Sunday 31 July 2016


Hello friends and fellow matte art enthusiasts (you know who you are), it's that time again where we celebrate that still exciting, though regrettably lost artform of classical motion picture matte painting - you know the sort... when miracles were created by hand with the most rudimentary of tools and an incredible degree of talent, skill and the true artist's eye.

Disney matte painter Jesse Silver.
Harrison Ellenshaw with Disney's workhorse optical printer.
Today we will conclude our lengthy and exhaustive study of the matte work featured in films from the Disney Studio.  As with the previous two blog entries in this series, the majority of the effects work at Disney originated from that very same Burbank studio, in the old tried and true Disney Matte Department established in 1954 by Peter Ellenshaw, or later as the specially established and rebuilt Buena Vista Visual Effects unit which superseded the old Ellenshaw matte department around 1989.  As with some of Disney's early catalogue which have been detailed in the previous blogs, a certain small number of productions would still be based in Europe or the United Kingdom, whereby matte work and production was generally carried out on that side of the pond.  One of Disney's big releases, a VFX Oscar nominated film of the mid eighties would also see matte and effects duties split between the Burbank operation and British artists.  These shows will be illustrated in the course of this article, as will one other major Disney show where some mattes were farmed out to Matte World in Northern California.  There are a few films here which tend to cross over into the Touchstone era, though as they are good examples of matte shows they still deserve a place.
Buena Vista Visual Effects' Stephen Brooks and matte camera operator Peter Montgomery manhandle a large (and fragile) Michael Lloyd glass painting of the closing shot in DICK TRACY through to the shooting stage.

British artist Leigh Took's matte for SPIES (1992)
VFX Producer Carolyn Soper & Matte Artist Paul Lasaine
We will begin with the huge TRON (1982) where longtime matte department head Harrison Ellenshaw not only co-supervised the massive, mind numbingly complex visual effects project, but also painted the sole glass matte for the film.  In the succeeding years a number of entities would work in and in some cases supervise the matte assignments for Disney.  David Mattingly, who had provided solid support to Ellenshaw on the vast effects show THE BLACK HOLE (1979) would assume headship of the matte department from 1979 to 1983, with the talented Michael Lloyd taking over the reigns from 1983 through to 1990 and in that time tackling projects as enormous and satisfying as DICK TRACY (1990) - a film that really should have been considered as an Oscar contender for it's beautiful matte and miniature work.... but don't get me started on Oscar injustices!  From 1990 on to 1994 all matte painting was supervised (and in most cases all mattes actually painted) by Paul Lasaine - an astonishingly adept artist who had an immediate feel for the medium of 'paint on glass' and of whom Harrison Ellenshaw would often comment to this author as being the best matte artist he'd had the privilege of working with.
Several matte exponents would work at Disney/BVVE from 1980 onward.  Ellenshaw himself had earlier relocated to Northern California to work at ILM and establish a new matte department to cater for the latest STAR WARS picture. In addition to David Mattingly artists such as Jesse Silver were employed.  Respected matte painter Robert Scifo, shown here at right, would also join later on.
As I stated in the previous two blogs I hope this tribute will prove both illuminating and insightful and I welcome your feedback.


Paul Lasaine's own incredible Boardwalk Empire as created entirely from scratch for the Disney period film WILD HEARTS CAN'T BE BROKEN (1991).  Steve Buscemi, eat 'ya heart out!

Harrison Ellenshaw with his 'cameo' matte painting from TRON (1982).

The TRON matte camera setup with the Technirama (VistaVision) camera in the foreground and just visible behind the glass painting are the wheels of Don Henry's rear projection process equipment.
The final on screen comp which unfortunately omits a great deal of Harrison's original, painstaking matte art and crops in on just the right portion of the artwork, for reasons unknown.

Disney matte painter Jesse Silver is shown here at work, not on a matte as such, but one of the large background paintings for TRON.  Jesse explained the work as follows: Here's a picture of me painting the original master shot of the TRON holding cells in the Disney matte department circa 1981.  You'll note that it's in color, rather than grayscale.  When we ramped up production following NATO, all of the TRON BG's were painted in grayscale.

An interesting film that sadly never really gelled, SOMETHING WICKED THIS WAY COMES (1983) was a big effects film with all manner of mattes, opticals, miniatures, make up effects and, ultimately abandoned early CG work.  Lee Dyer was in charge of the visuals with mattes by Michael Lloyd and Jesse Silver.

Jesse Silver stated: "My work on SWTWC involved more than matte paintings.  The movie had been entirely shot on sound stages with very few exteriors.  When I was assigned on a revised version for release, my first job was sketching 'inspiration sketches' for a new opening montage of Autumn exteriors.  My sketches were sent to Ray Bradbury for his use in writing the opening monologue.  Based on Ray's selections, we took a crew to Vermont to scout and shoot locations that matched the subject matter of my sketches, as well as locations for the matte painting plates".

More matte art and optical work, with some interesting effects animation as well.  Art Cruickshank was engaged later on as optical cinematographer and Harrison Ellenshaw too joined the party, though not in his usual capacity, this time as miniatures coordinator for a change.

SOMETHING WICKED matte painted composite.

Michael Lloyd's matte of the children's house as it appears in the film supplemented with fx cel animation.  The upper left pic was taken years after the fact in the nineties as then head of department Paul Lasaine shows trainee matte artist Justin Brandstader some of the still surviving Disney mattes from the past.

A doozy of a tornado forms the climax of SOMETHING WICKED THIS WAY COMES.

An article from a 1983 issue of Cinefantastique.  I sure miss those old editions, especially those fantastic special double issues that came out every now and then.  So much info to savour.
The much anticipated though highly uneven RETURN TO OZ (1985) would see the Disney effects department nominated for a Visual Effects Oscar that year (amid heavy competition).  A visually appealing film with excellent effects work and great art direction.  Noteworthy for being directed by highly esteemed sound designer and film editor Walter Murch - one of Hollywood's most creative technicians bar none.  Just check out his contributions to a couple of Coppola pictures, THE CONVERSATION (1974 ... an all out masterpiece!), and the legendary APOCALYPSE NOW (1979) and you'll see (and hear) what I mean.  Incredible guy! 

Although Michael Lloyd was credited as matte supervisor, it's interesting to note that veteran British matte cinematographer Peter Hammond was matte cameraman with fellow countryman Charles Stoneham as matte artist.  Robert Scifo was also on board back Stateside contributing matte shots as well.

More of the numerous matte painted scenes from RETURN TO OZ (1985)
I rather like this shot.

Subtle matte painted set extensions.
The OZ economy took a turn for the worst and formally nice neighbourhoods turned to shit practically overnight.

Matte painter Robert Scifo seen here with airbrush in hand blending clouds for an OZ matte shot.
Another delightful OZ matte painting.
Matte supervisor Michael Lloyd would receive an Oscar nomination for shots such as this.

Bob Scifo's matte shown at a different time of day.

Wonderful matte art supplemented by Alan Gonzales effects animation.
An interesting view of what would appear to be a large miniature set augmented with an in progress extensive foreground painting to bring the setting right up to the camera.  Incidentally, Warner Bros used to do this too back in the 30's and 40's with miniature sets being supplemented and 'blended' with foreground glass paintings in order to maintain a crisp depth of field whereas such wasn't always easy exclusively with miniature settings.

A beautiful OZ matte with camera tilt down and dolly out worked into the final crisp composite.
The fast and frantic 1987 comedy thriller OUTRAGEOUS FORTUNE paired a delectable and genteel Shelley Long with a loud and obnoxious Bette Midler (is there any other kind?).  Routine stuff until the last 20 minutes where we have around a dozen matte painted shots all back to back in a pivotal action sequence where Long must leap from rocky outcrop to rocky outcrop for purposes I can't recall except that it had something to do with a rather evil Peter Coyote (so good in Walter Hill's SOUTHERN COMFORT and a million voice over History Channel doco's)

Wall to wall matte shots here.  Michael Lloyd and Bob Scifo provided the artwork which worked out very well.

Terrific stuff that even looked good on the 'multiplex' (God forbid!) screen back in the day.

OUTRAGEOUS FORTUNE... outrageous action!
WHITE FANG (1991) was a good little adaptation of a familiar story.  Well made all round with this utterly undetectable Paul Lasaine matte shot smoothing the way with added sky, mountain top and partial encampment and tents etc all painted in, though you'd never suspect it.

Some behind the scenes views of matte work in progress at Buena Vista Visual Effects.  Top left is Harrison Ellenshaw; top right are Paul Lasaine and Justin Brandstader (note the original matte of the prison complex in the background from the 1956 GREAT LOCOMOTIVE CHASE); Lower left, Lasaine at work, possibly for MORTAL COMBAT?.  Lower right the effects cameraman preparing a take with multiple process plates projected into an exquisite Paul Lasaine matte for the vast panning shot for WILD HEARTS CAN'T BE BROKEN.

Trainee matte painter Justin Brandstader working on an unidentified film.
Much production value has been furnished on a low budget courtesy of UK matte artist Leigh Took for the kids film SPIES (1991), which even though few details are available, I'm certain Leigh mentioned this as being for Disney.

Leigh Took's original matte painting on glass.  Leigh learned the artform while working for UK senior matte exponent Cliff Culley in the late 1970's and has applied those methods on countless films.  Interestingly, even in this high end digital era Leigh's most recent film assignment was a war picture whereby he was employed to do traditional in camera glass shots.  Let's have a cheer for glass & oils!

British matte painter Leigh Took.
Leigh Took also painted this 19th Century matte shot for AMY FOSTER - SWEPT FROM THE SEA (1997)

Warren Beatty's DICK TRACY (1990) looks better each time I watch it.  Fantastic art direction, costume design, music score and wacked out secondary characters are all sensational but the true winning element being the dazzling photographic effects and matte shots - some 66 of 'em.  Buena Vista Visual Effects should (and I believe did) hold their collective heads high with pride.
A rare view of a major Disney matte painting in it's earliest stages of block in for the epic matte shot feature, DICK TRACY (1990).  David Mattingly, shown here, was one of some eight artists to work on the huge effects show.

Detail from the above painting at a more finished stage.

Whoever said shameless self promotion was dead?  Buena Vista Visual Effects get their name up in lights!
One of the biggest matte paintings ever I suspect.  Michele Moen paints alongside David Mattingly.
Highly regarded matte painter Michele Moen adds detail to one of more than twenty mattes she was personally tasked with. Said Harrison Ellenshaw; "Michele and Paul did most of the work, mainly because they were both so damned good.  I would try to help out as best I could, but in most cases we would want Paul or Michele to at least put the finishing touches on most of the paintings".

One of Leon Harris' detailed layouts which would form the basis of the opening matte flyover.  Harrison mentioned it as being an incredible gift to have someone else pre-work the composition and all of the difficult perspective.

Artists on board DICK TRACY included Paul Lasaine, Michael Lloyd, Michele Moen, David Mattingly, Harrison Ellenshaw, Tom Gilleon, Peter Ellenshaw, Lucy Tanashian and Leon Harris who, uncredited, did all of the meticulous draftsmanship for each painting.
With the gargantuan mural sized matte virtually complete, the artists felt something just wasn't working, in this case the sky.  An emergency 911 call of sorts was put through to veteran Disney matte icon Peter Ellenshaw, whereby the now long retired movie magician came in for a few days to paint in a new sky.  According to both Moen and Lasaine the two experienced painters just stood there with mouths agape as Peter took a vast housepainter's brush and without hesitation just 'swept' across their somewhat laboured sky and painted it out completely, replacing it with a new colour scheme of his own devising with considerable success. 
Paul Lasaine at work on one of the bridge mattes featured at the film's conclusion.
Matte in progress and ready for camera.
The opening flyover combining the vast matte painting with motion control miniature foreground buildings.  The director's decision to pick up the pace considerably would see much of this careful work sacrificed as the sequence ended up being skip framed in the optical printer to speed up the camera move.  Ellenshaw had high praise for optical printer operator Kevin Koneval whom he regards as one of the best optical guys ever.
One of Michael Lloyd's cityscape mattes in it's early block in.  Lloyd would paint some six full paintings from scratch in addition to supervising the whole DICK TRACY matte enterprise. Michael preferred to work for long hours on one matte at a time from start to finish all by himself, it was still largely a team effort. Late in production it became clear that the workload was so great on Michael that additional help would be needed.  Harrison Ellenshaw was enlisted as co-effects supervisor and although no individual matte was entirely Harrison's, the long time experienced Disney artist would contribute considerably to many of the paintings currently in progress.
More of the multitude of DICK TRACY mattes.

Part of another large matte where a dolly camera move would travel across three areas of live action (final shot shown below).  I commend the BVVE boys for achieving such incredibly clean composites on all of the matte shots.  Really top shelf comp work all the way with guys like Peter Montgomery and Glenn Campbell on camera duties.

The final epic scaled camera move.  Camera starts on Beatty on street and sweeps up across the cityscape past a moving El Train and closing in on the Ritz Club live action.  Sensational shot.

Mattingly and Lasaine busy themselves in the BVVE matte department, with Paul's matte art shown at right.
More before and after DICK TRACY magic.  Much more painted here than you might think.

Plate shot on the Universal backlot, heavily augmented by Paul Lasaine's matte art.  Wonderfully subtle integration of pseudo El Train movement via gags on the matte stand (and sound fx) in the Whitlock tradition.

Another of Paul's 20 or so mattes painted for DICK TRACY

Another Lasaine matte from the same sequence.
Final comp.

TracyTown by night... tours start hourly from 7pm.
The famous shunting yard chase where matte art, live action and a fantastic model train are seemlessly combined in a series of superbly assembled back to back effects shots.

Frames from the train sequence.  Michael Lloyd painted the matte and oversaw the complex sequence.  Note the magnificent large scale miniature train (rented from a model train enthusiast).  The lower left pic illustrates just how little actual physical set was constructed.  Just a small facade and a length of railway track.  Terrific sequence.

Shantytown... the part of TracyTown not on the tourist map.  Keep an eye on your wallet here folks.
Composite matte shot, with Michele Moen's painting shown below.

Michele Moen original matte artwork.
One of my favourites... a delightfully fanciful slice of Disneyana.
Final comp of above painting.  Note the painted foreground police car.  Lasaine and Ellenshaw worked together on this.
Another of my fave DICK TRACY mattes, this being a Michele Moen painting.  Harrison spoke very highly of Michele; "I have to say that Michele is one of the most accomplished artists I've ever had the pleasure to know.  Her work on DICK TRACY and many other films is never anything other than truly outstanding.  An added bonus is that she is a wonderful person."
Michael Lloyd's tram yard exterior - all paint except the lower left.
Before and after interior, I think by Michele Moen.

Combo model and glass shot set up resulting in the composite shown at bottom right. Note cameraman Peter Montgomery shrouded in black velvet so as to not show up as a reflection in the glass painting.

I was so impressed with the clean marry ups between painting and live action and asked Harrison about this; "Most of the shots were rear projection.  I'd left the department in 1979 to work at ILM and during the 1980's there was major restructuring with an emphasis on improving the quality of the rear projection compositing process.  At some point Michael Lloyd had taken over the department and by the 80's, thanks to him and to Peter Montgomery, as well as the technicians at Disney, they'd done alot of work refining the RP getting rid of 'hot spots', increasing the contrast and colour saturation".

According to Harrison Ellenshaw; "Dick Tracy was a unique film in many respects.  The process of creating the matte shots was very complex and extremely fastidious.  It was determined that each shot/set up would have a detailed illustration made using frame enlargement stills that were taken directly from the live action plates. Each illustration would provide director/star Warren Beatty with a visual representation for his approval before work was begun on the final matte painting itself.  Since there were many changes and new shots added throughout post-production, not all shots had a corresponding illustration.  The mattes were painted generally on 30" by 40" glass".

Working with Warren Beatty was often a trying experience, not in as much as Warren being 'difficult' but moreso his inability to have a concrete notion of what he wanted.  Beatty was very much a "I'll know what I want when I see it" sort of director.  Harrison told me at length of the hair pulling that went on as Warren constantly changed and at times counter-changed decisions pertaining to matte effects such as signage on buildings.  The sheer number of alterations and re-paint of signage to satisfy Warren's whims... 'Hotel Grant' would be repainted to 'Grant Hotel', and then at the last minute repainted back as 'Hotel Grant' all over again!  Harrison told me such whimsical changes of mind would set back the matte process by some 12-14 hours as repaints and recomposite work was initiated.  Ellenshaw commented to me that he got so frustrated that he painted in 'Hotel Grunt' into the final pullback as a form of protest.
Miniature boat, matte art and live action elements combined.
Before and after Paul Lasaine painted matte shot.

Michael Lloyd at work on what would become the closing shot of DICK TRACY.  Also shown here are the miniature buildings utilised as foreground elements to aid in correct perspective shift for the tilt up.

Another Michael Lloyd matte shot with a larger than life waterfront setting created.

Another of Michael Lloyd's mattes.  I think this was the one where Beatty wanted the sky changed, then didn't like it and wanted it back the way it was!!.

A hive of activity in the matte room with, from left,  Paul Lasaine, Lucy Tanashian, Michele Moen and Michael Lloyd.

The tremendous pullback consisting of matte art, miniature boat and bridge plus optically doubled fireworks.

Another winning DICK TRACY matte, by Paul Lasaine and Harrison Ellenshaw.
Final composite.

Detail from above matte. 

More detail
Disney's A KID IN KING ARTHUR'S COURT (1995) was one of their UK filmed affairs, and not altogether disagreeable.  Cliff Culley's Westbury Optical & Design was given the effects contract, with Culley having provided mattes on several earlier Disney shows as outlined in previous blogs.  Not all of Cliff's shots for this film however made the final cut, with two shots being re-done at Disney in Burbank, such as this shot which as shown here is Harrison Ellenshaw's revised matte shot.
A Cliff Culley fx shot, quite possibly a miniature with painted backing.
The second of the two replacement matte shots made by Harrison Ellenshaw after the initial British matte proved unsatisfactory (see below).
The original, unused matte painting.
BVVE matte artist Justin Brandstader working on a highly unusual matte painting for a special promotional short film for the Disney top brass, I think it was for HONEY I SHRUNK THE KIDS.  Brandstader worked in the matte department in the early 90's before moving over to Walt Disney Feature Animation for about eight years and later went on to work at Illusion Arts with Bill Taylor and Syd Dutton.
HONEY, I BLEW UP THE KID (1992) - "In spite of the fact that this is me at my goofball best (or worst), it's amazing that any boss could garner any respect with such antics.  Regardless, this is an excellent example of matte painting by BVVE's excellent artist, Paul Lasaine, that utilised two plates.  One plate was of the 'big baby' climbing over a miniature wall, while the other plate was of live action actors reacting.  You may notice that the painting does not have a continuous join of paint.  For those parts we would carefully use black tape for one plate exposure and then match the opposite side with black tape before pulling off the first black tape.  Sounds complicated, but not really.  There was also a tilt down but I can't remember if it was motion control or done by hand".
The Buena Vista Visual Effects matte department, circa 1991.  Note the old mattes up on the wall, with the one at far right possibly being from DARBY O'GILL AND THE LITTLE PEOPLE?

Paul Lasaine painted some exquisite mattes for the film THE SANTA CLAUSE (1994)

The utterly un-funny Tim Allen comped into Lasaine's matte art.

Another of Paul's superb photo real full paintings from THE SANTA CLAUSE, courtesy of Paul's excellent website.

Another Lasaine masterpiece, painted for a tilt up in THE SANTA CLAUSE.

The fairly entertaining Eddie Murphy vehicle, THE DISTINGUISHED GENTLEMAN (1992) saw this jaw dropping matte shot, though it's a safe bet that nobody ever noticed it. 
Paul Lasaine's matte painting, perfectly married up to the live action plate.  Just terrific!

Although not actually a Disney film (the effects were though), the White House satire, DAVE (1993) was an engaging romp made very watchable by the stars Kevin Kline and Sigourney Weaver.  Notwithstanding, BVVE's trick shots were phenomenal, from excellent motion control 'twin' gags through to a great many utterly invisible painted mattes that were as good as they get.  Every single shot of The White House and it's DC environs, plus other set extensions were pure matte magic by the highly talented Paul Lasaine.

Said Harrison Ellenshaw; "DAVE is the movie that put Buena Vista Visual Effects on the map.  Disney had a hard time understanding that it took a Warner Bros. film to make us legitimate, but it was thanks to Paul Lasaine - probably one of the best artists I have ever personally known, and I have known a alot of great artists.  Paul had a tremendous knowledge of perspective, composition and technique - an excellent artist with flare and style, but not overly stylish.  I never saw Paul do a bad painting.  When he left BVVE to go to work for the art department on THE PRINCE OF EGYPT, and it was a tremendous loss for us, but a real plus for Dreamworks".
Limited live action plate and final composite.  As good as it gets folks.
Lasaine at work on an extensive painting for the scene shown below.
Live action plate and final composite.  Is your jaw on the floor?

Another before and after with what appears to be a temporary in progress comp.
Construction of one of the key White House matte shots.  Note the top edge of the Lasaine matte art in the lower right frame which will ultimately be cropped out when the film is framed at 1.85:1 for distribution and DVD.
Final comp with perfect match of light, shadow, hue.
A shot I'd never suspected until I saw Harrison's BVVE before and after reel!!
Even reverse angle views of Washington DC were matte art.  This Lasaine matte was comped as a tilt up as the car drives away.

A film so awful I wanted to shove red hot pokers in my ears and gouge my eyes out with teaspoons... HOCUS POCUS (1993) was a film I'm certain the Marines must have used as a torture device at Guantanamo Bay!  Not one, not two but 3 screeching harpies make up the insufferably high decibel triple header cast.... Oh my God... if it weren't for the beautiful mattes I'd have given this one the dropkick...  Anyway, now that's out of my system... the mattes are very nice though oddly, no Disney or BVVE matte artists get credit, rather Craig Barron's Matte World were credited for matte shots.  This shot I know is definitely a Matte World shot (see below).
Michael Pangrazio is seen here touching up the night cityscape matte art, with cameraman Craig Barron shown at lower left.  The film also credits Bill Mather and Brian Flora as matte painters - both Matte World staffers.

According to Ellenshaw, this shot was a Paul Lasaine matte, though the credits only mention the BVVE staff for opticals.
More from HOCUS POCUS - a film inexplicably actually 'green-lit'.

Another bit of the ole' HOCUS POCUS
HOCUS POCUS sunrise effects shot.

A Harrison Ellenshaw glass painting from the film WILDER NAPALM (1993).

Various pics - top right is matte cameraman Ed Sekac programming the MatteScan camera system for THE BLACK HOLE, while at lower left is a Michael Lloyd block in of a key DICK TRACY matte.  Bottom right we see Lasaine with the two Ellenshaws, circa 1992.  Note the pair of MARY POPPINS mattes on display.

His name escapes me but the matte certainly doesn't.  The magnificent Lasaine Atlantic City Boardwalk matte for the pleasantly harmless little film WILD HEARTS CAN'T BE BROKEN (1991).  A number of wonderful matte shots feature in this film.
A closer view of the matte.  Note the unpainted portions where rear projected elements (beachgoers and ocean) would be rear projected in.
Part of the extensive pan down the boardwalk.
Close up of Lasaine's remarkable rendering.  Note the rear projected people and water plates.

Before and after illustrates just how extensive Paul's painting actually was, with even the row of benches and foreground architecture the result of the paintbrush.
WILD HEARTS CAN'T BE BROKEN Atlantic City matte painting.
An extensive Lasaine matte shot with limited live action.  Note, BVVE chief Harrison Ellenshaw is one of the extras there.
WILD HEARTS matte shot with optically inserted horse animation leaping from tower.

Well folks, that's about it for now.  I'll be back again with some great stuff including my long planned examination of Matte Art and The Urban Landscape (some good material there, including some more jaw dropping Ken Marschall mattes I've not previously shown, among other gems).
Also, I'll be doing a big special on Albert Whitlock.  I know I've covered Whitlock in the past but I have so many new, additional matte shots - many that I just know haven't been seen before - that it's time for a revisit.  Some rare Whitlock glass shots from a private collector, a considerable number of high quality BluRay images and some frames from obscure films and tv shows.... so stay tuned.

A nice place to conclude... the lonely life of the matte painter.  Michele Moen doing solo duties on that vast DICK TRACY panoramic... it's almost an Edward Hopper vision in itself.