Tuesday 5 October 2010

Disney's THE LOVE BUG - matte painting in top gear!

I've always had a soft spot for this film ever since seeing it on it's first release, which in itself was something of a compromise with my older cousin who didn't want to see such a kiddie film and much preferred to see THE BATTLE OF BRITAIN which happened to be showing just across the street!  What to do?  My Auntie decided that the only outcome which would suit both defiant kids was for the three of us to catch the 11.00am screening of THE LOVE BUG at the magnificent 2200 seater Civic theatre, and afterward to cross the road to see BATTLE OF BRITAIN at the 2.00pm session at the almost as magnificent St James theatre, Auckland.  
Both films were great, though I recall having bad dreams for a week over the bit in the war film where the pilot gets shot and we witness his flying goggles filling up with blood.


THE LOVE BUG  (1969) was a huge hit and spawned around four sequels plus a pseudo new millenium re-make featuring a third rate washed up junkie in the lead role!  So, here today we have the first of the series and I've also added a few of the more interesting matte shots from the immediate sequel HERBIE RIDES AGAIN (1975).  The special effects work in THE LOVE BUG has always enchanted me, and every time I see the film (probably over 20 viewings) I'm constantly dazzled with the many beautiful matte paintings, not to mention the many complex mechanical gags that feature throughout and the hundreds (350 to be precise) sodium vapour travelling matte composites - something of an all time record for the studio.

Anyone familiar with my blogs will know how I feel about the work of Peter Ellenshaw.  The master matte painter and production designer was semi-retired for a period from the late sixties and much of the seventies  so that he could pursue his fine art career.  Throughout this period to a large extent  matte painting duties were handled by studio matte department head Alan Maley with long time departmental associates Jim Fetherolf and Constantine Ganakes on staff.  Ellenshaw did come back to work on THE LOVE BUG  as conceptual designer of all of the effects shots and, as matte painter to work through the sheer number of matte effects required.

Bob Broughton with Ub Iwerks
Disney had always been near pathologically gung ho on shooting huge percentages of their sixties and seventies films on soundstages and integrating background action in post production via their refined yellow screen process  -though I've never quite understood why?  Pictures like the later ISLAND AT THE TOP OF THE WORLD (1974) is nothing but sodium and painted matte shots! THE LOVE BUG, as mentioned above, contained a record number of sodium shots, not only for the auto racing background plates but also practically every scene which takes place outdoors involving dialogue.  This was so common in Disney's comedies and one can just gasp at the volume of shots thrown at Eustace Lycett and Bob Broughton on each production.  In an interview Lycett said "..by using travelling mattes we were able to avoid, almost entirely, taking the principal actors on location.  We had two scenes with Dean Jones in San Francisco and a couple with the principals at the Paramount ranch, otherwise all of the first unit photography was done all right here on the lot".  When asked about the shooting of the plates, Lycett commented ..."There were so many backgrounds required that I personally went along on each location to supervise and record the background data on each shot so that we could correctly match the foreground action when we shot here on the sodium stage. We also set up a closed circuit TV system on the stage so that we could run the backgrounds on monitors and cue the actors and crew while shooting.  This picture ended up with around 350 travelling matte shots and close to 50 painted matte shots, which was a record for us at the time".
Matte effects staff at left- top: Constantine 'Deno' Ganakes and Eustace Lycett.  middle:  Alan Maley and Jim Fetherolf  bottom: Peter Ellenshaw

The many mechanical effects were the domain of Robert A. Mattey, Danny Lee and Howard Jensen.  Mattey was a seasoned veteran from 20'000 LEAGUES UNDER THE SEA whereby his giant squid still stands the test of time in engineering and puppeteering marvels (thankfully re-shot a second time in a simulated studio storm to really sell the effect).  Danny Lee too was a career Disney effects man, having worked on shows with Mattey such as ABSENT MINDED PROFESSOR and BLACKBEARDS GHOST right through to THE BLACK HOLE to name just a few.  Howard Jensen was one of A.D Flowers chief mechanical effects men providing fire and explosion effects for THE TOWERING INFERNO.  Finally, before leaping headfirst into these wonderful matte shots, and as a lifelong music score fan,  I have to mention the dizzy, head spinning comedic musical score by George Bruns that will stick in your brain for years after seeing the film......... music really does maketh the matte here!

a mid seventies re-issue quad poster.

The major establishing shot of Herbie's ex firehouse abode as depicted in this fantastic Alan maley matte painting.

Alan Maley's original full frame matte painting.

I'm not sure if this is the same painting printed down for an evening effect or a separate painting altogether?

The central effects showcase:  Dean Jones's frantic moonlit search through the moonlit streets of San Francisco for his beloved 'Herbie'.  This remains my all time favourite Disney effects sequence as it's totally wall to wall glass shots all the way, with an utterly beautiful, dreamlike quality present in every matte painting.  Peter Ellenshaw concieved these mattes and his pre-production art in itself is glorious.

An amazingly romanticised viewpoint of the already very nice city (as I recall it from 30 years ago).

As with most of this sequence, the mattes themselves constitute almost full frame artwork with minimal live action plate.

More from the same sequence that is so palpably 'Ellenshaw' in feel and texture.

A full painting with actor added at right, with even the reflected light in the puddles being Ellenshaw's brushwork.

I'm pretty sure this shot is a full painting with just Dean Jones and nearby trash can added via sodium matte.

I find the work in this sequence absolutely marvellous, and I'm hopeful that the original painted glasses still survive.

Ellenshaw was never afraid to fill an entire frame with artwork, extending right around into the foreground stonework, bushes and even the 'El Dorado' banner across the top.  The only live action being the people, cars and tents.

Herbie takes the wrong turn!  Exterior gold mine painted hills and once inside a number of complex split screens to show many racing cars tearing through the tunnels and across overhead gantries as astonished miners look on.

Herbie's downhill run from the mine - all paint except Herbie.

Herbie near the edge!  The valley floor and distant mountains all painted, with the car's dust trail passing through matte.

Once again, virtually all painted from just above the umbrellas.

One of Eustace Lycett's 350 sodium backing matte composites.

A telling before and after matte shot - with Herbie's escapades achieveing an added sense of danger via matte art.

One of three sequential  frames from the giant pullback conclusion offering a good look at the very loose impressionistic brushwork employed in rendering the city of San Francisico in very agreeably poetic terms.

Further out - the same large full painting with lovely application of sunlight touching the central buildings.

The final frame before 'The End' title card.

Below are a few of the many mattes from HERBIE RIDES AGAIN (1974), many of which appeared to be minor additions to beachside cliffs, bits of mountains and skyscraper additions.  I've just included a few of the shots which appeal to me.

Not a bad little yarn, with Helen hayes and Keenan Wynn stealing the show
Herbie's firehouse facing demolition - an extensive matte painting by Alan Maley.

Some of the trick effects and stunts involving travelling matte techniques and by the look of it, cell animation.

Another wide painting of the SF Bay and most of the Firehouse.


  1. Hi Pete,

    thanks for that wonderful "Love Bug" tribute.
    Great work, as usual.

    Just a short comment on that firehouse establishing shot. The day and night view are defenitely two separate paintings. There are so many small differences, it has to be two paintings. Just have a look at the telephone pole or the changes in the firehouse tower. Not to mention the shadow on the front of the building.

    Best wishes,

  2. Hi Thomas

    Thanks for that... I hadn't noticed.
    Don't you, as a professional artist, just love those wonderful night time Frisco street matteshots - such glorious art.


  3. Top Drawer on both posts, especially the Love Bug. The "moonlit streets of San Francisco" has always been one of my favorite scenes of all time.

  4. Hi Pete,
    First off, thanks for visiting my blog and putting a link to it from this one!
    Secondly, thanks for putting this amazing blog together. So much great stuff. I'm still looking through it, but I wanted to say hi.

    BTW, Thomas is correct, the night version of the Firehouse is a separate painting. In fact, I spent years studying that very painting when I worked in the Disney Matte Department, because it was one of the few from The Love Bug to survive... and it's friggin' beautiful! An entire master's course in matte painting. Somehow it was still there in the department when I started working there in '88. I would pull it out of the racks almost every day to stare at it and try to figure out how he did it. What always struck me about that painting in particular was just how loose it was...especially as you get away from the firehouse. Amazing control of focus.

    It's been 15 years since I've seen it. Thanks for putting it up!

  5. Hi Paul

    "Gidday mate" (as an honorary Kiwi I'm sure you're quite used to that greeting!) ...

    It is indeed an honour to have you look at my site. Thank you so much for your comments about Alan's great painting. Can you recall just how much of the old matte art still survives from the Disney glory days? So much art elsewhere went the way of dumpsters as I'm sure you know.

    Your own hand made matte work always left my jaw on the floor, and the sensational examples on your blog are 'pure gold'. I'll be doing a DICK TRACY tribute sometime and will feature much of your sensational work.

    I hope you come back for a visit (to the blog and to Middle Earth. A job truly well done mate!


  6. Loved this page. The first Love Bug movie enchanted me as a child and the amazing matte work certainly deserves recognition.

    Great job

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  8. Man! Thanks for all this information. I love to much this film since I was kid. Few days ago, I bought the Disney DVD 4 films collection of Herbie. My "thank you very much" from your pal from Brazil.

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  11. that's one reason I like and prefer watching those "classic" Disney movies. Those Matte Painter were true artists.