Tuesday 26 January 2016


Pete's Editorial:

Glorious neon lit theatre frontage... my fave matte genre!
Hello friends, and a Happy New Year to you all wherever you happen to be.  It's swelteringly hot here in New Zealand as we speak, as January and February are our peak summer months - a fact I'm always amused to say continually baffles you Northern Hemisphere readers.
I've a few new things to report and a few apologies to make just before be embark on another titanic blog where I'll be paying tribute to the artists and cameramen responsible for those glorious mattes which figured so prominently in musicals of yesteryear, though before we do, I should mention a few other things of interest.

A few years ago I was asked by the popular entertainment website Shadowlocked, to write up a list of the fifty  greatest matte shots of all time - an article which to my surprise proved enormously popular.  Well, now Shadowlocked has just published the inevitable 'follow up' article 50 More of the Greatest Mattes of All Time.  As usual I've tried to be as broad ranging in my selections as possible, with many genres, era's and styles of traditionally painted matte work included - a great many of which aren't well known nor even acknowledged as being matte shots.
Shepperton's chief matte artist George Samuels shown painting on THE BELLES OF ST. TRINIANS.

Chris Evans puts finishing touches for THE SHADOW.
Some of the shots I've not published before and may be a surprise to the reader.  Of course the readership of Shadowlocked aren't the sort of die hard matte and effects enthusiast who subscribe to NZPete's Matte Shot, so a degree of explanation of the process was needed.  It would of course have been so easy to just pile on a whole bunch of Al Whitlock, Peter Ellenshaw or just fifty of Ken Marschall's amazing painted mattes and leave it at that, but the purpose in my mind was to step around the all too visible 'pop culture' and well documented mattes and take the list further afield.  Take a look and you might be pleasantly surprised.  A word of apology is due.  In one of the listings which included Matte World's fabulous shot from THE SHADOW, I incorrectly credited the artist as Mike Pangrazio when in fact it should have been Chris Evans.  Thanks Craig for pointing that out as I had always thought it was Mike's work.  Check it out here!


While we're on setting the record straight, I should amend one of the entries in last month's Optical Effects blog post.  Regarding John Boorman's EXORCIST II - THE HERETIC, I detailed the creation of the incredible locust flight travelling matte work with Oxford Scientific Films' jaw dropping insect photography and 'puppeteering' in front of a blue screen.  I had credited the actual composite work to Roy Field's Optical Film Effects (as per an old article in the journal Cinefex) though it appears that information may have been incorrect.  Bill Taylor of Universal Studios highly regarded matte department was responsible for this work and Bill kindly wrote me a very lengthy and detailed email describing the complexities of marrying fast moving semi-translucent phenomena (locust wings in full flight) to background plates.  I had intended to edit Bill's letter though thought better of it as the technical information is important, and it's always my aim with Matte Shot to set the record straight and be as accurate as possible, and what better opportunity than when the actual visual effects cameraman himself has generously volunteered the data.  Bill's method was fascinating, so here it is.  Those who aren't of a photo-chemical technical bent may wish to jump ahead to the main article on Mattes Maketh The Musical...
"Re: THE HERETIC I did many composite takes of Peter Parks' amazing blue screen macro locusts and I had always thought it is my work in the film. Whatever is the case, the story of the advances that made these shots possible may be worth telling because it has never been told; this was one of the little wrinkles in the blue screen system that I kept to myself. It also give some idea of the tremendous difficulties of doing photo-chemical compositing. Just as you say, these shots were very difficult because of the blurred transparent wings.  I used Pete Vlahos original Color Difference matte principles, with advice from Art Widmer of Universal Studio's optical department who had himself made  valuable improvements to the system.  I finally solved the problem by creating a useful refinement to the Vlahos technique that eliminated the last vestige of blue screen color from  transparent and blurred areas.
This is necessarily a very long story because I have to start from first principles. But an epic-size blog deserves no less!  Don't know how much detail you want to go into on what is really a fan site, but here's the background."

Color Separations:

Bill Taylor, ASC
  "The classic way of making a color dupe negative was to print three precision registration black-and-white 'separation positive' films from the original negatives, one each with pure blue, red and green light.  A saturated blue object would appear very light in tone on the blue separation, while green and red objects would be relatively dark.  A green object would be light in tone on the green separation, while blue objects and red objects would be dark, and so on.  In other words, the separation positives translated color saturation into black-and-white tones.  To re-combine those black-and-white records of the original scene back onto color negative required three passes through the registration printer (either an optical printer or a contact printer).  In the first pass the blue separation would be illuminated with pure blue light, exposing only the blue sensitive layer on the color negative.  In the second pass the green separation would be lit with pure green light, exposing only the green-sensitive layer of the color neg, and so on.  A primary reason to go through all this was to incorporate effects into the dupe negative, like titles, fades, or to composite several images onto one film like a matte painting.  (By using  a bipack matte shot camera, the painting can be photographed directly onto the dupe negative.)  While this technique was time consuming and required meticulous control of the exposure and processing of the separation films, it was the only way to make a high quality color dupe negative until the arrival of Kodak Color Intermediate Film in 1952.   (Ironically even now in 2016 black-and-white separation films are the only way to make permanent copies of film or digital color images.  Color film copies fade, digital copies deteriorate. Help is on the way, but right now it is a big, big problem and yet another story.)" *That is very interesting, making B&W sep.copies on film as the only decent archival guarantee!  Pete

The Blue Screen Problem

"It was the blue separation that caused all the problems in every blue screen shot up to and including the 1956 "Ten Commandments". Every attempt to that point tried to find some way of covering up the blue screen with a high density matte or a mask. If you made a matte dense enough to kill that brilliant blue, it cut off everything that was transparent or blurred.  (There is a famous shot at a construction site in "Ten Commandments" where a foreground worker waves a flag. The flag and the flagstaff vanish as he waves it.)  Anything less dense produced the "blue fire" typical of the blue screen shots of those days.
Another problem was that the mask could never be made to fit perfectly because it was several generations removed from the original image.  Much effort was devoted to controlling the expansion or shrinking of the mattes, all to little result. The system could not deal with loose hair or similar fine detail.
TEN COMMANDMENTS - note soldier's raised arm not matting well.
In spite of the virtually unlimited resources Paramount devoted to "Ten Commandments" they could not solve these problems.  As a result, they went to great lengths to avoid difficult subject matter and used rear projection as much as possible.  MGM did not want more of the same as they geared up to make "Ben-Hur", so around 1956 they took the problem to the Motion Picture Association's Research Center, which was jointly funded by all the major studios. Fortunately for movie history, they gave the problem to Petro Vlahos."

Turning the Blue Screen Black:

"Looking at the film elements involved in making a composite shot, Vlahos observed that in a typical blue screen foreground scene, the foreground subject matter in the blue separation and the green separation are often remarkably similar in tone. Examples are skin tones, brown, black or grey hair, white shirts and the entire grey scale, black or brown trousers,  in other words any colors that have similar blue and green content are  identical on both films.  The big difference is that in the blue screen area of the blue separation, the screen is nearly clear and sometimes flares into the foreground, (lots of blue in that blue screen!) while in the green separation it is much darker (not a lot of green in the blue screen).  In the red separation, the blue screen area is a nearly perfect back (no red at all in the blue screen.)
Vlahos reasoned that you could simply throw out that troublesome blue separation (needed only to make the silhouette matte films) and use the green separation twice, exposed onto the color negative once with green light, and again with blue light." 

"Robert Hoag at the MGM optical department tried it;  It seemed like a miracle.  The blue screen had turned nearly black without any matte.   There was no trace of blue fire anywhere in blurs or transparencies like smoke or water splashes.  There was a little hazing in the blue screen area because the blue was not quite perfect; it had a little green it, so the screen was not as dark in the green separation as it was in the red separation.  A very low density "cover matte", a faint clear-center silhouette film of the foreground action, when run together with each of the foreground separations, added just enough density to the blue screen area to take it the rest of the way down to black without affecting the edges."
The Color Difference 'difference':

"While the big problem was solved a color problem remained.  Some colors were missing from the foreground, in fact any color that had more green than blue could not be reproduced.  Green and yellow, for example,  were missing in action. Yellow turned white, green turned blue-green (cyan). That's because, by definition, green and yellow have more green content than blue. (Yellow = green plus red.)  Excess blue was poisoning those colors.
Vlahos realized that if he could add just a little density to the green separation in those areas only when it was being used as a replacement for the blue separation, he could get those colors back.  He needed a film record of the difference between blue and green, thus the Color Difference System's name.
In a pencil-and-paper thought experiment, Vlahos tried every combination of the color separations, the original negative, and colored light to see if he could achieve that difference.  The magic combination was the original negative sandwiched with the green separation, printed with blue light onto a third film.  The positive and negative grey scales cancelled out, but where there was  yellow in the foreground (for example) the negative was blue and the green separation was clear. The blue light passed through both films without being absorbed and exposed the third film where there was yellow in the original scene.  The same logic produced a density in green and in all colors where there was more green than blue.  This was the Color Difference Mask, which in combination with the green separation, became the Synthetic Blue Separation. 
Robert Hoag tried it out at MGM and it worked perfectly.  The first shots to use the Color Difference system were the 65mm shots of Charlton Heston and Jack Hawkins on the raft with the burning miniature ships in the background.  They put all the shots through together.  The first take was so much better than any previous attempts that it was immediately approved and cut into the movie.  This drove Bob Hoag nuts because there were visible matte dark lines that he knew he could eliminate if he had another try, but he had to move on."

"The only colors that could not be reproduced by the 'Color Difference System' were those like blue and purple that had more blue than green, but it was relatively easy to avoid those colors in the costume design. Today with digital logic we can expand the permissible foreground colors still further, where we can even reproduce some green foreground colors in green screen shots, but it still all depends on Pete Vlahos original idea."

"But back to EXORCIST II-THE HERETIC.  The transparent wings showed faint cyan or blue color cast because of the problem mentioned above:  there was just enough green light in the blue screen to cause a faint density difference between the screen in the green separation  and the screen in the red separation.  Because the wing blur was continuous from frame to frame and the background was relatively dark, the color was all too apparent. I also realized in retrospect that the foreground was a little underexposed; had it been brighter the foreground image could have been brought down in the composite and the residual color cast would have possibly not shown up on screen. 
 I tried to use cover mattes of different densities on the blue and green separations; the result was a rainbow of false colors across the varying densities of the blur.  After many frustrating tests, the penny dropped:  I had to add just a little additional density to the blue screen area only without making  non-linear changes in contrast. That meant I could not use a separate mask film, which was non-linear in the low end "toe" of the exposure curve, I had to add the exposure to the green separation when it was made."

Bill Taylor with Syd Dutton at a recent symposium.
"I already knew the combination of films and filters I needed to do that; it was the combination I used to produce the female mattes (dark in the screen area, clear in the foreground).  That combination was the original negative sandwiched with the blue separation, printed with red light onto a third film.  In this case the third film was the green separation before it was developed.  Because the added exposure was printed from the original negative right onto the already high density exposure of the green light exposure, it added a little density to the screen area without touching the foreground contrast.
I made a graduated test, building up exposure on the green separation from frame to frame.  On the frame where the difference between true back and the blue screen was less than half a stop, all false color disappeared from the blurred wing.  I remember taking that frame in a viewer to show Al Whitlock.  He smiled broadly and said, "You've solved it, haven't you!"  That was one of the better days in my checkered career.  We showed the resulting composites to John Boorman, who was also very pleased."

I've always had a bit of a soft spot for the grand Hollywood musical of days gone by, with a palpable sense of glamour, amazing on screen talent and nostalgia presenting a larger than life realm so strongly reminiscent of 'the good old days', when folks left their doors unlocked and the key in the car ignition, and kids could walk alone to school without fear of becoming a picture on a milk carton.  The Fred Astaire's, Gene Kelly's, Donald O'Connor's and Doris Day's of yesteryear were really something else and commanded a phenomenal - an deserving -  screen presence. 
Today I'll be celebrating a great many matte shots from these classic musicals, with a wide selection of wonderful hand painted matte trick shots.  Although I've searched far and wide across the many studios on both sides of the Atlantic, it'll probably come as little surprise to see that a significant proportion of mattes here featured in Metro Goldwyn Mayer pictures as musicals were largely their bread and butter, as horror, gangsters, war and hard nosed social narratives were certainly not Louis B. Mayer's cup of tea.
So, without further ado, let us take another of our magical matte journeys, this time back to those glamourous days of glittering neons, classic era theatre frontages and all manner of trick shots made possible by the unsung heroes of the matte department.


One of the amazing matte painted shots from the epic 20th Century Fox picture SOUTH PACIFIC (1958).  L.B Abbott was photographic effects chief, with long timer Emil Kosa jr as principle matte painter.  A reader who was an ex Fox staffer once wrote me that he still owned this painting (along with a bunch of other Fox mattes), though despite my pleading on bended knees, he never got back to me!

Just when I stated that many of the mattes would be from MGM productions, here's another 20th Century Fox matte - a fully painted theatre facade with animated lights etc from ALEXANDER'S RAGTIME BAND (1939)

A neat before and after on the MGM lot of a shot from Vincent Minnelli's AN AMERICAN IN PARIS (1951). Louis Litchtenfield was one of the matte painters on the show, under the ever watchful eye of Warren Newcombe.

Same film - a Lou Litctenfield matte shot (with a photo cut out of star Gene Kelly in the window) where a successful tilt up has been achieved on the studio's Dupy Duplicator which facilitated repeatable 'motion control' camera moves.

Another wonderful tilt up matte composite from AN AMERICAN IN PARIS.  The matte was painted by Lou Litchtenfield who, according to his friend and fellow artist Matthew Yuricich, Lou was only ever allowed to paint the mattes at MGM and never at any cost actually allowed to see the finished shots in a screening room.  This was apparently the modus operandi in many of the studios (MGM especially), where the painters were strictly kept at the easel and not permitted to view their final composites, which outraged Yuricich and the other artists.  Only when seeing the film exhibited in the theatre could the matte artist see what became of their work, or if it made the final cut for that matter, as many mattes did not.

One of the grand Newcombe shots from the Sinatra-Kelly musical ANCHOR'S AWEIGH (1945)

Another carefully painting (made largely with fine pastel crayons) from ANCHORS AWEIGH.  There's a lot more painted here than you might think.

Not a matte shot, but a superb optical-animated set piece from the same film that deserves inclusion.  Apparently Walt Disney was blown away when he saw this MGM sequence.  Note Jerry's animated reflections on the polished floor.  Irving G. Ries became quite famous as a result of this.
A pair of Newcombe mattes from MGM's Technicolor ANNIE GET YOUR GUN (1950)

More exquisite artwork and complex multi plane camerawork from ANNIE GET YOUR GUN.

Two mattes composited by Linwood Dunn for RKO's USO tour film AROUND THE WORLD (1943)
Although not a memorable film at any stretch, MAME (1974) was an eye opener in the matte trick department thanks to Albert Whitlock's remarkable skill.  Note the bottom frame is practically all painted except for a narrow mid section where the passengers board the (non-existent) airplane.

MAME's cliffhanger of a matte painted set piece, Lucille Ball atop the Statue of Liberty. Matte photography by Ross Hoffman.
Albert Whitlock posing with his Liberty glass painting in the Universal matte department.

Another jaw dropping Whitlock matte shot from MAME showing just how little was actually constructed and how damned much was painted by Albert.  And it's just on screen for around 3 seconds tops!
An unidentified painted theatre marquee from an MGM production.
Although technically not a musical, the Marx Brothers' AT THE CIRCUS (1939) featured - as did all of their wonderful pictures - musical sequences.  Nice before and after here.  Can't imagine a life without Groucho, Chico and Harpo!

A Warner Bros. matte shot from AUNTIE MAME (1958), probably painted by Lou Litchtenfield.
Recently auctioned, this old MGM matte was purportedly from WORDS AND MUSIC (1948) though no such shot exists in the film, and the director's name inscribed beneath the artwork is Richard Whorf as opposed to Norman Taurog.  However, it was common practice for MGM to recycle matte art from film to film and alter same by literally dissecting out things such as the billboard names with a craft knife and inserting a newly prepared 'headline act'.  Some mattes like this have reappeared in as many as 4 or 5 films.
Storied matte painter Harrison Ellenshaw pictured here at the Profiles in History movie auction last year examining the same matte.  Many thanks to Craig Barron, who, knowing my affection for old time matte painted theatre frontages, kindly photographed this and other mattes just for NZPete.  Much appreciated.

Detail from the above painting.

More detail, from which we can see incisions where the signage part of the painting has been either substituted or altered at some stage, though on screen this isn't visible.  I own a similar old MGM matte which too has had alterations made to serve at least two different films.
The 1939 Nelson Eddy film BALALAIKA.

Exquisitely drawn and animated sparkling neon showcase, and unforgettable 'Dancing Shoes' from the wonderful Fred Astaire musical THE BARKLEYS OF BROADWAY (1949)

I'd regard Disney's BEDKNOBS AND BROOMSTICKS (1971) as a musical.  Matte artist Alan Maley, assisted by Harrison Ellenshaw and Deno Ganakes.

Fred Astaire at it again, hoofing it up over Central Park for THE BELLE OF NEW YORK (1952)

W.S Van Dyke's BITTER SWEET (1940) had these Newcombe mattes.

Early Cinemascope mattes done as full frame paintings for MGM's BRIGADOON (1954)

A pair of Albert Whitlock mattes from the much better than anticipated Dolly Parton-Burt Reynolds musical THE BEST LITTLE WHOREHOUSE IN TEXAS (1982).  The top frame is an actual location that Whitlock was asked to modify and make more aesthetically pleasing by altering the surrounding landscape.  Actually a great little film with the late, great Charles Durning stealing the show hands down with his 'Sidestep' routine.  Magic!

One of my all time favourite movies, THE BLUES BROTHERS (1980) never ever wears out it's welcome for me. Fantastic tunes, dance moves, automobile insanity and gratuitous sunglasses usage.  Albert Whitlock and Syd Dutton provided this dazzling, life changing matte shot, with Bill Taylor manning the effects camera and optical printer.  Best line: "How dare you boys come in here with such filthy mouths and bad attitudes."
For the 1984 Paul McCartney musical GIVE MY REGARDS TO BROADSTREET, Stephen Perry at Peerless Optical in the UK was tasked with providing a day and night matte, which was ultimately dropped before the shot got much past the first test comp stage.
Stephen Perry's BROADSTREET matte art and set up at Peerless Optical.
MGM matte from an unidentified film.
Painting and final comp from BROADWAY MELODY OF 1936.

Warner Brothers' Doris Day picture BY THE LIGHT OF THE SILVERY MOON (1953), with Lou Litchtenfield probably in charge of the mattes.  Other artists employed were Jack Cosgrove, Fitch Fulton, Vern Taylor, Jack Shaw and others.

MGM's all coloured cast CABIN IN THE SKY (1943) ultimately dropped this rather nice establishing shot, with the matte not making the final cut, which is kind of baffling.

CABIN IN THE SKY had this emotional conclusion courtesy of Warren Newcombe's matte department.

Doris Day rides on into town for Warner's CALAMITY JANE (1953).  Entirely painted shot except the stretch of dirt road in the foreground.  The studio's long time chief matte painter, Paul Detlefsen had retired from movies by this time to paint calendars so it's most likely Louis Litchtenfield at the helm.

Same film....or is it?  This matte supposedly of old time Chicago was actually from an earlier Warner Bros film, Alfred Hitchcock's UNDER CAPRICORN (1949), whereby it represented 'Sydney, Australia' in that dreary film.  Go figure.

This matte from Fox's CALL ME MADAM (1953) was Matthew Yuricich's first 'go it alone' matte painting, though not without unwelcome interference from Emil Kosa jr and a certain degree of badgering from head of dept Fred Sersen about getting the geometry of the staircase down accurately.
Two more mattes from CALL ME MADAM.  Ralph Hammeras also painted on this film according to Matt Yuricich and Jim Fetherolf was also active in the Fox matte department at the time.

Ian Fleming's kid friendly musical adventure CHITTY CHITTY BANG BANG (1968) had a number of Cliff Culley mattes.

Same film.  All of the effects shots were photographed on 65mm, with the composites achieved as 65mm rear projected plates married up with Cliff Culley's glass paintings.  Matte photography by Roy Field and Martin Shorthall.
Unknown MGM matte
Jan Domela painted these spectacular mattes for Bing Crosby's A CONNECTICUT YANKEE IN KING ARTHUR'S COURT (1949).  Irmin Roberts was matte cameraman.

One of Peter Ellenshaw's delightful vista's from the timeless Disney classic DARBY O'GILL AND THE LITTLE PEOPLE (1959)

I've forever been mesmerised by the classic painted theatre facades with those lavish headline acts all lit up in glittering neons, with this beautiful Newcombe shot from DEEP IN MY HEART (1954) being a favourite.

I'm happy to say that I own this matte and it's one of those that saw usage in at least two MGM films, with carefully dissected out and replaced 'headliner' being in evidence.  This is from DEEP IN MY HEART though it was used somewhat earlier in a Judy Garland film called TILL THE CLOUDS ROLL BY as well.

The back of the DEEP IN MY HEART matte showing the still affixed coloured gel taped behind the meticulously punched out 'holes' where each individual light bulb is shown.  Separate takes of just the backlit element glittering in animated motion were composited over the painting.  MGM were the kings of this sort of magical trick shot, and much of it's success was, according to Matthew Yuricich, due to longtime visual effects cameraman Mark Davis, of whom this was a specialty.

The fatally overlong DOCTOR DOLITTLE (1967) was the best cure available for insomnia.  Not even the Emil Kosa mattes and Bill Abbott photo effects saved the film... but it inexplicably did win the best visual effects Oscar, which when you consider it was up against the vastly superior (in every sense of the word) TOBRUK that year - with terrific effects work by Howard Anderson, Fred Knoth, Al Whitlock and Linwood Dunn, beggers belief!
Unidentified MGM musical
The Red Skelton-Lucille Ball show DU BARRY WAS A LADY (1943)

A beautiful high resolution BluRay grab from the Fred Astaire-Judy Garland classic EASTER PARADE (1948). A magnificent Newcombe department painting with all of the glittering light bulb gags your author loves.

Also from EASTER PARADE was this grand, final shot complete with a slow tilt up from the street action to the turn of the century painted architecture.

The original matte painting on the matte stand prior to photography with the Dupy Duplicator.

EASTER PARADE theatre - all painted and supplemented with animated lights. 
Matte art from an unidentified MGM picture.
Paramount's THE EMPEROR WALTZ (1948) had a number of Jan Domela matte shots.

Another unidentified MGM matte.  If anyone can i.d these, contact me please.  It's from a Richard Whorf film, though judging by the different production code numbers it's undoubtedly been used in various films, if that's of any help.

Albert Whitlock created this depression era Coney Island matte shot for FUNNY LADY (1975)

The pleasantly diverting Leslie Caron tale THE GLASS SLIPPER (1955)

Another Newcombe shot from THE GLASS SLIPPER

Disney repeatedly tried to recapture the Mary Poppins charm with varied results.  THE GNOME MOBILE (1967) was one such show and it wasn't too bad.  Great effects animation and an engaging cast.  Peter Ellenshaw, Alan Maley and maybe Jim Fetherolf were matte painters.

Not only did MGM's matte artists excel at painting scenery but also on occasion were called upon to handcraft remarkable up front title cards and credits such as this stunning credit title card from THE GREAT ZIEGFELD (1936)

One of THE GREAT ZIEGFELD's spectacular establishing shots.

Optical tilt down from matte art to MGM set from THE GREAT ZIEGFELD.
A wonderful before and after matte from THE GREAT ZIEGFELD.  Interesting to note that the ferris wheel and some of the glittering lights were added later as additional elements.
Unknown MGM film
Fred Sersen's department at 20th Century Fox created the mattes for the Carmen Miranda musical GREENWICH VILLAGE (1944).  A large and busy matte department, Fox had a number of artists and specialist cameramen.

Warren Newcombe's staff at MGM provided these two mattes for Samuel Goldwyn for the Marlon Brando film GUYS AND DOLLS (1955)

Cityscape painted for the Hedy Lamarr movie H.M PULHAM, ESQ (1941)

20th Century Fox's HELLO FRISCO, HELLO (1943).  I think this same matte art was used in the Ernst Lubitsch satire HEAVEN CAN WAIT.

Samuel Goldwyn Studio's produced some interesting films of all genres.  HANS CHRISTIAN ANDERSEN (1952) was a musical fairy tale with a few good mattes and opticals.  Veteran effects cinematographer Clarence W. Slifer was Goldwyn's effects chief, and although no matte artist is credited, it is likely to have been someone like Jack Shaw or possibly even Jack Cosgrove, both of whom Slifer worked alongside on many productions.
Unknown title - MGM
I was saving these for a mammoth Disney Mattes blog but figured I'd throw 'em in here as the film has singin' & dancin' aplenty.  THE HAPPIEST MILLIONAIRE (1967) with Fred MacMurray had a lot of evocative mattes by Peter Ellenshaw.

An MGM Newcombe shot from Judy Garland's THE HARVEY GIRLS (1946)

The true pioneer of the art of matte shot trickery, Norman Dawn, worked for a time for Cedric Gibbons and Warren Newcombe at MGM and among the mattes he painted were these two beautiful full paintings from THE HARVEY GIRLS.

Paramount's 1944 Bing Crosby vehicle HERE COME THE WAVES employed Jan Domela's matte painting talents.
MGM would occasionally make mattes from repainting over photo blow ups as a time saving measure.  The title here eludes me for the moment?
Cinemascope matte from MGM's HIT THE DECK (1955)

Mattes from HOLIDAY IN MEXICO (1946)

Excellent before and after Newcombe Department matte work from ICE FOLLIES OF 1939.

MGM once again, with these mattes from the Van Johnson musical IN THE GOOD OLD SUMMERTIME (1949)
MGM were so damned good at doing these neon sign matte painted effects as I've mentioned frequently.  From IT'S ALWAYS FAIR WEATHER (1955) starring Gene Kelly and the stunningly 'leggy'  Cyd Charisse.

The big top comes to town in this Matthew Yuricich matte from BILLY ROSE'S JUMBO (1962)

Anyone who read my 3 part interview with matte painter Ken Marschall and cameraman Bruce Block would immediately recognise the immense talent and technical prowess that the small two man Matte Effects company possessed.  Among the myriad of astonishing trick shots would be this stunner from THE JOSEPHINE BAKER STORY (1991).  The company's success to a large part came down to Ken and Bruce's commitment to making practically all of their matte shots on the original negative with the pristine results speaking for themselves. 

Columbia Pictures get's a rare look in here with THE JOLSON STORY (1946).  Lawrence W. Butler was special effects chief with Donald Glouner as matte cameraman.  Artist unknown but painters such as Juan Larrinaga, Lou Litchtenfield and others worked around that period.
I was saving this for my next blog article Matte Art and the Concrete Jungle but figured I'd include it here as it's so good. Also from THE JOLSON STORY (1946)

Crazy matte effects from the out of control KID MILLIONS (1934) starring the irritating Eddie Cantor.

Fox had a run of big CinemaScope musical epics, and THE KING AND I (1956) is no exception.  Ray Kellogg supervised the miniatures and matte shots, with Emil Kosa jnr as chief matte artist and Bill Abbott shooting the model sequences.
MGM made KISMET twice, with this wide screen incarnation from 1955 being more well known.  Strange colour hues are evident in the upper frame for some reason...and it's BluRay too!  Not unheard of, with some BluRay editions looking quite odd in regards to colour grading.

Two effects shots from KISS ME KATE (1953) which originally came out in 3D.  Unusually for MGM, the frame at left of the theatre front appears to be a miniature rather than a matte painting, though I'm guessing this was for the proposed 3-Dimensional depth that they'd want. 

A frame from a flat tv print of a scope film, JUPITER'S DARLING (1955) which is a bit of a con job.  The view of Rome is actually a classic Peter Ellenshaw painting done in the UK for QUO VADIS, which has been re-matted into this new set up for this below average Esther Williams flick.

Matthew Yuricich painted these matte shots under contract to Butler/Glouner for the beautifully shot but not very good 1973 re-incarnation of LOST HORIZON.  I feel the hard edged matte used here wasn't the best choice, with the jigsawing of the painted and live elements being awkward at best, plus the live action element in the top frame has perspective problems, photographically speaking.
Another musical (and a good solid dramatic one at that) with some great neons and matte painted billboards etc.  LOVE ME OR LEAVE ME (1955).  The unlikely pairing of Doris Day and James Cagney actually works brilliantly.  Good film.

LOVE ME OR LEAVE ME Newcombe shots.

More MGM Newcombe mattes from the same film.
Paramount's LOVE ME TONIGHT (1932) featured some dazzling matte painted interiors, ceilings and set extensions by industry veteran Jan Domela.

Another Jan Domela matte from LOVE ME TONIGHT (1932)

From the same film we have this interesting scene where I'm sure a foreground miniature of the upper walls and ceiling has been employed to allow the cameraman to pan across the setting with the action.  Gordon Jennings wasn't credited but no doubt was involved here and he used this same trick on many Paramount pictures of the 30's and 40's.
The very unlikely casting trio of Liza Minelli, Gene Hackman and Burt Reynolds made up the central thrust of LUCKY LADY (1975).  Actually quite an entertaining film - and a beautifully shot one too by the great Geoffrey Unsworth - the film was largely a British crewed affair so I don't know who did this matte shot.  Being a Fox film my first guess would be Matthew Yuricich who did a lot of mattes for the studio over the years, and always without credit.
Another of those unknown MGM mattes I'd love to know the title of...

The Soviet made film MAN OF MUSIC (1955) is a film I know absolutely nothing about, though the mattes are good.

Peter Ellenshaw's iconic, romanticised Edwardian London in MARY POPPINS (1964) remains as dreamlike today as it did when I first saw it as a kid in the 1960's.
Made at least twice (maybe more), this version of THE MERRY WIDOW (1934) was by Ernst Lubitsch.
The later 1952 version of THE MERRY WIDOW
THE MERRY WIDOW composite Newcombe matte shot

The original meticulously detailed MGM matte painting, currently owned by one of my dedicated long time readers...lucky guy!

Close up detail from the above matte.

More detail for your (and my own!) viewing pleasure.  Beautiful indeed.

If anyone knows the film title, let NZPete know.
The Michael Jackson musical journey, MOONWALKER (1988) was an eye popping sensory explosion filled with great music, choreography and elaborate special effects.  The always reliable effects house Dream Quest Images provided the many fantastic visuals (and they still look sensational), with DQ matte artist Bob Scifo painting the mattes.

MOTHER WORE TIGHTS (1947) from 20th Century Fox
Now, I never cared for THE SOUND OF MUSIC (1965) but on my wife's insistence I had to view same, if for no other reason than for this blog!  Result, I couldn't definitely put my finger on any mattes, though matte artist Emil Kosa is credited.  This is one possible vfx shot, with Julie Andrews riding in a bus (or train) with the Austrian Alps reflected in the window pane.  Not sure, but possibly a painting double exposed in?

Also from THE SOUND OF MUSIC is this shot, though it may well be a painted backing.

Not sure of the title, but it's a photo matte where an actual large format still has been augmented with a number of painted additions.
John Huston's British made MOULIN ROUGE (1952) employed Judy Jordan's matte painting talents.  Judy originally started in mattes under the great Walter Percy 'Pop' Day and would paint at Shepperton through to about 1954 and then at British MGM-Elstree for Tom Howard through the rest of the decade.

Matte by Fred Sersen's unit at Fox for MY GAL SAL (1942)

NANCY GOES TO RIO (1950) with miniature work by Arnold Gillespie and mattes overseen by Warren Newcombe utilising old paintings from earlier MGM films, though with new headline acts.

A surprise here is this matte from Martin Scorsese's NEW YORK, NEW YORK (1977).  The shot is a fake as it's actually a vintage MGM Newcombe shot used in a ton of films, though here the wording and line up have been optically altered to suit the DeNiro-Minelli picture.

Illusion Arts' Syd Dutton and Robert Stromberg went all out with beautiful mattes for NEWSIES (1992)

Also from NEWSIES is this frame (part of a stunning zoom in extended take) with the Brooklyn Bridge and New York of a time gone by.
Delightful, saturated Technicolor Sersen shots from the Fox film NOB HILL (1945)

Warner Brothers' Doris Day sing-a-long-a-thon ON MOONLIGHT BAY (1951)

Danny Kaye made a mint out of playing multiple facsimilies of himself in countless films.  ON THE RIVIERA (1951) was one such film and we have a few nice painted mattes and several clever split screens.  Fred Sersen, Ray Kellogg and Emil Kosa jr were all involved.

ON THE RIVIERA full matte painting augmented with fireworks elements optically.

Matte art from Francis Coppola's ONE FROM THE HEART (1981).  Painter Rocco Gioffre of Dream Quest Images was one of a number of visual effects personnel signed on.
Abbott & Costello made their movie debut in ONE NIGHT IN THE TROPICS (1940).  Being a Universal film, long time matte artist Russ Lawson would have been responsible for the shots, probably with the assistance of a young John DeCuir as the future Production Designer was a matte artist at Universal at this time.
One of my all time favourite mattes is this sensational view of the fabled Bali-Hai from SOUTH PACIFIC (1958)

Also from SOUTH PACIFIC, a most ethereal vista... and all in Todd AO widescreen no less!  With matte shots like this, not to mention many a catchy tune and some fetching starlets, who could ask for more?

ORCHESTRA WIVES (1942) from Fox.

Esther Williams sure liked to take a dip.  PAGAN LOVE SONG (1950) had quite a 'wow factor' in the mattes.

Columbia's popular PAL JOEY (1957) had several impressive uncredited matte shots.

More from PAL JOEY - although I can't confirm the artist, it may well have been Matthew Yuricich who at the time was laid off for a while from MGM and picked up some matte painting jobs over at Columbia, at the request of matte cameraman Donald Glouner.  Yuricich would of course go back to MGM before long, and the rest, as they say, is history.
Real vintage stuff here, PARAMOUNT ON PARADE (1930) was a cheesy old time musical with mattes by Jan Domela.

MGM's PARTY GIRL (1958) had this ambitious camera move across a matte painted city to a glittering neon nightclub entrance.  Lee LeBlanc and Clarence W. Slifer were chiefly responsible.

Uncredited matte from the British film THE PIRATES OF PENZANCE (1983)

Glorious MGM Newcombe matte that certainly evokes the Golden Era of Hollywood Art Direction in this matte from PRESENTING LILY MARS (1943)

Also from PRESENTING LILY MARS is this photo matte combining still photography with painted in elements.
Michael Powell & Emeric Pressburger's classic THE RED SHOES (1948) was certainly one of the best designed and photographed films of the period.  Many wonderful matte painted shots and optical effects combinations abound, with Polish born matte artist Joseph Natanson and British painters Ivor Beddoes and Les Bowie all supplying the necessary matte work. 

THE RED SHOES - they don't get much better than this.

One of the best, or at least most entertaining musical biopics, was that of George Gershwin in Warner's RHAPSODY IN BLUE (1945), a film with some of the most spectacular and creatively mobile matte pull outs and truck in matte composites of that decade.  Roy Davidson was photographic effects man, with Willard van Enger as effects cameraman.  Chesley Bonestell and Paul Detlefsen were matte painters. 

Another tilt down from the same film.

MGM Newcombe shot from RICH, YOUNG AND PRETTY (1951)
Not strictly what you'd call a musical, but certainly a number of songs may be found therein, THE ROAD TO MOROCCO (1942) is the best of the popular Hope/Crosby pair ups.  I also really dig this Jan Domela matte shot (especially in HD)  featured during the main theme song "We're off on the road to Morocco...we're having the time of our lives"


A splendid before and after Newcombe matte from W.S Van Dyke's ROSALIE (1937)

Another matte from ROSALIE with a good look at the original pastel drawn 'painting', which was Warren Newcombe's method of choice for his stable of artists throughout the 1930's and 40's.  As far as I know, no other studio utilised these fine pastel crayons, with other practitioners using oil colour paint or goache.
W.S Van Dyke's ROSE MARIE (1936)

The spectacular concluding matte shot from ROYAL WEDDING (1951)

Albert Finney experiences The Dark Side as part of his Kontiki Tour to Hell in SCROOGE (1970).  Matte work by Gerald Larn and Doug Ferris for Wally Veevers.

Another frame from SCROOGE with Gerald Larn's matte painted London combined with our principal characters in flight.

Another of those big fifties musicals was the rousing and thoroughly entertaining SEVEN BRIDES FOR SEVEN BROTHERS (1954).  As usual Warren Newcombe was great lord and overseer of all things 'matte', with the actual artists not credited.  I do know that Matthew Yuricich painted on this film and I'd imagine journeyman artists at MGM such as Howard Fisher and Henry Hillinck also were involved.
One of the original Metro Goldwyn Mayer mattes from SHIP AHOY (1942)

Three versions of SHOWBOAT were made, with this 1936 version being the second.  John P. Fulton was Universal's special effects director for many years.

The 1951 version of SHOWBOAT with some beautiful painted extensions to what I believe was mostly the MGM backlot

Russia as seen in the Fred Astaire musical SILK STOCKINGS (1957).

Surely one of the greatest musicals ever, SINGIN' IN THE RAIN (1952) hit absolutely all the right bases - great tunes, amazing dance routines, funny as hell and just so damned entertaining!  An all out classic bar none. An interesting shot this, as it's pretty much identical to a shot made decades earlier by Jack Cosgrove for Selznick's 1937 version of A STAR IS BORN.  Only difference is the altered neon marquee, otherwise it's the exact same matte me thinks.
The time honoured Cinderella fable is brought to life as a lavish ballet picture, THE SLIPPER AND THE ROSE (1975).  Ray Caple painted the mattes including a beautiful fairy tale castle.

The 1945 bio-pic of composer Chopin, A SONG TO REMEMBER, opened up the backlot with several painted mattes.  No VFX credit but probably Larry Butler.

SONG OF SCHEHERAZADE (1947) from Universal.

Two mattes from the 1954 Judy Garland remake of A STAR IS BORN.  Hans Koenecamp was the studio's photographic effects chief and Louis Litchtenfield would have been principal matte artist at the time.  The upper frame is interesting as it's a three part composite, with soundstage house facade, an actual ocean plate and some matte painted foliage, rocks and house extensions to help tie the shot together.

The second of three versions of STATE FAIR, this 1945 edition is well worth a look. among the mattes is this classic Fred Sersen gag which the Fox effects man would employ on scores of pictures over the years - the use of a double (or sometimes even triple) glass shot for those really vast, expansive panning shots that could be filmed in no other way. Here, Sersen has set up two large glass panels end to end, with the fairground added on as a painted glass shot.  the decorative pillar in the centre is there to disguise the frame connecting the two glass sheets. Basically, everything above the carpark has been painted (and photographed 'live') as an in camera glass shot.  Fox lead the way with this trick and it can be found in so many of their premier productions, from HEIDI and ANNA AND THE KING OF SIAM through to MY COUSIN RACHEL and CLEOPATRA among many others.

Close up from part of the STATE FAIR glass shot.

Also worthwhile here are two more classic mattes from STATE FAIR (1945)

Warner's STOP, YOU'RE KILLING ME (1952).... I can't recall if it was a musical or not, but whattcha gonna do?

One of the few British films I could find to add in today's blog, THE STORY OF GILBERT AND SULLIVAN  (1953).  Effects by Wally Veevers and mattes painted by George Samuels of Shepperton Studios.
The 1943 Betty Grable flick SWEET ROSIE O'GRADY.

Jeanette MacDonald and Nelson Eddy starred in SWEETHEARTS (1938) for MGM, of which this painting is from.  Thanks to a long time regular reader for buying this and other vintage Newcombe mattes and sending me high quality photographs of them all.
Close up detail of above matte art.

The visually impressive Powell & Pressburger picture TALES OF HOFFMAN (1951) was an eye opener for it's dreamlike art direction, optical composite photography and matte shots.  Ivor Beddoes, whose art did much for the earlier THE RED SHOES, was brought back as associate designer and matte painter.


Sumptuous Hein Heckroth production design and superb matte art by Ivor Beddoes.
Busby Berkley's TAKE ME OUT TO THE BALL GAME (1949)

One of the finely detailed Newcombe department matte shots from TAKE ME OUT TO THE BALL GAME.

Before and after, though you'd never know it.

From the same film is this incredibly realistic pastel crayon drawn matte art that is so expertly matched light for light and hue for hue.  Staggering about says it!  You digital CG jockeys should put down your mouses (or mice?) and look this one over... remarkable.

Gorgeous full painting complete with much animated illumination as seen in MGM's THE BAND WAGON (1953).  The matte can be seen in a number of other films with, as previously mentioned, carefully altered signage.
Rita Hayworth's THE HEAT'S ON (1943) from Columbia Pictures.

Britain's grandfather of trick processes was Walter Percy 'Pop' Day.  Day was mentor to a number of future UK matte exponents such as Peter Ellenshaw, Les Bowie, Wally Veevers, Joseph Natanson, Judy Jordan, Albert Julion and George Samuels.  This shot is from THE MIKADO (1939)

A dismal film in my book, THE STUDENT PRINCE (1954) had a couple of mattes that I felt weren't up to the usual very high standard we'd come to expect from MGM.  Love the hand lettered title font though - a long deceased artform all of it's own where teams of guys and gals, often at Pacific Title in Hollywood, would meticulously hand paint not only the main title, but each and every subsequent cast and crew of sheets of glass.  Just love this stuff!

I'm a huge - and I do mean HUGE - fan of director Sidney Lumet and regard so many of his pictures as bona fide American classics, the likes of which we'll never see again. Think about SERPICO, DOG DAY AFTERNOON, FAIL SAFE, DEATH TRAP and PRINCE OF THE CITY to name but a few.  This shot is from THE WIZ (1978) - a film I'd not include in Lumet's "best of" catalogue by a long shot.  Still, Albert Whitlock and Bill Taylor's extraordinary mattes and composites make for recommended viewing.  Shown here is the opening snow tornado which sucks Diana Ross up into a strangely funky Motown wonderland that's straight out of a Pam Grier or Rudy Ray Moore flick.
One of Albert Whitlock's amazing mattes from THE WIZ
RKO has barely had a look see in this blog.  This push in matte composite is from THEY MET IN ARGENTINA (1941).

The original matte art from THIS TIME FOR KEEPS (1947) that was recently put up for auction, though the original Bathing Beauties overlay seems to be missing.

The same matte as seen on screen in the final film.

A full matte painting also from THIS TIME FOR KEEPS

Al Whitlock mattes from THOROUGHLY MODERN MILLIE (1967)

Some of the glamour from TILL THE CLOUDS ROLL BY (1946)

An invisible matte extension from the Tina Turner biopic WHAT'S LOVE GOT TO DO WITH IT (1993).  The small company Matte Effects run by Ken Marschall and Bruce Block were responsible for this and other shots, but heavier than usual workload required an extra artist be brought in to help out on 2 or 3 film projects.  Sadly neither Ken nor Bruce can recall just who the artist was, so if it happens to be you, please let me know.
The grand old time theatre or opera house interior was a staple matte shot requirement on scores of Golden Era films, such as this scene from TWO SISTERS FROM BOSTON (1946)

The original pastel drawn matte art created in MGM's matte department.

Close up detail from the matte. Note the small areas of scraped away paint around the spectators hands.  This will later facilitate rudimentary animation (of a sort) which will simulate an approximation of clapping hands, though not in any way authentic but just enough to fool the viewer's eye into thinking they are witnessing 'live people' at the theatre.  It's surprisingly effective and had been employed for decades.
A couple of mattes from Debbie Reynolds' THE UNSINKABLE MOLLY BROWN (1964).  Matthew Yuricich was one of the matte artists.

More from THE UNSINKABLE MOLLY BROWN with these shots being painted by former Paramount matte artist Jan Domela.

The Glam Rock saga VELVET GOLDMINE (1998) had this interesting shot supervised by Martin Body.  I don't know who painted it except that Body often worked with fellow UK matte exponents Doug Ferris and Leigh Took at various times.

An effective marry up of miniatures to live action for the Bing Crosby show WE'RE NOT DRESSING (1934).  That's probably effects boss Gordon Jennings shown standing observing the model team at Paramount.
The timeless family classic THE WIZARD OF OZ (1939) is without question one of the most loved and recognised films of all time.  The highly stylised matte art is worth zillions.

THE WIZARD OF OZ with this matte probably being the only one directly associated with a particular artist, in this case Candelario Rivas, who painted the castle mattes.
Mattes of flickering theatre signs and marquees from the MGM picture WORDS AND MUSIC (1948)

One of my all time faves, the James Cagney show stopper YANKEE DOODLE DANDY (1942), which among other things, has one of the single most incredible visual effects shots ever committed to film (not illustrated here) where the camera tracks back and forth across New York's Times Square and Broadway (all done with matte art, miniatures, process projection and live action all combined!) revealing an ever changing array of shows and show dates on neon billboards etc.  Just amazing.  I believe future thriller director Don Siegel had a lot to do with that as he ran the Warner Brothers montage department, and the lengthy sequence is a form of a montage.  One sensational movie.

Just one frame from the amazing montage fx sequence I mentioned above.  No effects credited but possibly overseen by someone like Byron Haskin or Larry Butler, with Edwin DuPar as effects cameraman (he does end up as a sort of in joke in the sequence).  Matte artists likely to be Paul Detlefsen, Chesley Bonestell and Mario Larrinaga.

MGM Newcombe matte from YOLANDA AND THE THIEF (1945)

More of those mesmerising signs and billboards from MGM, this time the film is ZIEGFELD GIRL ((1941)
Hand painted matte from DEEP IN MY HEART (1954) for theatre signage that will end up being heavily backlit (note all the small holes in the lettering). 
Rare Norman Dawn matte painting from THE HARVEY GIRLS (1945)