Sunday, 4 July 2010

Jan Domela - an intimate portrait of Paramount Pictures veteran matte painter

*I  wish to express my sincere gratitude to Jan's daughter Johanna Domela Movassat and to the Domela family for the many rare photographs and frame enlargements from throughout her fathers' early career as well as access to some of Mr Domela's personal correspondence.  This retrospective is largely based upon my conversations with Johanna in 2009.

                                                                                                                                                             Peter Cook  June 2010

When trying to learn more about the careers and backgrounds of technical folk associated with the Golden Era of the film industry the job can be fraught with difficulties and blank spots.  The 'superstars' of special visual effects -  Ray Harryhausen,  Peter Ellenshaw,  John Fulton,  Norman Dawn, Willis O'Brien and Albert Whitlock and so forth are often well documented and complete biographical surveys are usually fairly easily obtained.  Filling the blank spots for the many film technicians whose names may not be as familiar yet who have also contributed significantly to the magic of the movies is often a wish unfulfilled.  

Domela (centre) with matte camera crew
I can but salivate in researcher frustration at the presumably hundreds of family albums and dusty old boxes of correspondence and photographs that families and descendants of so many movie magicians must have stored in lofts, garages, and worse still, in land fills chewed at by mice and irreparably damaged by flash floods and the like.  I applaud loudly with both hands historians such as Craig Barron, the late George Turner and Professor Raymond Fielding who took it upon themselves to interview, document and eventually publish such wonderful accounts of visual wizardry straight from the mouths of the technicians who performed these tricks, and what's more always with a human and very endearing manner.  Kudos, gentlemen, it is all so much appreciated.
Unused matte of  ballroom for "THE EMPEROR WALTZ"

Jan on the Paramount lot circa 1930
Every once in a blue moon, seemingly with the frequency of the passing of Haleys' Comet, one of those long lost names occasionally glimpsed in film credits, yet only vaguely known, if at all, to the average viewing public is allowed a long overdue 'bow' for unique services rendered.  Jan Domela is one such name who by sheer good fortune we can now learn more about.

In preparing this retrospective out of the hundreds of movies Mr. Domela worked on painting what must surely number in the thousands of matte shots I counted no fewer than seventeen films upon which Jan worked as matte artist that received nominations by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences in the category of best special effects, seven of which won the coveted Oscar, with one Oscar to Jan himself for the 1938 Henry Hathaway production "SPAWN OF THE NORTH" in what was the first ever Oscar awarded to a matte artist.

Jan's mentor, noted matte artist Hans Ledeboer
Johannes Marinus Domela Nieuwenhuis, known as Jan (pronounced 'Yawn') Domela was born in Amsterdam, Holland in 1894 and displayed an artistic affinity from a young age.   At around the age of twenty Jan immigrated to the United States of America, and after engaging in a number of diverse jobs from farm hand to dock worker, found a new direction through the Dutch consul in San Francisco who introduced him to a fellow Dutch immigrant Hans Ledeboer who had gained fame for his murals in the Netherlands Pavillion at the Panama Pacific Exposition in San Francisco in 1915.   Ledeboer was a painter who took young Jan under his wing and acted as mentor and later on in the early 1920's when Ledeboer was employed painting huge backdrops for motion pictures in the scenic art department at the then Lasky Studio in Los Angeles was able to get Jan in as a scenic painter.  Hans Ledeboer would later gravitate into matte painting and evidently Jan followed the same path.  Ledeboer worked for decades in various Hollywood studios as matte artist on such films as "DUEL IN THE SUN" at the Selznick studio under Jack Cosgrove.  In 1925 Jan returned to Europe and spent a year studying art at the Rijks Academy in Amsterdam and later at the prestigious Academie Julian in Paris to further develop and expand his painting abilities.
(l) Gordon Jennings  (r) John Fulton

Just when exactly Jan moved into matte and trick work isn't clear, though examining his collection of old black and white stills it would certainly appear that he was involved in trick shots from probably around 1927 around the time when the Famous Players-Lasky Studio merged to become Paramount Famous Lasky Corporation.
Technicolour matte - "THE PALEFACE"
A beautifully painted NYC matte from an unknown title

The fledgling special effects department was probably under the control of Farciot Edouart and Dewey Wrigley at this time, with brothers Gordon and Devereaux Jennings coming on board a few years later as department head and cinematographer respectively.  Some sources credit Jan with designing the first Paramount logo whereas other sources credit someone else.  What is certain is that Jan redesigned and painted the logo for the studio’s first official technicolour production "THE TRAIL OF THE LONESOME PINE" in 1936 and later redesigned it again for the first VistaVision widescreen process film "WHITE CHRISTMAS"in 1954.
A wonderful candid snapshot of Domela in his studio

Unlike other major studios of the time such as the mighty MGM and 20th Century Fox, Paramount wasn't known for its grandiose expenditure and as such penny pinched in most departments with the special effects department being no exception.  For the majority of the 40 odd years that Jan worked as matte artist he was a one-man operation inasmuch as the actual painting went.  Later in the mid 50's fellow matte painter and close friend Chesley Bonestell worked with Jan on several films, mostly the George Pal science fiction films and was involved with astronomical artwork on these. Some sourses state that noted RKO matte painter and President of the Matte Artists and Illustrators Union Albert Maxwell Simpson also may have painted with Jan on "THE TEN COMMANDMENTS" (and in fact did share painting duties much later when Jan was at MGM).   For a time Jan tried to persuade the studio management of the need to train more young matte artists, though naturally they were loath to do so.  Jan himself conducted night classes for young painters on his own time (and out of his own pocket) for a brief period but eventually gave up in despair.
unknown film
Setting up for a glass shot
The diary excerpts from Domela's cousin who visited the States in 1926 and was given a personal tour of the studio are a wonderful time capsule to a romantic period when the silver screen was so much more in the lives of the everyday public than now - a time never to be re-experienced.  Domela's cousin writes in awe of "the huge barn like sheds for the construction of movie backdrops" and "I saw an enormous ballroom in Empire style, the bedroom of Napoleon, a medieval German township with court, street [...] just finished by Jan within 3 days and excellent in invention and perspective.” He also wrote of "a giant textile screen had just been mounted for Jan to work on, without his knowing just what he was going to paint."

 The complete diary entry is a gem of descriptive narrative, so much so that the reader can practically smell the musty soundstages and be blinded by the big klieg lights and all those great movie moments that occured right there on those stages.

The early Paramount years saw Domela work closely with noted art director German-born Hans Dreier on many, many films.  Dreier was Paramount’s answer to MGM's Cedric Gibbons - as grand purveyor of all that went before the cameras at Paramount from around 1924 to 1951 and all bore his stamp of approval. Among others, Domela would work closely with the director Cecil B. DeMille on such prestigious productions as "THE CRUSADES", "UNION PACIFIC" and all of his pictures right up to his final film "THE TEN COMMANDMENTS" in 1955.

matte from "SPAWN OF THE NORTH"
The early special effects unit at Paramount pretty much remained unchanged for several decades - with Gordon Jennings in charge of all special photographic effects, his brother Devereaux Jennings and Dewey Wrigley as effects cinematographers, Farciot Eduoart whose specialty was process (rear) projection,  Irmin Roberts - a long time matte cameraman who worked closely with Domela, Ivyl Burks and Art Smith as miniatures builders and Paul Lerpae as optical effects compositor.  By all accounts Domela worked well under Jennings and Dreier who appreciated his contributions to the many films they jointly worked on.


Jan and his wife Virginia - keen skiers
Jan's daughter Johanna told me that in those early days Jan would look forward to travelling to location to shoot the plate for the matte, as was often the case at that time to paint an original glass shot on set. However by the 1940's he was far less interested in this aspect, and by the 1950's utterly dreaded it, presumably as he had so much to do in the matte department. He said, "I'd just rather be involved with the technical part and leave the rest of it.” Although primarily a Paramount employee there was the rare departure to assist in the matte work for another studio’s films such as RKO requiring Jan's services for a matte shot in "GUNGA DIN" in 1939.  I presume that as both studios were so close by, separated just by a wire fence, such an arrangement was easily worked out.  Only late in Jan's career did he truly branch out and work for other studios on short-term contracts
                                          (more about this later).

From Jan's personal files are many extraordinary black and white photographs of many of his matte shots from throughout his very long career, with the set of pictures above being a wonderful insight into the whole step by step process - from the camera position and matte glass blacking, through to the final composite effect.  One of the cameramen in the top photograph is probably Jan's long time associate, cameraman and skiing companion, Irmin Roberts, ASC.

Three iconic Oscar winning science fiction movie images as created by Domela for George Pal's WHEN WORLDS COLLIDE

We might often ask the question why so comparatively few on screen credits?  Even though Paramount was a renowned tight fisted company they actually did their effects people a fairly good deal as far as credits went.  It wasn't uncommon for several effects people to receive a credit on any given production, sometimes up to six names at a time for a few films such as "WAR OF THE WORLDS".   Domela received screen billing on several films such as "FOR WHOM THE BELL TOLLS" and "A CONNECTICUTT YANKEE IN KING ARTHURS COURT" but voluntarily gave up screen credit on most films as part of a deal with the front office in exchange for a higher salary to support his wife and four children.  Apparently Jan wasn't bothered by the lack of screen credit, especially when one compares the situation with other studios such as the tight fisted two Universal and Columbia who often had no mention of special effects whatsoever, even on big shows.

With the sudden and unexpected death in 1953 of effects head Gordon Jennings (unbelievably on the golf course right next door to John P.Fulton's home) right on the cusp of DeMille setting up his grandest epic ever "THE TEN COMMANDMENTS" the studio urgently needed to engage the services of another visual effects director to oversee all of the studios productions, with the DeMille epic being first and foremost on the agenda.  Former Universal effects head John Phipps Fulton was hired to replace Jennings.  Whereas Jennings was known for his soft spoken easy going ways and was a technician whom De Mille adored, his successor was just the opposite- irascible, temperamental and prone to regular screaming matches with fellow technicians, directors and just about anyone who crossed him.  People skills were not part of Fulton’s vast bag of tricks unfortunately.  An undisputed genius at elaborate miniature sets and complicated optical trickery, Fulton was a kingpin in the world of special visual effects for over three decades, and was up to the challenge despite personality clashes.  A frustrated man who always wanted to direct, it's a commonly held theory that Fulton was constantly passed over for that particular career switch due to his volatility and personality issues, which is sad as his effects contributions throughout the industry are widely acknowledged and valued even to this day.

iconic "WAR OF THE WORLDS" matte
unknown film

Like many others, Domela's relationship with Fulton was a thorny one.  Through vivid recollections from Jan’s niece by marriage who worked at the studio in other departments visits to Uncle Jan’s matte studio were great and exciting until Fulton inevitably stormed in, whereby screams and accusations would be unleashed on Jan when problems or at least perceived problems with matte shots had arisen - at which point the young niece would beat a hasty retreat for the door to escape the tirade. Unfortunately there was a lot of mistrust and finger pointing in the effects department where the 'blame game' was the hottest game in town.  Jan often had problems with the excessive use of filters when shooting and compositing his mattes which in his mind ruined the shot as originally painted and designed.  By around this time television had begun to take its toll upon the industry and the wheels were slowly grinding to a halt at the big studios - Paramount being no exception.  The roster of films was reducing in number and as such so were the required photographic effects and matte shots.  Jan was reduced to half salary during these lean times of the late 50's.  In a letter from his long time pal Chesley Bonestell in which Bonestell wrote, "the industry is pretty much shot now anyway" and Domela couldn't agree more.  Bonestell had now retired and Jan felt he had made the right decision to do so. Johanna Domela mentioned that ..."the late 50's and early 60's were a very strange time at Paramount, especially with their efficiency experts out of New York."

Paramount, as all studios, had always been extremely secretive about their special effects departments and had done all they could to deny the existence of trickery in their films.  As Matthew Yuricich stated in the book The Invisible Art - the Legends of Movie Matte Painting, "you could never give any interviews or tell anyone what went on.  All this spooky stuff was being done in there (the MGM matte dept).” Thus it was not at all uncommon for the studio heads to not really have a grasp on just how valuable such a department was when all of the work carried out tended to be shrouded in a veil of secrecy that even fellow studio employees knew little about.

Unknown film
From the summer of 1959 to the summer of 1960 Domela was one of many technicians that Paramount let go (temporarily) in an effort to cut costs (as did most Hollywood studios).  Departments were disbanded and key personnel only hired back on a film by film basis.  Not even Fulton was safe.  For one month of that year Domela was called back by the studio to do what he called "emergency work" - where he worked fast and furiously on a number of mattes to remedy some of the shoddy product that the studio was producing on bargain basement budgets.  By this time Jan had seriously hoped he could retire and not be called back to the studio.  As Johanna Domela Movassat stated to me, "it was a different time and studios were in crisis mode - and Fulton just added to the stress...optical effects specialist Paul K. Lerpae was a good friend and often ran interference with the front office and the bean counters to try and protect the effects department."  She remembers her father as having a very unhappy time of it during the Fulton years at the studio, so much so that he chose to site his matte studio away from the rest of the department in a small room on the inside of a huge soundstage where Bob Hope and Bing Crosby had filmed their "Road" movies. 
"It was always dark and gloomy until you got into his studio, where he had lots of fluorescent lights.  Surprisingly he liked fluorescent lights to work under saying that it showed up the mattes he was painting as the camera would see them."  She added,  "lots of photos for various shots were on a billboard, a desk filled with binders of stills from the research dept - Paramount's research dept was known for its thoroughness, in fact, I remember my father sending everyone in research a Xmas card and box of candy as thanks for all the            research they helped him with.”


Heston blue screened into painted Mount Sinai
Around 1962 Domela left Paramount for good because his contract was not renewed.  It left a bitter taste in Jan’s mouth that the studio he had been with for nearly 40 years had come to this and dumped him and his fellow effects artists.    The industry picked up to some extent with a number of big films being produced elsewhere and Jan was readily sought by the other studios to paint mattes on prestige films such as "THE AGONY AND THE ECSTASY"with Emil Kosa, jnr for Fox, "THE UNSINKABLE MOLLY BROWN" and the huge "GREATEST STORY EVER TOLD" for  J. MacMillan Johnson and Clarence Slifer at MGM among them.  Former 20th Century Fox effects head Ray Kellogg, himself a matte artist secured work for Jan on some Fox productions and later Linwood Dunn had a number of matte painting jobs for Jan at his small company Film Effects of Hollywood such as "HAWAII" and several television shows such as "THE MAN FROM UNCLE".  

 The big 70mm James A. Michener show "HAWAII" (1966) was Jan's last matte job - and one of which he was very proud.  His daughter Johanna described to me how elated he was returning home after the mattes had been run in the studio projection room to the head honchos - none of whom correctly picked out his painted sailing ships in the effects shots.  Johanna also happily recollects one of her visits to the MGM lot to spend the day with her dad.  Aside from the creaky old building ("..something that looked as if it were ready to fall down") which housed the matte department in the sixties her memories of Jan's MGM time as a freelancer are very happy.  The atmosphere was positive and harmonious and the effects supervisor (probably Joseph MacMillan Johnson) and the cameramen welcomed Jan and complimented him on his matte painting skills - especially on how fast he worked - quite unlike the Paramount days with Fulton where a veritable 'Cold War' existed.

Jan left the film industry permanently in 1968 and retired to enjoy a quiet life of plein air painting and even opened a small gallery in Santa Monica.  A retrospective of Jan's fine art was being planned to take place in Europe in 1973 when he suddenly passed away from a cerebral hemorrhage at the age of 79.  Jan, like so many of his colleagues in that entertainment medium, 'the cinema', delighted, thrilled and dazzled audiences the world over for nearly a half a century, quietly going about his stock and trade in the backroom of the special effects department contributing to the wonder and artistry that is 'the movies'.

(c) Peter Cook 2010 

             A tribute in pictures to the art 
                   of Jan Domela

Various incarnations of Jan's Paramount logo.
A wonderful and intricate matte shot from De Milles' 'THE CRUSADES" with extensive painting and several little areas of live action including fluttering flags, smoke, people and movement - a really good matte shot.

Another excellent Domela shot also from "THE CRUSADES" with most of the cathedral matted into a limited set on the Paramount soundstage.
Painted China from Lewis Milestone's film "THE GENERAL DIED AT DAWN"

Ernst Lubitsch's DESIGN FOR LIVING (1932)

Jan's stint with RKO in 1939 produced this wonderful shot for "GUNGA DIN"

An invisible matte shot from a mystery unknown film.

Again, totally flawless matte... but what's the film?

One of the many mattes Jan painted for Bob Hopes' "MONSIEUR BEAUCAIRE"
Jan's Technicolour old west from "WHISPERING SMITH"
An incomplete camera test of one of Jan's expansive paintings from "THE GREATEST STORY EVER TOLD" done during his happy year at MGM in the mid sixties.
Gary Cooper's 1939 version of "BEAU GESTE"
Mount Sinai from "THE TEN COMMANDMENTS" as painted by Jan with matted pyro effects and glow.

A magnificent wide view Domela matte, the most impressive in the DeMille epic.
According to Jan's daughter, the scale of "TEN COMMANDMENTS" took it's toll on Jan with such punishing deadlines and so many effects shots to complete - plus the constant bickering within the unit from Fulton as to when a matte seemed "ready to shoot", when often they weren't finished to Jan's standard.  This and the frequent overuse of filters when photographing his paintings left Jan feeling his efforts were being undermined.

Moses in poetic visual effect closing shot from the same film.

The Oscar celebration for the Paramount Visual Effects Unit upon winning for "THE TEN COMMANDMENTS" - John Fulton is front centre; on his right is optical man Paul Lerpae; to Fultons left is possibly Carole Beers or Ann Lord - rotoscope artist: at far left kneeling is miniatures man Ivyl Burks; next to Burks in black shirt sitting on couch is effects cinematographer Wallace Kelley; back row far right is process projection man Farciot Eduoart; standing next to Eduoart is matte painter Jan Domela; in middle with big smile is optical printer Carl Lerpae and in front of Carl is Dewey Wrigley jnr also of the optical department.

Hell hath no fury like that of the head of Paramount effects, John Fulton!
Expansive matte, one of the  1943 Oscar nominated visual effects in SO PROUDLY WE HAIL
Painted skyline with smoke elements from THIS GUN FOR HIRE  (1942)

Painted in ceiling atrium for the brilliant Billy Wilder film DOUBLE INDEMNITY  (1944)

Jan's Paramount mountain looks especially grand here in monochrome and VistaVision - as do the 19th Century etchings he made for the title sequence from THE MATCHMAKER (1957)

One of the painted mattes from George Pal's CONQUEST OF SPACE (1955)

Painted Cuba for the Michael Curtiz film  "WE'RE NO ANGELS"

The closing scene from "COUNTRY GIRL" with Domela cityscape.
A rare Paramount sci-fi picture, the Oscar nominated 1940 "DR CYCLOPS" with Domela's painted South America
Bing and Bob go on the road again in "ROAD TO RIO"

Colonial times from Cecil B.DeMille's "UNCONQUERED" nominated for an effects Oscar.
The English manor home that raises questions for Gary Cooper in the beautiful 1936 film PETER IBBETSEN

Ornate period interior as furnished invisibly by Jan for PETER IBBETSEN

A broad, sweeping shot from De Mille's THE CRUSADES involving miniature armies on a motorised treadmill in the distance, painted medieval city all projected onto dual process screens, with a tree hiding the join.

Bob Hope goes to sea in "THE GREAT LOVER"
Painted in rooftops and skyline from "CASANOVA'S BIG NIGHT" with Bob Hope.

Two of the four mattes Jan created on location for "LIVES OF A BENGAL LANCER"

One of the numerous excellent mattes in "THE NAKED JUNGLE"
Two of the several mattes painted by Jan for Hitchcock's "VERTIGO"
Matte composites from De Milles' "SAMSON AND DELILAH"

A striking view of turn of the century NY - from the Jerry Lewis-Dean Martin "PARDNERS"

The stages of a matte shot - from the Gary Cooper picture "PETER IBBETSEN"

Matte from 1942 effects Oscar winner "REAP THE WILD WIND"

Jan's Oscar winning matte work from "SPAWN OF THE NORTH"

Ernst Lubitschs' classic "TROUBLE IN PARADISE" matte painted effects shot.

A very nice shot from an unknown film.
Entire facade and archway painted by Jan for "THE EMPEROR WALTZ"

Austrian alpine village glass shot from "THE EMPEROR WALTZ"

Just a few of the dozens of matte paintings Jan did for "ROAD TO UTOPIA"

Some more from "ROAD TO UTOPIA" which is literally wall to wall Domela shots.
The awesome pullback shot from "THE GREATEST STORY EVER TOLD" from Jan's time at MGM in what was a very difficult composite for cameraman Clarence Slifer to achieve, complete with rotoscoped birds flying across the scene painted seperately frame by frame on a foreground glass positioned deliberately slightly out of focus to soften the image of the cartoon birds.  Brothers Matthew and Richard Yuricich also worked on this complex shot

A matte from "HER JUNGLE LOVE" with the lovely Dorothy Lamour. The film was actually in technicolour.

Another of Jan's brilliant mattes from "THE GREATEST STORY EVER TOLD" demonstrate his mastery of perspective.  The picture was nominated for best special visual effects in 1967 but to everyones disbelief lost out to the poor, yet far more profitable "THUNDERBALL"

This also from "GSET" regrettably was not used in the final edit of the film.
One of several shots Jan did for "THE UNSINKABLE MOLLY BROWN" at MGM.

From the same film, an elaborate tilt and pan matte composite.

Another of Jan's many "MOLLY BROWN" shots - live action just a small patch of dirt road on the MGM lot.
An untitled matte probably from the early 30's, and very effective it is too.

Slapstick chase heightened with matted cliff and canyon, from "THE PALEFACE"

Sadly yet another untitled matte which would fool even the most observant viewer.
The haunted castle from Bob Hopes' THE GHOST BREAKERS" which was remade with Jerry Lewis and Dean Martin with all of the mattes being recycled from this earlier picture.
W.C Fields comedy "POPPY" - practically everything in this shot is painted in.

One of the greatest comedies of all time - The Marx Bros. "DUCK SOUP"

The finale of Bing Crosby's "GOING MY WAY"

George Cukor's VistaVision western "HELLER IN PINK TIGHTS" with the same location shot used for both matte shots.
A matte painted composite from the 1951 western WARPATH.
One of two mattes Jan painted for amusing the 1957 Clark Gable-Doris Day comedy TEACHER'S PET

The classic painted in ceiling trick, common in the 30's and 40's - from PETER IBBETSEN.

A black and white test composite from "THE TEN COMMANDMENTS"

Combination painted building and doubled in fire footage - film unknown.

The Ice-Capades mirage sequence from "SON OF PALEFACE"

One of several epic, sweeping shots of St Peters that Jan did for Emil Kosa and Bill Abbott at 20th Century Fox for "THE AGONY AND THE ECSTACY" after he left Paramount and did freelance matte work for several studios for around five years..

Billy Wilder's charming comedy "SABRINA" with all of the back yard and beyond created by Jan's paintbrush.

Another iconic image from the George Pal classic "WAR OF THE WORLDS" which again picked up the Oscar for best special effects.

The township from "LAST TRAIN FROM GUN HILL" - all painted except for the arriving train and people.

John Sturges' "GUNFIGHT AT THE OK CORRAL" with mountain peaks and sky added.

Vintage DeMille - the Gary Cooper picture "THE PLAINSMAN"

Oscar winning Billy Wilder classic, "STALAG 17" with the title establishment furnished by Domela.

Fifties actioner "THUNDER AT THE BORDER" set in Aphganistan, but shot in Hollywood.

A shot often overlooked as a trick shot - Hitchcocks' "VERTIGO" with everything directly above the row of archways painted in by Jan Domela and composited by Irmin Roberts.

The wild west made even wilder with matte art - "THE VIRGINIAN"

From Cecil B.DeMilles' first colour picture "NORTHWEST MOUNTED POLICE"

Yep, you guessed it, another mystery film matte shot

One of the rare on screen credits Jan had.
I'm a pushover for castle mattes, and Jan's CONNECTICUTT YANKEE shots are great - and many.

The solar eclipse sequence from CONNECTICUTT YANKEE, with sky, upper stonework, wooden building all painted and supplemented with animated eclipse and moving mast on the ship.


  1. Excellent work Peter. Many thanks for that wonderful blog.
    The Domela´s site is impressive and inspiring.


  2. Just great... Thanks a lot for this amazing blog.

    love it,

  3. Yes, Jan was definitely one of Hollywood's unsung heroes of matte painting. As extensive as this blog bio appears, his catalogue of titles was massive, and there are so many more shots I just couldn't fit in here.

    Peter C

  4. Anyone interested in purchasing an original 1930's era
    matte painting, i have one.

  5. Hi Gary

    Do tell me more????

    Peter C

  6. Excellent! I was a student of Johanna's, and I was fortunate enough to hear all sorts of good stories and see some prints of his work. Thank you so much for putting this together.

  7. Hi Nico

    I've passed that on to Johanna.

    There still are lots more old images recently retrieved from old negatives and strips of 35mm film out takes that I hope to include here in due time. I add DVD grabs fairly frequently, so check it out from time to time.


  8. This is one of the most amazing sites I have ever seen. Thank you Sir, so much for this wonderful, rich beautiful material. I especially am interested in Jan's matte painting work for Ten Commandments. I have researched the making of Tencomm for over 30 years. I have a personal memorabilia tencomm collection that I've spent well over $30,000 in the past 30 years including 2 I.B. Tech 35mm prints. Your material here is quite impressive. Just when I feel I've covered it all, I'm continuously delighted when I find wonderful surprises such as your work here. Please do correspond with me more about Tencomm. My email address is My name is Steven - I'd be thrilled to hear from you Sir!

  9. Hi Steven

    Many thanks for your comments. Jan surely was one of the industry's unheralded workhorses who contributed to possibly thousands of effects shots throughout his very long career - though not many people really ever knew about him.

    I've written to you as per your suggestion and hope that we may be of assistance to one another.

    There will be another substantial collection of Jan Domela material posted soon, possibly as a second stand alone article... so watch this space (or this blog as the case may be).


  10. Hello.
    I will ask you to give my email to Johanna, we have the same ancestor, Jacob Nieuwenhuis (1777-1857).
    Johanne is a descendant of his first marriage and I am descended from his second marriage.
    Charlotte Kjeldsen, Denmark

  11. and look at

  12. Thanks so much for all this great info in one place. (Jan was my grandfather. My father is Jon Domela, Jan Domela's first son.)

    Laura Domela

  13. Hi Laura

    I appreciate your comments very much. None of this would have been possible without the very generous input of Johanna. I still have much more material which i couldn't really fit into an already overcrowded article.

    You might be interested to know that Jan's article still ranks very highly in the number of readers (about no.8 out of all my many blogs).

    If you or your father have any material on Jan that you'd be happy to share I'm very keen to hear from you.

    All the best


  14. This comment has been removed by the author.

  15. Hi Peter! I happened to just recently stumble upon your blog and think it is just fantastic (this is Johann's daughter by the way). I was searching for something and came across all this great information about my grandfather. As i'm sure you know, my mom has boxes of pictures that need to be scanned, so its nice to see a few of them up on the internet for all to learn about. This is a fabulous compilation, thanks so much for this post!! :)

  16. Hi there

    I'm so pleased that you liked my article on Jan - even if it is a little cluttered - due as much to my enthusiasm more than anything else.


  17. Hello

    I thought the last images from The Ten Commandments were Arnold Friberg's work... no?
    Anyway, congratulations for your work, it´s really impressive!

    Elsa Mendes, Portugal

  18. My father, Irmin E. Roberts, Sr. worked at Paramount and was a friend of Jan's. We have several of Jan's paintings in our family. The one photo is indeed of my father with Jan - they did ski together. If you wish to contact us, email address is: This is a FABULOUS blog.....

  19. My husband, Irmin E. Roberts, Jr.'s father, Irmin E. Roberts was a good friend of Jan's. They worked together at Paramount, and socialized. We have several of Jan's paintings, as does Irmin's sister, Capitola and we all treasure them. We also have photos of the times when Irmin worked at Paramount; we have some photos of Cuzco, Peru when he worked on Legend of the Incas. Irmin's niece, Gerel Santiago is collecting information on Irmin Roberts - including all the movies he worked on. We still are unsure as to whether or not Irmin received an Oscar for Spawn of the North; he was always so unassuming and modest. There were letters congratulating him which I believe we gave to Gerel. I left a comment on behalf of Irmin so either email address is fine should you wish to contact us. I couldn't believe all the information you have on Jan - fabulous work!! Thank you

    1. Hi there

      How wonderful it is to have you contact me (I'll email you separately). I'm so happy you found this blog and have enjoyed the few facts I have managed to assemble on Irmin.

      I'll be in touch right away.

      Kind regards


  20. My aunt referred me to this site and it has helped me understand more what my grandfather (Irmin Roberts) did. He is also in the picture with the group photo of the effects team for The Ten Commandments (he is left of the woman seated). I have a scrap book of 68 photos that show the before and after (the set location) and then the painted part merged together. I have attempted to look at the above photos to determine the film they are from to no avail. My mother, (Irmin's) daughter also has a large ocean picture painted by Domela in her living room. She remembers Mr. Domela and says he and her dad were good friends and skiing buddies. We are also starting the slow process of transferring Irmin's slide photos to the computer. This will hopefully bring forth some of his location shots. There are more than 10,000 so this is slow going. I am excited to learn more about my grandfather. You can contact me at : Gerel Santiago

    1. Great to hear from you Gerel, You will have had my email by now. It's so exciting for me when another photographic effects veteran is able to be celebrated and recognised.


  21. Hi Pete.
    Was that shot in Emperor Waltz really a painting? I mean the shot with the statue outside the doorway. Cheers, Alan