Thursday 4 July 2019

MATTE PAINTING REVIEW: A Selection of Overlooked Films - Part Three

Hi there matte and traditional special effects fans. It's that time once again for some more celluloid analysis of great cinematic trick shots from days gone by, motion pictures long passed by and in some cases from films largely forgotten.  This edition is quite a bumper affair from the very depths of NZ Pete's vast archive, with all manner of films and genres covered, and not just painted mattes either... there's a healthy chunk of splendid miniature shots from some quite worthwhile vintage films.  I've got a wonderful old Ealing comedy classic; a couple of horror pictures from completely opposite ends of the spectrum; a rip-snorting Errol Flynn western saga; another vintage MGM musical; a prestige early Technicolor British historic bio-pic and a pair of ghostly supernatural romps just to even things out.  You can't accuse Pete of not covering as many movie magic bases as he possibly can ... and all here in your one-stop-shop of all things in the realm of 'special effects wizardry!


A Blast From The Past:

Pioneering matte and visual fx artist Lewis Wood Physioc
The name Lewis W. Physioc would, I'm sure, almost certainly be unknown to even the most dedicated fans of visual effects.  Born in 1879, the multi-talented Lewis was to become one of the leading practitioners in silent era cinematography and photographic effects work and was one of the pioneers of the art of the glass shot and matte composite methodology.

Orson Welles' MACBETH (1948) matte probably rendered by Physioc.
Having started off - as many matte exponents did - as a scenic backing artist around 1914, Physioc gradually moved into camerawork and visual effects shots at the Goldwyn Studio in Culver City and later as matte artist for Columbia Pictures in the late 1920's on such movies as THE BLOOD SHIP (1927) and, for a substantial part of his career, at Republic Pictures right the way on through to the end of the 1940's in a most prolific, though largely anonymous, creative career.  Long time Republic studio effects men, Howard and Theodore Lydecker, always received screen credit, even for pictures that didn't utilise their own particular specialty, that being miniatures and explosive work.

Physioc glass shot from LADY FROM LOUISIANA (1941)
Physioc would paint mattes for scores of low budget Republic westerns and other 'B' pictures, though his approach and philosophical understanding of the artform would see him publish a number of technical articles for journals such as American Cinematographer and International Photographer which later effects artists such as Matthew Yuricich would find illuminating.  Apparently, stop motion maestro and celebrated trick shot legend Ray Harryhausen attended Physioc's classes in matte and glass painting technique at the University of Southern California as far back as 1939.

One of Lewis' original negative matte painted shots from Columbia's silent feature THE BLOOD SHIP (1927).
 Lewis also designed and painted the famous eagle logo for Herbert Yates' Republic Pictures and, when not assigned to film projects' was a prolific oil landscape artist, illustrator and magazine cover artist.  I seem to recall reading somewhere that Lewis was also one of the founding members of the American Society of Cinematographers, though I haven't been able to confirm this as of this blog posting. Lewis Physioc lived a very long life and passed away in 1972.
One of Republic's bread & butter oaters - the cowpoke with a velvet voice fightin' for the good, God-fearin' town folks in the gaudy Tru-Color 'B' picture SINGING GUNS (1950).  The studio made a ton of low budget flicks just like this one which satisfied the undemanding brats at Saturday afternoon double bills.  The highly stylised matte painted landscape here suggests the brushwork of Lewis Physioc. 

Lewis' Republic logo, so common a sight through the 30's, 40's and 50's.

Virtually full frame matte painted scene with actual ocean, as seen in Republic's spooky STRANGERS IN THE NIGHT.

At left is one of Lewis' vivid oil painted landscapes, while at right the caption is self explanatory.


So, now let us celebrate my current selection of choice overlooked films matte shots and assorted trick work.
There is some great material here friends, and a nice balance of really groovy miniature shots (so obscure I'd be surprised if anyone else has seen the vintage Ealing Studios flick) together with the requisite painted mattes which should satisfy the 'model fans' out there, of which there seem to be plenty, like those darned pods that keep multiplying in the still brilliant Invasion of the Body Snatchers with Kevin McCarthy... though, as usual, Pete digresses.  Do I often drift off track??

Enjoy, and give me your feedback.



The quite grand British bio-pic on Queen Victoria, SIXTY GLORIOUS YEARS (1938) was retitled as QUEEN OF DESTINY for American audiences of the day for some reason.

Very early Technicolor showcase, especially as far as British cinema went.

The legendary Walter Percy Day (1878-1965), affectionately known as 'Pop' or 'Poppa' to most who knew and worked with him throughout his extraordinary and celebrated career.  Already an established portraitist and landscape painter, as well as an accomplished photographer, Day moved into special photographic effects work in 1919 right after the end of the first world war with glass shots at Elstree Studios in Borehamwood, England.  Day's epic career would span several decades, with forays across the English Channel to supply matte paintings, glass shots and miniature tricks for the burgeoning French film industry.  Percy added grandeur and realism to scores of noted French productions such as Abel Gance's NAPOLEON (1927) among many others.  Day would return to Britain around 1930 and set up shop on his home soil, where he would remain for the duration of his motion picture career on into the early 1950's.  Also shown here is Percy's step-son Peter Ellenshaw, who, after a seven year apprenticeship under Day, would himself would become one of the finest matte painters in the business.  *Photographs and original Technicolor 35mm frame enlargements that follow are courtesy of Pop's grand daughter, Susan Day

Sadly, the UK DVD release of the film is abysmal at best, and in dire need of some proper restoration, or better yet, a good BluRay edition.  Thankfully, these absolutely wonderful original 1938 film clips have been preserved and catalogued in the Day archive by his grand daughter, and look ten times better than anything on the DVD release.

A masterful 'top up' matte shot of the grand ballroom in SIXTY GLORIOUS YEARS.  Pop Day was in high demand for just such trick shots - as his archival collection will testify - with scores of similar set extensions painted in to soundstage sets for a myriad of French and British productions over the years, with the vast majority being completely invisible to the eye, such was Day's skill with draftsmanship, colour and the all important issue of blends and matching the joins.

A good example of invisible art, where Day has painted in the necessary architecture to hide the studio fittings and lights which was a common practice throughout the golden era of cinema.

Storied British film director Michael Powell frequently employed Day on his numerous projects and in an article stated:  "Pop is the greatest trick man and film wizard I have ever known.  I was always dropping into Poppa Day's studio.  It was like chatting with Jules Verne."  Susan Day said that her grandfather was tickled pink when Powell once sent him a postcard, simply addressed as 'The Wizard of Denham Studios', and it reached him!

Queen Victoria at Crystal Palace.  Day's assistant was the young trainee matte artist Peter Ellenshaw, with additional help from Day's two sons, Arthur and Thomas.  Future visual effects guru Wally Veevers was Pop's matte cameraman dating back to their work together on THINGS TO COME (1935) and would continue the partnership for the following decades until Day's retirement in 1953.

At the time of the SIXTY GLORIOUS YEARS production, Poppa Day was making all of his matte shots on the original negative - or in the case of Technicolor films such as this, on a matching set of three original negatives.  Day would continue to use the standard original negative technique until 1946 whereby he and optical cinematographer Doug Hague would introduce the new, though lesser resolution, dupe method for BLACK NARCISSUS.  Said Hague in an article:  "The disadvantages of the original negative method were that the director had no check on whether the action was correct in the chosen take until several weeks later, and during this period the differential latent image build up or fall off on the three 35mm 'records'  [red, green and blue] made it extremely difficult to match the colours of the painting to those of the original scene."

Undetectable ceiling painted in.

Percy Day outlined his original negative methods as applied to this film and others from that period:  "The first requirement was a perfectly reliable and steady camera.  Any displacement of the image due to camera shake would make the shot unusable.  'Jiggle' could also be caused through bad perforation (sprocket holes) or film shrinkage.  Having decided upon the set-up, the part of the scene not required was masked off by placing black cardboard in front of the lens, taking care that the actors were fully covered by the set.  A test of 100 or 200 feet of film was exposed.  This test footage was used later when joining the painting to the set.  The live action scenes were shot and the exposed (undeveloped) film put in storage, with the exception of about five feet of test film, which was developed.  An enlargement was made from an image of the test and the art director made final sketches.  The negative was then projected onto the glass where the painting was going to be made.  The projected image had to be carefully drawn in, as the finished painting had to conform to the set.  As the painting proceeded, tests were taken to ensure perfect line-up with the part existing on the exposed section of the film."

Day continued:  "When the painting was finished, the exposed part of the film was exposed to receive the painting.  Voltage control in the matte room was employed to ensure that the light sources of the painting did not vary or flicker during exposure."  

A minor fix.

Day had established a matte department at the substantial Denham Studios in the mid thirties and remained on the lot until the mid forties whereby he and Wally Veevers set up shop at Shepperton Studios, by which time assistant Peter Ellenshaw had gone on elsewhere on his own journey as a prominent matte artist in his own right.

Among the numerous matte artists who trained under or worked with Percy Day were Judy Jordan, who would later work with Tom Howard at MGM-Borehamwood on TARZAN jungle epics and things like MOULIN ROUGE; Canadian born Les Bowie, who would later become famous for his wide ranging talents in all aspects of special effects and trickery, from Hammer horrors to the still wonderful SUPERMAN; Polish born artist Joseph Natanson was another of Day's assistants who would be part of Wally Veevers' stable of matte painters at Shepperton before going freelance in Europe on many big productions such as the huge Fox extravaganza CLEOPATRA;  Albert Julion - a much admired matte artist who was a favourite of the Korda's;  George Samuels - would paint mattes for ALEXANDER THE GREAT and DAY OF THE TRIFFIDS and go on to be head matte painter at Shepperton upon Day's retirement, alongside his brother Ted, who was a practical fx man and had worked with Day for many years providing gags for his matte and visual effects shots such as the burning city in THE BLACK ROSE. 

Buckingham Palace matte art from SIXTY GLORIOUS YEARS (1938).

Night view of the same, with clapper board visible in this trimmed out take.


The very popular British comic actor, Will Hay, stars in a frantic, loud and very deliberate 'up yours Adolf' to the Nazi's in a pretty broad yet funny UK classic that I bet would have been a hell of a morale boosting crowd pleaser when shown at a time when the Brits were in fact being pelted nightly with bombs and things were looking decidedly grim. 

Britain's Ealing Studio's put out so many wonderful films over the years, with many still regarded as UK classics.  While THE GOOSE STEPS OUT (1942) probably doesn't qualify for 'classic' status like The Man In The White Coat. Whiskey Galore, Kind Hearts and Coronets or The Maggie, the film is definitely not without its own charms, among which are a large number of great effects shots and a supremely well executed (and funny) lengthy aerial sequence with fine miniatures and pyro work.  Pictured at right is Ealing's chief of special effects, Roy Kellino.  More about Roy later.

Of interest too for the very early casting of both Peter Ustinov and Charles Hawtrey - long before each found their own fame - in supporting roles.

Either a full miniature set or perhaps miniature foreground and a painted facade for the main buildings beyond.  Ealing managed a variety of solid camera tricks on very limited resources for so many of their films, especially baring in mind that many of them were produced during wartime constraints where equipment, materials and even manpower were severely compromised.

The main thrust of the goofy story has our 'hero', Will Hay thrown into the world of double agent espionage due to the fact that he has more than a passing resemblance to a particular spy.  Naturally Will plays both roles as shown here in a split screen sequence.  Note the soft 'bleed through' of the overcoat of the 'Will' on the right.

Another split screen trick shot from THE GOOSE STEPS OUT (1942).  Apparently Hay was quite an accomplished individual, with talents as a pilot, engineer, amateur astronomer of quite some reputation as well as an author, comedian, actor and director.  Will was extremely popular with British audiences, be it on stage, on the radio or in motion pictures.  Later UK comic actors like Norman Wisdom very much imitated or adapted the Will Hay persona in successful careers.

Time to catch up on a little light reading so as to pose as a Nazi while undercover in Germany.

Will's train rolls on into Altenburg, Germany in what one would presume to accept as a straight production shot but was in fact a clever trick shot where a miniature train and track has been skillfully matted into a soundstage set at Ealing Studios.  The station platform is a partial construction too, with the distant stretch on platform etc being painted in.  Nice work.

Roy Kellino - the son of a British International Pictures director - became Ealing's chief of special effects around 1940.  Kellino would strike up a creative partnership with ace special effects man Cliff Richardson, who himself had been with Ealing since 1932 taking on all manner of jobs for the studio that nobody else could, or would, tackle.  Cliff would eventually become one of Britain's most well respected effects men, with specialty work in miniatures and pyrotechnics.  Cliff's son, John Richardson would much later also gain much respect in the industry as he followed in his father's footsteps on films like THE OMEN, SUPERMAN, ALIENS and A BRIDGE TOO FAR

Kellino and Richardson built up the miniature department at Ealing to a high standard and some fine examples later on may be seen in films such as SCOTT OF THE ANTARCTIC and the highly recommended nail biting thriller, THE NIGHT MY NUMBER CAME UP.

Our hapless hero has one mishap after the other, from falling through the bomb bay hatch, mid flight, to accidentally flying across the English Channel upside down!  Lots of miniature work with planes, coastline, lighthouses, farms, bridges, railways and even Big Ben.

In a 1943 issue of Cine-Technician, Roy Kellino discussed the methods used at Ealing and scenes from this film:  "I think that in England, we are broadminded enough to admit that up until the outbreak of war that trick photography here has been sadly neglected, except by one or two specialists.  Naturally, as in many industries, it is the war that has forced on us conditions that have necessitated adapting old methods for new, in order to maintain a pre-war level of product.  Shortage of building materials could only be surmounted by finding a substitute - the building of scale models.  The sudden increase of companies requiring models to be photographed meant that the few specialists were soon swamped with work.  Companies began to realise that if their pictures were to be finished, they must turn to their own cameramen to finish them.  It was in this position that Ealing found themselves in 1940 when I was approached by management and asked to form a model department.  It was not easy as I had no previous experience of this kind of work."

The coast of England, with Will's upside down German fighter on it's way to Whitehall with the secret Nazi weapon.  Effects man Roy Kellino continues:  "The first consideration obviously was to get an assistant who could help in reproducing the effects necessary to bring realism to the screen, with a good knowledge of chemistry coupled with sound common sense.  I was so lucky in my choice, Cliff Richardson, who has proved a tower of strength during our association of the last three years."

Roy Kellino:  "After some weeks of practical experience the existing equipment was found to be inadequate.  The number one obstacle was the lack of any high speed drive for the camera that would allow flexibility and freedom to the operator.  The use of the Bell & Howell high speed gearbox, coupled by a rigid shaft to the camera, though quite efficient as a motor, was like wearing a straightjacket.  This obstacle was overcome by Sid Howell who produced a variable speed motor, coupled to the camera with a flexible drive of sufficient length to allow complete freedom of camera movement.  Incorporated in this flexible drive was a multi-spring loaded clutch - a safeguard against camera jams at any speed."  

Frame here has a model plane manipulated in front of a rear process screen, onto which is a miniature setting projected.  Roy Kellino continues:  "The interesting features of this camera drive is the extreme range and simplicity of operation.  The lowest speed is 12 frames per second, but can be increased to any given speed up to 128 frames per second.  This can be done while the camera is in motion without any mechanical adjustment which is obviously a great advantage."

Ealing effects chief Roy Kellino further explains:  "Sid Howell came to the rescue again with another unique piece of equipment, The Howell Dolly.  While primarily designed to allow panning and tilting on foreground models, it also solved many of the problems of the aerobatics of the model planes.  To be asked to reproduce a slow 'Immelmann Turn' with a model suspended by wires would tax the ingenuity of most model photographers.  While Sid was designing the head so that the lens of the camera would pan and tilt on it's nodal point, he also incorporated a movement whereby the lens would turn around on the same point.  This naturally meant that the whole camera had to be able to turn upside down - in fact it can rotate at any speed required."  

Kellino would later move to the US and direct movies for television.  Richardson would provide remarkable physical effects work on an epic scale for Guy Hamilton's THE BATTLE OF BRITAIN (1969) that remains a standout today.

A team of model builders were brought in to construct the many miniatures required for THE GOOSE STEPS OUT (1942)

Roy Kellino wrote that the crew avoided any sort of 'slap-dash' construction approach, with the plan that as fine a job as possible be carried out with model building on this and other films.  The miniature aircraft, vehicles, buildings and landscapes were carefully salvaged whenever possible for future re-use.  Note, most of the model shots in the film are taken with a moving camera as opposed to a locked off stationary camera position.

The barrage balloon sequence where our brave, though hopelessly clumsy lads clip one after another as they fly through, causing mayhem and panic from the English home guard down below!

An impressive, well coordinated set piece with multiple models, pyrotechnics and a painted backing.
Roy Kellino:  "By retaining the same technical personnel in all departments from picture to picture, our efficiency grew.  Any ideas or suggestions from members of the crew were investigated and more often than not, were accepted.  Chippies, electricians and grips alike all contributed to the finished production.  In the last three years, it would be hard to find a production out of the Ealing Studios that has not had some help from the model department." 

Roy Kellino:  "In photographing models, the depth of focus is the major consideration.  The normal movie set key lighting scheme must be discarded, and the eye must become accustomed to working in overall illumination that would horrify a production cameraman.  When it comes to lighting, when the chief electrician asks me how much equipment is needed for a given model set, my answer is always 'How much can I have?'"

You always have to burst my balloon!  Kellino also supervised the massive miniature effects war film SHIPS WITH WINGS (1941) - also for Ealing.  Not a bad show though the multitude of model shots (and there were so many) were compromised by the limited budget and resources, whereas some place across the ditch like MGM would have knocked out a multi-million dollar epic.  But then, America were completely unfamiliar with the miseries and harsh day to day realities of war as Britain had been, so it's purely academic.

A superbly constructed, and undoubtedly very large, miniature set of London which serves the action climax.  Additional casts were taken by Cliff Richardson's model crew of all of the fine plaster work so as to serve as standby for repairs and refurbishment for subsequent films.

The out of control hijacked German fighter with our British agents runs out of gas and ploughs into MI6's base of operations.  A supremely well engineered and photographed gag with the model plane in freefall.  Roy Kellino:  "To me, nothing looks less convincing than a model shot made with insufficient depth of focus.  A 'woolly' foreground immediately destroys the illusion of reality.  Always have exposure in hand and if the unknown problem does not arise then the additional 'stop' or two on the lens can always be used to advantage in giving that crispness so often lacking in model shots."

Have our hapless heroes met their untimely fate?  Did the producers forget this was supposed to be a comedy?  Will Will have time to write his Will?  The answers to these and many other questions will be completely overlooked for the uplifting final scene...

As an aside, effects man Roy Kellino's wife left him and remarried an up and coming actor fellow of some repute... a chap named James Mason no less.  You may have heard of him.


I really like a good western, and Warner Bros knocked out many a fine picture, often with Errol Flynn, and often helmed by guys like Michael Curtiz or Raoul Walsh... real bloke directors.

Warner's Stage 5 special effects department at the time VIRGINIA CITY (1940) was made.  Top left is head of department Byron Haskin; middle top is effects cameraman Edwin DuPar; top right is director of photographic effects Hans Koenekamp;  bottom left is head matte painter Paul Detlefsen; bottom right is Warners artist Ron Strang.

The legendary Stage 5 Special Effects Department on the Warner Bros lot.

I'm a huge admirer of old time hand lettered movie title cards - a skillset all of its own.  On many occasions studio's farmed this sort of specialty work out to optical houses such as Pacific Title, where illustrators would carefully hand paint the lettering onto either glass or thick art card, depending upon the requirement.

I love mattes from the 1940's, which for me is my favourite period, stylistically speaking.  Certainly the artform was at an all time high in as far as the sheer volume of matted scenes coming out of studios through that decade.

Matte artists at Warner Bros at the time included head painter Paul Detlefsen, artists Mario Larrinaga, Chesley Bonestell, Jack Shaw, Vern Taylor, Hans Bartholowsky and Jack Cosgrove.  Matte cinematographer was John Crouse.

Director Michael Curtiz was a dab-hand with this sort of macho action, and turned out many first rate pictures, mostly for Warner Bros.  Curtiz understood the power of a well integrated matte shot and was not shy when it came to utilising the method.

A great shot where multiple elements have been combined for a brief stunt sequence where the actor leaps from a speeding carriage into a deep ravine and river.  The horses and carriage are a real live action component, with the distant scenery being painted and the near foreground rock wall and tree being miniature elements, as well as the actual bridge and railings.  The water appears to be a real, additional element and the falling actor I think has been doubled in as yet another element.  Edwin DuPar was Warner's long time visual effects cameraman whose career with this studio dated way back to 1920 under pioneering SFX head Fred Jackman snr.  DuPar specialised in all manner of effects cinematography, with a particular bent for miniature shots.  His work in films like PASSAGE TO MARSEILLE was something else, and the monumental central effects set piece in YANKEE DOODLE DANDY was a jaw dropper, and remains one of the greatest trick shot sequences of all time (both films covered in earlier blogs here.)

It was common place throughout the 40's especially for studio art directors to design enhanced skies to add to the dramatic narrative on so many pictures.  I'm a great admirer of the matte painted cloud and atmosphere contributed by matte artists of that period.

Virtually all painted.

VIRGINIA the sign says.  The last two letters (IA) fell off the sign at one stage and a whole new 'gold-rush' began... or did I just imagine it?  Believe it, or not.

Subtle sky enhancement was something often requested by this director.

Speaking of painted skies, the grand-daddy of matte painted sky photographic effects simply must be another Warners picture, also starring Errol Flynn, which came out the following year:  THEY DIED WITH THEIR BOOTS ON (1941) which was staggering in the complexity of not just painted in cloudscapes, but painted and optically doubled into motion production shots (often not locked off in the slightest!!!)  made during location shooting, against, I presume, plain, clear boring skies!  Just how on earth Byron Haskin and Edwin DuPar managed to lay in the many painted skies against so many tracking, pan, tilt and push in production shots is beyond me, and must have been a massive achievement for the boys in optical to hand 'plot' each incremental move.... and this was long before any form of motion repeater technology. My God!  I'd never really noticed this phenomenal work until obtaining a High Definition copy of the film and viewing same on a 55" TV, though as usual, I digress...

In an old interview, matte artist Paul Detlefsen remarked that the real success of his matte shots was the result of his partnership with old time Warners' matte cinematographer, John Crouse, whom he held in very high regard.  A few years later both Detlefsen and Crouse were Oscar nominated for their mattes in THE ADVENTURES OF MARK TWAIN, which must be a very rare first for the effects nomination to go to the actual workers rather than to the screen credited special effects boss, who I think was Larry Butler.

A revealing behind the scenes look at the tiny stage set up prior to the matte.

HD matte shot of that same small set extended with the painting.

Much grandeur added in by Warner's matte department.

One of those quick cuts that one barely notices, though extended with matte work.


The closing shot from VIRGINIA CITY.  I previously made mention of the remarkable THEY DIED WITH THEIR BOOTS ON, and I will do coverage on that exceptional show in the next blog.


I like all genres of cinema, and depending upon my mood at any given moment, I can tackle even the most serious high brow arthouse piece, followed up with a cheap blaxploitation actioner; a Fred Astaire song 'n dance classic, and an astonishingly low brow Italian gut-munching cannibal epic ... and often all in the same evening!  This has nothing whatsoever to do with the film illustrated here, other than to admit, my viewing pleasures are wide and varied.  Anyway, Clive Barker's NIGHTBREED (1990) was none of the above, though as I seem to recall was a fairly entertaining horror-thriller, though  weighed down by far too many silly looking creatures (unlike Barker's earlier film HELLRAISER which was an all out winner in all stakes, especially the horrific creature makeup effects.  Bravo!)

NIGHTBREED was a showcase in the effects aspect, with a number of pretty good matte shots (along with various other fx shots).  British matte shot specialist Cliff Culley handled all of the matte work at his company Westbury Design & Optical near London.  Cliff had a very long career in the UK film industry, going back to the mid 1940's at J.Arthur Rank's Pinewood Studios.  Cliff started off in scenic backing work - as many future matte artists did - and graduated into glass shots and matte painting under Les Bowie for a time, and then as head of Pinewood's matte department.  Culley would work alongside other matte painters such as Albert Whitlock, Peter Melrose, John Stears and Bob Bell.  I also read somewhere that production designer Stephen Grimes may too have been in the matte department.  The main photo here shows Cliff being interviewed for the DVD bonus on YOU ONLY LIVE TWICE - one of many Bond films he painted on.  The top right shows Culley setting up an in-camera foreground glass shot for the expensive miniseries THE LAST DAYS OF POMPEII, while the lower right picture shows Cliff demonstrating a key NIGHTBREED matte painting (see below) to veteran art director Maurice Carter and a reporter doing a story on the film.

NIGHTBREED cityscape and sky, though how much is real I don't know?

This is the full matte that we can see just a sliver of in Culley's studio above.

An atmospheric full frame painted graveyard that is more than it seems.  All manner of grisly business going on in here... oh, that was a spoiler alert by the way.

Bad things happen at night in NIGHTBREED.  

Tomb it may concern....  Go on, laugh damn you.... it's funny.

A daylight view of the eerie cemetery.  While Culley supervised all of the matte work, one of his old time associates, Bob Bell, was brought on board to do a lot of the work.  Bob had since gone on to production design and art direction after his initial time in the old Pinewood matte unit, and designed films such as Gerry Anderson's seriously under-rated sci-fi mindbender JOURNEY TO THE FAR SIDE OF THE SUN - aka DOPPLEGANGER.  Also assisting Culley on the matte work was trainee artist Terry Adlam.  The matte shots were all photographed and composited by Cliff's son, Neil Culley.

The Mausoleum the merrier, I always say  ;)  (!)

The walk through the cemetery is one of those wall-to-wall matte painted sequences, where virtually every cut comprises an extensive painted matte, and to excellent effect.

Fellow horror film director David Cronenberg appears in front of the camera this time plays a quite misunderstood chap with some personality issues that need urgent addressing in Clive Barker's NIGHTBREED.  Almost entirely painted shot here.

Another extensive matte where almost all of the shot has painted, with just a small patch in mid frame that has live action.

What the hell?  The satanic forces never for a moment considered installing smoke detectors or a decent sprinkler system.

The conclusion is spectacular indeed, as all hell breaks loose (no... really, it does).  Good matte, model and optical work here by all concerned.


MGM produced so many musicals, and most of those had fine matte shots therein, so I include yet another example from 1938, THE GREAT WALTZ.

At left is MGM's longtime chief of production design, the legendary Cedric Gibbons, shown here discussing proposed matte design sketches to one of his art directors.  In the middle are the two stalwarts of MGM's highly creative special effects department, matte supervisor Warren Newcombe and mechanical & miniature effects supervisor A.Arnold 'Buddy' Gillespie.  The picture here was taken at the 1947 Academy Awards where both men received Oscars for their outstanding and thoroughly deserving contributions to GREEN DOLPHIN STREET.  At the right is a vintage photo of Newcombe with his longtime collaborator, matte and visual effects cinematographer Mark Davis.

A snapshot of the MGM Newcombe department taken in 1938, the same year THE GREAT WALTZ was produced.  The painter in the middle is Rufus Harrington, though the other two remain unidentified.  One of them could be Howard Fisher, who was one of the 'old men' of the department and had a very long career in the field all the way up to the 1960's with IT'S A MAD, MAD, MAD, MAD WORLD (1963) with future effects artist Jim Danforth regaling me a great story or two from his knowing Howard on that film.             *Photo from The Invisible Art-The Legends of Movie Matte Painting.

It was better than the 70's remake.

The story is set in Vienna during the time of musician Johann Strauss, with all production work carried out in Hollywood.

I'm a huge admirer of the incredibly talented artists and cameramen at MGM, especially through the golden era, which as you all know, is a passion for Pete.  Great matte art worked so well for MGM as the blend between 'fact & fiction' is so supremely well executed and virtually always invisible.  No matte lines evident, no camera jiggle, and such perfect matching of tones and texture always impressed the hell out of me.

MGM's Newcombe department tended to opt for soft blends rather than hard mattes, with the matte line often sweeping across mid architecture or foliage.  Newcombe's artists were often from a commercial illustration background and could easily paint (with very fine tipped artists pastel crayon for the most part) and accurately match with the live action plate with remarkable success, as these frames will testify.

A dramatic pullback vfx shot reveals the opera house interior.

The opera hose and most of the people are painted here, with animated interference 'gag' at the back of the artwork to simulate movement of the painted audience.  Visual effects cinematographer Mark Davis devised many such gags and developed ingenious ways to enhance mattes for the studio.

Opera houses and grand old theatre interiors were a staple of the artform for decades.

Ornate painted ceiling top up adds to what was surely an already grandiose soundstage set at MGM, where money seemed to be always available.

This may well be a Buddy Gillespie miniature set up given the sleight focal shift toward the left hand side.  Still, it's a superbly put together fx shot with tiny live action up on the balcony and the cheering crowds down front.  Possibly a forced perspective trick?  If it were a British film I'd hasten to say it was a Schufftan shot made with a miniature or photo cut-out and a mirror rig.

The people of Vienna gather for an almost entirely fabricated visual effects shot.


The small Hal Roach Studio had for a long time been the home for such timeless entities such as Laurel & Hardy and other classic comedy teams.  The studio produced a trio of popular screwball ghost comedies from the late thirties, the very successful TOPPER series beginning in 1937.  While I didn't care much for the first film, which, oddly headlined the most obnoxious Cary Grant I've ever seen, I rather enjoyed the two sequels, TOPPER TAKES A TRIP (1939) and even more so, TOPPER RETURNS (1941) which was a bit of a hoot.

Our gormless though well cast star, Roland Young provides many laughs.

I found these fantastic pictures years ago in an ancient issue of LIFE magazine where the effects work for TOPPER was explained.  Above left is a terrific view inside the old Hal Roach effects department, with the four main members of the trick unit are busy. From left to right; matte painter Jack Shaw, head of visual effects Roy Seawright; vfx cameraman Frank Young, and optical cinematographer William Draper.  The photo at right shows Seawright working on a ghost rotoscope travelling matte for the original film in the series (not covered here).

I've wanted to include these great old pictures in a blog for years now but never had the opportunity till now.  At left is optical cameraman William Draper manning the bi-pack camera on his optical bench printer.  At right is an overview of matte painter Jack Shaw at work on what appears to be the photography of inked cels for one of the materialisation gags on the animation stand.

More detail of Roy Seawright making animation cels for one of the 'wipe on' ghost effects.  At right is the optical printer set up in action.

A sensational photograph from the golden era, which shows Roy Seawright at the matte camera and Jack Shaw setting up a painted ceiling matte on the stand for composite photography.  This sort of image is pure gold for NZ Pete.  *Photo from the essential book The Invisible Art-The Legends of Movie Matte Painting.

Both TOPPER TAKES A TRIP and the follow up TOPPER RETURNS would see Roy Seawright Oscar nominated for their respective photographic effects, but the competition was just too heavy.

Flying into the French Riviera done in miniature as a POV from plane for TOPPER TAKES A TRIP (1939).

The soundstage dressed as a beach resort for what will eventually be a Jack Shaw matte shot.

Jack Shaw applies the finishing touches to his beautiful matte painting of the boulevard on the French Riviera.  Jack was another of those veterans whose career spanned several decades and multiple Hollywood studios.  Jack did other work for Hal Roach on films such as Laurel & Hardy's SWISS MISS and ONE MILLION BC, Selznick International on GONE WITH THE WIND and DUEL IN THE SUN, over at RKO for MIGHTY JOE YOUNG, as well as a number of pictures at Warner Bros like HELEN OF TROY.  Ray Harryhausen once said that he remembered Jack from their work together on MIGHTY JOE YOUNG and some preliminary painting work for the unmade WAR EAGLES and GWANGI projects for Willis O'Brien as being  "very fast and very efficient".

A crisp BluRay frame grab of the completed matte as seen in the film.

An additional closer matte painting of the same hotel, also by Jack Shaw for TOPPER TAKES A TRIP.

The final film in the trilogy also featured some ingenious trick work by Roy Seawright and associates.

TOPPER RETURNS (1941) started off with a nifty car crash sequence comprising several separately filmed elements.  I've not been able to discern whether the car itself is real or a large miniature, but the setting is a combination of miniature cliff face, real sea and matte painted areas tied in to blend it all as one.  Very effective.

I'm inclined to think the car is probably a large model.  Fred Knoth was part of the effects team and specialised in mechanical effects and miniatures for the Hal Roach Studio and later enjoyed a long and busy career over at Universal.

The script was rapid fire, the spooks were effectively creepy, the shadows malevolent and the cast were great.

A wonderfully evocative matte by Jack Shaw that perfectly sums up the whole notion of gothic mansions on storm lashed hill tops, ghostly apparitions, WTF double takes, and of course things that go bump in the night.

These still frames don't do it justice, but in a most delightfully haunting sequence, Carole Landis and Joan Blondell witness a spiritual event that I'm sure Spielberg and Hooper used as a basis for a key scene in POLTERGEIST (1982).

A beautifully shot and composited optical where the translucent ghostly figure drifts up and out of the window, with moody clouds rolling by in layers beyond.  Doesn't sound like much, I know, but it worked a treat.  Kudo's to optical cinematographers Frank William Young and William Draper.

...and off she drifts into the night.

Now, Eddie 'Rochester' Anderson was an actor whose comic timing was always right on the button, especially when teamed up with the very funny and very dry Jack Benny.  For TOPPER RETURNS, Eddie stole the show, hands down.  This particular sequence is worth singling out as it was a good example of comedic timing and visual effects, even though the technique had been done before years by John Fulton on THE INVISIBLE MAN and its numerous sequels.  In this scene Eddie doesn't realise the recipient of the cigarette he's blindly offering is all soul and no body.  See below...

Our Camel addicted spirit enjoys a long drag, while Eddie is none the wiser.  The trick was almost certainly the same one that Fulton developed for the Universal film where Anderson performed the routine on a set entirely covered with black velvet with the stuntman playing the ghost also draped entirely in black velvet with a black hood and gloves, with just a hole for his mouth to puff on the cigarette and blow smoke.  Seawright and Draper would extract the footage of Anderson, the cigarette and the smoke as a travelling matte which would then be combined on Frank William Young's optical printer with original footage taken of the set as photographed without any black velvet.  Once married up, the gag was complete.

The sequence continues with our spiritual friend blowing smoke rings at Eddie, who finally feels that something is amiss.

Eddie Anderson's timing is priceless, though in our ludicrously PC film world of today this sort of gag probably wouldn't get the go-ahead. Give me a break!

Hey... you never heard of the hazards of passive smoking?

Smoke rings...... why did it have to be smoke rings?

And now for my next impression... Jesse Owens!     (*apologies to Cleavon Little)


I'm a fan of old horror pictures, and Universal made some great ones.  While THE GHOST OF FRANKENSTEIN (1942) is by no means one of the better ones, it has enough charm and wonderfully gloomy art direction and camera work to still be worthwhile.  Besides, Bela Lugosi will always command my time.

The Universal series always had interesting visual effects.  At left is head of special photographic effects, the great John P. Fulton - whom I have discussed at great length in several previous blogs.  Middle photo is of long time Universal mechanical effects man Fred Knoth, who contributed to the TOPPER series mentioned above, as well as a ton of horror and sci-fi flicks.  The picture at right is of another long time Universal photographic effects expert, David Stanley Horsley, with yet another veteran of  trick work, miniatures maestro Charlie Baker seen at extreme right of photo.

A wonderful miniature of the Frankenstein castle, constructed by Charlie Baker.  Charlie began with First-National way back on the original THE LOST WORLD in 1924 and came to Universal in 1930 for what would become a lifelong special effects career.  Baker worked on hundreds of films over a fifty year career, culminating in remarkable work on the Oscar winning EARTHQUAKE (1974) and finally miniatures for the abysmal AIRPORT 79-THE CONCORD (1979) a few years later.

While Charlie took care to construct miniatures, Fred Knoth took care in destroying them.

The miniature castle comes crashing down as Bela and Lon look on in this travelling matte composite.  Optical cinematographer was Roswell Hoffman, assisted by Jim King.  Millie Winebrenner was one of several of Universal's long standing rotoscope specialists and David Horsley was vfx cameraman.

Cel animation lightning bolt strikes Lon Chaney jnr at left, while a curious split screen matte shot appears in the frame at right where it looks as though two different actual locations have been split screened together as one, possibly with some painted areas to tie it all in.

This is a terrific matte shot by Russ Lawson with the painting blended very nicely with the live plate via a soft horizontal split running across the shot just above the gate.

The same view seen as a night time shot with the requisite angry villagers - a staple for the genre.

More marvellous miniature movie mayhem.

High Definition, as all of these frames are, sometimes are a little too sharp when it comes to model shots and such like.

Hero and heroine escape the conflagration (I like that word).

Actors added to a large scaled miniature scene of destruction by way of travelling matte.

The closing scene of THE GHOST OF FRANKENSTEIN is also great.  The sky and the landscape are both real but completely different plates combined as one.  What makes it look so cool is that the shot is a tilt up from the actors to the (completely different) sky, and it's not an 'optical tilt' up made from a single composite on the printer either, rather two individual takes matted together, presumably on the animation stand with roto cels would be my guess.  Could never really figure this one out.