Wednesday 21 August 2019

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

Hello once again to all those like minded fans of the old style hand-crafted movie trick shots, from an era long gone, where fantastic vistas and memorable moments were created by skilled artisans, technicians and cameramen long before the advent of the computer, where a greater reliance upon gut instinct, happy accidents, ingenuity and a craft passed down from other skilled artisans. 
Today I have a bonanza of worthy films and special visual effects shots all lined up for your viewing pleasure, harking from a variety of genres, decades and countries.  We will celebrate an exquisite Frank Capra bona-fide Hollywood classic from the early thirties; a very popular matte filled Paramount buddy comedy; an insanely out of control Japanese sci-fi extravaganza; a low budget, brooding gothic monster 'B' flick; a virtually forgotten though lavish Technicolor Rank desert romp, and an excellent thought provoking apocalyptic British science fiction piece just to round things out.  As regular readers will know, New Zealand Pete doesn't do things by halves, and always endeavours to seek out interesting films, frames and backstory whenever possible.  A couple of the films today are so obscure I found it difficult to track them down at all, let alone in such good quality prints as have surfaced here.  As if that weren't enough, I've tracked down some more 'lost' matte work from the master himself, Albert Whitlock for your perusal as well as a nice 'blast from the past' featuring a brief tribute and a couple of rarely seen shots from another veteran maestro of the brush, Matthew Yuricich.
So, with that pre-amble taken care of, let us proceed...


Just before we journey down the road of overlooked films and trick work, I've come across a few more forgotten Whitlock mattes recently with one matte illustrated here from the Rock Hudson comedy STRANGE BEDFELLOWS (1965).  I also have an additional 5 mattes from a surprisingly forgotten British comedy that Albert painted on for the Rank organisation back in 1953, YOU KNOW WHAT SAILORS ARE.  The film is next to impossible to find in any reference books (at least in the many that I have) which is odd as it's a quite lavish and occasionally hilarious comic romp in itself.  Those shots will appear further on in this blog entry.
An uncredited Albert Whitlock matte shot from Universal's STRANGE BEDFELLOWS (1965) that I have recently acquired


Matthew Yuricich at Fox in 1952 poses with CALL ME MADAM matte
Matthew Yuricich, who passed away in 2012, was probably the last in the line of the old time 'golden era' matte painters whose illustrious roll call had included such notables as Emil Kosa jnr, Albert Whitlock, Peter Ellenshaw, Lou Litchtenfield, Albert Maxwell Simpson, Jan Domela, Lee LeBlanc, Jack Cosgrove and Russell Lawson.
Matthew had an affinity with pencils and brushes from a very early age and, after an initial job opening in the 20th Century Fox mailroom in 1950, Matthew drifted into the magical world that was the famed Fred Sersen special photographic effects department in 1951 as 'second assistant matte artist'.
Matthew's first year or two saw him kept on a very tight leash by chief matte artist Emil Kosa jnr - a most talented painter and visual effects artist himself who did not always 'embrace' the newcomers in the department.

Working at MGM, 1954.
Try as he might, Matt was mostly relegated to inking hand drawn rotoscope cels, matte dupe board registration, backlit flickering light theatre sign tricks and subtle airbrush gags, all for other artist's mattes.  Finally the opportunity arose where Fred Sersen gave Yuricich his first matte shot, for the 1953 Ethel Merman musical CALL ME MADAM, (*though the photo here of the grand ballroom matte from that film wasn't the actual painting Yuricich rendered, and is one of Ralph Hammeras' mattes, so this must be a posed publicity photo).  Matt would contribute paintings to shows such as the first big CinemaScope showcases THE ROBE and PRINCE VALIANT  among many others.

Matthew would prove himself and become a vital cog in the Fox effects department under Fred Sersen and Fred's successor Ray Kellogg, before making the move across to Warren Newcombe's matte department at MGM in the mid fifties where he would also reunite with former Fox FX staffers Lee LeBlanc and Clarence Slifer.
Matthew painted this extensive shot that opens BILLY ROSE'S JUMBO (1962) where only the near live action is real while all else has been rendered by Yuricich's brush, even the circus tent, the foreground foliage and the other structures.  FX cameraman Clarence Slifer introduced a push in camera move on his patented aerial image optical printer.

Matt's centrepiece establishing painting for BEN HUR (1959)
Matthew really matured as a matte painter in Newcombe's unit at MGM with one of his first projects being to produce intricate gags that would be combined with Howard Fisher and Henry Hillinck's mattes for FORBIDDEN PLANET.  Yuricich would later render sensational work for a number of important motion pictures from the late fifties through to the late sixties, with classics such as BEN HUR, MUTINY ON THE BOUNTY and THE GREATEST STORY EVER TOLD being at the forefront.

Matthew at work on one of his matte shots for the short lived television spinoff LOGAN'S RUN (1977), for which he even secured a screen credit.

Studio matte departments began to downsize or even wrap up operation altogether in the 1960's, the result being artists such as Matthew going freelance, though by no means lacking employment opportunities.  On numerous occasions Matt would paint shots for his old Fox colleagues Ray Kellogg, L.B Abbott and Frank van der Veer on shows like three of the PLANET OF THE APES films (though not the iconic Statue of Liberty end shot from the first film which many people incorrectly credit him with) - TORA!, TORA!, TORA! and THE TOWERING INFERNO.  When fx jobs came up at MGM, Robert Hoag would always get Mathew back to furnish the mattes, with films such as SOYLENT GREEN - the first on screen credit for Matt after more than two decades in the business!

Another ace matte shot painted by Matthew, this time from the tv miniseries THE THORN BIRDS - a trick shot that beautifully defines the art of the 'special effect that nobody ever notices'.  Matte photography and compositing here by David Stipes.
The nuclear reactor in THE CHINA SYNDROME.

Matthew painted countless shots right through to the 1990's on a huge range of movies, with my own personal favourite among his work being the chilling Jane Fonda-Jack Lemmon picture THE CHINA SYNDROME (1978).  Matt was not only a great visual effects artist, but a down to earth, old school character who told it like it was, and didn't suffer fools gladly.  One of the FX industry's invisible experts.
With the most generous help of FX man and author Craig Barron, I was fortunate enough to conduct a career interview with Matthew not long before his death, and this, together with a mass of other hitherto unpublished material formed my extensive oral history blog in 2012, Matthew Yuricich-In His Own Words, which can be found here.

A rare look at one of Matthew's original glass paintings from CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND (1978).
Matthew at work on one of the many paintings for Ridley Scott's BLADERUNNER (1982), though I don't think this one made the final cut.  Still one of the finest all round visual effects films from the photo-chemical era where overall effects design, aesthetics and superlative execution went hand in hand and always served the narrative rather than be used purely as an attention getting gimmick.  The less said about the recent 'sequel' the better, even though I adore all of the director's other works.
Let us now look back at my latest carefully selected roster of somewhat overlooked films, trick shots and artisans, deserving of analysis.

Although made on a slim budget, as was so often the case with the UK studios, THE DAY THE EARTH CAUGHT FIRE (1961) was a solid, exciting science fiction doomsday thriller.  Taut, fast paced, well written and directed (by British veteran Val Guest), what money there was is right up there on the screen, with great and numerous visual effects by Les Bowie and his team.  The scenario sees the world come to grief as the planet is knocked off it's normal rotational axis due to atomic bomb detonation, with the outcome being a rapid and catastrophic rise in temperature, worldwide.  Science fiction or science fact?  You decide.
So many British effects technicians owe their lot to Les Bowie (left) - generally considered to be the father of UK special effects (though he was actually Canadian, but that's okay, it's still part of the Commonwealth).  At right is Bowie's long time right hand man, matte painter Ray Caple.
The Bowie effects stage at Prospect Studios near London with the photography of a key miniature sequence in progress with Les lining up the shot.  Note the large matte painting of a catastrophic urban vista in the background.

Effects supervisor Les Bowie, shown here with some of his regular special effects crew including cameraman Kit West, assistant Gordon Gardiner and trainee matte artist and effects assistant Ian Scoones.  Also on the crew were matte painter Ray Caple, physical effects man Brian Johnson and travelling matte exponent Vic Margutti.

One of the many mattes featured in the film.  This one was used as a background plate in a Vic Margutti blue screen shot. *Photo courtesy of Derek Rushton.

Visual effects cinematographer Kit West, who sadly passed away quite recently, shown here shooting a miniature at Bowie Films in the mid 1960's.  Kit started off in the business as a cameraman for Les Bowie and shot many of the mattes for the old Hammer productions.  Sometime later West would turn his hand to physical or practical effects and work on many big budget pictures such as RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK and many more.
Titles over an amazing matte painted view of a dried up River Thames.  Looks terrific in widescreen Dyaliscope.  I recall with dread just how horrendous these compositions looked once on tv or VHS in dire pan & scan prints that emasculated the original framing.

The Thames looking very sad indeed.  The prologue and epilogue of the otherwise black & white film is purposely tinted sepia-tone to give, I'm sure, a feeling of oppressive heat, and to excellent effect.

Double SFX Academy Award winner Brian Johnson wrote me with details about the filming as he recalled it back in 1961. He told me that many of the mattes were large photo cut outs enhanced with a great amount of painted detail where required.  Les and Ray Caple did those - with some input from trainee artist Ian Scoones - working directly upon high quality stills taken by photographer Johnny Jay.  Kit West was effects cameraman and he composited all of the matte shots.

Never such an apocalyptic vision, before or since.  Superb retouching over the photo blow up.

Matte painter Ray Caple originally came to Les Bowie as a mere 15 year old schoolboy and immediately showed a talent for this sort of work.  Caple trained alongside Derek Meddings in the technique of matte painting and became very successful in the field, while Meddings eventually found his niche in miniature effects expertise.  Effects master Brian Johnson spoke very highly of Ray Caple and told me some interesting stories about Ray as both a fine technician and a very close friend with a very dry Welsh sense of humour.

An iconic shot from THE DAY THE EARTH CAUGHT FIRE with a lone, solitary figure in a sweltering, near extinct London.

Following that sepia prologue we flash back to the origins of the event as the mysterious fog bank rolls down the Thames.  Bowie did the shot on the cheap, through no fault of his own, and for years after the fact gritted his teeth each time he saw the film on British television with the highly evident matte lines that flicker around the fog bank in this blue screen shot. The three frames at top are from a test.  In an interview, Bowie stated: "We did the scene with travelling mattes but the result had fringing around it and looked awful so I wanted to do it again, but they said no, they couldn't afford the money.  People commented on the shot when the film came out, though overall it was a very successful film, and Val Geste did quite well out of it, but I do wish I could have redone that awful scene." In regard to the tight budget Brian Johnson told me:  "I well remember standing in Les Bowie's office when the accountant Bobby Blues came in with the effects budget total - it's hard to believe but Les did the whole film effects wise in that movie for 17'500 British pounds... just incredible". 

Our leading stars journey across London, with this being the view from the vehicle.  Miniature city, river and dry ice fog.

Miniature set up tracking shot for above.

Process shot with miniature set up and stars Janet Munro and Edward Judd.

The strange fog embraces London.  Brian Johnson elaborated:  "These were photo cutouts with fog comprising solid carbon dioxide blocks and hot water and we used a lot of wet moss to hold the CO2 fog and slow it's progress across camera."

Photo blow ups enhanced with matte art and CO2 fog

The weather starts to turn weird, to say the least.  Multi element effects shots with miniature foreground, photo cut out mid frame and matte painted sky with interactive lightning flash animation.

...and they forecast light showers and a light north-westerly breeze in the evening, cloudy with a distinct chance of meatballs for tomorrow.

A very effective Bowie matte utilising one of Johnny Jay's photo blow ups and much painted touch up work (see below).  It was relatively common at certain studios to paint atop of photo blow ups, with 20th Century Fox especially fond of the method and big advocates of photo enlargements painted over.  MGM also used the technique after Warren Newcombe departed.  In the mid seventies Matt Yuricich was instructed to render many of the LOGAN'S RUN motion picture mattes as repainted photo blow ups, though he hated the experience as the picture's VFX boss, L.B Abbott insisted on using colour photo prints instead of the usual black & white prints, with Yuricich faced with enormous problems preventing the developed photo dyes from seeping through his retouched, painted surface

The original photo-matte art ready for Kit West's effects camera.  *Photo courtesy of Derek Rushton - and very much appreciated too!

More of the same.  Assistant matte artist Ian Scoones got his start on this film and would develop a long career with Les, eventually specialising in all manner of practical effects on a number of films and tv shows.

They'll never complain about the British rain ever again.

My favourite among all the DTECF matte shots.  A marvellously effective shot which, by the looks of it, is entirely painted.

That same painted matte as seen as a travelling matte composite, which itself is well assembled (for old distortion laden anamorphic).

Bowie photo-matte shot.  Although not illustrated here I was informed by Brian Johnson that the hurricane effects shots were made at Biggin Hill Aerodrome using old Tiger Moth's - well tied down.  Certain effects shots employed a High Speed Mitchell 35mm camera. 
Things definitely get hot and sweaty in London as the mercury rises...

Cost effective Bowie photo-matte with live action at lower left.

The plate photography for the vast empty spaces with live action was shot on the lot of Shepperton which Brian Johnson said is now a housing estate apparently.

The world as we knew it is now much less populated.  Photo-matte with painted additions by Bowie, Caple and Scoones.

The matte as set up for photography in Prospect Studios.  Note the various other mattes stacked behind it.  *Photo courtesy of Derek Rushton.... much appreciated.

Another very effective and quite jarring post apocalyptic vision from the final minutes of THE DAY THE EARTH CAUGHT FIRE (1961).

Photo blowup of New York augmented with painted foreground elements, loudspeakers and so forth.

It may have been a grim ninety minutes (marred only by a totally bizarre and out of left field mid-film 'bohemian party-orgy' sequence that looked like it belonged in quite another movie altogether and really should have been thrown out) that offered no hope for mankind, but on the bright side Janet Munro was quite something else.


I'm a great admirer of the films of Frank Capra, and this little known picture - when compared to his many more instantly recognised titles - is a beautifully acted and directed love story of a taboo relationship in a land in turmoil.  THE BITTER TEA OF GENERAL YEN (1933) is an exquisitely photographed film (shot by the great Joseph Walker), handled with a most delicate, intuitive touch as Capra was so skilled at.  An outstanding piece of vintage cinema.

Set during the Chinese civil war, an American missionary finds herself caught up in a violent uprising and by default is rescued by a feared warlord, from which a complex relationship develops.  Not by any means an effects movie, the topic and exotic setting would however require a number of visual effects shots to flesh out the plot.  There was no effects credit so I don't know who handled the trick work though Roy Davidson was for a long time associated with Columbia's effects department and certainly supervised other Capra films for the studio in the following years.  Other key personnel often involved in Columbia Studios in the thirties doing photographic effects work were Friend F. Baker and Ganahl 'Kit' Carson.
I have no pictures of any of the Columbia photographic effects staffers aside from this one of New Zealand born matte artist Ted Withers who may, or may not, have worked on this film.  Ted was employed in the matte industry for a while at both MGM and Columbia.

The film opens with scenes of chaos in the streets of Shanghai, all filmed on the studio lot of course, and augmented with a lot of matte art and miniatures.  I'm unsure about who painted other than to say that both Russell Lawson and Jack Cosgrove worked for a time painting mattes at Columbia in the 1930's, though exactly when and for how long I do not know.  Both men worked together for a spell at Universal with Lawson continuing with that studio for the next 30 years, and Cosgrove would work at Selznick International from around 1935 onward, so it's anybody's guess. A New Zealand artist named Ted Withers went to Hollywood and painted mattes for both Columbia and MGM as well, before becoming a noted calendar pin-up artist, though that's about all I know.

Shanghai in flames - multiple element composite with live action, matte art and miniature distant inferno.

Panic in the streets, or at least on the Columbia backlot.

I'm guessing all of the mattes would have been original negative shots as soft edged splits can be detected running through the frame and the painted area holds good as far as grain, contrast and matching goes.

Probably a miniature-live action split screen.

The shots are brief and much of the chaos is worked as a montage sequence as was popular at the time.

Miniature railroad action.

Stanwyck is taken to the fortress of the feared warlord, General Yen, as played by Nils Asher, a Caucasian actor in fairly convincing oriental makeup, which was the standard casting procedure of the era.  The above frame is mostly painted.

No, not an effects shot, but a fine example of Joseph Walker's exquisite cinematography.  I just love experiencing a beautifully lit and photographed black & white picture, especially when treated to a gloriously restored print or a carefully remastered BluRay.  There's nothing like it.

NZ Pete's number one choice for best matte shot in THE BITTER TEA OF GENERAL YEN.  So richly atmospheric and with such romantic texture.  I just love it!

Need I repeat myself?

Pre-code lantern lit night strongly implied seduction-virtual rape sequence may have raised some eyebrows in 1933.  Possibly a matte or glass shot here extending above the actors.

An uneasy and uncertain moonlit rendezvous under a matte painted vista.

A second shot closer in.  The cigarette smoke drifts into the soft matte line.
He seemed like a pretty decent fella, as far as power hungry tyrants go, but this moment of truth tells a different story as Yen lines up dozens of innocents and has them executed in cold blood.  A powerful sequence, and acted so intelligently by Stanwyck, with her sudden moment of realisation as to the event and ruthless nature of her benefactor becoming a jolting reality.  The shot itself is interesting as it appears to be a rear projection shot with the actress on a sound stage, the courtyard and firing squad are the process plate, with the remainder of the view above the courtyard being a matte painting (including the top half of the window frame.  The matte line is a very soft semi-circular blend.  The marry up of elements is really good.

Nice matte painting but shot lacks fidelity due to the editor having a dissolve both into and out of this shot, thus dupe doesn't hold up so well.


I've been curious about this film for some time, ever since discovering that Albert Whitlock painted the mattes for it way back during his United Kingdom days in 1953.  YOU KNOW WHAT SAILORS ARE is a rare beast, and for reasons unknown, is virtually forgotten in reference books such as Halliwell's Film Guide, Leonard Maltin, Time Out Guide, Elliott's Guide to Home Video and many others I own.  Can't find a mention of the film anywhere in print aside from a one line notation in the heavy coffee table tome The Pinewood Story.  Even getting it on DVD was a task, but I found it at last.

The film is actually pretty funny, and quite a lavish Technicolor undertaking too - with some hilarious dialogue, expensive looking interior sets and wall to wall exotic, love starved maidens all of whom are in desperate and urgent need of a virile male - played by Donald Sinden of all people(!!)  Akim Tamiroff absolutely steals the show hands down as a despot Arabian King of his own self proclaimed 'Kingdom', with his own uniquely mangled version of the 'English' language, which had me chuckling constantly. The above shot I think is a Whitlock painting used as a travelling matte background.

As mentioned, Albert Whitlock painted the mattes in this film, though there wasn't any effects credit, not even for the usual Bill Warrington, who was head of Pinewood's special effects department.  Above is the establishing shot of the mythical kingdom of Agraria, presided over by the utterly inept El-Presidente, played by a very funny Akim Tamiroff, who must have learned his English from Chico Marx after a weekend bender.

These b&w before and after frames may be familiar as I included them in the latter part of my extensive Albert Whitlock blog a few months back.  At the time I wasn't certain of the title, nor had I actually been able to view the film.  I can now confirm the title and also have colour frames taken from the DVD, with this shot being especially good.

Albert Whitlock matte from YOU KNOW WHAT SAILORS ARE (1953).

Day and evening long shots of the Palace of the King of Agraria.  These shots aren't very effective, sadly.

Before and after night time matte.

Very nice Albert Whitlock matte shots from YOU KNOW WHAT SAILORS ARE (1953) - a forgotten film if ever there were one.  A bit of a mystery as to why it's so little known among the pantheon of British comedies??


Now this one's a curiosity that not many people have heard of, THE UNDYING MONSTER (1942) was a low budget gothic horror along the lines of The Hound of the Baskervilles, and isn't a bad genre time filler, running at little more than an hour.  Odd that it's a 20th Century Fox film, where that studio never really touched this sort of movie, with Universal generally taking on films of this kind as it was their bread and butter throughout the 1940's.

No effects credit but would have been handled by the great Fred Sersen, assisted by long time right hand man Ray Kellogg.  The film is surprisingly well made, with great forboding art direction and excellent moody camera work by one of my fave old time cinematographers, Lucien Ballard.

Ahhhh, yes... there's not much that excites NZ Pete as much as the classic matte painted mansion atop the storm lashed cliff - especially in 1940's cinema.  Any one of a number of Fox matte painters could have worked on these shots; Emil Kosa snr, his son Emil jnr, Menrad von Muldorfer, Gilbert Riswold, Fitch Fulton, Ralph Hammeras, Jack Rabin, Irving Block, Barbara Webster and others, with Fox having the biggest matte department in Hollywood at the time.

It's a bit dark but this is a typically accomplished matte composite from the Sersen matte department where an entirely painted foreground with rocks, trees and cliff have been added to a plate of the stormy coastline.

One of those mattes that slip by totally unnoticed - real water matted with entirely painted cliff and rocky foreshore.

A fully painted vantage point of the gloomy residence where strange and beastly things are afoot.

Our antagonist, who has developed an odd liking for dog biscuits and a healthy dose of flea powder, is on the run, but finds the end of the road is near.  Multi-part effects shot I suspect, with churning waves pounding a miniature of the lower part of the cliff, probably created in the Sersen tank on the Fox backlot - with the upper portion of the rocky cliff looking to be a matte painting, as is the majority of the pathway, trees and sky as well, with just a small slot of live action for the actor to run along.  A typically well executed jigsaw puzzle fx shot that Sersen's people excelled at.

Now, I really dig a good transformation trick shot, especially from older films.  This is one of those oft-seen gags where the actor turns back from a beastly, murderous, wolf like creature into a handsome leading man.  We've seen dozens of shots like this in a heap of, mostly Universal films but I found this one to be quite a standout and very well done.  Usually the actor in question is pretty much 'locked off', with his head absolutely frozen still while make up is applied or removed piece by piece, aided by multiple lap dissolves in optical later on to provide the final shot.  What's different for THE UNDYING MONSTER is that the actor's face is reacting in pain, his head is moving from side to side etc, all the while the soft dissolve sequence takes place as the make up vanishes ever so gradually (though it was probably filmed with the make up being applied, and then optically reversed I'd guess).

I think his body and set were filmed separately, with the transforming head and hands possibly matted in later.  It's a nifty little sequence and is probably better than the material done elsewhere by Fulton and Horsley.

Now folks, when was the last time any of you saw a half-way groovy trailer like this one?  They sure knew how to sell a flick back then, with trailers being an artform all unto themselves.  I'm a huge fan of cheesy exploitation trailers from days gone by.  They just don't make 'em like this any more...sadly!


The immensely popular ROAD series with Bob Hope and Bing Crosby (oh, and of course the most delightful Dorothy Lamour) were a solid revenue stream for Paramount Pictures, and no doubt for Hope & Crosby as well.  ROAD TO UTOPIA (1945) was the forth in the series of six, and to me it was the best.  Great chemistry, lots of gags and in jokes, and a truckload of mattes, animation gags and miniatures.  All up, a winner, if you like this sort of thing.
Gordon Jennings (top & bottom left) was for around 25 years, head of Paramount's special effects department, having started in the industry as an assistant cameraman as far back as 1919. Gordon died suddenly in 1953 on a golf course right behind John P. Fulton's house, and as if that isn't strange enough, would shortly after the fact see Fulton take on Jennings' old job as the head of effects at that studio. Gordon's older brother, Joseph Devereaux Jennings (top middle) was of a like mind to his effects man sibling, having begun in silents as a cameraman in 1915 and worked his way up to effects cinematographer on shows such as the original THE LOST WORLD (1925), joining brother Gordon in Paramount's trick department in 1933.  At top right is another long time veteran of the business, Alexander Farciot Edouart, having joined Paramount in the mid to late twenties as an exponent of process projection and stayed on at the studio until the late 1960's.  An amusing story about Edouart were the lengths the New York Gulf & Western head office 'hatchet men' had to go to to fire Farciot while cutting costs massively at the studio in the 1960's.  All of the departments were being closed down one by one, with the effects dept pretty much mothballed and all staff laid off, bar one.... Farciot Edouart.  I believe it was director Don Siegel who regaled the story in his memoir that the hatchet men would come to the lot and search high and low for Edouart, who, whenever they showed up at the front gate would result in Farciot magically vanish into hiding.  Apparently wherever the 'hatchet men' went to seek out Farciot, he'd always be one or two steps ahead of them and as a result, a game of cat and mouse was in play for some time in Farciot's strenuous efforts to avoid getting 'the pink slip'.  Eventually they found his hiding place on the lot and were successful at giving the career process projection expert his marching orders.  Sounds like the plot of a Jerry Lewis movie - all of which involved Farciot's rear screen fx work!  Oh, and also pictured above, at bottom right is long time matte artist Jan Domela.

A revealing peek inside Paramount's matte department around 1948, with the Roberts' brothers - Irmin and Orin - manning the camera with a trio of Jan Domela matte paintings (from THE EMPEROR WALTZ and THE GREAT GATSBY) rest on their respective stands awaiting composite photography.  Irmin would enjoy an extensive career with the studio, spanning some some 40 years, while brother Orin departed soon after this picture was taken and headed up the special photographic effects department down in Argentina, supervising and photographing mattes and miniatures for such people as matte artist Ralph Pappier and others.  

Veteran old school matte artist Jan Domela who painted at Paramount from 1926 through to around 1966.

THE ROAD TO UTOPIA (1945) is loaded with mattes and composites, with this shot opening the show.  The upper half of the frame has been painted in.

Bob and Bing arrive in Gold Rush Klondike, and that's just where their troubles begin.  Live action jetty with crowd, with all else a Jan Domela matte painting, supplemented by some smoke from the stacks courtesy of Irmin Roberts.

A set at Paramount extended greatly with matte art.

Original Domela matte painting.

Finished composite from a deleted scene.

Bob and Bing journey through the frigid landscape and come across this strangely familiar spectacular scenery...

...what the heck??? ... is this an in joke I see before me?

Bob= "Wow, would you just look up there at that bread and butter"   Bing= "Bread and butter?  It just looks like a mountain to me."  Bob= "It may just be a mountain to you, but it's bread and butter to me.($$$)" - turns to camera and winks.

A 2nd unit shot made on location with doubles for the stars on the sled.  The foreground snow and trees have been painted in by Jan Domela either as a post production composite, or, as I more tend to feel, as a genuine in camera on location glass shot due to the perfect match and no matte lines.  Also, the trees at right are ever so sleightly translucent, with the moving sled and reindeer faintly visible through the artwork.

The rough, tough mining town where a man is a man.... though try telling Bob Hope that as he orders a glass of milk in the highly dodgy saloon populated by rather unsavoury characters.  "I'll have a milk please ........... in a dirty glass!"

Every view of the town, and much else in the movie in fact, involved matte paintings on a large scale.

Almost all matte art, with just a small central patch left unpainted for the inclusion of our two hapless heroes as they fish for salmon (see below).

I can't recall the dialogue here, but that damned salmon got one over Bob with the witty comeback.  The mouth articulation was cel animation carefully rotoscoped and matted in later.

The delicious Dorothy Lamour and a disbelieving Bob Hope as the salmon has it's big moment.

A couple of the ROAD movies featured talking animals to good comedic effect.  On the Paramount lot was the Jerry Fairbanks short subject unit who produced a number of very ingenious comedy shorts throughout the 1940's, namely the brilliant SPEAKING OF ANIMALS series.  The films were famous for the excellent rotoscoped optical work and meticulous cel animated lip synched dialogue added to the live animal footage.  The unit were commissioned to contribute to two key sequences in ROAD TO UTOPIA (and to the earlier ROAD TO MOROCCO) with the salmon bit as well as this marvellous speaking grizzly bear.  Anna Osbourne was in charge of the Fairbanks animation effects unit and her team rendered some remarkable 'speech' by way of accurate mouth articulation and fine roto-matting through their 'Duo-Plane Process' which I believe received an Academy Award for the SPEAKING OF ANIMALS series.  

Nice lip synch as well as some subtle eyeball animation.

I dunno if I can bear any more of this, Bing.

Once again, mostly matte art, with a small area of live action.

Aside from a few 2nd unit shots here and there, the production never left the studio it seems.  An extensive Domela matte here, composited with a small live action plate with stunt doubles for the leads.

The volume of matte work utilised in THE ROAD TO UTOPIA is jaw dropping, especially given that Paramount only had one matte artist on their payroll.  The notoriously stingy studio were always keeping a close eye on the money.

Extensive matte art with a tiny slot of action at lower left, plus with a guest appearance from our kindly narrator, Robert Benchley, who occasionally chimes in to update us on the goings-ons.

Jan Domela's daughter Johanna told me many stories about her father, born in Holland where he studied painting at the Rijks Academy and later in Paris at the famed Academie Julian, with him emigrating to America initially in 1915. By all accounts he was an ace skier, avid horseman, spoke several languages fluently and was a very fast painter who also had a successful plein air career and was one who hated the politics of the industry.  Jan painted the various incarnations over the years of the famous Paramount mountain logo as well.

Major matte shot where our duo clamber along the edge of a giant crevice.  Jan's daughter told me her Dad had a good working relationship with effects boss Gordon Jennings as well as Paramount's ace optical man, Paul Lerpae, though things would sour somewhat after Gordon's sudden death where the new FX boss, John P. Fulton was an extremely difficult individual to work for, who despite his acknowledged technical prowess and insight, John was a nightmare to work with.  A shame, as I have high regard for the work Fulton accomplished over his career.

I'm always fond of extreme painted perspectives like the classic 'down shot', and this one's a corker.  All paint, no live action.

Our boys cling on for dear life.  A Jan Domela matte painted valley has been doubled behind the actors via blue screen.

And still the mattes keep coming ... Did Jan ever get a time to put his feet up in 1945 I ponder?

A remarkably crisp and grain free matte painted shot makes me wonder if it might have been an in camera foreground glass shot?

No, not a matte for once, but a large miniature of the town, for reasons that will readily become apparent...

Miniatures were under the control of Ivyl Burks, with model makers Art Smith and Harry Reynolds on the staff around the time.

Another vast painted scene with just a small section of live action matted in.

Studio sound stage augmented with matte art.

All painted except the middle portion with the approaching people.  The painting extends all the way around to the foreground with the snow, twigs, trees and the whole deal being fabricated by Domela, who by now must have been getting damned sick of painting snow!!

Just when it all looked like the boys could merrily go home, an unforeseen event occurs that none of us anticipated.  A nicely done full scale physical effect overseen by Gordon Jennings.

It's the matte that matters!  Here's another fine mess you've gotten me into. (apologies to L&H)

No blog post that has even a hint of the wonderful goddess Dorothy Lamour would be complete without a candid portrait of her.  She wore a sarong in about 16 films out of the many she made for Paramount, and even snowbound UTOPIA has a brief 'dream' bit of said attire.  Ahhhhh, Dorothy.... we miss 'ya baby!


I've never been much of a fan of the Japanese 'guy-in-a-rubber-suit' monster flicks (although MOTHRA wasn't too bad), though I do rather enjoy some of their science fiction films such as LATITUDE ZERO and THE MYSTERIANS.  This entry in the Nippon space sagas, BATTLE IN OUTER SPACE (1959) was a pretty loony, though action packed and absolutely effects filled affair where Toho Studios manage to throw everything they can into the mix, with the audience in wonderment as to just where this thing is going to next.  As an aside, I thoroughly enjoy the completely insane seventies gangster, action and bushido flicks that came out of Japan.  So many incredible films from that decade, as well as a number of genre films from the 60's too in fact. Political correctness, eat my shorts!

The legendary Eiji Tsuburaya was the genius behind most of the special effects work carried out in Japanese cinema, and like many other effects practitioners, was strongly influenced by the original KING KONG when it happened to play at a cinema in Kyoto.  The classic film inspired Eiji - (as it did Ray Harryhausen as well, to a huge extent)  and would see him obtain work at J.O Studios in Kyoto where Eiji was encouraged to experiment with all manner of trick photography and miniature effects, leading on to a long highly respected career.
Eiji, pictured at left with some of the stock miniatures of Japanese warships built probably for THE BATTLE OF THE SEA OF JAPAN which Tsuburaya worked on shortly before his death.  At right is a typical finely detailed miniature urban set for an unknown project.

The photo at upper right shows one of the miniature sets in readiness for the cameras for BATTLE IN OUTER SPACE, while the other two pictures are from another Toho show, ULTRA Q, though included here as an example of the work carried out on the effects stage on so many productions.

BATTLE IN OUTER SPACE, though made in 1959 was set wayyyyy in the future of, well, 1965!  How many sci-fi pictures set their plot a mere six years into the future?

The outer space sequences were pretty effective I found, with quite competent planetary artwork, miniature photography and cel animated optical work.  Interestingly, Columbia Pictures picked this one up for US and other foreign territory distribution.  The original Japanese title was UCHU DAI SENSO, and it was shot in glorious TohoScope and Eastmancolor. Note, most of the technicians names shown upper right are, as far as I know, staggeringly inaccurate translations made for the English language print: Optical Photography technician I believe should read as 'Hidesaburo Araki'; Art Direction should be 'Akira Watanabe'; Lighting should read as  'Kuichiro Kishida' and Composition is really 'Hiroshi Mukoyama'.  Not sure what went wrong there?

One of Earth's space stations falls victim to the intergalactic invaders from the oddly fascist planet Natal. Earth artwork and a model station here, zapped to kingdom come with interesting cel animated opticals.

Meanwhile, back on mother Earth, things are starting to go seriously awry.  This miniature express commuter train doesn't know what's about to happen.  Good model work here.

The alien life forms, though still far from Earth itself, have a peculiar ability to destroy our planet, be it on a small somewhat irritating scale such as lifting a railway bridge off of it's foundations, or sending meteorites straight into major cities at rush hour as will become evident as you go through this article.

With the bridge gone, the passenger train plummets into the ravine.

The unseen cosmic menace engage in destruction on a grand scale, with this busy port and dock wrecked as evident in this quite impressive matte painting.  I've never been able to find out very much as to who the matte artists were on the Japanese films as they never really credited them, and some of their pictures such as the very good LATITUDE ZERO were loaded with matte shots.  One name that comes up repeatedly on various credits around this time is Hiroshi Mukoyama, who in published reference material is credited on BATTLE IN OUTER SPACE with "matte work by".  He also had similar credits on other Japanese films with labels such as "combination shots by" and "matte process by", so it's fairly reasonable to assume Hiroshi was likely the matte artist.  A couple of other names credited as matte artists on a handful of other Japanese films of this ilk were Takao Yuki and Sadao Izuka for GODZILLA in 1954, and Tadashi Kawana for GODZILLA VS MECHA-GODZILLA some years later in 1974.  The credit 'combination shots' was used in several films in this country and also, I believe used frequently on films made in Russia and the former Eastern bloc countries.

Another post attack matte painting, this time of Venice where the famous Grand Canal has been frozen over and sucked up (don't ask me... but some very unusual, yet highly original catastrophic events take place in BATTLE IN OUTER SPACE - some of which just have to be seen to be believed).

More interesting matte painted effects work, of the secret research facility - basically an Area 51 of sorts.  All painted with just two very tiny slots of live action with vehicles driving up.  Nice shotBy all accounts I can uncover, it's likely the work of Hiroshi Mukoyama, who, as previously described has had many credits all pointing toward matte work such as "matte and composite photography".

The invaders are gaining more confidence - not that they ever needed any - and are creating problems for the scientists. Matte paintings split screened onto Toho sets.

Research and development of a new fangled disintegrating gun... and brother, when it disintegrates, it disintegrates!  (apologies to Duck Dodgers).  Good effects animation here.

Rocketship gets a tune up and final safety inspection in readiness for it's trip to the Moon.  Good miniature work.

Blue screen travelling matte composite of miniature set and actors.  Optical cinematography by Hidesaburo Araki.

Effective split screen with a large miniature setting and live action.

Same set up as seen in daylight.  Miniature photography by Teisho 'Sadamasa' Arikawa.

One of Eiji Tsuburaya's effects crew allows us to appreciate the scale of the model rocket and gantry.

Rockets now in orbit, and I must say that I love that wonderfully executed lower frame.  Beautiful fx art direction here by Akira Watanabe and Yasuyuki Inoue.

Top - things go badly for one of the rockets, with astronaut in grave peril.  Bottom - rocket interior with what I think could be a painted ceiling and pipe work.
Partial set with painted areas at left and right matted in and probably a miniature (hanging?) of the rocket exhausts.

Arrival on the Moon, with miniatures, matte art set extensions and a decidedly funky moon-bus.  Groovy baby!

The astronauts slug it out with the Natal-o-Nauts. Minimal set here augmented with much matte art.

With invasion being imminent, the science bureau send more rockets into space, this time armed a little better.  I like this shot - a large miniature set complete with interactive 'welding' flashes and moving toy workers on the gantry.  The foreground action and truck has been added by travelling matte.

Extensive model work of the battle station facility at code red status.  Note the toy soldiers guarding the gate at lower right.  Dig that 'Keep Out' sign by the guards which spells out the specific nature of this 'secret' installation, right down to the immediate threat of "invasion by space men", and signed by the US Govt no less!  See below... Love it.
Take note!  We won't tell you again!!

Chief miniaturists were Yukio Odagiri and Mitsuo Tamiguchi.

Things are indeed looking grim folks.  The Earth is about to be wiped out and no survivors are anticipated, but we'll be right back after this commercial break.

Miniatures and blue screen matte.

It's an all out interplanetary war (my money's on the aliens).

New York on a pleasant Spring day...

A meteorite slams into midtown.

The West Coast is also hit...
The Golden Gate Bridge receives a direct hit.

As if the former scenes of destruction weren't enough to satisfy kids at the Saturday matinee, things really kick into high-gear now as those bloody invaders somehow manage to suck Tokyo up off the face of the Earth!  No, I'm not making this up!  Gravity seems no object to these mean spirited inter-galactic bastards, and the scenes henceforth are really something else.  Tons of excellent miniature work, wire work stunt gags, cel animation fx and much blue screen comp work.
The sequence looks really quite impressive in motion.

Oh, let's hide out in the Tokyo Cinerama Dome ... surely the aliens can't touch us here??
Tokyo goes up in a huge vortex.  Must have blown the kids away (literally) on the big scope screen of their local movie houses back in 1959.
Blue spill fringing very evident, though not uncommon for the photo-chemical process, the era and the anamorphic optics of the time - coupled with fast moving objects it's a problematic area.

Mucho miniature mass mayhem ...

The Linda Lovelace of one off, all time hall of fame, strange cosmic, vacuum events.

'Oh....the humanity'.
I don't know how they did the shots with the buildings being sucked up into the sky, perhaps the miniature set was mounted upside down from the rafters of the fx stage and released with strategic trigger devices?  Many years later Disney's Harrison Ellenshaw did a very similar sequence for Ray Bradbury's SOMETHING WICKED THIS WAY COMES, which looked good.

'We'll fight them on the beaches ...we'll fight them in the skies... we'll fight them in the stratosphere'.  Cool cel animation over model sets.

A direct hit brings one of the (illegal) alien ships crashing down to earth, though why God, why, did they have to crash into a munitions storage depot?  Is there no justice in the world?

There's nothing much as satisfying as a brilliantly coordinated and photographed scene of miniature pyrotechnic fury, and Tsuburaya was a master in the field.

Many effects fans just relish sequences like this and I know that from the Japanese shows I saw as a kid at Saturday double features (like KING KONG ESCAPES and DESTROY ALL MONSTERS), we just couldn't get enough.  I wonder whether British miniatures maestro Derek Meddings might have been influenced by Tsuburaya and his work?

The Earth is saved for another day, another disaster and another Toho catastrophe.