Tuesday, 22 January 2019

A CAREER PORTRAIT OF A MASTER: The Mattes & Visual Effects of Albert Whitlock - Part Two



Well folks, it's apparently now 2019 believe it or not (Personally, I have my doubts), and after a restful summer break (Southern Hemisphere down here where I am of course), I'm happy to present, as promised, the second part in my admittedly mammoth career retrospective on the many cinematic illusions that comprised the work of the great Albert Whitlock.  In an effort to be as comprehensive as possible, I've covered and illustrated as many of Al's film projects as possible, as well as some selected fine art examples that haven't been seen in the public arena until now. 

Albert works on a shot for MacARTHUR (1977)
I don't believe Al's long career has ever been covered nor examined to such an extent until now.  I've got some familiar shots as well as many unfamiliar shots, often from quite obscure films or tele-movies, in addition to more of the shots from the Pinewood era where Albert was matte artist from the late forties through to 1954.  Some of those British films are definitely Al's as he was lucky in that Pinewood often gave him screen credit, which was pretty much unheard of for a mere matte artist.  Others from the Rank or Gainsborough studio I've included from those years may have had input from Whitlock, though we'll likely never know, other than he was principle matte artist after former chief artist, Les Bowie, departed and went independent.

There are also some more great mattes from the Roger Corman Poe films which I am certain are the work of Albert due to the style and especially the patented 'donut' skies and spindly dead foliage which featured in so much of Al's work.  Butler-Glouner was effects contractor for those Poe films and didn't have their own matte department, so often called on Albert to fill their requirements, without credit, though with a good enough 'deal' otherwise.  There are some terrific high resolution mattes in this blog, with some such as THE PRISONER OF ZENDA (1979) being shown for the very first time in HD.

One of Al's Emmy nominated mattes for VANISHED (1971)
I've tracked down literally as many of Al's shows and shots as I possibly could, though a few, mainly tv shows still are hard to find, especially in any decent, viewable format.  I did manage to track down the long lost Richard Widmark ABC Movie of the Week, VANISHED (1971), for which Albert was Emmy nominated for his mattes, though the video quality was abysmal at best, I still included the shots here, from what is an excellent political thriller screaming out for a DVD release (Hey, Universal-MCA... are you listening?).


A few shows had Al's name in the credits though I never found his work, even after repeat viewings.  Cases in point were Mike Nichols' terrific espionage drama THE DAY OF THE DOLPHIN (1973) and the tv pilot LOG OF THE BLACK PEARL (1975).
Whitlock surveys his painted oil field for OKLAHOMA CRUDE (1973)
Both of these films may have had subtle additions of boats at sea or something along those lines, I don't
know.  Often BluRay shows up shots that I missed on other formats.  If anyone knows, do tell NZPete  :)
Any snippet of extra info is helpful for future write ups.

So, what follows is a vast collection of more Whitlock magic than you could shake a stick at - much of it looking better than you would have seen these mattes ever look previously, so please enjoy, preferably on a proper computer/display, please,  and do give me you feedback.

But first, some most pleasing news...

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Doco shoot, with Al, Mike Moramarco & Dennis Glouner
An Important Newsflash....

Most Whitlock fans, as well as those trick cinematography buffs who thankfully still hold a high regard for the traditional 'oils on glass' art form that was matte painting, will be familiar with the excellent, one-of-a-kind television documentary from 1981, ALBERT WHITLOCK - MASTER OF ILLUSION, by film makers and ardent Whitlock fans, Walton Dornisch and Mark Horowitz.  Their doco really was revered as the Holy Scrolls when it came to documenting and revealing the magic of the matte painter's process as it played out.  I well remember it showing on television here in NZ back in the day.  It screened at 6pm on a Monday night, and thankfully we owned a VCR (actually the first ever JVC model ever sold in this country... as big as a BBQ and it cost a fortune at NZ$2200 back in the day ... and the blank VHS tapes would set you back around $30 to boot, so whatever was recorded had to be damned good to keep with the plastic 'non-erase' safety tab chipped out.... but I digress).

Mel Brooks shows zero emotion when Al's matte of ancient Ostea is revealed.
  Thankfully, that Al Whitlock documentary was an absolute, bona-fide keeper and was my most viewed tape for years.  As well as making a dupe copy or two as insurance against tape-hungry video machinery (hey, don't laugh... back in the day those bloody VCR machines did eat movies from time to time, with that particularly gasp inducing crunching sound resonating from within the bowels of said Japanese machinery, that nothing, short of an air raid could get the film enthusiast (moi) leaping out of his chair quite so fast!).  Years later I was fortunate to obtain a pristine, mint 16mm film print of said doco as well, which looks great when projected on a 12 foot screen.

"Did I ever tell you the one about the 2000 year old man?"
As a result of my previous epic Whitlock blog last November, I was contacted by one Walton Dornisch, the very producer of ALBERT WHITLOCK - MASTER OF ILLUSION.  Walton seemed to appreciate what I had done with the retrospective and, even though I had screwed up the spelling of not only his first name, but that of his surname as well in some of my photo captions, Walton was gracious enough about it all when I explained how risky it would be to go back in and fix the mistakes, with a degree of risk associated with tampering with already published blogs.  Anyway, our conversations were most fruitful, and as sheer coincidence would have it, Walton had for some time been preparing a series of special Whitlock related projects.  So, as Leonardo DiCaprio said in Tarantino's wonderful DJANGO western, I responded with "You now have my attention."

Esteemed director Robert Wise gives his personal blessing.
As it turned out Walton had thankfully preserved all of the original one inch video elements from 40 years ago - of which there were several hours worth - from that original shoot, which itself took place over some time.  Together with archival interviews, the documentarian also had a considerable collection of photographs, taken during the Whitlock sessions as well as rare, never before seen show reels containing Albert's before and after matte shots. All of this valuable material will now be made available for viewing via a four-part web series, in addition to being eventually donated to the Motion Picture Academy archive.

The first web episode is now available for viewing on YouTube:  "ALBERT WHITLOCK - A MASTER OF ILLUSION, AND HOW IT CAME TO BE" which is a highly entertaining, informative and sometimes very funny examination of how the budding young film makers happened upon Albert (repeatedly) while employed at Universal in the editorial department, all of which kind of reminded me of the antics of the similarly enthusiastic young fans in the Robert Zemeckis Beatles-come-to-town flick I WANNA HOLD YOUR HAND (1978) or a pair of Mr Spock fans at a Trekkie convention.

The second web episode will be available in a few weeks and will be the original uncut MASTER OF ILLUSION documentary, with much additional footage that never made the 30 minute tv edit.  The film will be in HD for the first time (though Dornisch could only do so much with what was in fact broadcast quality 1 inch videotape as used in 1980 - not by any stretch the HDTV we know today, but still a marked step up from the usual on-line versions we might be acquainted with).

Mark Horowitz & Walton Dornisch quiz the master.
The third episode from Walton will be a revealing, insider's look at how much of a can of worms 'intellectual property' can be in the movie business, and just how the totally legit Horowitz/Dornisch MASTER OF ILLUSION doco was hijacked along the way by unscrupulous characters, hustlers and shameless profiteers.
The fourth web episode will be Al Whitlock's matte shot showreels and other goodies, including more out-takes from the MASTER OF ILLUSION doco.  In all, this series promises to be a vital and revealing study of a true master at work, presented with a unique insight from documentarians who were not mere journalists for hire, but dedicated 'fan-boy' movie magic geeks (and I mean that in the nicest possible way guys) with a passion for the craft. Once again, as of this writing, the first of the four episodes is now online and may be viewed here.  Enjoy.
The documentarians at work in Universal's matte department while Albert, Syd and Mike inspect the proceedings.  *Photo courtesy of Walton Dornisch.

I neglected to include this overview of the Universal Studios Matte Department's location in the previous blog.  Known as Building 98, Al's department shared the building with Universal's large Optical Dept. and was eventually turned into editing bays once the matte stuff was removed.

Al poses with one of his many HISTORY OF THE WORLD (1981) matte paintings. *Photo courtesy of Walton Dornisch.

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THE MATTES AND VISUAL EFFECTS OF ALBERT WHITLOCK - Part Two

*Special thanks to Stephen Perry, Tom Higgenson, Walton Dornisch, Domingo Lizcano, Thomas Thiemeyer, Jim Danforth, Craig Barron, Syd Dutton and especially Bill Taylor.

Although I covered all of Al's work in EARTHQUAKE in the previous blog, this rare original matte painting was just sent to me by Walton Dornisch, the maker of the doco ALBERT WHITLOCK-MASTER OF ILLUSION.  Albert gave Walton this matte as a parting gift, which turned out to be a double-whammy as there was another full painting on the reverse side.  That painting features later in this blog.

Now, I also included THE HINDENBURG (1975) in the previous blog but I missed out a vital, though seemingly invisible photographic special effect, which I, in error, included the wrong movie frames with Bill Taylor's description.  It may not look it, but the ever so brief shot is very ingenious. I was asking Syd Dutton about some of his favourite Whitlock shots and he immediately mentioned a particular shot - illustrated above - that I had always overlooked.  "One of my favourite Al shots in the film wasn't a painting at all; and I'm referring to the men on the guide-line shot at magic hour as the ship explodes.  Pure genius."  Syd then asked Bill to further elaborate on this mystifying trick shot:  "Syd is referring to the shot in which the men holding the mooring lines are suddenly lit up by the explosion of the airship above them.  Our camera was on one of the big corner pylons of the airship hanger in Santa Ana.  The same men were shot twice in exactly the same positions - their feet carefully marked and each man taking a note of his body position.  In one shot they were in full sun from above, casting strong shadows.  On cue, they dropped the lines and ran away.  In the second shot, made later the same day when the sun was low enough to be off them (Magic Hour), we shot them in the exact same spots, looking upward at the airship.  I had shot a Polaroid of the guys in the first shot and we used it to cue them into matching poses."  Bill further described the effect:  "The shot in the film starts with the Magic Hour shot,  With a very soft-edged wipe we transitioned to the brightly-lit men, colour timed to appear as though they are lit by the exploding airship.  Their shadows provide 'exclamation marks' as each man runs for his life.  Because the scope of the shot is so wide, it would have been impossible to achieve the effect with any actual lighting instrument, and of course, any real pyrotechnic effect would have been very dangerous.  As Syd said, it was a brilliant idea.  Al did not get hung up on whether the effect was physically 'authentic'; he knew for the few seconds that were needed it would play perfectly."

The aforementioned Robert Zemeckis comedy I WANNA HOLD YOUR HAND (1978) featured an effects sequence at the end where an obnoxious character clambers up a transmission tower atop of Radio City Music Hall and gets struck by lightning.  A fun movie, with a frantic pace and great moments.  Positives include veteran character actor Dick Miller, while at the opposite end of the scale, a certified 101% aggravating Eddie Deezen (is there any other kind?) makes the viewer want to buy a gun and blow his/her own brains out!
Whitlock work from I WANNA HOLD YOUR HAND

Now here's an obscure one, an old William Castle chiller, I SAW WHAT YOU DID (1965) which wasn't too bad and was the basis, kind of, for the much later I KNOW WHAT YOU DID LAST SUMMER made in 1997.

Albert supplied a few elaborate matte shots for the film including the big opening panoramic matte where he created an entire rural setting, with Ross Hoffman's matte camera panning slowly across and finally pushing in on a stately home complete with live action.  Very impressive for a 'B' movie.

Frames from the panoramic matte camera move.

The shot must have been a multi-plane gag as the foreground trees are independent of the more distant scenery, all of which is painted, with the exception of the front entrance to the house and part of the driveway where the girl is.


The latter part of the same vast camera move matte shot.

Another Whitlock shot from I SAW WHAT YOU DID (1965) where the upper half of the set has been painted in.

Universal's low budget WWII picture IN ENEMY COUNTRY (1968) had some mattes that would show up again a few years later in ESCAPE OF THE BIRDMEN.

IN ENEMY COUNTRY (1968), and again later on in ESCAPE OF THE BIRDMEN (1971)
Marty Feldman's not terribly funny spoof IN GOD WE TRU$T (1980) would see Whitlock and protege Syd Dutton share matte painting duties.  This shot, I believe, was one of Syd's and had the classic soft split moving cloud gag.

A tilt up matte shot, possibly by Syd, from IN GOD WE TRU$T.  Syd mentioned to author Tom Higgenson:  "Marty Feldman was just a wonderful man, and impossible not to like."
A massive tilt down effects shot from IN GOD WE TRU$T (1980).

IN GOD WE TRU$T matte work.   
The first shot in the Yul Brynner western, INVITATION TO A GUNFIGHTER (1964) is painted from halfway point on upward, with all distant scenery manufactured by Whitlock.

Also from the same film is this full painted vista.
Although I put one of these shots from Gene Roddenberry's GENESIS II (1973) in the previous blog, I wasn't certain at the time whether it was Albert's work, though it had all the hallmarks of his technique. I can now happily confirm that it is definitely Al's work as I found the before and afters on the show reels belonging to Walton Dornisch.  Case solved!

I well recall enjoying the series IRONSIDE in the mid seventies.  This matte is a beauty and is from an episode titled The Caller.  Syd Dutton once mentioned how much he admired this painted view of San Francisco, with Al's standard 'dots and dashes' with white paint being enough to simulate the lights of the city.

From another episode of IRONSIDE, titled Death By The Numbers.  Most of the frame here is pure Whitlock.

I didn't have complete copies of either of these films, in fact, all I have are single shots from each.  On the left is ISLAND OF THE BLUE DOLPHINS (1964), while at right is I'D RATHER BE RICH (1964)

IT HAPPENED ONE CHRISTMAS (1977) was a misguided, sweeter than Diet-Coke, made-for-tv rehash of the classic IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE, with really only Albert and his assistants providing any real entertainment value.  The show opens with this impressive journey to Earth of an Angel, to do whatever it is that those mythical creatures do.  Some nice optical work by Bill Taylor and Dennis Glouner.

The Angels-eye vantage point of the small town as painted by Al.

I liked this IT HAPPENED ONE CHRISTMAS shot very much.  I think it's a complete matte painting (shot as a pan across) of the housing development which is central to the narrative.  Oddly, Al was credited on the show as 'Albert J. Whitlock, jnr' !

Star and producer, Marlo Thomas, contemplates suicide.  Apparently Marlo actually approached the legendary Frank Capra, before embarking on this project, with Capra of course having directed the old, certified American classic, Jimmie Stewart original, and upon telling Frank of her plans to remake his film, asked him for some advice as to how to do it.  Capra's reply was simply "Don't!"  Classic!

 A rare matte painting that Al made for tests for his dream project that unfortunately never got made.  Albert had always wanted to do a film of the novel TIME AND AGAIN which would have extensively utilised matte trickery to establish period New York locations that have long since gone. Albert spoke about this dream project in 1977:  "It's a story about New York in the 1880's and it could only ever be done with mattes. It was probably the most exciting city in the world.   The Brooklyn bridge was just being built then, The arm of the Statue of Liberty  was then erected in the early Madison Square, all on it's own, and people could walk up the thing, just as they do now.  The old Post Office - the one that was torn down, features in the story too.  The NY of those days, Fifth Avenue with the Astor and Vanderbilt mansions is completely gone now, so I don't see any other way of doing the film."  Just recently in an email from Bill Taylor, he further elaborated on this matte:  "The Hotel Nadeau matte is a painting that Al created as a background to test the first 'white cel roto' composite shot.  The goal was to allow foreground actors to appear in front of the painted portions of the shot without the aid of a blue screen on the set.  Mike Moramarco, our matte camera assistant, walked across the street from left to right at several speeds.  He was traced onto large foreground plane cels right on the matte stand.  His silhouette was painted in white animation paint.   The stack of cels was front-lit and photographed against a black background, through red, blue and green filters as three passes through the camera, three separation positives bi-packed in the camera.  Then the painting replaced the black background and was front-lit in the usual way.  Minus the front lights on the cels, the cels became a black silhouette, used in the fourth pass through the matte camera as the painting was photographed (first generation).  One secret was to make the cel plane just slightly out of focus.  Another was to trace directly onto the cels rather than onto paper, thus reducing error.  This of course is exactly what Clarence Slifer and his MGM matte department had been doing for years, at least since the 1950's, except their white mattes were painted on large sheets of glass!  They used it to fly birds over paintings in MUTINY ON THE BOUNTY and THE GREATEST STORY EVER TOLD and other shows.  The stack of glasses was formidable, not to mention breakable.  Al realised that cels could be nearly unlimited in size, allowing greater roto detail and precision, and since we shot on camera negative rather than on super slow intermediate stock like MGM did, we did not have to cope with MGM's ripping hot lights, which would have literally fried animation cels.  We used the white cel system extensively, though after I came on we tried to get foregrounds on blue screen when we could.  The goal was to avoid duping the paintings."  Whitlock used this method often, on films such as DIAMONDS ARE FOREVER and THE MAN WHO WOULD BE KING among others.  Bill later on also happened to tell me:  "This painting was not used, other than for the test.  I should have mentioned that Al loved Finney's novel TIME AND AGAIN and was doing anything he could to promote Michael Crichton's proposed film.  The choice of subject matter was to show exactly how the scope of the matte shots could be expanded to tell the story, rather than the stereotype of the actors always being politely below the matte line."

Among the numerous films that Albert worked on as an independent matte painter was Edward Small's JACK THE GIANT KILLER (1961).  Whitlock painted three of the mattes, while Bill Brace contributed others and even a young Jim Danforth did one, though I believe Jim's shot never made the finished film.

Another of Whitlock's shots from JACK THE GIANT KILLER.  Jim Danforth told me that the photography of the paintings and composite work was outside of Al's control. Howard Anderson's company was the main effects supplier.

A suitable fairy tale ending to a fairy-tale flick;  JACK THE GIANT KILLER.

Al was assistant matte artist to Peter Ellenshaw at Disney from 1954 until 1961, and among the projects he worked on was KIDNAPPED (1960).  The young effects enthusiast and soon to be master vfx artist Jim Danforth visited the Ellenshaw department in 1960 and met the artists and technicians.  Jim mentioned in his memoir how he first was introduced to Albert as Al was painting the mattes for this sequence.  The cobble-stoned courtyard was a large oil painting on hardboard which was laid down on the effects stage floor with the camera directly above.  Miniature stone masonry was then dropped down onto the artwork while interactive 'lightning' flashed from off camera.  Simplicity itself.

Another matte from KIDNAPPED which may have been Al's based upon the particular style of spindly dead branches which are notable in many of Whitlock's shots.  Some of the mattes in this film were done quite cleverly as foreground glass shots on location, with great results.

The seventies saw some interesting made for tv movies, and KILLDOZER (1975), despite it's title, was quite good I found.  

More Whitlock work from the better than you'd think KILLDOZER.  If you have to see one movie about possessed, homicidal bulldozers, then this is your movie!

A revealing 'between takes' snapshot of Al during the filming of the documentary ALBERT WHITLOCK - MASTER OF ILLUSION back in 1980.  Behind Al is camera assistant Mike Moramarco who is preparing to shoot one of the HISTORY OF THE WORLD mattes.  *Photo courtesy of Walton Dornisch.
The cut price swashbuckling epic THE KING'S PIRATE (1967) used Al's brushwork for three of these shots, though not the lower left frame, which as any effects buff will know is from an entirely different flick altogether.  Famously seen in Ray Harryhausen's THE 7th VOYAGE OF SINBAD - a Columbia picture, the shot was in fact stolen from a much earlier Universal programmer, THE VEILS OF BAGDAD, and was surely a Russ Lawson painting.  The matte has shown up in numerous other pictures over the years and must be one of the most overused mattes ever.

Roger Corman's film of the Edgar Allen Poe story THE HAUNTED PALACE (1963) may have been a Whitlock assignment, though I have no evidence to back it up other than the 'spindly' tree branches in the matte shown below and the backlight evening sky effect which looks like Al to me.

THE HAUNTED PALACE (1963).  Note the very Whitlock style sky and branches.

I remember being in stitches when I saw this back in the cinema in 1977 (at the Plaza Theatre in Queen street, Auckland if I recall).  Some Whitlock flourishes included matte art, travelling matte gags and amusing animation to good comedy effect.  I asked Bill about this neat sequence where the monochrome character is full-on silent speed, hand cranked, covered in scratches and blunt cement splices:  "This was Marty's gag.  I don't know who did the composite, but a nice job as I remember."

Also from Marty Feldman's THE LAST REMAKE OF BEAU GESTE (1977) was a splendid transition where our characters ride out of the desert at noon and arrive in Hollywoodland at night - and all in a single uninterrupted shot which dissolved between paintings (see below) and interactive light effects.

The latter part of the continuous shot with glorious searchlight animation and tinseltown evening glow.

A clever, though suspiciously grainy multi-part matte gag, with painted locations, moving sky and split screened (or not?) Michael York shaking hands with Marty Feldman, supposedly thousands of miles away.  It got big laughs back in the day.

A wonderful period drama, Gordon Parks' THE LEARNING TREE (1969), opened straight off into an elaborate and supremely well executed Whitlock sequence where a massive tornado sweeps across the farmland of 1920's Kansas. I asked Bill Taylor about the construction of this awesome effects shot:  "This is really a perfect shot and a great example of how Al was able to see what the essential visual cues were needed to sell the shot, rather than trying to simulate a tornado with air or water vortices.  The cone of the tornado is a tiny paper-and-tape sculpture, perhaps four inches high.  It has a pattern painted on it.  The cone was photographed in front of the matte painting, rotating on an axle and pulley assembly, made out of Meccano parts.  This assembly was built on an empty painting frame, and could be moved from side to side in it's slot, just like the painting behind it was moving to 'animate' the clouds.  Multiple exposures through the cone splits at several different rotation speeds, with the ground end rotating faster than the top, helped to break up the painted pattern so that it did not obviously repeat.  The top and bottom of the cone disappear into splits in the sky and landscape, and the cone itself has several splits running through it, allowing it to bend over slightly during the shot.  The cone was touched up between exposure sets to the same end.  There was a secondary, open cone - much broader and flatter that also carried a painted pattern.  Subtle exposures of that cone gave the impression of debris being kicked off the ground.  Many tests over the painting were necessary to achieve this effect.  This shot was completed on original negative, though Al was peeved that Warner's duped the shot to put a title on the film.  Of course, as Albert often said, 'First you've got to be able to paint the clouds', and this sky is a real masterpiece in itself."  Bill further added: "The tornado in THE LEARNING TREE appears as it travels from behind a diagonal split in it's band of sky, so it seems to move down to the ground.  When it touches down, the ground debris effect fades in.  Another brilliant Whitlock touch."
Back in the early eighties, Steve Martin was a comic genius and made many one-of-a-kind pictures that still work today.  THE LONELY GUY (1984) was one of those, and it was a classic black comedy.  This spectacular prehistoric vista was a real winner - all painted by Albert, with just a small foreground set with the caveman actor.  Beautiful pan across by Bill Taylor sells the shot.



A close up of Albert's painting.  Note that classic sky!

A project that Whitlock so much wanted to make for decades was THE LOST WORLD.  As early as 1964 Al had made conceptual artwork and tried to sell the idea to the top brass at Universal.  Jim Danforth was also involved at some point.  Albert wanted to shoot the film on location here in New Zealand, with much matte art to open up the action.  Even director John Landis got in on the act later on and tried to use his influence to get the film made, but to no avail.  Al's friend, Rolf Giesen wrote me:  "I know how Albert felt after Universal cancelled the LOST WORLD project in favour of HOWARD THE DUCK [now there's an executive decision for the ages!].  Albert was heartbroken and hurt.  Like many effects artists, he had a deep knowledge of filmmaking.  He wanted to keep the dinosaurs in the dark: hand puppets, paintings, eyes, stop motion, hopefully by his friend Jim Danforth."

Although it tried to emulate the classic George C. Scott bio-pic PATTON (1970), this film, MACARTHUR (1977) was hindered by a limited budget and uninspired script.  That said, I still enjoyed the film when I saw it in the theatre back in '77.  Al's department added considerable production value to MACARTHUR with their matte shots, bringing a convincing international realism to an otherwise domestic shoot.  This matte simulates a Philippines historic setting.
Before and after

Frames from a 1977 promotional reel demonstrating Al's abilities during the making of MACARTHUR.  Here, Al's crew shoot a plate of a San Diego railway siding, while Whitlock paints an extensive view of the main railway station in Melbourne, Australia for a key sequence.
The final scene, with the majority of it being pure Whitlock.  Dennis Glouner added a realistic blast of steam from the locomotive's stack which is doubled over the matteline for realism and to take the viewer's eye away from an otherwise static scene.

MACARTHUR had several scenes of the US Navy at sea, all of which were created in the matte department.  This is a multi-element effect, with painted convoy, real ocean and foreground actors performing in front of a process screen.  The shot has an odd artifact in it.  The background effects comp plate is obviously on a loop as there is a very visible splice where the background ocean 'repeats' mid shot.

More painted Naval action, complete with interactive pyrotechnics effects doubled in.  Great work.

Around three of these landing craft are real while the rest - including the one nearest to us, as well as the distant ships at sea are painted.
Before and after

Limited live action and locale augmented with extensive matte art and optical work.

The historic moment when General Douglas MacArthur wades ashore at Leyte and states "I have returned."  Much matte art here.
The Japanese surrender and peace is restored.  All painted here except for the foreground water and small launch.

The peace treaty is signed by all representatives of the war in the Pacific.  An actual Naval vessel was utilised, though Albert was needed to paint in the appropriate guns and distant ocean, sky and ships.

MacArthur arrives in Nagasaki post atomic blast.  A superbly rendered matte shot.

MACARTHUR - A most curious matte shot, which though well painted, has it's matte split running along the right rows of people, effectively cutting the heads off of the extras after the ceremonially bow to Gregory Peck.  Very strange indeed.
I seem to recall from discussions with Bill that he wasn't too happy with this shot for some reason.


One of Al's best ever mattes is this phenomenal MACARTHUR painting of The White House grounds, actually shot on a golf course in Pasadena.  A masterpiece of the artform.

Before and after revelation.

Albert proudly shows off his White House painting.  Note the absence of the US flag which was doubled in separately. *Photo courtesy of Walton Dornisch.

An invisible matte shot that transformed Los Angeles into New York city for Don Siegel's MADIGAN (1968)

Some of the mattes that Albert created - and was screen credited for - for the British war picture THE MALTA STORY (1953).  Being a Rank film, Bill Warrington was chief of special effects, with Bert Marshall as effects cinematographer and Bryan Langley on travelling matte composites.

Lucille Ball's tone deaf musical extravaganza MAME (1974) was memorable at least for it's beautiful matte shots.  At top is a matte of a steamer arriving in New York, I think in the 1920's for memory.  Not a good quality frame grab but a great shot utilising a painted cityscape on one place and a separate glass with the ship on it (either painted or heavily retouched photo blow up pasted on glass, I can't recall).  Oddly, the same background matte art re-appeared years later in an almost identical shot for Richard Attenborough's bio-pic CHAPLIN (1990).  The bottom image shows Albert with his now famous Statue of Liberty matte painting, the result of which can be seen below

The remarkable Liberty Lady shot from MAME (1974).  Albert was interviewed at the time with the reporter asking whether such an impossible angle strained the audience's credibility factor, and had this to say about the shot:  "Oh definitely it does.  In fact I just had that experience on MAME.  There is a high angle shot looking down at Lucille Ball and the boy sitting on one of the spikes of The Statue of Liberty.  Now, you know darn well that the audience isn't going to buy that.  The credibility factor is zero, so the question was, are you going to create an illusion that will be acceptable to the audience?  Well, I talked to the director about it, and he was very bright.  In fact, it was he who said that nobody is going to believe this is for real, and I agreed.  So I said 'Why don't we shoot it in back-light?'  I had to swing around the real light and put sparkle in the painted water, sort of like the old idea of putting a woman in a sequin dress to make her look glamourous.  But being a musical, everyone hopefully is caught up in the musical number, so it worked." 

Jaw dropping best describes this Whitlock masterwork from MAME.  The grandest of ballrooms and entirely oils on glass!

The final, flawless O/Neg composite.

Period New York street scene as seen in MAME (1974)

Another jaw dropper of a trick shot from MAME, with practically everything painted in here, including most of the aircraft.  Al's sense of light and time of day is exquisite to say the least.

Sprawling matte shot from MAME with several pockets of live action.  Breathtaking, and it's the reason why the top executive at Warner Bros called Albert "Universal's secret weapon" because he could make something grand out of very little.

One of the films which saw Pinewood's matte department engaged in the late forties was THE MARK OF CAIN (1947) which Les Bowie was chief matte artist at the time though Albert was his assistant so he may well have participated in this.

That classic Whitlock night sky is unmistakable here in this matte (with rippling water and sparkle effects) that was done initially for the Rock Hudson comedy MAN'S FAVOURITE SPORT (1964) - itself an amusing spoof indeed but sadly the shot never made the final cut.  It did however turn up a decade later in a McMILLAN AND WIFE episode, Blues For Sally M.
Another Pinewood production from the UK was THE MILLION POUND NOTE (1954) where, once again, Al was in the effects department and may have been involved in the matte.
While at Disney Studios, Albert worked on many films and television shows, with one notable one being the American classic tale of JOHNNY TREMAIN (1957).  Al's boss, Peter Ellenshaw turned his hand at Production Design on this film, though I'm sure he managed a few mattes as well.  Whitlock painted some of the mattes, with fellow Disney and former Fox  painter Jim Fetherolf, and commented later to cameraman Bill Taylor of the incongruity of the tiny sets against the gigantic matte shot vistas in that film.

More colourful matte work from JOHNNY TREMAIN.  Just a note, Albert also painted on DAVY CROCKETT, TONKA, WESTWARD HO THE WAGONS, THIRD MAN ON THE MOUNTAIN, THE MICKEY MOUSE CLUB and ZORRO, though in most instances I've not included frames in this blog.

Nobody would have seen this one till now, but thanks to Walton Dornisch, who produced that Whitlock documentary we can now appreciate what was titled as KONG'S LAIR.  It's a large oil painting, rendered on the reverse side of an EARTHQUAKE matte, and was given to Walton by Al in 1980.  It's thought to be a fully refined concept painting for Universal's proposed but ultimately unmade KING KONG picture around 1976.  The Dino De Laurentiis film was first horse out of the starting gate so the Universal one was shelved.
Before and after from the made for tv PORTRAIT OF A MAN CALLED JOHN (1974), a film about one of the Pope's.
More mattes from PORTRAIT OF A MAN CALLED JOHN which was shot mostly at Universal  though Al's magic took the story to Rome and Istanbul.

Istanbul, Turkey as created by Albert for the same show.

From the same tv movie is this totally fabricated scene of Rome.

The seventies turned out some many terrific films in my book, and John Huston's marvellous THE MAN WHO WOULD BE KING (1975) is definitely one of the best, and in fact is one of the greatest adventure pictures ever made.  Although the film has several fine matte shots only this one was the work of Albert.  One of his best ever mattes, the mighty reveal is one of the highlights of the film.  The guy with the traditional horn was shot so as to allow his horn to deliberately pass over the painted area by means of the white cel rotoscope system which Al utilised often on films as diverse as DIAMONDS ARE FOREVER through to EARTHQUAKE.

Astonishingly, this splendid matte was completed in just six hours after several other matte painters in England couldn't quite achieve the look that the director was seeking.  Wally Veevers headed the photographic effects unit on the film out of his independent operation based at Shepperton Studios with cameramen Peter Harman and John Grant.  The other mattes, which were very good, included deep icy crevices, mountain pass and a top notch collapsing ice bridge fx shot were painted by Doug Ferris, Peter Wood and Ron Dobson.  Interestingly, Veevers was screen credited as 'Optical Effects', while Whitlock was screen credited as 'Matte Artist'.
I was reliably informed that this painting seems to have been misplaced somewhere along the line.  I haven't got it... have you?

Detail from the lost painting.  Incidentally, Bill Taylor told me that Al did complete some other mattes for the film but these never made the final cut.  Apparently there is a before and after reel of these, which I'd love to see, at The Academy.

Here is another of those old Pinewood shows that were made while Al was employed in their matte department, so he may well have had a hand in it?  MADNESS OF THE HEART was it's correct title, and it was made in 1949.

MADNESS OF THE HEART (1949).  Les Bowie may have left by then, though other painters such as Cliff Culley and Peter Melrose were still on staff alongside Whitlock.

A great matte that looks a million dollars today, actually had a bad reputation earlier on in lousy incorrectly balanced 16mm tv prints (where I first saw it) and in fact the Universal top brass hated this shot, and many of the others from MARNIE (1964) so much that they requested Al remove them from his sample reel!!  True story.  Some years later they had quite a different opinion when Al did the amazing shots for COLOSSUS-THE FORBIN PROJECT (1970), with those shots being strongly promoted on the studio's show reel.

Also from MARNIE - a film I never warmed to, even as a die hard Hitchcock fan, this one was bleak, dreary and by-the-numbers.  Great matte though, especially when appreciated here in high definition.

Same place but at a different time of the day, with foreboding clouds and flashes of lightning.
A very rare 1964 slate from the head end of the original 35mm take for one of the mansion exterior mattes.
A nice reveal of the live action plate and final composite.  Note just how extensively Whitlock has painted, for what was essentially two actual cars and a bit of a porch.  Quite bold I think.  The same view appears later with revised painting.

MARNIE mattes which did not enthrall Universal's top brass.  

Beautiful draftsmanship and perspective drawing.  Oddly, Albert always said he found the drawing aspect so difficult in the overall process.
The original slate with probably Mike Moramarco's hand in frame.  Mike had been with Albert from the beginning I think, and may even have been with Al's predecessor, Russell Lawson too?
The finished comp is really something else.  I don't know what those Universal 'suits' were on about?  Agh... what do execs know about the art of cinema anyway?  Such a splendid shot in every way.

Also from Hitchcock's MARNIE (1964) was this inconspicuous matte shot.  I think Al's painting is far more comprehensive here than one might first think.  Click it and examine it closely.

A shot from MARNIE that was recycled a decade on for a McMILLAN AND WIFE tv episode.

Comparison of the house matte as seen in two different effects shots where the season seems to have changed, as has the light and intriguingly, a post with a floodlight has suddenly appeared at extreme right.

Mattes from the Robert Redford helmed drama THE MILAGRO BEANFIELD WAR (1988).

The master at work at Universal in 1980.  Note the pic at lower left where Syd assists Al in the manhandling of a heavy glass painting mounted in specially made pine wooden frame.

One of the many virtually forgotten tv matte shots that Al did, with this beautiful Moscow shot being from an episode of the Dennis Weaver crime show McCLOUD made in the mid seventies.  The episode was The Moscow Connection.

Another matte from McCLOUD, which researcher and author Tom Higgenson finally identified for me after years of mystery.  The show was Encounter With AiresWhat a completely credible NY city street, and it was all shot on the Universal backlot.

The very, very, very long tv miniseries MASADA (1980) was also released in some territories in a, thankfully, re-cut theatrical edition titled THE ANTAGONISTS.  Lots of great matte shots though.

MASADA

More matte work from MASADA, an otherwise dull viewing experience.

The Roman (?) army gather for the onslaught.  Some extras split screened to appear greater in number, with others being painted.

The city goes up in flames as seen in MASADA (1980)

Al shows off one of his MASADA paintings, with the final shot - a tilt up - seen at right.

I like this shot from MASADA, where an extensive matte painted city has been augmented with a great deal of optically superimposed fire, smoke and soot.  The shot was impressive too for Dennis Glouner and Bill Taylor's camera move.

The popular Rock Hudson - Susan Saint James detective series McMILLAN AND WIFE ran from 1971-77 and occasionally featured substantial Whitlock effects work.  Most of these frames are from the 1973 episode Death of a Monster, Birth of a Legend.  
Same show.

McMILLAN AND WIFE with the Universal lake vastly extended by Albert's matte art.
Full painting from McMILLAN AND WIFE's Death of a Monster, Birth of a Legend.
More from the same McMILLAN AND WIFE episode, with what seems to be a full painting.
Same series and episode, complete with nice storm effects overlaid.  Al was certainly kept busy on this episode.

A terrific before and after from the same show demonstrates the level of perfection we came to expect from Al.  This painting went up for auction, along with a dozen other Whitlock's, about 10 years ago.
From the same episode of McMILLAN AND WIFE, made in 1973
A seemingly full auditorium is but a trick of the paintbrush.  A shot from another McMILLAN AND WIFE, titled as Blues For Sally M (1972)

One more McMILLAN AND WIFE show - Death is a Seven Point Favourite (1971)

Although it all kicked off intriguingly, the scenario took a sudden dive as the movie progressed.  MILLENIUM (1989) had always been considered 'unfilmable' by the very author of the original book, but they had a go anyway. 
A massive tilt down across a large painted matte with what appears to be some foreground model pieces used to dress the matte and provide a bit of depth.  Live action people and steam elements as well as a very nice optical time warp kind of thing as I recall.

Another shot where our main characters show up in another time zone after a mid-air plane crash, or something along those lines.  Incidentally, the plane crash miniature shots were terrific too, but not the work of Whitlock's people.

The eye popping closing shot from MILLENIUM (1989)

The Gregory Peck mystery thriller MIRAGE (1965) was a good little show with shades of Hitchcock-esque suspense.  Albert contributed a few shots at the start including views where a particular NY skyscraper has a curious blackout occur.

And after some skullduggery, the power mysteriously comes back on.  All Whitlock trickery.

Al's longtime effects cameraman, Ross Hoffman, handled this travelling matte sequence where a chap falls (or was he pushed?) to his death in MIRAGE (1965).  Good movie!

Costa-Gavras directed a very taut drama of the (CIA orchestrated) military dictatorship in Chile where Jack Lemmon's son is one of the thousands of 'missing', in the riveting film MISSING (1982).  I initially never spotted the fx work and asked Bill a number of years ago about it:  "The work in Missing is mostly in the stadium.  There were only a few hundred extras available, so there is a combination of split screens and painted people to expand the crowd."  Look closely and you'll see Jack's raised arm merge with the painted crowd.
A reverse view in the same sequence with Whitlock's enhancements.  Incidentally, Jack Lemmon should have taken the Oscar for both this and the equally superb THE CHINA SYNDROME (man, was that an edge-of-the-seat thriller!), but as usual, I digress...

When I was a kid I simply could not get enough of MUNSTER GO HOME (1966), and I'd go and see it every chance I got at Saturday matinee double features in various suburban Auckland movie houses (all but one gone now!)  It was often billed with something like Mc HALES NAVY JOINS THE AIR FORCE or THE GHOST AND MR CHICKEN - all high concept entertainments of the era I assure you.

Munster Hall in jolly olde England, as painted by Albert for the kids classic MUNSTER GO HOME.   Fred Gwynne, we still mourn ye!

Some of the effects shots from one of Albert's British films, THE NET - aka PROJECT M7 (1953).  A taut little suspense film made on a slim budget, though it did see Al get another on screen billing.

Among the Universal television shows of the seventies, Whitlock did this establishing shot for an episode of the David Janssen drama O'HARA:U.S TREASURY that was titled Moonshine.  This, and most of those other like-minded shows were great, and I still take a peek at some of them on one of our tv channels that shows nothing but retro tv.

A very hard film to find, the tough private eye cop film P.J (1967) with the always undervalued George Peppard.

Although I personally didn't care for the first film, aside from it's stunning matte paintings, NEVER ENDING STORY II (1990) was a better show all round I found (The less said about the third film, the better).  Albert was overall matte supervisor on the epic shot and would travel to Germany to oversee the original plate photography, though Bill stayed back in LA with Syd Dutton who  would be flat out doing most of the actual painting - of which there was a lot.  Some mattes were done by a separate unit set up in the studio in Bavaria, staffed by British painters Leigh Took and Peter Talbot, with Steve Begg also lending a hand by painting the sky on one of the epic shots which also entailed a Derek Meddings miniature (possibly the frame illustrated above, the way Steve described it to me).  A few paintings were recycled shots straight out of the first movie, by Jim Danforth (absolutely magnificent work) and Chris Evans.  A real 'who's who' of matte artisans on this film.
One of the numerous Syd Dutton shots, filmed with a pan and downward move to follow the kid on horseback.

This matte of The Crystal Valley was shown in the preview version but never made the final release version cut and was substituted by the remarkable Jim Danforth matte that was used in the first film (not shown here).  Bill said to me:  "Though we tried hard, Jim's shot is better."
A most magnificent fantasy landscape, all done on O/Neg.  Al's close friend, Rolf Giesen explained the situation for me:  "This painting was not done by Albert but by Syd Dutton.  Of course Albert went to Munich to supervise and plan the mattes with the director, with whom he had some arguments as I remember.  He also was around at Illusion Arts and supported Dutton  and Taylor, but as far as I know, he didn't do the paintings himself; maybe a little bit of painting here and there."

NEVER ENDING STORY II (1990)
One of the grandest shots in the film, and all on original negative.  painted by Syd under Al's supervision.

Syd Dutton with three of his mattes from NEVER ENDING STORY II.

I love this one so much.... just beautiful.
According to Bill:  "Al was around when we were working on these shots, so I'm sure he put his hand in.  He knew the producer, Dieter Geissler, and was on-set in Germany when all of these were shot.  Some of our paintings were on display at Babelsburg, Germany."

A sweeping panoramic matte if ever I saw one.

Close up of the above matte.

More detail to enjoy.  Love it!

Syd's big tilt down matte painted composite with the kids at the bottom.

It was the custom at Universal and later at Illusion Arts for artists to share a painting back and forth, so it's most probable that Albert worked on some of these shots, as the load for Syd must have been devastating.

I wonder about these two mattes.  They don't look like the style of Syd or Albert and may have been done by Peter Talbot or Leigh Took.  Leigh once mentioned how star struck he was when, while painting away in a makeshift studio in Bavaria in walks Whitlock!  Al offered Leigh advice such as "don't put too much varnish on it" and such like.  Leigh trained under one of Al's old time Pinewood associates, Cliff Culley, who himself had shared some of Whitlocks secrets for painting texture on rocks using a sponge or screwed up newspaper.  Steve Begg, who most recently handled the FX on all of the recent Bond films also told me how as an assistant to his FX idol, the late great Derek Meddings, he also got to meet Albert and said that at every opportunity: "I just plagued Albert with geeky questions, which AW just loved".  Steve told me how Derek and Al got along very well too - both being Brits and highly regarded in their respective fields, with Derek beginning in the business as a matte painter himself, under the eye of Al's former boss, Les Bowie.  Steve said that Al and Derek commiserated each other on Oscar injustices, with Al telling Derek straight out "you were robbed". It is indeed a small world in the matte sphere.  Six degrees of separation, or whatever it's termed.
Two late British FX greats: Derek Meddings and Albert during the filming of NEVER ENDING STORY 2  *photo courtesy of Steve Begg

NEVER ENDING STORY II matte credits

Albert oversaw the matte work, and there was much of it, in the television series AIRWOLF made around 1984.  I believe this is actually a Syd Dutton painting, as were most of them, but Al surely had his hand in.

Another big matte shot show for Universal was TALES OF THE GOLD MONKEY from the early 1980's.  Al is generally associated with the mattes in this show but I understand Syd painted many of them, though that lower left night sky looks unmistakably Albert's to me.  Certain other shots were farmed out to David Stipes, Jim Danforth and Sean Joyce to ease the quite considerable fx workload.

Close up detail from one of the mattes shown above, most likely painted by Syd Dutton as best my information has it.

OKLAHOMA CRUDE (1973) was a tremendously enjoyable movie, with a wonderful cast (Hell, I'd watch the great George C. Scott act out the 'yellow pages' and enjoy it!).  Albert was given a relatively short time frame in which to complete his four matte shots for the film.

In an interview conducted at the time of the film's release, Whitlock discussed how essential it was that the actual matte artist be present on the set or on location when a matte shot is being designed or photographed:  "I have to give credit to Peter Ellenshaw back at Disney for being the one who convinced Walt that the artist should be the one looking through the camera and blocking out certain areas, and was the obvious person for that job.  For instance, in Stanley Kramer's OKLAHOMA CRUDE there is a scene which is 85% painted.  It is an area shot of a forest of oil wells - all painted except for a bit of roadway - that I had exposed with a wagon and horses on it.  Looking through the camera I had the whole picture in mind.  If that all was delegated to a cameraman, he would come along and say, 'Why not paint some oil wells over there?'  But that's not really the way to do it.  For instance, this scene was shot in back light.  If it was shot in cross-light we would have to set up real oil wells to cast a shadow on the exposed roadway.  I don't think I paint better than anyone else; I just think it's the application that is better.  Also, the experience I've gained from doing such a great volume of this sort of work."
When asked in the same interview whether he composed the mattes all himself, Al's reply was:  "No, usually not.  For example, take OKLAHOMA CRUDE, it's a picture about a wildcat oil drilling operation on a mound out in the tulies.  In order to get the feeling of Oklahoma during the boom period, Kramer wanted scenes where John Mills and George C. Scott came through a forest of oil wells.  Obviously there's nowhere he could have gotten that shot because those are all period derricks.  There are some kicking around in the northern states, but not nearly enough to match our requirements.  His first problem was to build replicas half size, but when he put them up, the wind blew them all over.  Then the rains came and Stanley couldn't get the derricks up because he couldn't get heavy equipment into the area.  After a great deal of expenditure, they really had nothing in the picture to represent oil derricks.  The only wells you see in that picture are all in my matte shots."

The other two OKLAHOMA CRUDE Whitlock shots.

The rather amusing comedy-western ONE MORE TRAIN TO ROB (1971) was another showcase for Al's talents, though some of the work seemed to be subtle 'repair' shots.  The above show two views of a western town, entirely painted in longshot, and partially painted for the street views.

ONE MORE TRAIN TO ROB (1971), with much of this shot painted in just above Peppard's hat.

A stunner of a western setting from ONE MORE TRAIN TO ROB.

Frame #1:  A beautifully painted, photographed and animated Whitlock shot from the same film. Click on this and toggle through the next few frames to appreciate the subtle animation overlays of the sun coming out and slowly spreading along the prison's wall and landscape, as well as the soft split moving clouds gag.  A triumph!

Frame #2

Frame #3

An odd one this, also from ONE MORE TRAIN TO ROB was this apparent 'repair' job, or patch, to evidently conceal something when they shot the take.  The foliage and branches around Peppard's head have been painted in later.  His hat moves under the matteline.  Maybe the boom operator got into frame, or a McDonalds golden arch was seen?? Who will ever know?
Al and Mel share a moment during the effects shoot on HISTORY OF THE WORLD.  Note the painted castle interior for the Spanish Inquisition sequence.  The quality is poor as I had to push the levels so as to see the painting.  *Photo by Walton Dornisch

Here is another of the old British productions made during Al's time at Pinewood which had several mattes in it.  Val Guest's PENNY PRINCESS (1952).
Franklin Schaffner's fantastic real-life adventure, PAPILLON (1973) was, and remains, a remarkable achievement on all counts.  Albert supplied this long shot of the island and headland.

Roger Corman made as many quality films as he did 'take-the-money-and-run' drive in flicks.  PIT AND THE PENDULUM (1961) was a classic.  Beautiful art direction, atmospheric cinematography and Vincent Price as his most insane.  Butler-Glouner had the visual effects contract, as they did for most of the Poe films, and as usual they used Albert to furnish the film with the matte shots, all of which were memorable.  BTW, I love old style movie title cards and this font is a winner, unlike the films of today that don't even have a God-damned title card, so I have to wait 100 minutes just to find out what the hell I just watched!

There are few vices quite as satisfying in NZPete's life as the classic, old matte painted Gothic castle or manor house perched atop a storm lashed clifftop!  This one's something else.

PIT AND THE PENDULUM Whitlock shot that also appeared in Corman's utterly confusing 1963 two-day wonder THE TERROR  (a film that made no sense whatsoever, not even to the esteemed cast) a couple of years later, and again in other 'B' movies.
The dreaded pendulum of the title.  An entirely painted setting except for the plinth with the actors and the blade.

I've always been a sucker for exaggerated perspectives in matte work, and this one fits the bill nicely.
"You can check out any time you want, but you may never leave..."


I've always been curious about the composition of this matte shot, with the top being cropped off etc.  I suspect it was out of Whitlock's control and maybe Larry Butler or Roger Corman wanted more raging seas at the lower end during compositing?  Still, it's great to see these shots in full Scope 2.35:1 instead of the bloody awful old flat 'pan & scan' tv prints I grew up with.

Albert got screen credit once again for THE PLANTER'S WIFE - aka OUTPOST IN MALAYA (1952)

Ken Annakin's THE PLANTER'S WIFE (1952)

Disney's very popular POLLYANNA (1960) had several matte shots, though I do know for certain that this one was Albert's as budding effects artist Jim Danforth happened by the Disney matte department at the time and watched Al paint it.  Above we can see the actual house as it was on location before Whitlock did his alterations.  Other mattes were done by Peter Ellenshaw (the tree sequence) and Jim Fetherolf (probably the long tilt up the side of the house).

Whitlock's final matte in POLLYANNA (1960)

The savagely witty satire, THE PRESIDENT'S ANALYST (1967), had a couple of uncredited Whitlock shots.  The lower shot is a very broad pan across the city lights to a helicopter landing, and following people going up to the house on the hill.  

Not by any means a good film, or even a halfway amusing film, the Peter Sellers PRISONER OF ZENDA (1979) at least had a bounty of sensational Whitlock mattes and many top rate optical split screen gags and blue screen work by Bill Taylor and Dennis Glouner.  I recall paying to see this back in the day at The Cinerama and being very disappointed. 

An almost full painting here with just a small area of exterior facade for the actors.  The hot air balloon is a miniature that has been blue screened in by Bill and optically scanned as an upward tilt shot.

"Look...up in the sky... it's a bird, it's a plane.... no it's a hugely talented but notoriously difficult actor in a balloon."

Whitlock's wonderland - an entirely fabricated locale created in the matte department at Universal.  The balloon was blue screened in as it fell from the sky, in another dramatic tilt shot carried out on Taylor's optical printer, presumably in VistaVision.

A closer view of the painted and live action marry up.

19th Century London from THE PRISONER OF ZENDA (1979)
No, not actually filmed in London at all.  The crew went to present day Vienna to shoot the plates and live action.


As poor as the film was, it did have some of Whitlock's finest work on show.  Those shots looked sensational on the big cinema screen.

Albert always loved to do his shots with backlight or with foreground silhouettes.

In addition to the painted shots, the film has a large number of often complex 'twin' optical shots, some with standard split screens cleverly hidden and others as multi-element blue screen travelling matte shots.  Al was quoted as saying that: "Bill Taylor is the best travelling matte exponent in the business."  When speaking with Jim Danforth, he concurred that Bill really understood all of the iterations of the process and how to make the best of it.  I saw all of these and a ton more on Albert's show reels back in 1986 and it left quite an impression.  I had to quiz Bill about these shots as this sort of gag has always fascinated me:  "We had the big assist of good blue screen matting, which Cosgrove and Ries did not have in their respective versions.  The front figure of Peter was shot by me on blue at Universal, matching Arthur Ibbetson's lighting scheme in Vienna, where the main unit was based."

The ZENDA mattes have never looked this good.  You saw 'em here first folks.
This PRISONER OF ZENDA was, I think, the fifth version of the fable.  The old Selznick version made back in 1937 was the best one.


Absolutely photo-real, with superb handling of the highlights, the drifting clouds and an expertly blended in matte join.

My pick of the best PRISONER OF ZENDA mattes.  So poetic... such a sense of romance and styling of a bygone era.  A true work of art in every sense of the phrase.  Albert was asked in an old interview how he matched the colour and density of the painting with the original footage:  "You just keep painting and testing.  When we shoot a painting, we have constants; the light level, the camera's f-stop and the lenses - they're all constants.  So there's a certain 'key' to which the painting should be done.  Let's say you happened to misjudge this and got it too dark.  If you don't go back and start all over as you should at an early stage, you will tend to overexpose the painting in order to bring it up.  As soon as the painting becomes overexposed, in other words, representing something lighter than it really is, you lose control of tone and colour, and you start floundering.  You put a little dab of paint on and it isn't even apparent to the eye, but suddenly it pops out a different tone and different colour.  And the whole painting is 'jumping' with forced tones, and now you have a patently obvious painting.  So, one of the things that one must learn is what the correct 'key' is.  That's a judgment you have to make from seeing the original photography and knowing the 'constants' that I mentioned earlier.  And it's not a thing you learn very quickly, either.  From watching others attempting to do what I do, I realise that doing this is second nature for me, as it is with a carpenter who picks up a saw and it fits right into his hand, without his even thinking about it consciously."

As an aside, Peter only lived to make a couple more films and it's a crying shame that the Academy voters felt Dustin Hoffman's very routine performance in KRAMER VS KRAMER was more worthy of the Best Actor Oscar, that the utterly 101% deserving Sellers for the Hal Ashby masterpiece, BEING THERE. But, you know... crying, sobbing films with lots of over the top histrionics always sweep the Oscars, especially if an unfortunate little munchkin is caught up amid the tear-drops.

Our star take a leap from the mostly painted turret of the painted castle into the moat, and all in a smooth camera move made by Bill and Dennis on the optical printer, presumably using VistaVision film elements to maintain the integrity of the image.  

Some more examples of Bill's 'twin' optical gags, some of which were exact duplicates of the old 1952 and 1937 sequences, especially where one Peter reaches out and grasps the arm of the other Peter.  Magical!  Bill explained the trick to me:  "The arm grab gag likewise used blue screen foreground of Peter holding his arm behind his back, over a background split screen with Peter's double, John Moio, that kept his arm, and split out the rest of him.  Likewise the shot of Peter following himself through a door, but he overlapped himself so little that it could have been done with roto."

Troops ride across a grassy pasture in Hungary or Austria and not much else.  Whitlock added the rest back at Universal.

A slightly different version of the earlier London shot, with a moonlit sky and a slow zoom in to the action at left.  The makers of the doc ALBERT WHITLOCK-MASTER OF ILLUSION, Walton Dornisch and Mark Horowitz, at one stage had planned to base their doco around the shooting of the effects shots for this film as a show of Al's process.  By the time the finance arrived to produce the doco it was too late so the film makers concentrated on Mel Brooks' HISTORY OF THE WORLD instead.

It wasn't pure Hitchcock, but Richard Franklin's PSYCHO II (1982) wasn't too shabby.  This opening shot is interesting, with a newly created facsimile of the Norman Bates house in monochrome, complete with Albert's painted sky and rolling clouds.  The pseudo 'old' shot beautifully dissolves into a dawn sunrise and finally this daytime shot.
The Bates' house is on the Universal lot, as is the end of the motel just below the sign.  All else was painted by Whitlock - the bulk of the motel, the landscape, sky and even the immediate foreground grass and weeds.  Bill Taylor made a move from right to left with an upward tilt.

A closer view of the same matte shot reveals brushwork and the well disguised matte line.

Mood, and then some!  The diner sequence in PSYCHO II.  Virtually the whole frame is matte painted here - the road, all the trees, top of the diner and of course the thunderstorm in the painted sky.  Even the foreground tire tracks are painted.

I've often mentioned my love for extreme or exaggerated painted mattes, and this birds eye view really stands out.  I'd bet it took some persuasion on the part of the director to sell the notion to Albert.  But I like it and remember being struck by the boldness of the design when I saw it at the movies.
And here's the original Whitlock matte art as it looks today, sadly covered in cracks which I'm sure is the varnish and paint rather than the glass itself.  I recall someone telling me (may have been Craig Barron) of the condition of Whitlock's paintings stored at Universal where some old ones like SHIP OF FOOLS (1965) were in mint condition but other more recent mattes had deteriorated with tragic results.  *Photo courtesy of Jim Davidson

A closer look at Al's brushwork which was very loose and impressionistic.  Note the blank area where the live action plate of the girl running out of the house will go.

More detail to please the (fish) eye of the critical matte fans out there who, like NZPete, appreciate way out matte design.
A mighty impressive statement to end PSYCHO II on.  Bill explained the method used for me:  "Anthony Perkins was shot against a white sky.  We made a low-density colour print as a bi-pack element, making sure there was no [painted] sky detail that would reveal the figure is transparent, done just like the fluttering flag shot in the movie CHAPLIN."

Albert helped out Syd on the inevitable follow up, PSYCHO III (1986), including this shot which I seem to recall from Al's sample reel was largely painted,including the street, taxi, power pole and it's shadow etc, though my memory ain't what it used to be (by 'used to be', I mean this morning!  So sad!).  Just to set my mind at rest I felt I had to email Bill and check with him:  "This shot was entirely painted, except for the little patch the nuns are standing on.  The car was Syd's."

Also from PSYCHO III with much more paint here than you might think.  Beautifully blended with the original plate.

PSYCHO III matte work which I don't think was used in the final film, at least not in this form.

The neighbour from hell... Norman Bates.  I think the next one, Part IV, had the unforgivably silly death scene where I seem to recall somebody gets impaled with a corn cob or a carrot???  Maybe I just imagined it?

Another, largely forgotten British film thriller, NIGHT WITHOUT STARS (1951) which was made by Rank at the time of Albert's tenure there.  Some effective clifftops with a blind fellow dangling over the edge of the gorge among other shots.

The story of survival after a plane crash amid the sweltering humidity of Second World War Burma sums up THE PURPLE PLAIN (1954).  This was another Pinewood production, made while Al was still there, or at least around the time of his departure for the US.

A before and after from one of the shots where all hope seems lost in THE PURPLE PLAIN (1954)

My good friend and fellow matte shot enthusiast Thomas Thiemeyer was very fortunate in purchasing an original Whitlock gallery painting which he most proudly displays in his home on the other side of the globe in Germany.  This was painted in 1960.

Thomas was kind enough to photograph the painting and get wonderfully detailed pictures expressly for his pal in the Southern Hemisphere (moi).  Thomas certainly appreciates Albert's work, as we all do.

A great opportunity to examine the master's technique.

It's very similar to Al's matte for Disney's THIRD MAN ON THE MOUNTAIN (1959), painted just the previous year, as well as a much later matte for HISTORY OF THE WORLD (1981) with it's famous closing 'The End' shot.

When asked in an interview whether he paints much privately, Whitlock replied that he tries to do a bit now and again, but usually by about 4pm after a full day's painting at Universal he's all 'painted out'.

A very early Whitlock assignment was QUARTET (1948) - one of a series of highly regarded anthology films based on Somerset Maugham's stories.
A rare before and after of one of Al's mattes from QUARTET (1948)

I well recall seeing this on tv back in, I think, 1974 - the Gene Roddenberry tv movie THE QUESTOR TAPES with Mike Farrell and Robert Foxworth.  It was a pilot for a proposed, but unmade series and it was really good.  Quite a lot of visual effects work from mattes, animation and optical fx.
Some of the spectacular slight-show animation combined with Al's painted cave in THE QUESTOR TAPES.

The cyborg graveyard from THE QUESTOR TAPES.  All painted except the actors and the first three tables.

A photo of one of Albert's original matte paintings, pre-live action.

Extensive matte work here, as seen in THE QUESTOR TAPES (1974)

The Richard Burton WWII flick, RAID ON ROMMEL (1971) was a quickie, produced by one Harry Tatelman - someone whom Albert liked to refer to as "a dustbin producer", due to his cheapskate methods of sifting through other films, trims, out-takes and cutting room rejects, in order to 'construct' a new movie.  Tatelman also had a bad habit of re-constituting big Universal pictures into massively long tv events shown over two nights, by splicing back in every single frame he could dig up and even shooting new subplots with other actors, just to give the TV networks the opportunity to have a million commercial breaks.  All of the action in RAID ON ROMMEL, including these matte shots (some of which were optically 'flopped' to look new) as well as the miniatures, were lifted straight out of the superior TOBRUK (1967), which saw Albert receive an Academy Award Nomination.

Oh dear, oh dear ... what a dire film this was.  The insufferable RED SONJA (1985) was reason enough to consider ending it all!  The only reason to see this thing is for the genuinely brilliant matte shots, which were and remain staggering - as well as the many ingenious foreground miniatures by the great Spanish maestro, Emilio Ruiz.  The film had a number of FX shots land on the cutting room floor (watch out for Harry Tatelman - he might make a whole new movie out of 'em).  This particular shot had an interesting history.  It was originally conceived, constructed and filmed as an Emilio Ruiz foreground miniature (show below).  I quizzed Bill Taylor about their work in this film and he spoke about this scene:  "We re-did that RED SONJA shot to change the action on the bridge and to change the sky to match the surrounding action.  There was a set piece built on an office building roof here in L.A; I don't remember where, it might have been Frank van Der Veer's building in North Hollywood, close to our Universal home base.  It was a dupe shot because the live action area was small in frame, we shot with a tighter lens and were able to make optical reduction separations to keep the negative grain small."
Spanish maestro of movie magic, Emilio Ruiz del Rio, shown here at work with his foreground miniature which was matched in perspective with a distant practical steel bridge for the performers.  The shot was substantially re-worked by Albert as per the director's wishes.

I saw all of these RED SONJA shots on one of Al's reels years ago in 35mm on a decent sized screen and they blew my mind in so many ways.  This is pure excellence, end of story.

Bill was very pleased with this sequence, whereby clever gags were devised to enhance the matte painting:  "We were all pretty happy with our fake lava in RED SONJA.  Back-lit plastic wheels at a raking angle to the camera, painted to add bits of texture.  As usual, shot through splits with multiple passes and so on.  We made a separate lava element that Frank van Der Veer's people used elsewhere in the movie."  Not only was the lava flowing, but the clouds were rolling by, rays of sunlight were softly filtering across the shot and a distant volcano was blowing it's stack.  Magnifique!

I enjoyed ROBINSON CRUSOE ON MARS (1964) as a kid at the movies but it's all a bit 'naff' now, though any flick with Adam West (the only Batman ever!) is sure to entertain.  Larry Butler and Donald Glouner handled the effects contract and enlisted their old stand-by, Albert, to come on board and handle all of the many matte paintings.  

I rather like this expanse of Martian rock-scape where our hero sets up camp.  I've been so disappointed in recent years to watch the real Martian Rover thing send back pictures that in no way resemble Albert's Mars!  I prefer to think of Whitlock's Red Planet as being my preferred one.  Ever see CAPRICORN ONE???  Well, I rest my case.

Al's interpretation of some Martian caves.

Not really The Red Planet...more the Magenta Planet with a touch of Cobalt Blue?

ROBINSON CRUSOE ON MARS (1964) - an ironic take on the classic Daniel Defoe story.

Another of Albert's British productions was ROMEO AND JULIET (1954) where actual Italian locales were enhanced or expanded with matte artistry.  Jim Danforth told me about a beautiful courtyard matte painting on glass that Albert did for this film, with the most magnificent magic hour colour scheme, though it doesn't appear to have made the final edit of the film.  I'd love to have seen it though.  Jim happened upon it in storage at Les Bowie's UK effects shop back in 1969 along side a ton of other great glass paintings.

One of the most extreme horror flicks of the decade, THE SENTINEL (1977) was a full-on, in your face gore-fest, courtesy of my all time number one fave make up specialist, the late and truly great Mr Dick Smith.  I used to go to see films just because I knew he had some of his work in them, and was never disappointed, such was my admiration for the man and his skills - he was sort of The Al Whitlock of special make up effects.  Few came near to Dick's level of expertise, and I've seen and studied 'em all!  Anyhow, I digress... THE SENTINEL was a typical Michael Winner show - all gloss and very little substance - with a parade of so many 'A-List' guest stars my head started to spin!  Anyway, Albert's work was most subtle and very, very well engineered.  So clever it was that I had to quiz Bill about in about a decade ago just to figure it out.  Firstly, let me just point out that this frame is an actual location and real building in New York, which featured prominently in THE SENTINEL.  Albert always maintained that:  "the true special effect is the one that nobody ever notices", and that is certainly true for this film.  Bill explains the trick below....
Bill Taylor:  "In THE SENTINEL there are only a few shots.  The major set up is a wide shot (above) of the newly re-built apartment house, which actually comprises two different locations in New York that are miles apart.  One element [the street and secondary buildings] is all original negative photography, while the second live element [the central 'now renting' new apartment building] is duped in from separations - and all joined together with matte painting [trees and end of the far street] on the original negative.  It was a very tricky shot to pull off, requiring careful surveying at both of the locations to find a camera position that worked for both."  So supremely well executed, my hat's off to Bill and Al for this apparently invisible bit of hocus pocus.

The Civil War drama, SHENANDOAH (1965) starring James Stewart was a strongly acted and directed piece, supplemented by a half dozen Whitlock shots such as this one.

One of those shots Al liked to call "a special effect that doesn't call attention to itself" from SHENANDOAH.  A soft split runs across the frame just above Jimmie Stewart's head, with the entire upper half of the vista painted in later.  Love shots like this.
Same film;  the army encampment stretches into the (painted) distance.

Again, largely painted, with rolling clouds and smoke from the distant steamer.  Whitlock once remarked:  "Even the best  film stock is only as good as the processing.  We are always probably a bit of a nuisance to the labs as we often need the film processed in five-foot lengths.  We also send through in-numerable short rolls of four different black and white stocks, developed at different speeds.  It all must be spotlessly clean. The labs are usually very sensitive to our particular problems"

My choice among the shots in SHENANDOAH is this one.  A very bold matte with not just the bulk of the frame being Whitlock's work, but also half of the upturned wagon being matted in very cleverly.  Roswell Hoffman was Al's cameraman and composited all of his shots through the 1960's and up until 1974.

No, it's not the same opening matte but an entirely different one, with different skies and light effect.  Noteworthy as being a matte that Al never felt confident about, and, as Jim Danforth mentioned to me, while he was working with Al in 1965 he well recalled Albert going through the storage rack at Universal, pulling out this particular painting and then proceeding to 'fix' whatever he had felt wasn't working.  The funny thing was, the film had already been released sometime earlier, so it all purely academic.

A film that had some surprisingly bold trick work in it was Stanley Kramer's SHIP OF FOOLS (1965).  A sort of a ocean-bound soap opera of sorts, set in 1933, the film was a bit dry for my tastes but was notable in that every single shot of the ship at sea or in various ports of call were Whitlock matte shots!  Phenomenal to think that this could be pulled off, but, aside from one particular shot (not this one), they worked incredibly well.  The above frame starts the movie and features the Port of Vera Cruz, with a wide pan across the bay as the ship departs.  What's amazing about this shot is that the entire thing is one big matte shot!  The city, those rolling clouds, the ship and yes, even the ocean!! All painted, with subtle animation effects for sky, steam or smoke and water ripples.  Mindblowing to say the least!  Jim Danforth was with Al at the time and told me how Al painted this matte twice, as he wasn't satisfied with the first rendering, he just started the whole thing from scratch.  Jim said the first one looked fine to him.
A closer look.  Those of you who assume these shots were painted in tones of grey and black, think again!  Albert rendered all of these mattes in full colour, even full knowing that the film was a B&W production.  He'd found from experience while at Disney that it was much easier to paint in true colours with a full pallete for a black and white show, rather than trying to 'force' the tonal range of grey gradation etc artificially.  It was best simply to paint with colour pigment and just let the separation to tones of grey take it's natural course through the black and white photography.

SHIP OF FOOLS matte.  The ocean may possibly be actual in this shot?

Now, this is the SHIP OF FOOLS matte that I felt was over stepping the bounds of believability.  The whole thing is painted - even the crowd of people and the water, which is given a ripple effect.

Upper half of frame matted in here.

A realistic swaying motion was added optically to shots like this to give a realistic POV.

Some of Farciot Edouart's process projection plates used Whitlock matte art split screened onto real ocean.

Interestingly, SHIP OF FOOLS was submitted to the Academy as a contender in the Best Visual Effects category, but was rejected out-of-hand because nobody believed the shots to be painted mattes!  But don't get me started on Oscar injustices.

The western SHOWDOWN (1972) had a big storm sequence with clouds rolling across, lightning and a sudden forest fire.

Universal's very successful series THE SIX MILLION DOLLAR MAN ran from 1973 to 1978 and I never missed an episode.  It was the coolest thing on the box at the time, though I wasn't aware of the matte work in those days.  These shots are from the feature length Wine, Women and War (1973).  Note the two lower frames of Steve Austin climbing up the silo.  The same small set has been used both times but altered or extended by Whitlock to look bigger and more dangerous.

More shots from THE SIX MILLION DOLLAR MAN- Wine, Women and War (1973)

An obscure flick I bet the late Burt Reynolds accidentally forgot to include in his filmography; SKULLDUGGERY (1969).

A rare glance at one of Al's original mattes from SKULLDUGGERY (1969), with some close up detail.

A film that demanded much concentration, and, if you stuck with it, was pretty good, SLAUGHTERHOUSE FIVE (1972) had this spectacular climax courtesy of Albert and Ross.

SLAUGHTERHOUSE FIVE - Directed by George Roy Hill.

Mel Brooks' intergalactic spoof SPACEBALLS (1987) was about a decade too late to be of much relevance.  Far too broad (subtlety was never one of Mel's notions), though the mattes, mostly by Syd Dutton at Illusion Arts, were fantastic.  Albert came on board to help out and rendered this matte which of course poked fun at the iconic PLANET OF THE APES shock ending.

The pop-culture classic sixties series, STAR TREK, was premier entertainment in it's day, and I never missed an episode, except when staying at my Grandma's house where she, being fantastic but very, very religious, would not let me watch it because the mere suggestion of 'man going beyond the stars' was just way too much for her to cope with and the creators, to her way of thinking, should have been burned at the stake!  Anyway, I digress.  This terrific original Whitlock matte always featured in the end credit montage of the show and also popped up in a few different iterations in various episodes as I recall,  Trekkies will correct me but I think it was in The Cage, or The Menagerie (?) and maybe City On The Edge Of Forever?  I just know someone will rush through a correction in my 'comments' box.  Who'll be first?

Some remarkable and very rare original frames taken from work prints of that famous matte art in various stages of completion.  *Frames from the site startrekhistory.com
Al's sensational STAR TREK artwork in all of it's HD glory.

A better look at one of the temp test shots from around 1966.

Closer detail with Whitlock brush strokes and rough line up of live action plate.

Another closer reveal, though this time where the painting has been further enhanced or altered, presumably for a different episode of STAR TREK.

I heard some great stories about STAR TREK on a podcast the other day, I think it was with George Takei, maybe interviewed by Gilbert Gottfried (all freakin' hilarious, highly entertaining those G.G Amazing, Colossal Podcasts BTW, though I digress yet again!), where Takei spoke of the fireproof ego of one William Shatner.  So shameless was Shatner that he would count the number of lines that Leonard Nimoy had and compare with his own.  God help the writers and Nimoy if Spock had more to say on the show that Capt Kirk!  Also, what a pussy Shatner was when a fan magazine was interviewing Nimoy, with Shatner sulking like a schoolgirl and literally refusing to come out of his dressing room until the interview was brought to a sudden and crashing halt.

A sensational picture, from a 35mm slide that's sadly faded, of another great Whitlock full STAR TREK painting.

A brilliant close up, though the sun is painted slightly differently here. I've always admired this matte.

It's always credited to Albert, but I don't know really.  It's all far too The Jetsons or Duck Dodgers to me to be even remotely Whitlock.  It was auctioned off years back as a genuine Whitlock so maybe I'm wrong??  Author Tom Higgenson has been interviewing the old Illusion Arts staffers and spoke with Bill Taylor recently about this.  Bill recalled:  "Al did some very early science fiction mattes for the old Star Trek tv series.  He did some in his career as a hired hand that were not that great.  I think, back then, Al suffered a bit under the hands of the art department on those Star Trek paintings."

This very recognisable STAR TREK matte shot has always been attributed to Albert, but recently has been disputed.  According to imdb, the matte was painted by an art director working for Howard Anderson's effects company, Garson Citron was the name of the artist, who, according to his son, had worked in design as far back as the old RKO and Hal Roach days apparently.  I think the episode is called 'Where No Man Has Gone Before' (1966).  So there's an intriguing new piece of info.   I spoke just prior to finalising this blog with Bill Taylor about this matte, and he had a different version of events:  "The big Delta Vega exterior uses a shot by Albert, made for another episode, with a ham-handed foreground added in by someone esle to make it look different.  The TREK shots were not Al's best paintings to begin with, but yikes!!"

Also from the STAR TREK tv series was this mine matte painting, which to me, doesn't look the least like Whitlock's work, so it makes me wonder whether this matte may be confused with the one previously described by Garson Citron??  I'm sure a dedicated Trekkie will know the backstory.  I showed this to Bill as well, and he concurred:  "That cave interior is certainly not Al's.  As my London friends might say, 'it's 'orrible."

Here's the matte as it appears in the show.  It's really very doubtful that Albert painted this I feel.

One more Whitlock shot from STAR TREK.  In all Al painted on eight episodes, most for Howard Anderson and some I believe for Westheimer and Film Effects of Hollywood - all of whom had their hand in the TREK pie as far as effects go.  Matthew Yuricich said that Linwood Dunn had some of Albert's TREK mattes in his garage but sold them off.  Bet they fetched a pretty sum.

A largely forgotten about British film that possibly had Albert's hand involved.  SARABAND FOR DEAD LOVERS (1948)

The Don Knotts' comedy THE RELUCTANT ASTRONAUT (1967).

For Andrew V. McLaglen's western THE RARE BREED (1966), Albert painted this wonderful and vast expanse, complete with walled homestead compound.  Only the stretch of dirt road with the wagon is real.  An absolutely tremendous shot that the director obviously liked too as he would hire Albert over and over again on many of his films.

The grand Technicolor period adventure, set, and mostly shot here in New Zealand, THE SEEKERS - aka LAND OF FURY (1954) was one of the last films that Albert worked on during his British period before emigrating to the United States. My own mother well remembered the filming of this and used to tell me about it, as big UK stars were involved such as Jack Hawkins.
THE SEEKERS (1954).  Some Whitlock shots and a completely, unforgivably gratuitous cheesecake frame of Laya Raki, as I don't have any Dorothy Lamour or Maureen O'Sullivan films this time around.  So... sue me!

More Whitlock shots from THE SEEKERS (aka LAND OF FURY)

Don Knotts takes on the wild west in THE SHAKIEST GUN IN THE WEST (1967).  In this scene, poor Don, dying of thirst, leaps into a cooling pond only to find it's... you guessed it, a mirage.  Cute optical work by Ross Hoffman.

Also from the same film is this turn of the century railway station, almost all of which is painted.

The actor who played the villain who falls off the Statue of Liberty at the end of Alfred Hitchcock's still fantastic Saboteur (1941), Norman Lloyd (who's still around I believe, and about 100 years old!), directed this minor made-for-tv film for Universal, THE SMUGGLERS (1968).  Lovely European chateau and surrounding landscape captured perfectly by Albert.

Les Bowie and Albert shared painting duties on the mystery film SO LONG AT THE FAIR (1950).  A taut guessing game this film sure is.  Worth a look.

Some of Al's biggest accolades came about as a result of his work on George Roy Hill's multi-Oscar winning THE STING (1973).  Just two matte shots, but both memorable indeed.  See below...

The original location selected (Long Beach I think), and the matte in place for the latent image photography of Ross Hoffman.

Whitlock puts the final touches on what will be Chicago in the 1930's.

The second matte shot THE STING is largely regarded by those close to Albert as among his finest work, and I'd have to concur.  In the pantheon of great motion picture matte shots, this one is right up there without question.

The partial set on the backlot, masked off for original negative plate photography.  In addition to Al's amazing painting an additional matte was made within the painting (bottom right) to allow the matting in of a stop motion miniature El Train, filmed at the precise angle, perspective and distance to fit exactly with Whitlock's painted overhead railway track. 

THE STING (1973)

While THE STING was a much admired classic, the 'what-were-they-thinking' sequel a decade after the fact, STING II (1983) was not by any means in the same league.  A couple of mattes are good though, such as this nice shot.

The other matte from STING II (1983) is this big tilt down of a painted railway station.

The critics hated it, and while it's not very good, I recall enjoying it at the cinema in 1976.  SWASHBUCKLER - aka THE SCARLET BUCCANEER - has plenty of rollicking action and certainly tries to capture the flavour of the old Errol Flynn yarns from the late 30's, even if it does have off the wall scenes with Peter Boyle as an S&M fetishist with a thing for sharp, mechanical silver claws (no, I'm not making this up).  Ahhh, the wacky seventies!
There were plenty of fine mattes in SWASHBUCKLER, with this being 18th Century Jamaica.

Painted right side of the frame with an actual location on the left side.  There's a lot more painted here than you might expect.  That curiously obvious matte line running up the sky and through the tree was never really visible when I saw it on 35mm, nor on tv or DVD; just on higher resolution BluRay which does tend to bring artifacts like this to the eye.

Live action foreground, sea and ship, with painted fortress and bush clad hills.  Nice addition of squibs exploding.
Although not shown here, the guys are so happy at the mayhem that they leap in the air and they partially merge into the matte line.
Two unsung mattes in SWASHBUCKLER that tend to slip past unnoticed.  They're are both really well done and integrate perfectly without in the very least raising the viewer's suspicions.



SWASHBUCKLER (1976) view at dusk.

The despised fortress atop the hill, a threat to the local populace.

A night time matte view of the same.

The band of saboteurs proceed on their mission.

"Let me come in, or I'll blow your house UP."
The moment of truth for the people.  Bill describes it:  "Any wide shot of the fort is a matte shot;  the art department built only one external wall.  The scenes of the fort blowing up were a combined miniature and matte painting for the exterior as the townspeople walk back down the hill, and a full miniature of the interior of the powder magazine which blows up."

"All's well that ends well."

The big spectacle, TARAS BULBA (1962) with Yul Brynner and a very miscast Tony Curtis - aka Bernie Schwartz - had some powerhouse action sequences and much grandeur.  A United Artists film, it harnessed the talents of numerous effects people; Howard A. Anderson's effects company, Larry Butler & Donald Glouner's outfit, as well as Universal's then matte artist, Russell Lawson.  Russ handled most of the matte work, and it wasn't too bad, though a few shots (the gaping chasm shots shown here) were painted by Albert Whitlock, which is most interesting as he either had or was about to replace Russell as Universal's resident matte supervisor.  Just who Albert was hired by, I don't know.  He regularly painted mattes for Howard Anderson and Butler-Glouner, so maybe he was on their payroll.  Perhaps Al was already at Universal (I suspect this to be the case) and worked from there, with Russ possibly working independently as a private contractor?  This was the only on-screen credit I've ever seen for Russ

Albert's chasm jump mattes.

Tony Curtis makes the jump over Whitlock's painted chasm.

One of Albert's last Disney films was TEN WHO DARED (1960), which he was granted some considerable freedom to handle the work as he thought best.

Albert's mattes from TEN WHO DARED (1960), which were, unusually for Disney, shot and composited all on original negative due to lab problems at the time with the making of separation dupes etc.  Albert said at one stage that he got way too carried away with the matte at lower right - putting endless amounts of fine detail into the painting where in truth none was needed.  Al said the shot was a disaster and Walt Disney personally tore a strip off Al (whom Walt actually liked a lot) for doing such a lousy shot.  Al, a little dejected, went and pulled out a new glass and repainted the same scene from scratch, with practically NO details - just receding shapes and backlight, which worked a treat.  It was one of the learning curves he stumbled over at Disney's - just how much to paint and where to put the detail, just enough to sell the shot.

An innocuous little romantic comedy with Sandra Deem THAT FUNNY FEELING (1965) was an eye opener for at least one reason - the special photographic effects.  Firstly, it features the damndest car chase in movie history (not illustrated here), and all designed, orchestrated and executed by a young Jim Danforth at Project Unlimited.  An utterly brilliant little sequence that stands as Jim's best ever trick work.  Really, it was that good, and in my miniatures blog it's covered but you'll need to do some serious scrolling down..  Anyway, aside from that scene, Albert contributed a pair of nice matte shots of New York city for Universal's backlot set.
A night scene from THAT FUNNY FEELING courtesy of Albert.  It's worth noting that Al wasn't an advocate of scratched out spots of paint, backlit for window light and so forth, and much preferred to simply paint the required light in the appropriate 'key' which would read on film as illumination.


THAT MAN BOLT (1974) was a blaxploitation-Bond type cross over starring Fred Williamson.  The one sheet poster was great and promised far more than the film delivered.  One brief scene has Fred being chased through an oil refinery - all of which was a Whitlock matte painting, as shown here in this before and after.  For movie theatre buffs (of which I am one) - and I mean proper grand old style movie houses and not these 'caftan-wearer' multi-plex broom closets; THAT MAN BOLT was the very last film to show at Auckland's gorgeous old Regent theatre before those developer bastards tore it down.  A most magnificent showcase with marble staircases and all of the 1920's decor you'd ever want and even had it's own swimming pool under the removable stage floor for live aquatic stage reviews back in the twenties.  I saw the last session on the last day..... very sad!   :(

The Cary Grant-Doris Day comedy THAT TOUCH OF MINK (1962) featured this matte shot of the inside of the United Nations for one sequence.

Same show, with these blue screen shots that I'm sure have Whitlock painted settings matted into the plate.

The memorable 'high steel' scene where Doris and Cary are atop the steel girders of a (painted) skyscraper.

I remember seeing this at the Civic theatre in 1982 (the same theatre that Peter Jackson's KONG ripped to pieces) and man, oh man, did it leave an impression with me - and the whole audience who hooted and howled as actors dissolved into gelatinous puddles of goo, and dogs burst forth squid-like creatures.  Jesus, this was a winner!  That's Al in upper right pic, on location in Canada (I think?)  I must make mention of the main title.  I love a good 'title' sequence - something completely missing nowadays - and FX artist Peter Kuran's 'Thing' burn through was brilliant.  Bravo Peter for this incredibly low-tech (so low tech, you wouldn't believe it) - which is why is so bloody effective; a dangerous, hands-on title shot.

Frame #1:  The big reveal:  "That may have been buried down there for ten thousand years"  Well, my advice is to LEAVE IT!  A wonderful painting and cel overlay light effects where the sun comes out and gently plays across the broken texture of the craft.  Foreground actors blue-screened in.

Frame #2:  Click these 2 frames and toggle back and forth to appreciate part of the sunlight animation effect.

All painted with just the three doubles added into the distant background.

Frame by frame example of the sunlight moving across the half-buried spaceship.  Whitlock often said that audiences may not notice these gags but they do tend to notice when they aren't there.

Author Tom Higgenson interviewed former Illusion Art's grip and miniatures specialist Lynn Ledgerwood about some of the problems that arose in Albert's department during the effects work on THE THING, with the saucer shots just not coming together.  Whitlock had Syd do more sketches and asked Lynn to build a cardboard spaceship model with sifted baking soda on it, in order to help move things along.  Lynn recalled:  "Al's vision of science fiction was an older vision.  I was younger, so I was more used to what science fiction was looking like.  Al, admittedly, wasn't able to get that essence [of the melted ice] that made you believe you were looking at an object, rather than a painting.  Nothing on film is pure white.  To get that right all around the ship was time consuming, and Al and Syd passed those paintings back and forth for a while."  Sometime later, the film's miniature supervisor Sue Turner lent her official large, fully detailed model ship to Whitlock for a short time.

Close up of the finer detail on the painted saucer.
Bill stated in an interview:  "What was emblematic of Al, was that the quality of the pictorial result was the most important thing.  He devised very careful procedures that all but took the risk out of many of the shots done on original negative.  He created very complex animations on original negative that would have been daunting even on dupe shots."

All painted by Syd Dutton, including the helicopter, with the actors walking along a sheet of white plastic on the Universal back lot.  Apparently, Albert wasn't one to hand out compliments too often, and about the best Syd remembers as being a sign he'd done a good job was during dailies in the projection room where, when one of Dutton's shots came up on screen and Al liked it, he'd nudge the younger artist in the ribs gently with his elbow, which was Al's way of saying "Great job boy.".  
Before and after.... it's just some white plastic and three body doubles!  I should mention that three iterations of THE THING have been made, and I liked them all (which is most unusual).  The 1951 version with James Arness scared the hell out of me when I first saw it on late night tv in the seventies.  A US-Canadian-Norwegian co-op also made a prequel in 2011, which to my very great surprise was great!  I never expected that one to be any good at all but really fell into it, boots and all.  Check those amalgam fillings in your loved ones teeth, folks!  If you've seen the flick you'll know what I mean.


Not a Whitlock shot by any means, in fact Albert and his wife June allegedly stormed out of the preview screening, insulted by the graphic violence.  Al took director John Carpenter to task (Al was never one to suffer fools gladly and had quite a short fuse I understand).  Al really chewed John out for going too far with the gore and felt more should have been left to the imagination, with Al accusing Carpenter of battering the audience over the head with the gore, when more should have been just suggested.  I don't think Al would enjoy CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST or SALO then (!)    I included this frame (above) because it leads up to the best line in the movie, and one that got the entire large audience I saw it with laughing out loud.  The always delightful Donald Moffat (centre), having just been far too up close and personal with a most unsettling biological mishap, calmly remarks:  "I know you gentlemen have a lot on your mind.  But I don't want to spend the rest of the winter TIED TO THIS FUCKING COUCH."  It still cracks me up to this day.  Couldn't have put it better myself!  

A night cityscape of New York transposed to the back lot for THE THRILL OF IT ALL (1963)

Another painted view of New York and, I'm guessing, the Brooklyn bridge from THE THRILL OF IT ALL (1963)

Albert worked alongside Jim Fetherolf, under Peter Ellenshaw, on Disney's THIRD MAN ON THE MOUNTAIN (1959).  Whether these are Albert's, I don't know.  The film has much matte work and would look great on BluRay.

I've heard two different versions on this shot, which is from Irwin Allen's pilot for THE TIME TUNNEL (1966).  Foremost authority and the co-author of The Invisible Art-The Legends of Movie Matte Painting, Craig Barron, told me that he well recalled seeing this matte shot as a colour slide in Al's portfolio of slides and clips of his work.  Bill Taylor, on the other hand said to me it couldn't be Al's as the design, composition and layout wasn't how he would paint it.  Also, it was a 20th Century Fox show, and Fox had their own resident matte artist, Emil Kosa jr, so it seems odd that Fox would farm the job out to Universal?  I include the admittedly cool matte (and in HD at no extra charge) here anyway.  You decide.
Unidentified Whitlock paintings, probably from a tv series in the 1970's.  These went up for auction a few years ago.



The all-star psychotic sniper thriller TWO MINUTE WARNING (1976) had a couple of effects shots by Albert.  Bill elaborated for me:  "We shot a college football game, Stanford versus USC.  We filled in the empty seats in the end zone and changed the scoreboard.  It's a grainy dupe shot.  There was no way to set a matte in the middle of a game."

A second shot with matte alterations.  A strong cast including Charlton Heston, John Cassavetes, Beau Bridges, Walter Pidgeon and one of my favourite character players, Martin Balsam.  Plenty of massive squibs that would almost put Peckinpah to shame.

One more of the Rank-Pinewood pictures that were produced while Albert was in the matte department with Les Bowie was TROTTIE TRUE (1949).  The matte shot is concisely described here on one of the historic special effects cards that were filed in the Pinewood FX department - until that is, Cliff Culley had a big clear out in 1979.

The black area was reserved for some minor live action of a woman hanging out her laundry as the balloon passes overhead.

The Julie Andrews musical THOROUGHLY MODERN MILLIE (1967) had a slew of strangely slipshod matte effects.  In several instances actors, or parts of actors, pass through matte lines, even in close up (see lower right where James Fox partially vanishes, and lower left where Julie's arm goes AWOL).  The matted in portions almost look like retouched photo blow ups to my eye?  Best thing about the film was Carol Channing, who just died yesterday BTW.

I did an entire blog on TOBRUK (1967) a while back, and have since covered it's great miniature sequences in other blogs.  A lively, action packed WWII flick with solid special effects all the way from several effects suppliers; Al Whitlock and Ross Hoffman at Universal handled the mattes, Howard A. Anderson jnr looked after the sensational model work, while Linwood Dunn was handed the blue screen composites.  The film was nominated for Best Special Visual Effects but lost out.

The Libyan desert as created by Albert for TOBRUK.

An extreme pan reveals a massive enemy tank build up.  Almost entirely matte art with just the roadway with approaching half-tracks and a couple of tanks in the near foreground.  Fabulous shot that I still remember from seeing the film on a double bill in the seventies, I forget what it played with but I do recall the cinema (The Mayfair ... very, very nice Mum & Dad run locally run suburban showcase... it's still there but it's a Polynesian Church now)

Closer look at the matte shot

The ruined city of TOBRUK - all painted except the roadway and traffic.

Several of these mattes occur back to back in a single sequence.


Before and after demonstrates the extent of Albert's contribution to the epic nature of the narrative.

Various mattes from the bombardment sequence with matte art and cel overlays as well as pyro elements.

Establishing matte shot for what will become a prolonged and brilliantly handled action climax, filled with great miniature work and equally impressive full scale physical effects (by long time Universal mechanical fx man Fred Knoth)

Alfred Hitchcock's under-appreciated TOPAZ (1969) had a whole array of outstanding matte shots from Albert, many of which were barely even detectable such as this one.
Full Academy Ratio frame before and afters reveal it all.

The wonderful Roscoe Lee Browne runs for his life in what's a superbly handled matte shot.  The whole row of buildings along the left are painted, including the tree and the streetlights.  Brilliant, if you manage to catch it.  Incidentally, Roscoe was always a marvellous actor with one of the richest trained voices the stage and screen ever heard.  Terrific work in THE LIBERATION OF L.B JONES and THE COWBOYS among other films. 

Close up of Al's painted portion of the frame.  Very loose and really just comprising of his typical series of white dashes and dabs to sell the deal.
Side by side comparisons of the matte shown in high resolution below reveals just how much Al painted versus how little was filmed as live action.  This shot is just so good.
The final shot with just the approaching car seen briefly between the painted palm trees, being just enough movement to draw the viewer's eye away from an otherwise painted setting (with animated sparkle dots on the distant ocean).

The story is set in Cuba, which was strictly out of bounds, so all of the establishing shots had to be fabricated by Whitlock, such as this one of a Soviet tanker unloading.  See below for the truth...
Before and after sequence of frames from Albert's sample reel.  Trickery at it's best.
An expansive overview of Havana harbour in TOPAZ which as you'd guess, all painted except a small strip of grass and weeds blowing in the immediate foreground.  The far off bay is rendered as a series of subtle pin-point 'sparkle' dots on the painted water.  Amazing.
This is what Al called "the best special effect is the one that nobody ever notices... that's the true special effect".  Who ever would suspect?  I know it fooled me until I saw the before and after shots on his sample reel.  See below for the high rez frame....
The matte shot as it's seen in the film.  Now is this great or not?  Remarkable.

A superb close look at the painted shot.

The Cuban countryside in California as per Whitlock's paintbrush, which covers the top half of the frame.
More Californian Cuba matte work from Albert for TOPAZ (1969). Curiously, this shot is entirely missing from the BluRay edition, with this frame taken from the older DVD.

A rather minor effects shot that Al did for the Dean Martin western ROUGH NIGHT IN JERICHO (1967).

A hard to find matte shot that Albert did for the tv series THE SNOOP SISTERS that ran from 1972 to 74.

Albert created several mattes for the British feature TRIO (1950), and even received screen credit, which was rare for a matte painter, so Rank must have thought highly of Albert's creativity.

An odd looking painting had alluded me for years until I stumbled across a tv movie on YouTube called A SHORT WALK INTO DAYLIGHT (1972) about people trapped in a subway.  Also known as THE NIGHT THE EARTH SHOOK.

He wasn't credited, but I'm pretty certain Al painted these 1962 shots for Butler-Glouner.  Nobody else painted skies like that, and those 'spindly' trees are classic Whitlock.

A full painting - one of three or four which show the house in different seasons.

Another of the seasonal changes with added snowfall.
This matte I've seen in other films, after the fact.  The frames below show the same view but with different sky.
Evening view with trademark Whitlock cloud formation and and beautiful diffused backlight.

TALES OF TERROR (1962)

The John Wayne film THE TRAIN ROBBERS (1973) was one of many that Wayne's company, Batjac Productions enlisted Albert to provide visuals for.  This scene is a moody evening thunderstorm where I think pretty much the whole thing appears to be painted, except for the area with the horsemen.  The mighty, foreboding sky is moving behind the trees by way of the series of soft splits that Albert invented.  In the right side distance are bolts of lightning and subtle flashes of light within the dense cloud.  I'm of the impression that the trees are all painted too on a separate glass.
Still in the thunderstorm sequence, the matte painted forest above the live action area with the actors is complimented by lightning strike animation, timed with a live action squib near the actors..

After the storm the horsemen ride down the valley.  Again, mostly painted, with just a small slot of live action on the right. This looked great up there on the big CinemaScope screen.

Also from THE TRAIN ROBBERS (1973) was this Whitlock shot where at least the left hand side has been painted in, and it's possible the right was as well.  The upper edge with the riders against the sky, looks, on close inspection, to be it's own independent element.

There was much criticism of Alfred Hitchcock's TORN CURTAIN (1966), I think largely down to the casting and some poor process projection.  Albert's matte work, however, was remarkable as is evident in this bold shot which purports to be East Berlin's main airport as stars Paul Newman and Julie Andrews exit the plane.  Note the sheer brilliance of Al's painted reflection of the jet liner visible in the airport windows.

Actually, the storyline is pretty engrossing and the picture does have a couple of superbly directed set pieces that stand out.

The remote farm, which is the setting for one of those stop-you-in-your-tracks set pieces I mentioned... a prolonged and very viscious attack and murder, and I imagine Hitch just loved directing this sequence.  The shot above is largely painted, with just the strip of grass with the tractor and the people being genuine.  I like Al's handling of the composition and stark loneliness.  Love that caked up mud painted foreground too.

It's all well known now among movie buffs, but Hitch needed a lengthy sequence where Newman is pursued through a well known East German art gallery by an unseen assailant.  Shooting on the other side of the Berlin Wall was out of the question so Hitch put the problem to Albert.  Initially Al balked at the prospect of having to show so many mattes in a row, one after the other (around 7 in all I think), that the audience may not buy into it.  After some persuasion from the director, Whitlock set forth painting the required mattes, which are illustrated here.

The museum sequence.  Virtually all Whitlock, even the 'masterpieces' seen on the walls are all a part of the overall trick and painted within the matte as part of the scene.

Newman hears footsteps and his pace quickens through the eerily empty museum.  Great filmmaking.

Before and after, plus detailed close up.  The story goes two ways regarding Hitch's issues with the method actor Paul Newman when it came to this shot.  Apparently Newman, who wanted to explore every aspect and inner sentiment of his character asked Hitch:  "What's my motivation here for walking in a straight line?" One version of this story has it that Hitch replied: "Your motivation is your pay cheque" (I like that), while the other Hitchcock reply version is: "Your motivation is you will disappear under the matte line otherwise."

The matte painted museum, though you'd never know it.

Albert's motto was that a good matte painting shouldn't draw attention to itself.



This shot is extraordinary.  As Newman come around a corner he glances to the left, with this being his POV.  The view is a fully painted matte, with no other elements - pure oil paint on glass...all of it!

Here's Al with that particular full painting.

If I had to pick my own winning matte shot in the film TORN CURTAIN it would have to be this one.  There was so little actual set built (see below) - just some steps and part of a doorway.  Whitlock manufactured everything else on his easel.

Before and after 

Paul Newman exits the museum.  The still partially bombed out ruins of Berlin were all Whitlock.

A Whitlock matte shot from John Huston's UNDER THE VOLCANO (1984)

I thought that Marlon Brando did one of his finest performances in the film THE UGLY AMERICAN (1962), in which Albert supplied two matte shots.

One of Albert's most frequent director-collaborators, Andrew V. McLaglen, once again hired the matte artist to flesh out the sprawling cross-the-continent western saga THE WAY WEST (1967).  

A monumental storm rolls in and puts the travelling caravan in jeopardy.  A stunning matte painted sky, in fact possibly the best painted sky I think I've ever seen.

The cloud bank moves across while the rain falls and lightning strikes.  

In an interview in the early seventies, Albert spoke of his creative responsibilities in relation to THE WAY WEST:  "When I work for a director like Hitchcock I never really have a say in what to paint because he knows exactly what he wants and why he wants it.  Most of the mattes I do are requests, but it's not unusual for a producer to call and say 'We are making such and such a film, could you come along and talk to us and we'll kick around some ideas?'  This is how all of the spectacular scenes in The Way West came about.  They had a large production company, and moving about would entail too large an expenditure,  So, all of those scenes of the trek across the country were really ideas that I thought up."

THE WAY WEST (1967)

Totally convincing matte composite from THE WAY WEST with the matte extending along the upper edge of the cliff face, with the forest, sky, clouds, valley and waterfall all the work of Whitlock.  The falling water is some sort of gag, perhaps flowing salt or more likely animated cel overlays.  Sensational shot that's fully credible.

The caravan approach the fort.  Again, largely Whitlock art, but the blend between the painted and the genuine is so good.  Roswell Hoffman photographed and composited the mattes, assisted by long time matte assistant, Mike Moramarco.

The final matte shot in THE WAY WEST is this spectacular vista where the painted far exceeds the real.  The live action component comprises the wagons on the clifftop and part of the cliff as a winch lowers people down.  You can make out the matte line passing along just above the horizon, so the sky is real, as is the top of the right hand side plateau.  The gorge and all of the rock cliff walls are Albert's.  The light and hues here in the gorge are just superb.  Albert's trademark backlight and haze are his hallmarks and one of the keys to his success.  There is so much to admire here.

I thoroughly enjoy a good solid political thriller, and the long out of circulation tv movie of the week, VANISHED (1971) starring Richard Widmark is excellent, if you like that sort of thing.  The three hour film has never, to my knowledge ever appeared on home video and certainly not on DVD.  It's good enough to warrant a long overdue release.  Albert was Emmy nominated for his matte shots here, though lost out to another nominee.  The quality here is very poor, as all I've ever found was a YouTube copy at very low resolution.  Syd Dutton told me how much he admired that matte (upper middle) of the Sugarloaf Mountain in Rio, which was classic night 'dots and dashes' of light.

Al painted many mattes for tv shows in the sixties and seventies, with some just now coming to light.  This is from an episode of THE VIRGINIAN titled Wind of Outrage (1968).

The same matte setting as seen in other scenes in the same episode of THE VIRGINIAN, with sky and light alterations.

Another episode of THE VIRGINIAN, Holocaust, from 1970 this time.

More matte work from THE VIRGINIAN, with this wonderful painted extension being from The Storm Gate episode, made in 1968.

This formerly untitled matte painting has had matte researchers scratching their heads for years, and it's only now it can be identified as being one of Albert's 1968 mattes from THE VIRGINIAN.  Thanks to writer Tom Higgenson for confirming the facts on this painting (shown here partially only).

Detail from THE VIRGINIAN - The Storm Gate (1968)
More detail.  I'd asked Bill a few years ago about this one, as I knew it was from a Universal film or tv show, though he and Syd couldn't identify it, and even questioned whether it was actually Albert's.  Bill said that Al always liked to paint his mattes very 'flat', and this sky had slight impasto paint visible which is something Albert would never have done.
Franklin Schaffner's THE WAR LORD (1965) was a fine Medieval drama, which Al painted five mattes for.

Sharp eyed viewers might spot this matte shot in THE WAR LORD.  The studio backlot set has been bi-sected mid frame to introduce a painted sea, sky and forest.  Note the tree at near right has been 'chopped' straight across with Al's matte.

A Medieval fortress from THE WAR LORD, with Charlton Heston.

Also from THE WAR LORD is this matte where half the screen is Whitlock's.  Another closer matte of the same scene also appears later.

The Tony Curtis comedy WILD AND WONDERFUL (1963) started off with a broad, slow pan across an entirely painted Paris.
A frame from the wide pan across the Parisian evening from WILD AND WONDERFUL.  The same matte was used again for an episode of the tv series THE BIONIC WOMAN in the seventies.

An interesting kind of experiment, especially if, like me, you like W. C Fields.  Rod Steiger plays the great comic in W.C FIELDS AND ME (1976).  Albert supplied a pair of discrete matte shots to the production.
Before and after New York Broadway matte shot from W.C FIELDS AND ME.  Syd Dutton once told me that views looking down New York streets were a specialty of Al's.

Before and after from the same film of 1920's 'Hollywoodland'.  Note that even the signage 'Hotel' has been painted in.

John Wayne's company, Batjac Productions often called on Al to bring some added production value to The Duke's films.  THE WAR WAGON (1967) is one of those films, and Whitlock's work is most memorable.  In this shot, everything below the wooden bridge is Albert's work.  Again, it's that instinctive sense for light, shadow and most of all, the time of the day, that set Al's shots above most others.  It was always the 'phenomena' that mattered more to Al, rather than the 'object' or view itself.  
A tighter shot shown much later in the film with Kirk Douglas and John Wayne perched (probably around 3 feet, if that) above the abyss.
The bridge is all blown to hell.  Real live action for the top half of the frame, while all else below is painted.  The matte line shudders when the explosion goes off, though that was unavoidable I'm sure.

The Victorian set period piece, UNCLE SILAS (1947) was produced by Rank during Albert's tenure, so, again, he may have had a hand in the shots.  Joan Suttie I think ran the department then, with Canadian born Les Bowie and Albert as painters.
Another matte shot prepared and composited for UNCLE SILAS, but not used in the final edit.

Frame #1:  Michael Winner was a fascinating, larger than life identity, and directed some great films (DEATH WISH), some mediocre films (THE SENTINEL) and some downright awful films, such as the one illustrated here, THE WICKED LADY (1983). There's just one reason to see the film (well two if you count the scene in the hay barn with the lusty wench); Albert's matte shot, which I've included here as a sequence of frames for those who care, to click open and toggle through to appreciate just how much work went into this great establishing shot.
Frame #2:  By toggling through you can see all manner of activity and animation.  The clouds move past of course, the boats sail on the painted Thames, the same river seems to move, smoke rises from chimneys and best of all, the sun breaks through the cloud and slowly spreads it's way across old London bridge, with all of the buildings catching those rays.  Magic!
Frame #3
Frame #4
Frame #5
Frame #6
Frame #7  THE WICKED LADY (1983); with a great deal of complex animation over a full painting.


I'm a huge fan of the films of director Sidney Lumet.  So many of his films are classics and have stood the test of time.  THE WIZ (1978) wasn't one of them however.  A failed experiment on practically all counts, as a Black, urbanised, Motown re-boot of The Wizard Of Oz with an awful lot of extraordinarily funky pimps and hookers populating the scenes, it resembled a Rudy Ray Moore flick at times, and was really stretching it.  Some good dance numbers, great art direction and naturally, a truckload of utterly sensational visual effects shots from Albert, Bill, Syd, Dennis and Mike.

The wild snowstorm sweeps down a NY street, Using basically the same method that Al had earlier employed on THE LEARNING TREE, the effect was described to me by Bill Taylor:  "We rang a number of variations of this [The Learning Tree methodology, described in detail elsewhere in this blog] over the years, with the snow vortex in THE WIZ taking the method to it's breaking point as the vortex travelled in a sinusoidal path right toward the camera.  The cones were augmented with a couple of passes of miniature snow particles spinning up off the ground that followed the same path.  The element was photographed upside down so that the particles never fell back.  I liked the soft soft ball of glowing snow that appears around the street lights as the vortex comes down the street."
I love this scene where Lena Horne captures the snowstorm's tornado in her hand and gently blows it, and Dorothy whos whirling around inside it, away to a new adventure.  Once again, I felt compelled to run this sequence past Bill and see what he could recollect, which knowing him, would be practically every detail:  "When Lena blows the snowy vortex away, the basic tornado element was Al's cotton cone idea from The Learning Tree tornado scene, with many exposures at different speeds through soft edge splits.  There are added elements of individual snow flakes (paint specks) on a black cone.  The shadow on Lena's hand is made by Al's fingers, off camera."

Bill continues:  "For the vortex blowing apart, we rigged a little cup to hold a small quantity of miniature snow - which I think was ground-up styrofoam - with an air jet blowing downward into it, and a fan gently to the left.  We shot many takes of different quantities of snow. different air pressures, different spacings of nozzle to cup, and so on, and on, until we got a take that looked reasonably like a snow cone.  We made the transition with an articulated soft-edge split and a dissolve.  It was all partly good luck!"  In addition to that technical explanation, Bill remarked:  "The real miracle in the shot is Lena's complexion; entirely unassisted by plastic surgery.  A charming, lovely woman in every way, and what a talent!  At the time she was Sidney Lumet's mother-in-law!"


Dorothy, as played by Diana Ross, gets sucked through the tornado and into the Motown version of Oz.  The actress was placed on a pedestal, literally, in front of a blue screen, with the pedestal being later rotoscoped out.  The shots worked out well and looked quite spectacular in the 70mm print I saw.
Dorothy's arrival is somewhat unconventional, she arrives in Oz by elevator.  A substantial top up matte painting by Albert, complete with a small one inch miniature elevator which was stop motion animated.  Great design of this, and pretty much most of the visual effects shots in THE WIZ.
The mattes are all suitably flamboyant and make up for other shortcomings the film has.
The wrong side of the Oz tracks.  The Scarecrow (Michael Jackson) makes an appearance.  Sensational sky.

For this particular scene, Whitlock had to return to an age old effects technique, the in-camera foreground glass shot.  The reason being that Lumet wanted to have a free flowing pan and slight tilt following the cast as they dance into frame and up over the bridge.
The yellow brick road that Judy Garland never saw.  The bridge is real, with all else painted on a foreground glass, including the street lights. Note the fantasy composition with multiple Chrysler buildings.
Al's glass painting on location, though out of register from the still photographer's point of view.

I read in Lumet's biography that he had some difficulty in his dealings with Albert, and his expectations were, in cases such as this shot, not met.  I love Sidney Lumet's films, but this show was really far outside his usual milieu - hard and gritty New York dramas and police true stories, many of them brilliant, but none had a visual effect requirement of any kind so Lumet was just unfamiliar with the workings and complexities of trick shots.

Frame #1:  This monumental photographic effects sequence was a complete show stopper, so I'm including a whole series of frames here for you to click open and toggle through just to gasp in awe at what was achieved as Dorothy and her friends cross over to the Big Apple (and the apple was rather big!)

Frame #2:  The shot begins at dawn and gradually transitions to mid-day, with much happening on screen during the shot.  An article in a 1978 issue of American Cinematographer explains the shot:  "The methods Whitlock used to bring this transition about, and in a single shot, run the gamut of photographic effects techniques.  The shot begins with a stylized view of the city, which the audience has seen earlier in the film.  The scene at this point is entirely painted, but the painting is carefully matched to the location film of the real day skyline that will appear later.  As the night painting is faded slowly out, a dawn sky is faded in, leaving the city mostly in silhouette.  Finally, the dawn sky and silhouetted buildings dissolve to the real New York skyline, with a few painted additions.  During the dissolves, the 'Big Apple' rises and revolves via travelling matte; itself dissolving slowly from a sun-like glow on the horizon to a realistic (!) apple hanging in the sky.  Various other incidental film and painted elements were also required to eliminate an awkward foreground, provide water reflections, make the building lights sparkle, and so on.  The final composite required thirty-four passes through the matte camera and another six through the optical printer.  Each take required an entire working day."

Frame #3:  The article also stated that audience reaction to the shot was usually a gasp of surprise, followed by a murmur of appreciative amusement.  Apparently New Yorkers applauded, and it's easy to see why.

Frame #4

Frame #5

Frame #6:  I told Bill Taylor just how much I loved this effects sequence, and was surprised at his response:  "Thanks for that accolade Pete; all I can ever see is the matte line around the apple, which for some reason, didn't bother Al at all!  We had other takes where the apple fit perfectly, but the shot was so complicated that something else was wrong in every one of them!  It was one of the shots made on the matte shot camera and then carried over to the optical printer for the apple, to avoid duping the paintings.  And no, I don't miss the 'good old photo-chemical days' one little bit!"

Frame #7

The actors are in front of a large 20 x 40 foot high illumination fluorescent blue screen, photographed by Bill Taylor.  The real Brooklyn bridge was filmed as a background plate, and finally Albert replaced the real sky with a painted one and made other alterations.

Frame #1:  Another sequence of frames to illustrate yet another marvellous and complex matte transition as the principle cast dance their way across the yellow brick bridge, and again, all done as a single uninterrupted shot.

Frame #2:  The four actors were filmed from the appropriate elevation on a large strip of special yellow linoleum set up on the Universal parking lot.  The water element is real, having been filmed from a bridge in Long Beach.  Everything else in the scene is a Whitlock matte painting, photographed with similar transitions and lighting changes as was the case with the 'Big Apple' sequence.  Incredibly well done.  Great song here too!

Frame #3:  Note the subtle and gradual move into dusk, with the sun going down and the city lights all powering up.  

Frame #4

They arrive at their destination.  Matte art here to fill out the background.  The Wizard by the way, was played by Richard Pryor, though uncomfortable looking in the role to me, was one of the all time great stand up comedians.  Check out RICHARD PRYOR LIVE IN CONCERT (1979) if you don't believe me.  A masterpiece still!

This shot from THE WIZ is most interesting.  An extreme camera move that started on a large number of choreographed dancers performing at the base of the World Trade Centre, which then made an extreme upward tilt of the towers and revealed an interlinked structure between each building, was not a matte painting but a cleverly photographed miniature, merged with location footage, and all on original negative.  Under Albert's direction, his crew at Universal built a rudimentary structure consisting of two plain wooden columns, that precisely matched the proportions of the actual Twin Towers, though at a greatly reduced scale of course.  Whitlock's crew then carefully painted the miniature columns to match the plate photography taken in New York at the real structure.  They also built a miniature of the semi-circular span than joined the two towers, with this also painted to match. The effects camera was mounted on a nodal head and photographed the miniature by way of stop motion, by a long lead screw at a speed that precisely matched the tilt up done on location at 24fps at the real Trade Centre.  Albert's miniature footage was then dissolved smoothly into the location first unit footage with an A-and-B roll dissolve made during release printing.  As a means to disguise any evidence of a transition from one shot to the other, Albert introduced a bright, flashing green light emitting from the building which would, for a split second, flare sufficiently to momentarily hide the transition.

The miniature, constructed as two bare wooden columns, and painted to match the illuminated windows of the real Twin Towers.  The effect is really well done.

The last matte shot from THE WIZ (1978).  Bill's opinion of the film was:  "Too bad the film was not better;  the stage musical is terrific.  You know you've got trouble when the film is an hour longer than the play!"

Director Sidney Lumet confers with Albert during the New York shoot at the Astoria Studios.  Lumet made some of the best films in my book, with my favourites being FAIL SAFE, 12 ANGRY MEN, THE OFFENCE, SERPICO, PRINCE OF THE CITY, DEATH TRAP, DOG DAY AFTERNOON, THE ANDERSON TAPES and probably best of the lot, NETWORK.  That's quite a catalogue, and they're just my faves.

Mel Brooks cracks up Al and the whole documentary crew during the shoot of ALBERT WHITLOCK-MASTER OF ILLUSION (1981).  And I always though Mel was a real serious guy!  Note the marvellous Notre Dame painting on the matte stand for HISTORY OF THE WORLD.  *Photo courtesy of Walton Dornisch.
Behind the scenes during the filming of ALBERT WHITLOCK-MASTER OF ILLUSION (1981).  *Photos all courtesy of Walton Dornisch.


The Master.  Enough said.         *Photo courtesy of Walton Dornisch



14 comments:

  1. Hello, and many congratulations for this exhaustive look at the work of Albert Whitlock, which I have not even finished reading yet. I've long admired his work, ever since I saw his name cropping up in Universal productions like GHOST STORY and THE THING. By the way, I appreciate your listing of Dick Miller as a positive element in I WANNA HOLD YOUR HAND, as I have recently published a biography of that great actor. (No plans to do an Eddie Deezen book, though!) Thanks very much for this blog and all the work you've done highlighting this underappreciated art form.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi Caelum

      Many thanks for those generous words. I appreciate it.

      There is a great doco on the legendary Dick Miller, called THAT GUY DICK MILLER and it's really good. I love the guy as he always plays, well, Dick Miller! He stole so many films with just a brief cameo, such as THE TERMINATOR and THE HOWLING as two good examples.

      Glad you like Al's extraordinary talent.

      Pete

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  2. beautiful as ever...thank you so much,NZ Pete..

    greets,Willem

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    1. Hi Willem

      Thanks for that my Dutch matte-fan friend.:)

      Another nice story for you: Bill told me how he and Al cleverly worked out a trick shot for ZENDA where Sellers walks all the way around his look-a-like and helps him put on an overcoat. They couldn't do it but later made a special VFX sequence of it with Albert as the 'star', which apparently they had on the Universal tour for years.

      Peter

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  3. Thanks for this. Extremely enlightening--especially the story of Whitlock chewing out John Carpenter for the gore in "The Thing"

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    1. Hi John

      Glad you enjoyed it. There are so many stories that I couldn't include them all.

      One great one that I neglected to mention, regarding THE STING - which Al was very happy with the result, was that when explaining or demonstrating the set up for the El Train matte he would get all enthusiastic and regale how the train was just a $10 off-the-shelf Revell toy!

      Pete

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  4. Excellent as always - I especially like the closeups of actual paintings from the previous entry - will we see more such as the capitol building from Airport 77 ?

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    1. I include everything I can in these Whitlock tributes. Sometimes things come to hand after the fact (and sadly sometimes, never at all).
      I was hoping to include close ups of the AIRPORT 77 matte, but didn't receive the photos (as yet). I have asked, but don't want to appear 'pushy' with such requests. The owner of those mattes was generous enough with the others, and I have a couple of beautiful Syd Dutton mattes (NEWSIES) in highly detailed rez for another time.

      I am often approached by family members of FX guys who still own mattes from wayyyy back, and they promise to send me photos, but often I never hear back. Linwood Dunn's family have some, including a Jan Domela matte from HAWAII, Fred Sersen's family have THE RAZOR'S EDGE mattes and another guy I spoke with has a bunch of old Fox mattes from things like SOUTH PACIFIC and JOURNEY TO CENTRE OF EARTH, but again, these rare gems just never reach my mailbox, sadly.

      Pete

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  5. Extremely nice!!

    Article was amazing!!

    Good to know about the transformation of visual effects from 90's to till.

    Great Work!!

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  6. Wonderful work, Pete. This is an awesome collection of matte paintings. Some of them are even unknown to me. Thank you so much.
    Best wishes,
    Thomas

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    1. Hi Thomas

      Always good to hear from you my friend.
      So glad you enjoyed it (I could bet $$$ that YOU would like this!)

      It was a big endeavour but well worth the effort to celebrate Albert's unique talent.

      Oh, and I've since been able to confirm that old, old photo of Al painting an as yet incomplete mountainside etc at Pinewood as definitely being from NIGHT WITHOUT STARS (1951) which is illustrated in the blog.

      Peter

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  7. A spectacular collection. Thank-you so much. If you revisit it, I would recommend seeking out AJW's work on Ray Wise's The Hindenburg and David Lynch's Dune. The matte work on both of those help to greatly increase the scale of each project very artfully. I will personally be checking some of the films in this tribute and will need to revisit MacArthur in particular. Peace!

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