Thursday 3 March 2011

The Painters' Art - Mattes Up Close: part two

PETE'S NEWS:  While putting this blog together I'm saddened by the devastating earthquake which hit our second biggest city, Christchurch a little over a week ago on Feb 22.  This was the second serious quake to hit the southern city in six months, though unlike the very large September shake, this smaller (though shallow and more centralised) one has wrecked much of the city and the death toll is climbing by the day and at this moment is 162 with it expected to reach 250 plus, which for a small country is a very big loss!

My thoughts are with the people of that lovely city and I can't speak highly enough of our specialist disaster units and the international rescue teams, especially from our nearby cousin, Australia, who have rushed 'across the ditch' to lend a much needed and most graciously accepted hand.

Thanks guys - we may feel the need to maim each other mercilessly on the Rugby and Cricket fields but when the chips are down we're quick to lend support.  With the massive Aussie floods which had to be seen to be believed in recent weeks which wiped out areas the size of the entire country of Germany it seems that  the lands 'Down Under' are going through some rough times.

BLOG UPDATE:   So, on with the blog.  Although this is first and foremost a matte painting blog, I can't help but include some old school model shots from time to time as I really like 'em.  I have some great new additions here to be found on my War Films special effects blog beginning with some extraordinary miniature battle set pieces supervised by Eugene Lourie from the 1965 Warner Bros film BATTLE OF THE BULGE.  Extremely impressive sequences with very large scale model tanks in combat and wonderfully detailed miniature towns under attack.  Superb stuff for those who admire military model set ups.  Also on my War blog are some great frames from the miniature dam bursting climax of FORCE TEN FROM NAVARONE (1978) which were supervised and shot by veteran Bond effects cinematographer Robin Browne.  While on that, I've also added a great behind the scenes shot of the miniature set from the 1965 Frank Sinatra show NONE BUT THE BRAVE, orchestrated and shot by Japanese effects icon Eiji Tsuburaya.   

While on miniatures, I've added a couple of shots of Derek Meddings' superb model set ups from JOURNEY TO THE FAR SIDE OF THE SUN, which really should have garnered Derek an Oscar.  In fact I heard recently from Steve Begg that the Meddings film was submitted as a contender in 1969 but failed to make the grade even as a nominee by the misguided and incestuous visual fx panel, who, in their infinite wisdom gave the Oscar out to MAROONED - a most controversial decision indeed..... but don't get me started on bloody Oscar injustices so early in the blog!  Steve mentioned this as he recalled that during the  fx shoot on the 1992 film NEVER ENDING STORY II he observed Albert Whitlock stating to Meddings "you were robbed mate" - in reference to that 1969 AMPAS fiasco.

Other new material includes a post script added to my RKO blog showing veteran head of visual effects Linwood Dunn's Film Effects of Hollywood premises as well as Dunn and associate Cecil Love at work on WEST SIDE STORY.

On my Ray Caple tribute page there are several very nice black and white CinemaScope  (or 'megascope' if you want to be pedantic) mattes and model combo shots from the 1962 Hammer chiller NIGHTMARE.

Other add-ons include a wonderfully revealing behind the scenes look at one of the grand Walter Percy Day glass painted set enhancements to Abel Gance's  1927 silent epic NAPOLEON  and an exquisite before and after Day glass shot from LE BOSSU (1932) which can be found in my special blog on painted ceilings and set top-ups.  Also on that same blog article is a classic hanging miniature set extension from the 1934 Robert Donat swashbuckler, THE COUNT OF MONTE CRISTO from an unknown effects crew (maybe Ned Mann?).
I have heaps more, but will deal with those next blog as I'm literally snowed under with mattes at the moment, both from my own growing collection and materials donated by kindly souls - some of whom are mentioned below, though before I go, a thanks due to Don Shay for that illusive Cinefex no.7.  Much appreciated.


                                              part two

I have some acknowledgments here for several of the wonderful and rare images I have.  A big thanks once again to Dennis Lowe for seeking out and beautifully documenting the lost Doug Ferris paintings.  Thanks again too to my pal David and his son Nathan Stipes in Arizona for taking the time to dig out many of his old glasses from the garage and sending me high quality pictures.

A special thanks is also due to Harry Walton who, aside from being an amazingly versatile all round effects man, took time out to carefully photograph two glass paintings for this blog, including a delightful Jim Danforth piece.  

UK matte maestro Leigh Took again came to the party with jaw droppingly detailed pictures from his BATMAN mattes and others - many thanks Leigh, it's all so much appreciated.  Rick Stairstars has sent me preliminary images from his Selznick collection which makes my poor ole' heart skip a beat!  More from that collection to come (if you think  the '47 PORTRAIT OF JENNIE was light on mattes...think again!)
As usual I find that I seem to have much more material ready to go than a single (or two if you count part one) blog can handle comfortably, so it looks like there'll be a part three yet!


Now Paul Lasaine is a matte painter whose work I've always admired - from his evocative Disney films such as DICK TRACY and his mind boggling work in DAVE and WILD HEARTS CAN'T BE BROKEN (which I will demonstrate later) among many films he worked on through the late 80's up till the digital era.  The seriously under appreciated ALIEN III was a troubled production for sure and isn't near as bad as some commentators might suggest.  The show was a big one for Richard Edlund's BOSS films with both Paul Lasaine and Michelle Moen sharing painting duties.  
The matte I wish to highlight here is one of Paul's best - and as I understand it, the painting of which he's very proud, though not terribly happy with how his masterpiece of oil paint was integrated into the finished scene with overzealous use of colour filtration and so forth.  The painting, as evidenced here, is a beauty.

 This majestic work a glorious study in big scale industrial gadgetry dotting the alien landscape and I do love the muted colour schemes here, though in the finished film it's somewhat marred by bright orange hues added during the optical stage, shown at right.

Here are some nice detailed views from Paul's painting as well as some clips from the ALIEN III dvd special features whereby both Paul and Michelle go into some detail about their respective matte art contributions for the film.
Paul made huge contributions to Peter Jackson's LORD OF THE RINGS trilogy as visual effects art director, and his acrylic concept sketches are just terrific.

Stunning skies - the mark of a great matte artist.

Derek Meddings supervised the extensive effects work on the big budget 1989 Tim Burton feature BATMAN from his then newly established Meddings Magic Camera Co. SFX facility based at Shepperton Studios where a gaggle of matte painters (what is the correct grouping of premier matte talent?) slaved away on numerous shots.  Doug Ferris, Ray Caple, Jean-Pierre Trevor and Leigh Took shared painting duties, with perhaps the most impressive of all the set extensions belonging to Leigh, as demonstrated below.
The Elstree backlot plate as shot by Mark Gardiner with Leigh Took's stunning Gotham city painting added.

Until I recently acquired this original painting image from Leigh, I could never figure out where the matte line actually was.

Close detail of Leigh's brushwork from the upper right corner which to me is strongly suggestive of the meticulous draftsmanship evident in so much of the 1940's matte output from the Newcombe department at MGM.

The blend is so effective in this shot it would appear that Leigh has used a razor blade applied to the dried paint especially around street level to break up the demarcation line.  Whereas some artists would simply sweep across the painted edge with a single continuous soft edged matte line - and I'm thinking Whitlock or Ellenshaw here - the extent to which Took has overlapped small pieces of delicate architecture is really very interesting.

Beautifully drawn out, again very much old school effectiveness which once again is most revealing of Leigh's training under Cliff Culley and in my experience quite unusual for a younger 'new breed' of traditional matte painter.  I've looked closely at a significant number of Leigh's painted glasses and extraordinary amounts of detail seems to be second nature.

Among the many wonderful matte shots produced at Illusion Arts over the 25 plus years of the company's operation was this gothic Piranesi inspired tilt down shot painted by Syd Dutton for the toe curlingly listless television series BEAUTY AND THE BEAST from the late 80's, featuring the then unknown Ron Pearlman as 'Beauty'... nahhh, just kidding!

Detail from Syd Dutton's very much Whitlock inspired stonework.
A full retrospective on Illusion Arts is forthcoming.... stay tuned!

A screengrab illustrating the classic before and after snapshot from the recent excellent documentary on British cinematic illusionist Walter Percy Day, better known as 'Pop' Day, which may be viewed by going to Dennis Lowe's link at the top of my blog.  Naturally the film clips illustrated here are the 1947 Powell-Pressburger classic BLACK NARCISSUS.  Before readers get overly excited at the prospect of actually seeing some rare actual matte art from this film I must apologise, as the best I'm able to offer are some fairly detailed Blu Ray screen images.  But don't get too despondent.... I've got a genuine GWTW Cosgrove painting later in this very blog, and not even the boys who wrote The Invisible Art managed to pull one of those out of the proverbial hat!   ;)

I'm an absolute sucker for extreme perspective and vanishing points in matte art, and these dizzying birds eye views in BLACK NARCISSUS are as good as they get.
Detail from Day's matte painting technique and colour control, by way of a Blu Ray image. Not too bad as far as blow ups go from film imagery 65 years old.  Love the sheer simplicity of the whole piece.. it just works so beautifully.

Arguably one of the most famous matte shots, if not overall cinematic moments of all time.

A breakdown of the components from the famous bell ringer shot as shown above.

Detail from this matte.  Day was overall painter on this show with step son Peter Ellenshaw painting several of the shots including all of the views behind the main titles.  Some of  Ellenshaw's work from the film survives though I've no idea as to the whereabouts - if any - of Day's glass shots from this show, though I can verify that his wonderful aerial painting from HENRY V does still survive in a private collection in the UK.

A rare picture of father-son team, Percy and Tom Day atop a purpose built camera platform in the process of shooting the plate for the above matte composite.  Tom Day was specialist matte cinematographer for decades (unpaid!) under the somewhat tyrannical rule of Pop.  The third individual may be Ellenshaw, but I'm not sure.

More BLACK NARCISSUS detail from another 'Day Process shot', as he liked to call them.

Another of my attempts to showcase Day's brush style and colour control by way of the Blu Ray format.
Recently I was very thrilled to receive copies of a large number of old photographs of, mostly David Selznick - Jack Cosgrove matte art from the private collection of memorabilia dealer Rick Stairstars.  Among the fantastic pictures are all of the Oscar winning  PORTRAIT OF JENNIE mattes, some of the interior mattes from THE PARADINE CASE among others.  The collection are believed to mostly be of Selznick films, though many are hard to identify, such as this beautiful gothic mansion matte shown below.  If any readers are able to put a name to this I'd sure love to know.

The surviving matte painted on masonite (or 'hardboard' to non Americans) with a strip cut away fro the bottom for reasons unknown.  Possibly a Jack Cosgrove matte department painting, though at first I thought it could have been from Orson Welles' RKO picture THE MAGNIFICENT AMBERSONS - but on closer inspection, probably not.  A wonderful piece none the less.  Any clues??

Above - 3 panels of close up detail from the mysterious gothic house matte painting.
I did a whole blog a while back on this one - Blake Edwards' THE GREAT RACE (1965) but as I had very nice close detail taken by the current owner of the surviving painting, Jim Aupperle, I figured it's surely worth another glance.  Cliff Silsby and Leon Harris were two of the matte artists on this big effects show, and, as it was a Film Effects of Hollywood gig I'd put money on Albert Maxwell Simpson and maybe Howard Fisher being involved as well.  The mattes in this show are remarkably clean and of a very high quality.      Painting images courtesy of Jim Aupperle.

The black 'matte' area has been sawed off at some stage so this is all that remains of the artwork.
Detail from THE GREAT RACE matte.

Now the name Jim Danforth is one known to generations of visual effects fans - mostly as a stop motion animator - though Jim has always been more than that..... significantly more!

Jim's effects expertise extends to visual effects cinematography, writing, direction, miniatures and most impressively, matte painting.  So many shows over the years have had Jim's matte work - more often than not uncredited - with his catalogue of films stretching back as far as 1960 with THE TIME MACHINE.  I'd love to do a full on Danforth matte art blog one day but the material is extremely hard to come by in it's 'raw' form, which makes these examples true exceptions to study Jim's brush skills.

I'm very grateful to Jim's long time friend and former Cascade visual effects colleague, Harry Walton for these photographs especially taken for this blog.  Thank's Harry!   There's a little known Australian sex-comedy which came out in 1974 THE TRUE STORY OF ESKIMO NELL and while it's imminently forgettable I always remembered this one shot.  Now Jim has done alot on big films and never had a credit but this one was the opposite - a little Aussie film with a single matte painting did earn both Jim and effects cameraman  Bill Taylor a name credit!!

This painting was executed in oils on masonite in 1974 and was composited 'original negative' at Linwood Dunn's Film Effects of Hollywood by future Whitlock cinematographer Bill Taylor, who at the time was also busy with John Carpenter's DARK STAR and other films.   The masonite board is 33x40" with Jim's actual painting measuring 26x33".  The small brass inserts seen on the board were put there by Jim for registration of the painting.  The detailed images here are beautiful examples of fine art in it's own right, and I'm especially taken by the glistening snow and tiny sparkles on the icy fir trees... all of which is lost on the cinema screen of course... which is even more a valid argument for my 'close up' blog!

I could hardly let a blog go by without some sort of Whitlock example - and as it happens I have several Whitlock pieces to show off here, beginning with one of Al's mattes for a 1972 TV movie which I recall as being a fun show, HEC RAMSEY -THE CENTURY TURNS starring Richard Boone.  The matte I have here is one of many similar 'oil field' effects shots which Al had done over the years, especially in the 70's, with such films as OKLAHOMA CRUDE and BIG JAKE to name but two.

Everyone will be able to identify the famous backlot 'PSYCHO' house here, which for the purposes of the film was subtly modified by Whitlock and plonked slap bang into the oil fields of Oklahoma.

Whitlock's long time cameraman, pre Bill Taylor, was Roswell Hoffman.  I've written about Ross alot in older blogs especially in my John Fulton and David Horsley blogs.  Hoffman was a hugely talented optical cameraman and was with Universal from the early 30's up until 1974, having shot and composited thousands of mattes and opticals in his mammoth career.  I'd always wished Craig Barron had interviewed Hoffman for his book The Invisible Art - given the man's epic career.

The master!  Whitlock's oil fields are a textbook example of how to achieve so much with so little!

Loose, minimalist brush strokes that were Whitlock's key to success and cinematic longevity.

To this day I'm still staggered by just how much Al achieved in the audience's eyes by seemingly doing so little!  If ever there needed a concrete display of movie magic, then it's just got to be an image such as this.
The detail really only exists to a small extent in the foreground, which as Al learned long ago, was all the viewer needed.

Here is another of Leigh Took's matte paintings, this time from the 1995 film FIRST KNIGHT - another one of these multiple painter affairs, with Rocco Gioffre doing one emergency matte job while Doug Ferris handled other paintings.  The shot shown here is a sweeping vista, though unlike the Whitlock matte above, is extremely detailed and meticulous in preparation.  Different brush strokes for different brush folks, I guess.

Leigh's painting, before compositing of the live action component of approaching riders on horseback.

Foreground detail

Detailed area with Camelot and surrounding landscape.

Hitchcock and Whitlock go back a long ways - with the director's entire output from THE BIRDS onward featuring Albert as an staple in the creative process.  These images are from the directors' excellent , eye opening exercise in very dark humour,  FRENZY (1972) made in an error before that disease known as 'political correctness' had woven it's insidious way among us!  One of Hitch's best ever films.

A partial close view of Whitlock's amazing Covent Garden FRENZY full painting, which was so damned good it slipped by un noticed by virtually all, including this very correspondent.  I love the way Albert has worked the perspective to match the distortion inherent in the simulated wide angle vantage point

The sheer amount of paint involved in this overall  illusion is staggering, with virtually no live action to speak of aside from the tiny area of tarmac where Barry Foster walks across to the (painted) truck. A masterpiece of illusion.

Detailed area from the extreme right side which demonstrates Whitlock's incredibly effective, not to mention risky, interpretation of wide angle perspective distortion.  Staggering!

Detail from the lower left showing the entirely oil paint fabricated trucks and again an amazing wide angle skew.

Also from FRENZY, another mind boggling visual effects trick shot that left my jaw firmly on the proverbial floor...  the London prison interior that Albert created entirely in the matte department at Universal with oils, glass, the eye and hand of a true master, and an expert cameraman by his side.

Whitlock's original full sized glass painting showing considerably more detail than what would be seen once cropped down to 1.85:1 for theatrical showings and DVD.  Older TV editions and  VHS happily retained this entire image, uncropped.

To fully appreciate the 'magic', one must first see the components that make up that illusion.  Here is a partial set built on a stage at Universal - the set with black masking for latent image photography - Whitlock's painting - and finally the fully composited finished effect..... and what a glorious visual effect this is at that!

Partial detail - the prison ceiling and structural supports - much of which was lost in widescreen transfers later.

Again, the incredibly astute perspective painting.  Words fail me as to the brilliance of this trick shot!

Even the prison guards are pure fantasy!  Even these close views can be judged as masterpieces of the artform!

A surviving Cosgrove GWTW matte from a private collection
Now, anyone who knows my blog knows my love for Jack Cosgrove's matte work in the legendary 1939 Selznick epic, GONE WITH THE WIND.  I have a few examples here from three matte shots featured in the film, and although I have only one photo of an original and extremely rare Cosgrove painting from the film, I've tried to make do with, in the most part, blu-ray screen grabs to illustrate as best as I can.
I've blogged extensively in the past about GWTW and find the work here among my all time favourite of the technique, as executed by Jack Cosgrove, Albert Maxwell Simpson, Jack Shaw and Fitch Fulton.

Although purporting to be the original plate photography (at left) I've always had my doubts and see that image as a special paste up made for the documentary The Making of GWTW simply to illustrate the use of Selznick's front office building as a partial set in some of the shots - though I don't believe it was used for this matte.  The other two frames are genuine clips from the Cosgrove-Slifer effects reel.  Below are two close views from areas of Cosgrove's painting which in some way demonstrate the use of colour and degree of detail, which from my observations of these and some of his DUEL IN THE SUN original paintings, are quite broadly painted with surprisingly loose detail.  More on those later.

Possibly my number one GWTW matte, and one I strongly suspect to be the work of Fitch Fulton, based upon the spindly, skeletal tree branches seen everywhere - a feature seen in other Fulton matte shows such as MIGHTY JOE YOUNG as well as in some of his gallery art.  This shot is a virtual full painting with just a tiny sliver of actual pathway with actor integrated into the matte by cinematographer Clarence Slifer.

The frame and details below are wonderful examples of matte artist Fitch Fulton's skills.  This painting was executed as one of the many seen behind the long main title sequence, and was originally intended as a composite matte for an early romantic scene in the film.  The unused shot is shown at the very top of this blog.

Several close up images of Fitch Fulton's matte art from the title of GONE WITH THE WIND, with a particularly nice sky and in another picture wonderfully loose foreground weeds and earth.

In my last blog I included a matte from HARLEY DAVIDSON AND THE MARLBORO MAN of that wonderful freeway hoarding and smoggy LA cityscape as painted by Rocco Gioffre and composited by Rocco's usual cameraman Paul Curley.  Below is another matte from that same film, this time painted by Jesse Silver and composited by David Stipes.   I was always amazed that so many matte artists (5) and various high profile visual fx people were involved on this film?  
Jesse Silver is one of those matte artists who featured a fair bit in the 80's on such films as Disney's SOMETHING WICKED THIS WAY COMES (many of which never made the final cut) and was responsible for the major matte set piece in Shwarzennegger's TOTAL RECALL with the stunt jump to the gantry and the huge glass paneled wall matte painting.  That film was an effects Oscar winner.

Jesse Silver's glass painting up angle for the climactic HARLEY DAVIDSON action set piece.

Harry Walton is a name I first became aware of around 1977 when I used to watch the old stop motion dinosaur series LAND OF THE LOST where Harry was primary animator alongside Gene Warren jnr.   Harry was one of the staffers of  effects facility Cascade Pictures established in the sixties by veteran photo effects man Roy Seawright, with names such as Dennis Muren, David Stipes, David Allen, Pete Kleinow and Jim Danforth also joining the ranks. Harry did alot of great stop motion work while at ILM in the 80's among other projects and if my memory serves me correctly once said that he sure missed the days of armatures, lights, models, painted glasses and in camera trickery.

For the energetic Ronald Neame directed, Walter Matthau comedy thriller HOPSCOTCH (1979) the scenario required a sequence to take place in Washington DC.  The production decreed it more economical to shoot the scene in LA and supply the requisite Washington landmarks via simple matte painting, with Walton engaged to furnish this glass shot in addition to two other optical effects shots. 

Harry Walton painting the Capitol Dome and other distant buildings on glass placed in front of a rear projected process plate of the substitute location.

Harry described the squeezed aspect of the painting for this shot to me as thus;  "I composited the painting with rear projection using my RKO matte projector. The movie was shot with anamorphic lenses. I requested a squeezed anamorphic plate from production because flat spherical lenses were sharper than anamorphic projection lenses. I rear projected the squeezed plate, painted squeezed and re-photographed the composite with a spherical Nikon lens on my Mitchell camera.   Jim Danforth showed me how to paint the geometry with a proper 2:1 squeeze using a graphic plotting chart. Yes it was a bit difficult working like this but the alternative would not have yielded a satisfactory result. It took me about a week to do this DC shot. There were 2 other paintings that I did for this movie but they were very minimal. They were 2 cuts looking out to the ocean of debris and smoke from a plane crash. These took about 2 days each".

With regards to the squeezed architecture Harry commented as thus  "I obtained several 8"x10" photos of the Washington D.C. Capitol building, rented an anamorphic lens for my Mitchell camera and photographed the pictures on 35mm film. I then made frame blow ups which gave me squeezed prints for more reference. This was for a quick visual reference but the graph method was more accurate".  I like this glass shot.  It perfectly illustrates the 'invisible visual effect' - a deceptively simple trick which completely pulls the wool over the collective eyes of the audience, saves the production a bundle and is really one of those little special effects that doesn't call attention to itself.

Detail from Harry's painting technique, painted, as explained above with a deliberate, carefully plotted squeeze for later 'unsqueezing' via the traditional scope projection lens.  I don't know exactly how many anamorphic films had their mattes painted in this fashion, but I can name a few examples - Matthew Yuricich, Emil Kosa and Lee LeBlanc would do some MGM and Fox shows such as THE ROBE (1954) and BEN HUR (1959) in this fashion, namely because of difficulty in the focal range of the early enormous CinemaScope lenses at the time.  Jim Danforth painted his earth prologue matte painting for John Carpenter's THE THING (1982) in this squeezed aspect as well.

Detail of foliage - only enough is painted to 'sell' the effect and no more.

Harry's DC painting as it would appear if it were 'unsqueezed'

I have so much material on Peter Ellenshaw I just don't know where to start.  MARY POPPINS (1964) is as good a place as any, with this beautiful opening tilt down matte shot where we start on Mary, up on a cloud, and then proceed down with Edwardian London passing by, culminating in a slow push in across rooftops and onto Bert dancing a jig on a street corner.

Detail of the unpainted portion above the cloud for the introduction of the rear process projected element of Julie Andrews.  I'm an enormous admirer of Ellenshaw the matte artist as well as the gallery artist, and I never tire of admiring Peter's skies and his almost casual brushwork that always appears so effortless in it's spontanaity.

Ellenshaw applies finishing touches.

Peter instills such a magical quality in his painting, with this close view of the bottom of the matte awash in a smoky layer.  The light grey patch in the upper right corner is a second process screen, used for the element of the Dick Van Dyke character, Bert, dancing on the street corner.

I have a number of paintings produced by British matte artist Doug Ferris which were recently uncovered in a workshop storeroom next to the former Percy Day matte department at Shepperton.  The example I've chosen here is from the 1994 feature PRINCESS CARABOO with Phoebe Cates and Jim Broadbent.
Doug worked here with long time associate, effects cameraman John Grant to create city with an entire harbour filled with tall masted ships.

The original Doug Ferris painting with evidence of much thought having gone into the drawing aspect beforehand.

Close detail of ships and town as per the brush and palette of Ferris.
Further background detail revealed.
An alternate night time take.

Every time I browse through my archives I see great fx shots that I want to include - though of course I can't include all of this stuff and have to be picky for the sake of space, time and bandwidth, or whatever they measure blog space with.  This matte shot is another Albert Whitlock shot, this time from one of his independent non Universal films, ROBINSON CRUSOE ON MARS made in 1964 by Paramount.  Throughout his Universal career Al would take on numerous outside jobs and was often in demand.  In the sixties Al would paint mattes for, among others, - Butler-Glouner Films  - an independent Hollywood visual effects house run by former long time Columbia fx head Lawrence W.Butler and effects cameraman Donald Glouner on films such as THE PIT AND THE PENDULUM  and I strongly suspect, though can't confirm, THE DEVIL AT 4 O'CLOCK and others.  Whitlock was never credited on any of these shows that I know of.
Although strictly fanciful, here's a nice close up from one of Al's mattes from ROBINSON CRUSOE ON MARS

Live action plate and final Ellenshaw matte.
Back again now to Peter Ellenshaw which I suppose is only fitting as both he and Al had such intertwining careers and private lives.  I've never ever seen an image of any of Ellenshaw's QUO VADIS paintings, so the best I can do here is to again utilise the superb BluRay image of Peter's money shot of ancient Rome. 

As I've said previously, this 1950 epic should have at least been nominated in the visual effects category, if not taking home the award for it's beautiful effects work.  A curious affair this, with (excellent) models and physical effects being handled by the US studio MGM under Arnold Gillespie and Donald Jahraus, with the photographic effects side of things totally under the hand of Tom Howard who ran the UK MGM-Elstree visual effects unit, with Ellenshaw as an underpaid sub-contractor, despite assurances of his receiving screen credit and a decent pre-agreed (!)  salary package.... but that's another story.   I had intended to show beautiful close ups from Peter's SPARTACUS matte, but ran out of space, so next blog you can be swept away by that masterpiece.

Medium close detail of Ellenshaw's  staggering vista of Rome.

Exquisite sense of light and shadow is evident in this Ellenshaw matte of near photographic quality in this surprisingly  high resolution close view from the overall sweeping matte, this is one phenomenal painting I'd love to see one day

Newcombe shots, as they were branded, have always held a sort of aura over me.  In Hollywood's heyday the MGM matte was as good as it got, both in sheer technical draftsmanship and as a grand narrative tool which opened up even the most modest of scenarios.
This fine example of  one such virtuoso performance from Warren Newcombe's matte department comes from the 1949 Busby Berkley musical TAKE ME OUT TO THE BALL GAME.  As usual the actual artist responsible isn't known, but among those painting in the MGM effects unit around that time were Howard Fisher, Louis Litchtenfield, Joe Duncan Gleason, Hernando Villa and Henri Hillinick among others.  Matte dept. DOP Mark Davis was also an accomplished matte artist  in addition to being an absolute maestro behind the effects camera apparently.

Although the movie and matte were in colour, the best quality detail pictures I have are only black and white unfortunately, but the impressive detailing is still well observed.  The final shot was optically f'lopped' if you look closely. Quite often the Newcombe department would have added movement to just such a matte via cut out slot gags and so forth, but this painting doesn't bear any evidence of such tricks and for all intents and purposes is a pure painting with any suggestion of 'movement' the result of vivid sound editing of a roaring crowd and a quick cut.  That's movie making folks!

The crowd is represented in terms of tone and splashes of light.

Matthew Yuricich had a very busy career, with barely a screen credit until 1976 with LOGAN'S RUN.  These glass paintings are a few examples of Matt's work from the late eighties original television miniseries "V" which were carried out at the studios of David Stipes Productions, with David as matte cameraman.  The shots were original negative composites, though unfortunately the final comp images themselves have yet to turn up.   It's often difficult to guage the actual size of glass mattes so David had his son Nathan pose here so as to lend a sense of scale to the paintings.

Finally, I've always been so impressed and completely inspired with the matte art of Mark Sullivan and I have quite a number of terrific glass shots by Mark from his various films I'd like to show, such as the classic KILLER KLOWNS FROM OUTER SPACE (a secret passion of mine) and so many more.  Today however I'm concentrating on another of Mark's glass shots from 1983 Don Sharp sci fi flick WHAT WAIT'S BELOW (no, until now I'd never heard of it either!).  There's another nice glass shot of Mark's from this show in my Painted Ceilings' blog.

Steps in the process:  From top left - soundstage partial set with a temporary flag in front of camera lens to shield the harsh brute arcs from flashing the film.  Top right - the set as masked off with black card by matte cinematographer David Stipes.  Bottom left - Mark Sullivan's painting which conforms to David's masking. Bottom right - the final original negative composite, which to me looks a million dollars.

A closer look at Mark's work.  This matte was created in acrylics on glass, and as I recall from David this film was probably Mark's first movie matte art experience... and the guy's never looked back.
A more full look at the scale of the glass, with a hoary looking scratch evident down the right side of the paint - one of the drawbacks of the medium, but the fact that this glass survives at all is just great in itself as soooooooooooo much of this glorious work as we all know has long been scraped down, smashed, painted over or thrown into a landfill!                       I'm suddenly reminded of a statement Craig Barron made on a forum of when he was interviewing the volatile, curmudgeonly veteran Columbia effects master Larry Butler at Butler's ranch homestead and Craig noted the unusually large window panes over looking the Californian countryside to which Butler replied "they all used to be matte paintings"!  Craig went silent and said later on the effects forum that he just didn't want to know the rest of that story.     Oh the horror

Close up detail of Mark's acrylic brush styling and use of colour for a view that's very reminiscent of old RKO-Republic styled black and white 'Lost City' serials and such.

*thanks to David and Nathan Stipes for these images.


  1. Pete,

    Very glad to see you are alive and posting! I seemed to recall that you reside in the Auckland area, pretty far from Christchurch (south island?), so I'd thought you were okay, but still...

    I was in the midst of the Loma Prieta quake in '89, and I've been a little quake jumpy ever since.

    It was a fun project, and a great experience working with David Stipes, but I feel a little funny about the "What Waits Below" shots being on the same blog page as some of those other matte shots. Thank you for the very kind words.

    Best regards,


  2. Hi Mark

    Always a pleasure hearing from you. Odd as it may sound, even though NZ rests right on top of a couple of angry tectonic plates (or, as one journalist incorrectly stated today, "angry TEUTONIC plates"!) the nearest I've had to a quake was in San Francisco in '79... just a small one but enough of a jolt to rattle the fillings.

    Kudos due BTW for the amazing MRS BURMA footage - even though my lousy internet can't cope properly with the video file thus making the old lady look stop motion too. Magnificent work Mark, and the behind the scenes clips are incredible.

    Those psychotic extra terrestrial Klown mattes of yours will get an airing here soon.

  3. Dear Pete,
    My father worked for MGM from the 1950s to the 1970s in the Motion Picture Dept. We have five matte paitings of the 1946 Yearling movie from the Warren Newcombe era. I was wondering if the matte paintings are of value. My parents are interested in selling them. I'd be happy to send you pictures of them for an evaluation. I can be contacted at

  4. What an amazing entry. So many favourite films of mine, it's like walking through a gallery full of memories.
    Thanks for that, Peter.

    And my deepest admiration to Mark, whom I consider one of the best visual effects artists of all time. Mrs Burma is simply stunning. Thanks for sharing your work,


  5. Hi Thomas

    Thanks for that. I might postpone part three for a bit as I have a backlog of other one off film retro articles on the back burner such as three MGM Newcombe/Gillespie big films - FORBIDDEN PLANET, BOOM TOWN and the amazing 30 SECONDS OVER TOKYO, with some very revealing behind the scenes material.

    Yep, Mark's MRS BURMA was phenomenal - especially when viewed properly on a decent computer etc. Magnificent stop motion that has to be seen to be believed, beautiful matte art and best of all a totally Tex Avery/Chuck Jones sense of humour running through it - right down to the main title card and the music. Bravo Mark..... bloody wonderful!