Greetings friends, and I'd like to start with a sincere 'all the best for the new year'. It's 2020, or so I'm told, and it's now apparently 'the future'. Not exactly as I imagined it would be when watching The Jetsons on TV back in its heyday, more like the darkest dystopian nightmare as I look at the 6 o'clock news and read the daily papers! Anway, before the world comes to an untimely end, NZPete will hopefully keep you suitably enthralled with old school movie magic - from a time when films were, gasp, actually produced and projected on celluloid. Try explaining that to one of these damned Millennials. They just stare at you with a blank expression.
There's something for everyone here as I endeavour to cover all manner of motion picture genres and eras, which for those of you having consumed any significant chunk of my near on decade worth of VFX blogs will fully expect, and I sincerely hope, enjoy. In addition to the roster of chosen film titles here I've again purchased a new FX book for my collection and reviewed same, and of course there is another of my celebrated Blast From The Past tribute pieces headlining another of the matte shot industry's usually unsung, though not at all in this case, heroes of the brush trade.
Just as a side note, I mentioned ages ago about upcoming big articles which I have still to follow through on; a substantial piece on all of the matte painted work carried out at Industrial Light & Magic (pre-CG naturally), as well as a World History According To The Matte Painter piece, where all (or a great many) significant periods in the history of the world will be exhibited and celebrated - from the age of the dinosaur through to the Roman era, the Middle Ages, the American Civil War, Victorian England and so on and so forth - maybe even into the world of the future too. You get the drift.
I've collected a veritable shed load of great images, many of them not seen before, but it'll take quite some sorting out. Some shots will be familiar, though now with the added bonus of being far cleaner high definition images obtained from BluRay or HDTV.
Oh, and another topic I've been meaning to do is a Post-Apocalyptic Nightmare Matte blog, where the world has turned to a gigantic steaming pile of shite. Should be interesting.
As mentioned previously, I'm ALWAYS keen to hear from any of you with regard to film or matte show recommendations, and will always gratefully accept matte grabs and such like.
Pete's FX Book Review:
Although I'm a through and through matte painting 'maniac' (shock of shocks!), I also love all other movie trickery so long as it falls strictly into the 'hand-made' category and hasn't been manufactured via a computer. Be it special make up effects (a-la the great Dick Smith, John Chambers or Rick Baker), miniatures (a-la Derek Meddings and co), cel animated trick work (Peter Kuran for example) I've always been keen on special effects and the specialists behind the magic, which is where today's name fits the bill. John Richardson has been a mainstay of the UK movie industry since the mid 1960's, following hard in the celebrated footsteps of his father, Cliff Richardson, who was one of the giants of the British effects world with expertise in miniatures and physical effects, going as far back as the old Denham and Gaumont era where he worked with names such as Poppa Day, Roy Kellino and Wally Veevers.
|John fights fire with fire on A BRIDGE TOO FAR (1977)|
Richardson's memoir Making Movie Magic is an excellent addition to the bookshelf of any student of traditional special effects. The book is a candid, revealing and sometimes laugh-out-loud funny as John regales us with many stories of his days in the trick trade, and the various personalities and productions he worked with and on, with a particular meeting at Pinewood with a prospective 'new 007' candidate, Kiwi actor Sam Neill, proving side splitting a recollection indeed. Wish he'd included a photo of that W.T.F incident!
|The wonderful David Warner loses his head in THE OMEN.|
|John's father Cliff is shown here prepping one of the huge miniature sets for the valiant and patriotic British Navy picture SHIPS WITH WINGS (1942).|
John's book is packed with facts, anecdotes and a ton of fine photographs, though inexplicably these are generally not captioned. The book features a brief chapter on John's dad, Cliff (thank you so much for that), including a collection of old pictures from some of Cliff's miniature effects dating back to the late 1930's, which are just marvellous.
All up, a book I raced through in record time, occasionally re-reading certain accounts and film experiences, a worthy addition to my extensive collection. Also, frequent director and friend Richard Donner contributed a wonderfully heartfelt foreword.
|One of the large miniature deep sea oil exploration rigs, complete with tiny mechanised 'people', built by Richardson for the excellent and very much under-appreciated Roger Moore action show NORTH SEA HIJACK (1980)|
|Before and after miniature set up and big bang from the Bond film OCTOPUSSY (1983).|
A BLAST FROM THE PAST
Harrison Ellenshaw has been a well respected effects artist from the early 1970's, and being the son of legendary master matte painter Peter Ellenshaw, not to mention the step-grandson of the illustrious Walter Percy 'Pop' Day must have indeed loaded considerable expectation upon the shoulders of the then budding young matte painter as he embarked upon what would become a very fruitful and successful career at Disney Studios.
|Harrison at his desk at Disney in 1992. Note the beautiful matte painting on the wall behind him from ISLAND AT THE TOP OF THE WORLD (1974)|
|Harrison with a rare surviving BLACK NARCISSUS painting.|
|Harrison Ellenshaw posing here with his sole matte executed for the Disney sci-fi epic TRON (1982) where a seemingly endless office space stretches into infinity. A nightmarish environ if ever there were one.|
|Disney's SNOWBALL EXPRESS (1973)|
Ellenshaw senior brought Maley to the US in the late sixties as chief matte artist when Peter decided to step down for a bit and concentrate more on production design. Harrison's first assignment under Alan's supervision was painting brickwork and bits and pieces of old London in mattes for the Oscar winning BEDKNOBS AND BROOMSTICKS (1971).
|APPLE DUMPLING GANG, almost full frame matte art.|
|Ellenshaw with one of his mattes created for the Disney comedy NO DEPOSIT, NO RETURN (1975), by which time he was in charge of the matte department. See below for final shot.|
|NO DEPOSIT, NO RETURN matte comp.|
Following this film, or perhaps concurrently, Ellenshaw got a deal to work on a small sci-fi flick for another studio (Fox) - and we all know what that one was. STAR WARS was massive, and deservedly so, which saw Harrison moonlighting painting SW mattes at night and doing Disney stuff during the day, though all with Disney's approval.
Harrison's biggest effects show must have been THE BLACK HOLE (1979) with more than 60 matte shots, and with just two assistants to lend a hand with the extensive brush work required for so much of the film, not to mention the rest of the huge catalogue of visual effects dealt with by the Disney optical, miniature and practical effects departments. The film would see the team nominated for a Best Visual Effects Academy Award that year. Shortly afterward, Harrison handed the reigns over to fellow BLACK HOLE painter David Mattingly as head of the Disney matte department whereby other challenges and areas of interest lay on the immediate horizon such as visual effects supervision and even directorial creative assignments.
|The master shot from THE BLACK HOLE, with two generations of matte painters in the studio, though Peter didn't participate in the mattes as he had his hands full with production design and overseeing the miniatures unit.|
|Another of Harrison's mattes from THE MAN WHO FELL TO EARTH.|
|A pair of uncredited shots Harrison rendered as a replacement for mattes rendered elsewhere that were rejected by the director for A KID IN KING ARTHUR'S COURT (1995)|
|As recently as a few months ago, Harrison was the recipient of a VES Fellowship Award from the Visual Effects Society.|
For my full and very extensive career interview with Harrison, conducted a few years ago, you can read that right here.
|Doctor Westlake's laboratory is about to blow sky high. Invisible miniature work here.|
|Note the small puppet of Frances McDormand.|
|Seen from above, the lab is history.... what what of Dr Westlake I hear you ask?|
|Well, sad to say, Dr Westlake is also blown sky high, but due to a series of coincidences, does in fact pull through, albeit in a somewhat knocked about state of health. Interesting animation here and optical work by Spencer Gil and others at VCE.|
|Strack City skyscrapers on the rise.|
|Extremely convincing cityscape.|
|Another superb example of miniature construction by 4-Ward, with chief model makers Anthony Doublin and Tom Scherman - whom I discussed in my previous blog on FLESH GORDON.|
|Top left we see the miniature factory under construction, with the other frames showing it's destruction at the hands of pyro expert Joe Viskocil - a name also featured in last month's blog.|
|A birds-eye view of the factory pre-explosion, with Neeson hanging onto a cable suspended from the bad guys helicopter.|
|Blue screen composite with miniature destruction and Neeson's character below a chopper.|
|High speed photography captures that instant Joe Viskocil's charge 'flashes' a millisecond before the big bang.|
|More model mayhem from the same sequence. Terrific pyro work here too, which is a science unto itself.|
|Catastrophic chopper calamity...|
|Flawless miniature set and importantly, believable lighting. So many model shots in the past were screwed with poor or obvious studio lighting that in no way matched actual daylight Kelvin (temperature).|
|That stunning shot with the out of control chopper rotor ricocheting down the tunnel and just missing Neeson's head is an all out winner in design and perfect execution. Absolute genius work to all involved.|
|Another view of Strack City - a miniature set extended with a painted backing to appear more vast. Matte World handled these shots with matte artist Brian Flora painting in the distant buildings and landscape.|
|Oh, and the best line in the film comes in a scene where Neeson beats the living shit out of some slack-jawed carny worker and shouts at Frances McDormand: "Just take the fucking elephant". Well, I laughed.|
|Another Introvision shot involving miniature setting, painted cityscape and live action.|
|A close up of part of the miniature set and backing.|
|McDormand hangs on for grim death while Neeson and Friels battle it out in a possible Introvision shot.|
|As my father would sometimes say, "He's got a face like an unmade bed" - or, "He's got a face like a collapsed lung". Funny guy my late Dad. Screw political correctness I say!|
|A rare photo of a surviving DARKMAN matte painting - either by Rische or Kilroy.|
|Frances McDormand hangs on by her fingernails in this Introvision process shot using the above matte painting.|
|Matte painting added significantly to a limited set in the high steel sequence with three areas of live action.|
|Introvision front projection shot with what I assume to be painted steelwork.|
|The villain begs for his life as our scarred anti-hero dangles him over the edge.|
|The substantial VFX crew end credit roll, which, if you have a proper computer screen and not one of those 'dinky' little i-phoney gadgets, you'll actually be able to read, unaided!!|
|If you love movies about movies, then you should enjoy THE SMALLEST SHOW ON EARTH (1957), an endearing little British film loaded with charming affection for the days of old 'Picture Palace' theatres and showmanship.|
|I think this was Bob's first actual on screen credit, after some five years at the studio, though as 'R.Cuff'. Presumably Wally Veevers saw to it that Bob got some credit.|
|Just a minor shot but effective. Bob painted in the top of the mighty old picture palace and added the name 'Grand'. This by the way is not the aforementioned 'fleapit' movie house.... this is the corporate opposition.|
|The interior of the Bijou again, though from a lower camera angle this time and slightly wider in view with more painted areas in frame up top.|
|An act of drunken vengeance by the Bijou doorman sees the neighbouring Grand Theatre burnt to the ground. Another full frame painting.|
A wonderful film indeed. Just the sort they don't seem to make these days.
|An excellent matte sets the tone of the adventure.|
|Another superb matte shot, though I may stand corrected should these shots in fact be hanging foreground miniature set ups. The shots are all rock steady and blend very well.|
|Intriguing double use of the same shot flopped for two different parts of the story.|
|Matte with a most foreboding mountain range.|
|The riders race through the canyon which I would say is a foreground miniature.|
|Our hero, played by the muscular Steve Reeves, tackles a particularly vicious and unfriendly tree in this blue screen shot where the whole forest seems pissed off for some reason.|
|Yeah, Steve...don't let those bodacious dancers, lavish costumes, gaudy Technicolor and faux Busby Berkeley routines fool ya ... these Mama's mean business!!|
|Steve, the thief of the title, turns the chief Mama into solid rock in a really impressive sequence executed by Tom Howard back at Elstree with what appears to be gradual cel painted overlays. More to follow...|
|Ever get an ice cold, turn you to stone stare from anyone? Well she did!|
|...things just keep getting worse for this Dame, but the sequence works a treat.|
|Matte art or foreground miniature? I cannot say for sure, though it might be a foreground glass shot, popular with Continental film makers, especially at the time this was made.|
|Definitely matte painted, with our hero and a blue screen ocean plate matted in.|
|The frames don't show it well but it's a nifty little bit of business where Steve Reeves swirls his cape and vanishes just as these strange dress shop mannequin looking folk are about to tear him a new arse.|
|Lovely art direction, lighting and cinematography here.|
|Sensational shot and a memorable effects sequence that follows.|
|The winged horse takes to the air in a beautifully rendered animated sequence, presumably by some of Tom Howard's people|
|Very nice work from 1961.|
|Upper frame miniature environment with puppeteered characters.|
|Several blue screen travelling matte shots by Tom Howard at MGM-Elstree.|
|Matte art and live action via travelling matte process.|
|Again, a quite impressive bit where the winged horse with Reeves flies in atop a cloud and lands.|
|It actually did deliver the goods.|
|The opening shot appears to be a matte painting with sky and distant landscape added in by Al Whitlock.|
|Same view as earlier though the sky and light is different now. Al's friend Rolf Giesen told me that Albert often spoke with fondness for this film.|
|That castle view again, though with different time of day, sunlight, cloud etc.|
|Here's another unseen matte shot that I just noticed too. The family farm and house at night out in the Scottish hinterland is an entire 100% matte painting. A tiny slot-gag allows the oil lamp in the window to be extinguished. Love it!|
|Another view of Edinburgh Castle, with a loud cannon blast. Most likely another full painting with an overlay of cannon fire and smoke superimposed. This shot was later recycled by Disney for their PRINCE AND THE PAUPER film the following year.|
|Lastly, a seemingly regular production shot though I think the sunlight rays have been added as a glass painted element. A lovely little film by the way, especially for dog lovers.|
|A fairly run-of-the-mill 1941 western (and I love old westerns) from 20th Century Fox, with just three mattes in it, but they are very interesting so it's worth inclusion here.|
|It's set during the American Civil War so that provides us with a few mattes such as this nice shot where practically everything has been painted in directly above the horse and farmer, even all of the detail shown at right such as the tree etc.|
|The finished, seamless trick as it is in the film. Fox were wizards at this sort of finicky illusion and would go to great lengths to make shots work convincingly under Fred Sersen's oversight.|
|The only other matte I found was this curious one where, presumably for pictorial and compositional value, the director requested a tree be painted into the otherwise static and boring shot.|
|A sprawling, all star, adventure set during the 13th Century, THE BLACK ROSE (1950) is a British made epic released under the 20th Century Fox banner.|
|Wonderful old school hand painted title lettering on glass - an artform of its own.|
|Not sure if this is an effects shot but I suspect an actual location may have been extended with painted additions, particularly the tower at left.|
|Castle interior soundstage set topped up with matte art.|
|Excellent matte which extends all of scene directly above the heads of the people.|
|Subtle extensions, with wall at left painted and distant mountain and sky added at right.|
|The film has a lot of those fifties era montages where caravans traipse across exotic lands in search of high adventure.|
|Even a matte painted Great Wall Of China gets a look in.|
|The flaming city seen in the distance. I suspect the majority of this shot to be a painting, including the tents.|
|A time of discovery and true adventure, all courtesy of Poppa Day and his talented painting staff. Apparently a very young Peter Sellers of all people provided the voice over dub for one of the Chinese characters in the film (!)|
|The best shot in the movie and I do wonder whether it might be a skillfully orchestrated hanging miniature?|
|Elaborate cave interior substantially augmented via matte art by either Pop Day or one of his artists such as Judy Jordan, George Samuels or Albert Julion.|
|The closing shot in the flick is a beautifully poetic full painting.|
That will do it for January's issue. See you next month, assuming I'm in the mood and the world hasn't come to a screeching, grinding halt and imploded.