.

A well paced and exciting adventure directed by old time Warner Brothers Special Effects department head Byron Haskin - who himself would direct a number of effects driven pictures such as "TREASURE ISLAND", "WAR OF THE WORLDS" and "ROBINSON CRUSOE ON MARS".  "THE NAKED JUNGLE" is another of my "why didn't it get the effects Oscar" candidates as it is a film packed with generally outstanding special effects of all types - miniatures, matte paintings, optical split screens, rotoscoping, animation and great full scale effects too all supervised by the legendary and mercurial John P.Fulton.

"THE NAKED JUNGLE" was one of Fultons' first films under his new tenure at Paramount - having worked for decades at Universal on a myriad of classic gothic horror pictures followed by a short stint at Samuel Goldwyn and an even shorter stint as an individual contractor outside of the studio system on films such as "TULSA" and "JOAN OF ARC" in the late 40's.
Special Photographic Effects John P.Fulton, ASC
Process Projection Farciot Edouart
Matte Artist  Jan Domela
Matte Photography  Irmin Roberts
Miniatures  Ivyl Burks
Optical Cinematography  Paul K. Lerpae
Optical Printer Line Up  Dewey Wrigley jnr, Carl Lerpae,  Jack Caldwell,  Aubrey Law

. Top left special effects supervisor John P. Fulton; top right matte artist Jan Domela; middle - a group photo of the Paramount visual effects unit celebrating their Oscar win for "THE TEN COMMANDMENTS" two years later. Middle of back row is optical printer operator Carl Lerpae, second from right is matte artist Jan Domela, next to him on right is process expert Farciot Edouartsecond row centre is optical line up man Dewey Wrigley jr; Front row - kneeling at left is miniatures supervisor Ivyl Burks, next to him Effects cameraman Wallace Kelly (?), then possibly Carole Beers or Ann Lord who were key rotoscope matte technicians; middle in front of Oscar is Fulton. On Fultons' right is Optical Effects man Paul LerpaeBottom photo is of miniatures expert Ivyl Burks posing here with an alien mask from "I MARRIED A MONSTER FROM OUTER SPACE"
Left - director and veteran effects cameraman Byron Haskin; second from right is producer George Pal.

Special photographic effects director John P. Fulton, A.S.C

The first visual effects shot - a Jan Domela matte painting split screened with foreground live action by matte cameraman Irmin Roberts.

Two sprawling views of the plantation supposedly set in South America but produced entirely with matte art by Jan Domela.

Agriculture under happier times - an extensive Domela matte painting combined with aminimal location foreground.
More Jan Domela matte shots of the plantation under different dramatic circumstances

Top frame - an extensive Domela matte painting with several scraped away areas on the glass to provide backlit gag effects to simulate a seething mass of slowly advancing ants.  Bottom frame Domela painted clouds and seperately painted moon on glass plates to simulate cloud movement.

Some of Ivyl Burks excellent miniature set pieces as the dam bursts and floods the plantation.

Presumably the miniatures were filmed out of doors in actual daylight - not a common method in Golden era effects shots, but a far more authentic feel was had by using natural light as opposed to studio tungsten light which unlike today could never accurately simulate the correct kelvin or colour temperature of real sunlight.  Fulton was known for his preference in shooting miniatures in real settings such as on lakes, sea and similar whenever possible.  Miniature sequences were shot by Wallace Kelley, who would go on to a career as a director of photography on many Paramount pictures.
More frames from the flood sequence - all superbly designed and executed by Fulton, Burks and Kelley.  The miniatures appear to be of a significant scale as the fire and water are very well proportioned - not an easy effect to pull off.
Spectacular miniature cinematography and great sound mix add to the excitement.

The best effects sequence in the film - Heston on the run as an enormous tidal wave from the blown dam heads his way.  Several brilliantly choreographed tricks were employed in this terrific sequence - the first shown above is a straight forward though perfectly matched split screen of Heston in dug out trench and Jan Domelas' sprawling matte painting dominating the shot

The subsequent shot involves Heston split screened against Domela's painted soil and vegetation, then a superbly rotoscoped torrent of water washes over and nearly wipes out Chuck Heston.  Paramount had a good roto dept headed by Gladys Halberg with roto artists Carole Beers, Helen Lampson and Ann Lord.  These ladies really showed what they were made of a couple of years later with the phenomenal and complex roto blending and multiple layering of the 'Red Sea' in De Milles' "THE TEN COMMANDMENTS" - dazzling and yet subtle roto that even on frame by frame analysis is still breathtaking.
Chucks' plantation AFTER the ant attack!  Completely 100% Domela matte art.

Chuck on a mercy dash - complex multi layered split screens and optical combinations with lots of real ants matted into foreground and Paul Lerpaes' optical printer manipulation of production footage.  I can't decide whether the lower image is entirely painted with a blue screened in Heston or a hell of a lot of practical set decoration?

The finale - a fitting closing shot with an extensive Jan Domela matte painting taking up most of the frame.  The curious colour in the dvd I am convinced is a result of shrinkage of the original 35mm elements or the individual matrices thus giving much of the film an annoying ghosting - something which is evident on reion 1, 2 & 4 dvd's unfortunately.  I presume a proper restoration was not available for this film.


  1. I watched The Naked Jungle last night--for probably the 25th time!--and really enjoyed your commentary and expertise here. Many thanks for sharing your knowledge!

  2. Terrific stuff on THE NAKED JUNGLE, I really enjoyed it. John P. Fulton worked on Heston's next movie, SECRET OF THE INCAS, how about writing something on that movie also.

  3. Hi James

    Thanks so much for that - I enjoyed dissecting that terrific film.
    I've not heard of the other film you mentioned. Is it on DVD? So many great shows which have never made it to disc which I'd be keen to cover.


  4. SECRET OF THE INCAS has never had a legimate dvd release. Conspiracy buffs are blaming Spielberg for its non-appearance because they reckon he "ripped off" the Heston movie to make the Indiana Jones series. The last Indy movie had a direct homage to THE NAKED JUNGLE, but you probably know that. Your blog on THE NAKED JUNGLE was excellent Pete.

  5. Charles Gemora engineered tiny plastic ants with magnets on a moving belt for this production.

  6. Shannon Burks Taylor1 July 2013 at 13:21

    Thank you so much for this article!!! Ivyl Burks was my great grandfather. He died when I was 7 but was long retired by the time I came around. I would have LOVED to learn more about his work. So thanks!

    1. Hi Shannon

      Nice to hear from you, and I'm glad my blog in some small way gave you info on Ivyl. If you look further among my articles you'll find more references to him for such superb films as THE BRIDGES AT TOKO RI among others.

      Kind Regards


  7. The true geniuses of Hollywood are not the delicate dilettantes that cavorted in front of those Mitchell,Panavision, or Arriflex cameras, but those men of the "science" end of the industry that brought in-bedded magic upon that 24 frame per second medium of 35mm film emulsion. I could spend the next ten years naming names and films that have propelled the industry forward......I tip my hat to all the great DP's matte artists, foley people, and on and are what has made "Hollywood" what is was and will always be in the future........