Monday, 13 September 2010

Albert Whitlock - a scrapbook of memorable matte moments

GHOST STORY unused matte
No two ways about it, when it boils down to it, the most recognised name in cinematic matte wizardry would have to be the late, great Albert Whitlock.  No other name associated with matte painting has had near the impact that Whitlock has had to generations of film viewers.  Although many of the names I have written on here previously were masters of the art form in their day, the fact that the public never really knew anything about their deliberately concealed trickery was thanks to overly protective studio bosses who often went all out to deny that the wonders up on that silver screen were anything other than great insightful film making.  Incidentally, in the early years those same megalomaniac tyrants did their utmost to try to prevent the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences from establishing a category for special effects.  True story!

Al painting on THE STING
It was probably Peter Ellenshaw who first recieved notoriety and public exposure for the ability to make something out of nothing with his fine matte art, thanks largely to Walt Disney who, unlike other studio chiefs actually was very proud of Ellenshaw and moreso what he was able to achieve with his brushes.  Disney was happy to promote Peter's services for films such as TREASURE ISLAND and other early live action shows - even going so far as to film a short featurette on the inner workings of Peter's matte department as part of the publicity machine for the 1952 ROBIN HOOD  AND HIS MERRIE MEN (which I would dearly love to see).
One of Al's  STAR TREK mattes
It's now commonly known that when Whitlock first took over the matte department at Universal around 1962 his first 'official' act was to remove the sign upon the door which the outgoing Russ Lawsen had had there for decades: 'Keep Out - Secret Work Inside'.  As storied matte painter Matthew Yuricich told Craig Barron "Albert Whitlock was the first one he knew of who finally broke the thing wide open and told people how it was done".  Surely a sackable offence back in the old MGM department where Yuricich had toiled for many years under the ultra protective eccentric Warren Newcombe.

Another STAR TREK painting
One of the reasons that Whitlock became a virtual household name was due to his theory that there really wasn't any 'magic' associated with his line of work - in fact he once wrote that "any enterprising young amateur could do what he did so long as he had a steady camera and some painting ability".

Al in front of a Syd Dutton painting
So, what follows is by no means an exhaustive photo tribute of Whitlock's career - but more a selection of shots Al produced that for various reasons I like.  I was only going to put up around 40 or 50 but as is my nature, my deep interest in the subject matter got the better of me (and my blog storage capacity no doubt) and that number has more than doubled.  There are so many frames I'd like to include what follows is in no particular order, rather the alphabetised order more or less that my computer arranged the selected images intended for upload.

I feel an equal amount of tribute is overdue for the two men who made Al's art look so good over the decades at Universal - long time matte cinematographer Ross Hoffman (whom I discuss in other blogs here such as the John P. Fulton blog and the Russell Lawson blog) who worked at the studio from the early 1920's up until 1974.  

Bill Taylor replaced Hoffman in 1975 and was cameraman and compositor for hundreds of Al's most memorable visual effects.
The matte artist is only as good as his cinematographer, and Al had the best.

I'd love to hear from any reader or interested party out there who has images from some of Al's impossible to see movie of the week matte work from such as the Emmy nominated VANISHED,  PORTRAIT OF A MAN CALLED JOHN and HOUND OF THE BASKERVILLES.                       Here's hoping.   :)

I hope you enjoy this selection from the vast career of one of visual effects true greats........

An original negative matte from one of Al's last Disney projects, TEN WHO DARED (1961) and one of the rare ones in which he received sole photographic effects credit without being under Peter Ellenshaw's supervision.  Whereas Disney was tried and true to the dupe method by that stage it was Whitlock who requested they revert back to the latent image original negative technique for this film due to issues with the time required for creating dupes.  Walt himself was said to be blown away by the visual clarity of the finished mattes
Matte from Al's Universal swansong, the 1985 miniseries A.D (Addis Domini) which saw Emmys awarded to Whitlock and to Syd Dutton, Bill Taylor, Lynn Ledgerwood and Al's son Mark Whitlock.              *Image thanks to Thomas Thiemeyer
One of Al's magnificent paintings from A.D.

The majestic matte which opens AIRPORT 77 - accompanied by a wonderfully complimentary opening score by John Cacavas - as I've said before "music maketh the matte" I saw this painting at Universal in the late 70's on the studio tour.
Robert Wise's 1971 masterpiece THE ANDROMEDA STRAIN with all Whitlock excepting the sea bottom right.

Another frame from THE ANDROMEDA STRAIN with four of the seven levels painted in later by Whitlock.

One of the many matte shots Al contributed to Batjac Productions - John Wayne's own company, with this being from the fun western BIG JAKE.  Al's painted an awful lot of oil derricks in his career.

A wonderfully invisible matte of the valley from BIG JAKE as Chris Mitchum does his biker thing.
Naturally everyone knows this one....

For those who didn't know it was from THE BIRDS, you are kindly asked to leave this blog immediately and never to return!
Al's original matte painting for the 'birds eye view' set piece from THE BIRDS prior to the insertion of the live action plate shot on the backlot and further addition of laboriously rotoscoped gulls that malevolently drop into frame.

THE BLUES BROTHERS (1980) - which may have been painted by Syd Dutton?

Possibly Al's second most recognisable effects shot - from BOUND FOR GLORY (1976).  It's just on screen for 5 seconds but what a lasting impression it makes.  Discs of coloured cotton, a matte painted town and alot of camera manipulation.

Another great Duke Wayne western, the 1972 actioner CAHILL, US MARSHALL, and one of my favourite Whitlock shots of the lot - a wonderful wintery set up for the pre-title action that follows.

From the same film -  one of Whitlock's trademark atmospheric electrical storms.

The 1977 thriller THE CAR - which aint bad by the way.  Canyon, mountains and sunrise all Whitlock.

A frame from the dynamite (literally) finale from THE CAR with exemplary optical work by Bill Taylor and complex roto work by Susan Rodgers - a fantastic, nightmarish vision of the Devil himself, carefully articulated and chillingly brought to life in an unforgettable sequence that'll make your skin crawl.  Bill Taylor kindly described to me in detail just how this wonderful optical was achieved, with, in essence flame thrower elements against Mol smoke with the facial features  (as such) constructed as a black cloth covered wire armature, articulated so that the mouth could move, then set alight and photographed  at 120 fps through a distortion glass with much optical manipulation.  The effect was never finished as they just ran out of time.  Earlier incarnations were more subtle - perhaps too subtle as preview audiences didn't 'get it'.  Bill joked to me that he felt the next logical step might have been to sound a car horn on the soundtrack and have a flashing title that would read 'Big Demon Face' appear on the screen.  Personally I think it's a fantastic effect, and like it even more now that Bill has elaborated upon it.

The vertical VistaVision tilt up matte composite from the prologue of CAT PEOPLE (1982) which utilised the very same devices and gags as Al used a few years earlier on BOUND FOR GLORY - that is rotating cotton wool discs and alot of intricate optical manipulation to overlap and blend the elements.  Apologies for 'cut and paste' - not my forte.

More from the prologue from CAT PEOPLE - again as I've said before, music truly maketh the matte, and in this instance it's Giorgio Moroder's ethereal electronic score - Terrific.
CAT PEOPLE - everything created in the matte department.

A rare early Whitlock credit, the 1949 British picture CHRISTOPHER COLUMBUS.  Image courtesy of Domingo Lizcano

One of Al's many television credits which have covered everything from Irwin Allen's TIME TUNNEL, THE VIRGINIAN and through to numerous shows such as Dennis Weaver's McCLOUD in the early 70's.  This matte from an episode of  Peter Falk's COLOMBO - the episode being SHORT FUSE (1972)                      * Image courtesy of Domingo Lizcano.

Richard Attenborough's bio-pic CHAPLIN features a number of excellent matte shots by Syd Dutton and Albert Whitlock.  This shot consists of a multiplane set up involving 2 separate glass paintings - one of the cityscape and the nearest glass having a photo blow up of an ocean liner that was considerably altered with matte art, with this foreground glass moved frame by frame from left to right.  Additional passes through the matte camera inserted smoke plumes etc.
The famous $360'000 shot from Mike Nichol's CATCH 22 (1970) with Whitlock's painted Italian town and partial landscape.  The infamous 'Hungry Joe' airplane severing was also Whitlock's work with much rotoscoping of the severed lower body falling into the sea.

One of the glorious opening sequence of mattes from COLOSSUS - THE FORBIN PROJECT (1969) which so impressed the Universal executives, and the director (and me too).  Wonderful animated light gags and that whole wall of computer banks coming on line with dynamite sound effects editing helps to sell this fantastic shot. Matte cameraman  at that time was Ross Hoffman who had worked at the studio since around 1932 . Al's other matte cameraman Bill Taylor told me "The ultimate cel overlay matte shot is probably in "Colossus, the Forbin Project" where the giant computer powers up.  There were many large cel overlays of indicator lights which were painstakingly exposed onto the painting with short shutter dissolves.  As the lights come on progressively in depth, they are timed to match the real lights coming up in the foreground set.  The shot required up to twenty passes through the matte camera.All on original negative!"
Extensive painted scenery and the impregnable mountain fortress of COLOSSUS across the Whitlock valley.

Another incredible COLOSSUS matte with everything painted except the two people.  *special thanks to my friend and fellow Whitlock enthusiast Thomas Thiemeyer for these wonderful shot break downs.

Another favourite shot of mine - the Graumans Chinese segment from the over rated DAY OF THE LOCUST (1974).

"Ah, Mr Whitlock...we meet again" - well not exactly as this was the only James Bond film Al worked on - the 1971 DIAMONDS ARE FOREVER.  All the shots of The Whyte House skyscraper were painted additions to a much smaller existing structure.  Production designer Ken Adam was thrilled with this hoodwink that nobody ever noticed.

Another fave of mine - also from DIAMONDS ARE FOREVER (one of the best 007 films thinks I).  Here we can see the original plate and the finished comp with Al's painting and elaborate interactive lighting effects. Ever since seeing this on it's first release I've loved these shots, more so due to the terrific complimentary John Barry score that accompanies these shots ('007 and Counting' on the soundtrack album). Wonderful stuff.
The Frank Langella depiction of DRACULA (1979) was initially a Les Bowie matte job but Les died in pre-production and Whitlock took over.  The pair had worked together 25 years earlier at Rank  - Pinewood in Britain.
More production value by Whitlock as seen in DRACULA, with not as much detail as you'd think - more a case of the effect of light upon a supposed object that the drawing out of the object itself.
I have in incurable penchant for haunted house-castle matte shots, thus this beauty from DRACULA

Again, DRACULA - now I like this alot because this harks back to the old style of delineating a  soft matte line right across a set or locale without the benefit of obvious hard edges to snuggle up to, and needing such carefull blending  of the eventual painted element with the plate.  The old school painters such as Jack Cosgrove, Paul Detlefsen, Jan Domela and Albert Maxwell Simpson were absolute geniuses at this sort of thing, and no matter how awkward the joining edge was set up those guys could blend it perfectly - and without photoshop either.  A lost talent.  In this example Al has beautifully dealt with a quite radical cut off point which runs from lower left across through the trees and upward on the right - just sparing the actors.  Now as rudimentary as the final shot may appear, I so admire the skills here.  I saw all these DRACULA before and afters on a reel with Syd Dutton back in the 80's and they blew me away.

Now my friend Thomas Thiemeyer will never speak to me again for this, but I thought DUNE was a load of old bollocks!  I've tried a few times to appreciate it but oh my's pure magic for insomniacs.   The mattes were great, and this, Al's sole full painting contribution is really nice.                                                    *Hi-Rez image courtesy of Thomas Thiemeyer
I did a whole essay on EARTHQUAKE just the other day.... check it out here.
One of Al's least visible tricks - an entire fake neighbourhood, from EARTHQUAKE
Al's magnificent original EARTHQUAKE matte now on display at Universal Theme Park in  Florida

A bizzare re-use of the famous EARTHQUAKE matte - this time from MISSION GALACTICA THE CYLON ATTACK (1981) with spaceships added optically.

EXORCIST 2 - THE HERETIC (1977) was something of a failure on almost all counts, excepting that is the terrific mattes of Whitlock and the amazing macro locust footage from Oxford Scientific Films in Britain I believe, which was very well optically integrated by Frank Van Der Veer.

Also from EXORCIST 2 - a painting that I believe matte cinematographer Bill Taylor now owns.
Now this is great - the director of EXORCIST 2, John Boorman was done, but realised he still needed a linking shot or two of the airplane making it's way through the storm, so he turned to Albert and asked for advice.  In an interview, Whitlock mentioned that this was seat of the pants pure ingenuity. " The plane was painted on glass, the clouds were cotton wool and the moon was a lamp"  he said"It was nothing more than simple table top photography... we did it in an hour, we did it for nothing, and the finished effect was totally believable".
Whitlock's painted canyon for the apparently dangerous stunt in the tv movie EVIL ROY SLADE (1972)

Now this is one of those mystery matte films, but one I believe myself is Al's work.  THE FALL OF THE HOUSE OF USHER (1960) was one of many Roger Corman 'Poe' films, with the effects usually contracted out to Lawrence Butler and Donald Glouner, who on occasion utilised Al's services as matte artist on films such as THE PIT AND THE PENDULUM. Glouners son, Dennis was one of Al's vital crew members for many years as matte cameraman.

Hitchcock's 1971 masterpiece FRENZY - a marvelously witty black comedy that is so politically incorrect it would never see the light of day nowadays (sadly) - and one of the director's best.  This amazing night view of London's Covent Garden is one of Whitlock's best ever matte shots.  The incredible and rare painting shown here is testament to Al's ability and the sense of perspective is phenomenal to my mind.                              *image courtesy of Thomas Thiemeyer.

Also from FRENZY another dynamite matte painted effect - and one that fooled me for years (like the one above) whereby I gave up in despair trying to find Al's work in this film, until I read about this shot!  Sensational matte work which only lasts about 3 seconds, if that on screen.

Close up detail from the above matte shot, with even a couple of painted prison guards in the background. Whitlock's handling of diminishing perspective is so darned precise it really is a work of art!   *Image courtesy of Thomas Thiemeyer

Barbara Streisand's FUNNY FACE (1975) with Whitlock painted boardwalk and Coney Island park.
Ignore the German title for THE STING - it isn't... it's actually the Norman Jewison 1969 film GAILY, GAILY - also known as CHICAGO, CHICAGO.  This is one of at least three almost identical matte set ups that Whitlock did with an overhead El-Train, with the other being a television movie called THE GANGSTER CHRONICLES in the eighties.

One of Albert's last Disney credits, GREYFRIAR'S BOBBY (1960) with several painted castles and fictional town.

Whitlock's full painting of turn of the century Edinburgh with a tiny slot of live action from GREYFRIAR'S BOBBY
A matte painting from GREYSTOKE, one of several prepared and not included in the final cut unfortunately.

Depending upon the version you watch, this appears at the very end or at the start of GREYSTOKE - THE LEGEND OF TARZAN, LORD OF THE APES  (1983).  A masterpiece of photographic effects trickery no matter which way you slice it.
The 1977 odd little misfire, HEARTBEEPS was ill concieved and apparently hacked down by the studio in an attempt to make it more funny, a misjudgement if ever there was one, though it did feature some utterly jaw dropping matte work such as the opening wide pan shot above. Albert's matte cinematographer Bill Taylor described this shot to me..."The Heartbeeps shot is one of the few made with our "Super Lens", originally created for Dune but never used on it.  The super lens let us put a 2:1 squeeze on the long dimension of the VistaVision frame (3 to 1 aspect ratio) to give us more real estate for optical pans.  The optical quality of the lens was OK at small apertures; it was a prototype and could have used another iteration in the design.   The spinning whirligig was the only miniature element.  The heatwaves were built into the O-Neg shot (too broad, I think).  The foreground chap who goes right over the painting is Mark Whitlock, shot on blue screen".

A look at the pre-production painting and Whitlock's magnificent glass matte from the same film.

Another of the many mattes Whitlock and Dutton did for HEARTBEEPS.  Al's sense of backlight always astounds me.
The 1972 tv movie HEC RAMSEY- THE CENTURY TURNS with a familiar house transformed by Whitlock matte art.

The Institute for the Very, Very Nervous - from Mel Brooks' HIGH ANXIETY (1977)

Oscar winning photographic effects from THE HINDENBERG (1975) with this, a matte shot of the inner skeleton of the behemoth airship being my favourite and usually neglected by effects aficienados.

Despite this image being from an incorrect 1.85:1 edition of what should be a 2.35:1 Scope transfer, the master's work is evident and worthy of his second Oscar.
Again, the dvd transfer is incorrectly framed, but otherwise a majestic matte shot.
Al setting up one of his HISTORY OF THE WORLD matte comps with Dennis Glouner and Mike Moramarco.

A film literally packed with fabulous mattework, the 1981 not terribly funny Mel Brooks film HISTORY OF THE WORLD PART ONE is essential viewing for all interested in the artform of oils on glass.  This, one of the less noticeable mattes is indeed a winner in my book.  Actually it was hard picking a couple of mattes for this blog as there are so many and they all look sensational.  These too I was lucky enough to see as before and after clips on Syd Dutton's matte reel many years ago.
A sensational, utterly deceptive trick shot which is in fact a mass of very loose brushwork and dabbed colour - a Whitlock specialty, from HISTORY OF THE WORLD PART ONE  (there never was a 'part two' by the way).
An early (1952) British Whitlock shot from the Ken Annakin comedy HOTEL SAHARA

Although not 100% certain, it's quite likely, seeing as he was in the Rank matte department at that time that Al painted this superb estate as seen in the 1952 version of THE IMPORTANCE OF BEING ERNEST.  The painting extends from just above the door and window to the left of it and covers not only the house, solarium and trees but also the front lawn and flower pot at right.  Only the horse, buggy and a tiny area immediately behind them is the actual set.  Lovely shot.

Staggering HISTORY OF WORLD epic scale fabrication of times long gone, complete with moving water and sail gags.
San Francisco painting from one of Al's numerous tv shows - Raymond Burr's series IRONSIDE from the early seventies.

Although I can in no way substantiate that this matte is one of his, I'm certain that Whitlock painted on Disney's JOHNNY TREMAIN in 1957 - an opinion shared by Al's cameraman, Bill Taylor.  Peter Ellenshaw was production designer alone on this film as far as I can verify, thus implying that Peter's matte staff, Jim Fetherolf and Al  painted on this film.  In various instances where Peter discusses JOHNNY TREMAIN he always mentions just the art direction side of it and never to my knowledge spoke of  participation in any of the actual matte work.  Similarly on POLLYANNA Peter only ever acknowledged his individual matte shots - those of the tree sequence and never referred to the work not done by him.  Such was the unusual relationship between Ellenshaw and Whitlock.  At least Pete didn't try to take credit for other's paintings.  According to Bill Taylor Al often mentioned how tiny the actual sets were in comparison with the huge mattes added on later.

Another Disney picture that Albert painted on, THE GREAT LOCOMOTIVE CHASE (1956) although as with the previous film I don't know exactly which shots he painted, so this one's a guess.
Steve Martin's highly amusing 1982 film THE LONELY GUY featured this lovely opening pan across caveman landscape

One of several unidentified mattes I have from Whitlock shows - my guess is an early 70's tv show.

Lucille Ball's 1974 musical MAME with this amazing ballroom which constitutes virtually the entire frame with just a tiny slot of live action.  The film was one of the many outside jobs that Albert did during his Universal tenure, in this case for Warner Bros.  It's recorded that a top WB exec referred to Whitlock as "Universal's secret weapon."

The dazzling Statue of Liberty scene from MAME, which if I'm not mistaken wasn't included in the original release prints.
Totally photo realistic painted rustic homestead from Hitchcock's weakest ever film, MARNIE (1964).  The only piece of live action is the small area in which Sean Connery and Tippi Hedren are walking - the rest is pure Whitlock.

Subtle matte shot from MARNIE which doesn't call attention to itself and is more Al than you'd think.
Al posing with one of his MASADA (aka THE ANTAGONISTS) matte paintings in 1982

Rome according to Whitlock - from the miniseries MASADA (1981)
Whitlock and Ellenshaw together again???  Well, sort of.  This 1988 sci fi show, MILLENNIUM was supervised by Harrison Ellenshaw with Albert and Syd Dutton painting as part of the Illusion Arts sub-contract deal.

Part of a dramatic tilt down of the power source - from MILLENNIUM - an Illusion Arts contract.
The majestic MAN WHO WOULD BE KING shot.  For alot more on the effects shots in this classic film take a look at my blog 'The men who painted The Man Who Would Be King'.  In this frame the roto around the horn is clearly visible and in the film shimmers somewhat as he moves across into the painted area.

Probably my favourite film as a kid - I must have seen this one 30 times, thus it has a special place for me, hence the matte.
A painted manor home facade from the 1974 Rock Hudson series McMILLAN AND WIFE

One of Al's last big matte jobs was the Joe Dante NEVER ENDING STORY PART 2 (1988) where he shared painting duties with long time protege Syd Dutton.  As best as I can verify, this shot was a Whitlock shot.

An urgent, last minute rush job to save Stanley Kramer's depression era oil drilling comedy, OKLAHOMA CRUDE (1973)

Steve McQueen's sanctuary from torment - the 'nice' island from PAPILLON (1973)

Roger Corman's adaptation on Edgar Allen Poe - PIT AND THE PENDULUM  (1961) with exquisite reveal by Albert.

A somewhat more exaggerated view from the same film, with Albert uncredited again.
An example of Whitlock's brilliant Disney matte work - from POLLYANNA (1960) as revealed in this before and after shot.

The following shot from POLLYANNA features extensive matte art composited with a major tilt up.  This may have been Whitlock, but also could have been Jim Fetherolf or Constantine Ganakes - both of whom painted as a team on this film.  I'm certain Peter Ellenshaw didn't paint it as in the dvd doco he specifically mentions doing only the tree matte shots  central to the plot later in the film.

Now, I'd never pick this, but based on Jim Danforth's comments he remembered watching Whitlock paint subtle enhancements such as foliage and a little architectural adjustments to the house and street in just such a shot for the 1967 James Coburn spoof THE PRESIDENT'S ANALYST.

Also from THE PRESIDENT'S ANALYST is this extremely wide pan across painted city, a descending helicopter and tghe occupants walking up toward the building upper right.  Whitlock wasn't credited on this and it's only due to Jim Danforth that I'd ever know Albert participated at all.
The vastly inadeqate Peter Sellers incarnation of the timeless classic THE PRISONER OF ZENDA (1979) featured many great mattes including this terrific opening tilt up matte composite with practically everything painted and with near to nil actual set/location.  The film isn't anywhere near as good as the mattes might suggest, in fact, as the late great Elvis Presley would have said of this film said.... "ta da ta da ta...return to Zenda".

The best matte from PRISONER OF ZENDA and it looked so impressive on the big cinema screen too!
A couple of opposing mood mattes from the not too bad PSYCHO II (1982)  with the upper shot comprising of the familiar backlot house facade and fabulous painted skies with the figure flawlessly matted against the cloudscape.  The lower frame is the same Universal backlot set with an entirely fabricated pastoral background painted in.

The little seen but excellent tv movie THE QUESTOR TAPES (1974) starring Mike Farrell.
Rare, early Whitlock painted set extension from Gainsborough Studios  QUARTET (1948)

Richard Burton's noisy and convoluted war picture RAID ON ROMMELL (1971) with a great many effects shots, most of which Universal lifted out of the earlier (and better) TOBRUK.  Some of the mattes were optically flopped to look new.

One of many matte shots Whitlock provided over the years for action director Andrew V.McLaglen, with this lovely shot of a sheep station from the James Stewart film  THE RARE BREED  (1966).  On the dvd commentary for the film  CAHILL, director McLaglen spoke very kindly of his relationship with Albert over the years.

The thoroughly abysmal Schwarzennegger turkey RED SONYA only had shots such as this to make it bearable.  Whitlock and Dutton also augmented some of the marvellous in camera foreground miniatures of maestro Emilio Ruiz with moody painted skies.

George Pal's ROBINSON CRUSOE ON MARS (1964) used Al's uncredited services under the all encompassing Butler-Glouner visual effects supplier to prepare several spectacular mattes of Mars, with this one being my favourite.
Two of a number of painted mattes Albert did at Pinewood in England around 1952 for the film THE SEEKERS.  Of great interest to New Zealander's like myself as it's all shot here - with some enhancements and lots of painted sailing ships from Al,  and was a great sensation here back in the day.

The rollicking pirate yarn known in civilised parts of the world as THE SCARLET BUCCANEER (1976), and in lesser corners of the globe as SWASHBUCKLER.  Almost all painted, town, mountains, sky.....  Great stuff.
Michael Winner's THE SENTINEL (1977) - a multi star horror vehicle if ever there was one, and one who's mattes constantly alluded me, until recently.  Based on the description by matte cameraman Bill Taylor and supported by Winner's audio commentary I am proud to say this is the Whitlock shot.  Basically an invisible trick whereby a real building (on right) was photographed elsewhere in NYC and flawlessly matted into an existing location, thus replacing the former apartment house which featured in most of the film.  Whitlock also augmented the shot with some subtle painting to tie it all together, and according to Taylor, careful calculations were required to get the precise angle, perspective and camera set up on his part to make sure that the shots fitted together.

Andrew V.McLaglens' SHENNENDOAH (1965) was a Civil War film and had several memorable Whitlock matte shots such as this, of Doug McClure riding to the homestead.

The riverboat scene from SHENNENDOAH - most of which is painted.  Jim Danforth who worked for a short time in Whitlock's department in the mid sixties mentioned at the VES tribute to Albert an occasion whereby Al one day pulled out one of the glass paintings from this particular film and spent a time correcting aspects of it, even though the film had been finished and released a year earlier!  Albert always felt that something didn't quite click with the particular painting and wasn't satisfied until he'd put it right.  True story!

One more from SHENNENDOAH showing post Civil War ransacking.  Practically the entire shot is a cleverly integrated Whitlock trick.  Close examination suggests that the matte line is a  soft semi-circular arc that appears to cut right through the middle of the cart at the right and up over the heads of James Stewart and pals on horseback - the only actual live element in the whole shot, with practically everything else on glass, even half of the upturned wagon.

The astounding mattes that Albert painted and animated with moving ocean, clouds and live action people on the dock - from SHIP OF FOOLS (1966).  Every depiction of the ship in this film is Whitlock magic and extremely convincing.  The ship board sequences rely heavily extremely effective upon large screen process work, supervised by the best in the business, Farciot Eduoart - some of which seemed to employ split screen shots of real sea and painted horizon and skies.

Also from SHIP OF FOOLS.  What's interesting is that all of the mattes were painted in colour for this b/w film. Oscar winning effects man and matte historian and author Craig Barron told me that these are still in storage at Universal and in surprisingly excellent conditionGee, I'd love to see those original glasses some day.

Steve Austin takes the plunge - THE SIX MILLION DOLLAR MAN tv series matte shot from the mid seventies.
Some terrific before and after matte art and detail from the Burt Reynolds oddity that was SKULLDUGGERY (1969)

Whitlock's conclusion of the 1972 Kurt Vonnegut translation to the big screen SLAUGHTERHOUSE FIVE.
One of a number of paintings Whitlock supplied uncredited for the original series of STAR TREK in the mid sixties as a sub contractor to Linwood Dunn and Joe Westheimer.  This wonderful image always cropped up in the photo montage end credits of the show and always entranced me as a kid in the sixties.
A rare look at one of Albert's original masonite painted mattes from an episode of STAR TREK.

More from STAR TREK.  Whitlock worked on around eight episodes of the Paramount show.
The glorious morning El-Train shot from THE STING shown above some 15 years after the fact and being cared for by Al.

The final composite from THE STING with separately shot stop motion miniature train element matted within the painting itself.  Much kudos due to Al's long time cameraman and Universal effects icon Roswell Hoffman.

THE STING - Chicago cityscape that is entirely the product of Whitlock's brush, with only the immediate foreground slice of roadway being actual location, shot in Long Beach, California.  Top of this blog page you'll see a photo of Whitlock at work on this particular glass shot.
Mel Brook's SPACEBALLS had numerous wonderful Syd Dutton mattes, with this delightful parody of PLANET OF THE APES being Albert's sole matte painting on the film.
The first of two uncredited mattes for the Doris Day comedy THE THRILL OF IT ALL  (1963)

Al's second matte set extension from THE THRILL OF IT ALL.

Among the endless list of Universal pictures of the sixties was this amiable Sandra Dee comedy THAT FUNNY FEELING (1965) with a couple of nice painted simulations of New York added to the backlot street set.

A night shot by Albert from THAT FUNNY FEELING.  Of note, this show has some terrific, though brief stop motion by Jim Danforth of a multi-car pile up on an LA freeway which is a fascinating story in itself, with combined miniature freeway, traffic and glass paintings to tie together the original negative composite carried out by Danforth while he was still at Project Unlimited, though not many people know that.
Whitlock's first official Universal job, though not one with an on screen credit as yet for THAT TOUCH OF MINK (1962) not counting his aborted initial lay out work on that big SPARTACUS Ellenshaw painting.

Cary Grant and Doris Day high up on Whitlock's iron girders from THAT TOUCH OF MINK

John Carpenter's THE THING (1982) with the classic Whitlock touch of sun coming out and gently moving across the frame.  Pure artistry with Al's handling of the snow and ice a work of great beauty.

An odd one here; Albert painting for a 20th Century Fox tv series.  Irwin Allen's THE TIME TUNNEL made in the mid sixties at a studio with a matte department run by Emil Kosa jnr??
Mind boggling trickery by Whitlock  - from Hitchcock's mediocre TORN CURTAIN (1966)

The original Whitlock fine art from above, and showing some signs of wear and cracking of paint layers unfortunately.

Whitlock's first Oscar nomination, for Gene Corman's TOBRUK (1967).  Lots of good matte shots, good blue screen and terrific Howard Anderson miniature pyrotechnics.  It lost by the way to the dismally inadequate DOCTOR DOOLITTLE.
Jaws tend to hit the floor when the reality of this amazing Whitlock shot from TOPAZ is made clear.  A full painting with the tiniest sliver of live action of an approaching car.  Even the painted water has a 'sparkle' upon it.  Simply staggering!

Whitlock always said that 'Hitch' was the greatest director he'd ever had the privilege of working with.  This shot from TOPAZ is yet another masterpiece of trickery which not for a moment gives the game away. I've always felt that Hitchcock was one of cinemas' greatest minds at understanding and putting into practical use visual media from camera set ups, cutting and special photographic effects.  Take a look at SABOTEUR and FOREIGN CORRESPONDENT.

The Hitchcock-Whitlock duet of masters of their respective trades continues with the phenomenal 'virtual' museum walk through from the not terribly good TORN CURTAIN.  Half a dozen wall to wall matte comps follow one another in one of Albert's most  impressive strokes of genius and daring.  Utterly and completely among Whitlock's top achievements ever.

Until I found out courtesy of Craig Barron I'd never for a moment even remotely considered this shot to be a fraud (I feel so cheated)... Not even a matte per se, but a full frame painting with no live action element whatsoever.  Words fail me!  One funny story I read somewhere, and so typically Hitchcock was in directing star and staunch method actor Paul Newman in a simple scene whereby Newman wasn't able to get into the 'zone' whereby he asked Hitch "what's my motivation for picking up the telephone that particular way".  Hitch's response as to Newman's character motivation -"your paycheck"... Hitch.... ya gotta love him!

John Wayne's THE TRAIN ROBBERS (1973) with this fabulous storm rolling in.  The clouds are all moving in perfect perspective, there are lightning bolts and rain added.    Boy did this look great on the big screen in CinemaScope!

The morning after the storm - a beautiful and extensive matte painting also from THE TRAIN ROBBERS.

A rare example of Whitlock getting screen credit for early UK matte work at Rank.  This tilt down matte composite is from the film TRIO (1950) directed by Ken Annakin who had a soft spot for extensive matte work in so many of his films such as SWORD AND THE ROSE also with Whitlock assisting Ellenshaw.                               * Image courtesy of Domingo Lizcano

Kirk Douglas and John Wayne risk life and limb above Whitlock's painted abyss - from THE WAR WAGON (1968)

Charlton Heston viking show THE WARLORD featured several subtle scenic extensions to broaden the drama.

Another western for director Andrew V.McLaglen - THE WAY WEST (1967) had great work in it and was the first time I've seen Al credited as Albert J.Whitlock.

Two consequetive frames from THE WAY WEST with the hugely impressive approaching thunder storm with nice animated elements.  I'm ceratin Al picked up his ability with skies from Peter Ellenshaw -  the master of cloud art.

A bit of a mystery this Whitlock painting that was put up for auction a while back.  Syd Dutton thought it could be from W.C FIELDS AND ME (1976) though having seen the similar shot from that film recently I'd say no.  Dutton characterised the numerous Whitlock painted views over the years looking down New York streets as "an Al specialty...lots of dots and dashes and wonderful compositional highlights".
THE WIZ - a very odd choice of film for the brilliant hard hitting drama director Sidney Lumet, but fairly interesting nonetheless.  The film features some of Albert's best work in my opinion
Also from THE WIZ (1978) an original negative composite, as indeed most of Al's were.

The show stopping money shot from THE WIZ with jaw dropping optical compositing by Bill Taylor to depict the rising sun over the painted NYC turn into the 'big' apple.  I recall this took something like 30 passes through the matte camera and some further 8 passes (for memory) through the printer to tie this all together. A masterpiece of visual effects.
While at Disney, Whitlock worked on several tv series such as DAVY CROCKET, DANIEL BOONE and this one, ZORRO.

Two of Al's shots from the ZORRO series - with the left one from the episode ZORRO'S ROMANCE and the right frame from PRESENTING SENOR ZORRO - both from the late fifties.                 *Images courtesy of Domingo Lizcano
Well friends, that's about all for this blog, even though I have many more great Whitlock magical moments to share. I might throw in a few more shots at some stage I'm always afraid of running out of bandwidth or bytes or whatever the hell these damned blogs are fuelled on.



  1. Would you know which episode of Zorro that 1st cliff hopping matte is from ?

    1. Zorro's Ride Into Terror
      Season 1 Ep 08

  2. Sorry, I can't recall - and my early filing systems were poor so alot of my older frames are just lumped in as 'Whitlock' or 'MGM' or 'RKO' etc. I'm far more organised nowadays.

    By the way, I've just this minute added a number of mattes to this Whitlock blog, and changed a couple to better quality ones if you want to take another look.


  3. Did you happen to photograph the Airport matte when you saw it - if so can you post it.

  4. No, this was part of the Universal Studios tour on an effects stage and as such it was packed with people and difficult to shoot. I did takes shots of the EQ and STING paintings at one point but with much inexperience at the time, and waaaaaay too slow slide film (25asa) these never turned out.

  5. I've added a number of frames here but for some unknown technical reason the new additions refuse to 'open' when clicked on. Does anyone out there know about these blogger issues and can assist?


  6. WOW, what an incredible post! Thanks!

    (Here's a link to a tribute to Whitlock with several of his colleagues and associates speaking)

  7. Oops:
    Here's the link:

  8. Hi Ivan

    Yeah thanks, that's been around for some years and I'm glad it's still available... a really great tribute orchestrated by Craig Barron - a modern era effects man who deeply values the old traditions.


  9. Love the site! What a fantastic tribute to the world of Matte Paintings from one of the greats. One that shot from War Wagon, thst's actually Robert Walker Jr. with John Wayne.

  10. Excellent work Pete, this is just magnificient effort on your part. For a person, who is not much in favor of modern day CGI, this collection from the golden age of special effects seems like manna. Would love to see more of this.
    Keep up the good work, bro! You've got an admirer over here!

  11. The painting of the (rather phallic)Ivory Tower from NEVERENDING STORY PART 2 was not done by Albert but by Syd Dutton. Of course Albert went to Munich to supervise and plan the mattes with the director with whom he had some arguments as I remember. He also was around at Illusion Arts and supported Dutton and Bill Taylor but as far as I know he didn't do the paintings himself, maybe a little bit of painting here and there.
    We planned to invite Albert over for a second time to Germany to work on a comedy (by Otto Waalkes) but the production company sadly declined and preferred to work with a cheaper German studio. This would have been his final achievement.

    Rolf Giesen

  12. Hi Rolf

    Many thanks for those valuable details on Al's work. I do appreciate these fascinating insights which you were privy to as a friend of Albert. I do hope you'll share more snippets of matte history with us.


  13. I am delighted to do so, Peter.

    Albert was a youngster when he started in the film business in London.

    He watched two experts from Germany handle the Shuftan process: "One was a Nazi, the other one was not." They would make a big fuss and hide behind black velvet. But Albert found out that this process basically was quite simple. He remembered the technique and later suggested to do the effects for Disney's "Darby O'Gill and the Little People" a similar way. This, however, was his only creative input on that picture. He was reduced to help with a few mattes.

    He seemed to have known Percy Day but I cannot make sure if there ever has been a working relationship. I don't guess so. Albert would describe Day as pretty rough, just focused on his work. Albert would work for Les Bowie at Rank.

    His dear wife, June, the daughter of C. M. Woolf's chief editor, convinced him to go and try himself in the United States but there was no chance to enter the film industry. The family was prepared to return to Britain when Ellenshaw offered him to do the titles for "20000 Leagues under the Sea".

    He would stay as Ellenshaw's assistant for several years, with "Greyfriars Bobby" being his favorite, a job almost denied to him by the head of the matte department but obviously Disney personally had chosen him to go on location and would insist on that matter.
    Albert would feel the slight grudge that Ub Iwerks seemed to have against Walt Disney. When they worked on "The Birds" they had to ship the effects around Hollywood as Iwerks wouldn't finish the tough job himself (more than 400 effects shots).

    Albert said he could have had a lifetime position at Disney's as John Hench, whom they called the German Baron, related to him when he and Disney visited the set of Disneyland where Albert would do some painting.

    Disney would call him when he had left and try to convince him to return to Burbank, "But actually he didn't need me. He did it just for sentimental reasons because he liked me."

    When he renewed his association with Hitchcock (he was on some British pictures) Hitch wouldn't remember him but Albert mentioned some location in London and Hitchcock would agree that they had worked there.

    It was production manager George Golitzen, who had worked with him on "The Parent Trap" and was the brother of Universal's art department head Alexander Golitzen, who would ask him to come on board and join Universal City Studios.

    While he worked at Universal he would continue to freelance: for the Howard A. Anderson Company ("while the Old Man was still around"), for instance on "Jack the Giant Killer" (he mentioned the rainbow at the end of the movie) and for Butler-Glouner on AIP's Edgar Allan Poe productions. Glouner was no easy partner but Larry Butler, a no-nonsense guy himself, always treated Albert with respect and gave him a decent deal.

    For him the great master was Albert Bierstaedt whose paintings he would study, especially concerning the design of the "Lost World" plateau.

    Rolf Giesen

  14. Hi Rolf

    That 'essay' is very much appreciated... thank you so much. I'm intrigued by the age old question, 'did Al ever work with Pop Day'?? Various articles have opposing theories about that. Al often alluded in interviews to "my mentor in England" - though he never named him. Possibly British matte artist and former backing painter Albert Julion, or maybe Les Bowie - both Poppa Day painters? I asked Bill Taylor about this and all he knew was that much of Al's British career was a bit of a mystery to him, though he often spoke of a woman matte painter who ran the Rank department while he was there - presumably Joan Suttie. If you know the answer to that one I'd be very happy to hear it.

    Kind regards


  15. Hello Peter,

    As an errand boy at Gaumont British, a job he took to support his family, Albert ran into Conrad Veidt on "Jew Suss" and Boris Karloff on "The Ghoul" (who didn't give him a tip like the others).

    One single name he mentioned repeatedly: that of German-born art director Alfred Junge.

    Then there was a movie that dealt with the diamond fields in Kimberley. That must have been the 1937 version of "King Solomon's Mines". Junge was the art director. That movie might have made Albert aware of glass shots.

    I won't tell what he said about Percy Day because it has nothing to do with the craft of the matte artist. But from that remark I can tell for sure that he met Day although he might not have worked for him. They both worked on "Mine Own Executioner", in different capacities. Perhaps Albert was sent by the art department to visit Day's studio. But I have seen no photographic record of him working at Day's department, only from his days at Rank. By the way, he called Les Bowie his boss, not his mentor. Some interesting footnote about the relationship of Bowie and Whitlock you'll find in Jim Danforth's extraordinary "Dinosaurs, Dragons & Drama" (recommended reading).

    Concerning matte artists Albert particularly mentioned only Norman Dawn, Conrad Tritschler, Peter Ellenshaw and Russ Lawson.

    Rolf Giesen

  16. Hi Rolf

    Once again I'm indebted to you for these gems of VFX history. It's so vital that such information be shared among interested parties, as once we're gone it would otherwise be a big question mark.

    Yes, the Danforth ebook is terrific, and naturally the first chapter I went to was the Whitlock/Universal section, which as you state is very detailed and revealing. I was so surprised to learn that (among other things) Albert recommended Ray Caple as a good matte artist for Jim's WHEN DINO'S RULED EARTH.

    My latest blog has some of Al's work (though which shots I'm unsure) for Disney's JOHNNY TREMAIN which Bill Taylor confirmed Al had painted some big shots on.

    Thanks again for these memories - it's pure gold.



  17. Hello Peter,

    I wish I would have asked Albert more. We talked quite a bit.

    I know how he felt after Universal had cancelled the "Lost World" project in favor of "Howard the Duck": heartbroken, hurt. Once he said, "I am doing only seconds while Ray Harryhausen is the whole movie." Like many effects artists he had a deep knowledge of filmmaking. He wanted to keep the dinosaurs in the dark: hand puppets, paintings, eyes, stop motion (hopefully by Jim Danforth).

    His most complicated matte painting: a shot in "Colossus: The Forbin Project" made in 1969.

    "The Absent Minded Professor" (1961): He painted the clouds.

    He was proud to have used Norman Dawn's easel at Universal. But why was he so fond of Conrad Tritschler who had started as a scenic painter? Tritschler, most likely, had done more work at Universal than only "Dracula" (?) and "White Zombie" I guess.

    When they wanted to close Albert's department he would ask all over Hollywood but nobody wanted to take it over. So Syd Dutton and Bill Taylor founded "Illusion Arts" which lasted for a long time.

    Today, in India, they do digital matte paintings for $ 500 a piece.

    Rolf Giesen

  18. Hi Rolf

    Before visiting the wonderful Deutsch Film Museum in Berlin in 2008 (and as a fellow terrified of heights I froze in terror on those crazy steel mesh 'floors' 100 feet up!) I tried to contact you actually in a vague hope to get some sort of 'permission' to view the matte archive you have there, which includes several Whitlock glasses among others. The museum had the Harryhausen exhibition on at the time (great) though sadly the one and only matte on display at the time was Chris Evans' TITANIC painting.

    I asked Bill about whether any of Lawson's old mattes were stored at Universal, and he said none existed when he joined in 1974. Probably Al had a big clear out, as I know he redesigned the suit to suit his working methods. Like you Rolf, Bill is more than happy to answer my questions and has amazing technical knowledge and memory recall.

    Did you per chance ever manage to acquire any of Albert's paintings? If so, I'd be extremely enthusiastic to see any photos, especially of his brush work up close.

    'HOWARD THE DUCK' - now there's a classic.... the CITIZEN KANE of 'Duck' movies!!


  19. Dear Peter,

    Yes, while I was at Deutsche Kinemathek where (over 20 years) I built a collection of visual effects artifacts and related memorabilia, I was lucky enough to get some paintings from Albert. There are glasses from "Torn Curtain" (100% painted shot: East-Berlin museum), "Masada" (2 glasses) and "The History of the World Part 1" (Paris) as I recall. (Some paintings are pictured on their website: - Enter Archives - Sammlung Rolf Giesen) Another painting, the first Bodega Bay for "The Birds" (done in roughly 8 hours by using the big brush first), we left at Deutsches Filmmuseum Frankfurt/Main. Another great glass unfortunately broke when we tried to ship it in the 1980s. At the Kinemathek there are also paintings for both "NeverEnding Stories", Part 1 by Jim Danforth, Part 2 by Syd Dutton (supervised by Albert). However, these paintings are not on display which is a shame. The Kinemathek also has Albert's wonderful conceptual art for "The Lost World" project (inspired by Albert Bierstadt, 1830-1902). They certainly got some gems and these should be on display. But I have left the place since and currently build a new Museum of Animation, Comics and Games in Changchun, China.


  20. Hallo Rolf,

    thank you for your fascinating insights on Al's work.
    However, there's one small mistake on the website of Deutsche Kinemathek. The painting showing the Roman city in the background is not from "Masada" but from "A.D. - Anno Domini", a 5-part miniseries, that was filmed in 1985 under direction of Stuart Cooper.


  21. I think Al may have been my great Uncle. My father kept a plaster bulldog that he said was a prop given to him by an Uncle.

    My father was born in Camberwell, London. Does anyone know where Al was born?

  22. Hi John

    This is interesting. All I know is that Albert was born in London on September 15th 1915, though exactly where I don't know. I suppose there's a good chance of a family link.
    If you come across any further data I'd be interested to know more.



  23. awesome! It's true haven't seen you put much painting up here in a while, but really

    painters edmonton

    painting contractor edmonton

  24. Pete,

    You alluded to a shot that cost $360,000 on Catch-22, but I can't find any more information. Would you mind telling the tale?

  25. Hi Chris

    I can't really add much to that other than I took Al's quote straight out of an interview he did, I think for Starlog in 1982. All I can assume from that is that the production must have spent that much money just on the fleet of bombers all flying in formation and "blowing up water" before Al added his matte painting of the town and headland.


  26. What a great site, I have 2 of Al's full sized paintings. I love them !!

  27. What a great site, thanks for compiling his art, I have 2 full sized matte paintings of Al's and some from Sid. I love them.

  28. Hi Pam

    Thanks for the positive feedback. I'm EXTREMELY interested in learning more about the paintings you own, and would give my left kidney to see them - such is my passion. Please email me as I'd love to chat on this subject.


  29. The Sting shot was not done in Long Beach. It's the Santa Monica Pier. And the big building (Merry-Go-Round) is real, and is still there.

  30. I have in my possession an original matte painting from the movie earthquake. It was previously in the possession of a previous Hollywood museum curator. Thank you for your blog as it help me identify the origin and artist.

    1. I would be extremely interested to see that matte if you care to email me.


  31. It's amazing how Mr. Whitlock could imply a great amount of detail with lesser brushstrokes than usual. Today's CG artists should learn a thing or two from him.

    Thanks for the article(and the wonderful blog as well), Pete. :)