Tuesday 21 April 2020

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

Greetings friends, fans and followers of old time - as in the time before computerisation - traditional era 'hand crafted' movie trickery.  I have a wonderful line up here today of grand matte painted mastery spanning the decades, as is my recognised modus operandi. I'm very pleased with the comments, emails and feedback I've been getting regarding this series of so-called 'overlooked films', so naturally I still have a lot more to share with you all.  From a pair of classic thirties features - most likely completely unknown to recent generations - through to an excellent fifties musical bio-pic of a real American legend of harmony and tune from the crossover into the 20th century (probably also a mystery to many of you younger people, but what a sensational film) with terrific matte paintings and clever innovative camerawork.

Both of these fine artists are discussed in today's blog.
Also featured here is another matte laden true story epic bio-pic made for television in the early 1990's worthy of rediscovery, and as if they weren't enough, I have a particularly fun Sly Stallone guilty pleasure in the form of a sci-fi thriller as well from quite recent times - at least quite recent in my general scheme of things, 1993 - in fact one of the last of the traditional hand painted films of it's type before the whole she-bang went the way of the motherboard, plug ins and a keyboard.  Sad times all round for those antique aficionados of conventional cinema technology, like me.

But wait... there's more!

My latest 'Blast from the Past' feature celebrates a legend in matte artistry and all round visual effects expertise - a man I've been meaning to pay tribute to for quite some time but never seemed to get around to it, until a faithful reader and fellow industry matte painter recently gave me the subtle 'hurry up' (thanks Richard).  Overdue I know, but better late than never.


Pete in Pandemic Lock down:

Before I embark on today's cinematic journey I should make mention of the terrible contagion that is sweeping the globe.  My heart goes out to those communities (and countries) that seem to be having a particularly tough time of it.  We have family in New York as well as friends in Spain and elsewhere, so we get the picture loud and clear.  Thankfully, thus far at least, we seem, here in New Zealand, to be escaping the worst of it, with a total lock down of most every aspect of daily life put in place a month ago and due to be relaxed s little next week, with the vast majority of the populace fully behind the government.  To date, we've only had thirteen deaths here, which is re-assuring, with the relative isolation - surrounded by ocean - and a low population (less than five million) spread out across a country about the same size as Japan and the closure of all borders, surely (hopefully) having a lot to do with it. The economy will be an unknown quantity probably for quite some time, but the Prime Minister is working hard to arrest this virus in it's tracks. One thing's for sure....nothing will ever be the same, once we, the world, are out of this catastrophe.  All the best to you all on that front.

Covid 19 be damned ... there IS light on the horizon, as is beautifully suggested here in this old photo I dug out of my archives of Jena Holman's matte in progress for a largely forgotten kids film, FLIGHT OF THE NAVIGATOR.  *Thanks to my friend and longtime contributor, Mr David Stipes.
So, with that cheer filled and uplifting opinion piece, let us kick off our shoes, recline in our fave chair with a Jack Daniels at the ready and enjoy another of NZ Pete's tributes to matte magic and the marvellous practitioners therein, and please try to view the blog on at least a decent size screen or desktop, as I always try to get the best images I can, which isn't always easy.  But before we do that ...


I often correspond with effects folk in the States and in the United Kingdom, and I had the good fortune just a few days ago to receive a wonderful letter from Steve Begg - the VFX supervisor for all of the recent James Bond pictures, among many, many other assignments.  Well it seems Steve has been keeping himself 'sane' during the UK's pandemic lock down by re-reading each and every NZPete blog post - and that's a hell of a lot of blog posts.  I'm sure Steve was just being kind to his antipodean fx fan pal, but none the less, something most fascinating was brought to my attention.  Steve, who is a big fan of Kubrick's iconic 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY took it upon himself during a quiet spell to create, design, shoot (in his living room and garage) and complete, his own interpretation of 'what might have been', as a form of post script to the film, especially pertaining to astronaut Frank Poole, who fell victim to HAL9000.  Here is the link to Steve's brilliant, though brief 'conclusion' that I thought my readers would enjoy:   https://vimeo.com/364782830
I'm sure Stanley would approve..... and accept the visual effects Oscar (!!) - AGAIN!


A Curiosity and an Explanation:

Zsa Zsa Gabor - the poor man's Meryl Streep - in the 'B' epic QUEEN OF OUTER SPACE (1958), which despite what you might think, was not a true story!
Oh, and as it's my pleasure, I always drop in one or two mystery pics within the banner montage at the top, though few ever comment, nor notice.  Just for your information, that odd matte painting seen at the bottom right of the banner/header at the very top of this blog post is a shot from the incredibly bad, unintentionally hilarious, though oddly entertaining Zsa Zsa Gabor Allied Artists sci-fi epic, THE QUEEN OF OUTER SPACE (1958), though it may have been lifted from a completely different movie, due to the shot being stretched sideways to impossible dimensions as a pseudo CinemaScope shot to fit with the rest of the Scope film (I've 'squeezed' the frame up there back to Academy ratio as it, no doubt, was originally painted).  The film had no FX credit but I notice imdb credit the great Jack Cosgrove for 'special photographic effects', so maybe Jack painted it, which is a surprise! If anyone can identify the origins of this shot, please let me know.

Enjoy the blog & stay safe wherever you are...




Rocco Gioffre

Rocco Gioffre is well overdue for a tribute piece here, and for that, I must apologise.  Rocco was one of several notable visual effects artists to come out of the US state of Ohio, with three others I'm aware of being Jim Danforth, Mark Sullivan and Gioffre's very mentor, the late Matthew Yuricich.  There was obviously something in the water out there in Ohio that was responsible for so much matte and all round trick shot magic that probably deserves a fully funded post doctoral study by some boffin to see 'what gives'.
Doug Trumbull, Steven Spielberg & Matt Yuricich on CE3K
May be some clandestine 'effects exponent trafficking ring' at work there?  Who knows?Anyway, Rocco, like so many of his generation - and those before and after for that matter - was a keen enthusiast of movie magic as a result of catching features at his local theatre on Saturday double bills, as well as repeat showings of older shows on local tv stations.  It would come as no surprise to anyone who knows the arc of awareness that specific movies would cast upon young and highly impressionable audiences that the all time 100% classic, KING KONG (1933) had a profound effect upon Rocco - as it did so many countless other visual effects exponents spanning the generations, from people like Ray Harryhausen to Dennis Muren, just to name two.
Rocco's first pro matte assignment-the lights out shot in CE3K
The young enthusiast was to embark upon many Super 8mm experiments in his formative years - again, as did so many like minded teenagers in the 1970's, hooked as they (we) were on the wonderful fantasy films of Harryhausen and other things like JASON AND THE ARGONAUTS, WAR OF THE WORLDS and 2001-A SPACE ODYSSEY.  Completely self taught, Gioffre would turn out stop motion, miniatures, camera superimpositions and matte art, though it would be a fortuitous connection with veteran matte painter Matthew Yuricich - another Lorain Ohio 'hometown boy' made good - that Rocco would find professional work in the effects industry.  Already knowing each other, Yuricich had helped Gioffre out with odds and ends such as reflective 3M front projection material for his student projects, Matthew was deep into Steven Spielberg's CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND (1978) when the workload grew from next to no mattes to a vast amount of painted work being needed.  Yuricich persuaded Douglas Trumbull to allow him to hire on an 18 year old Rocco in 1976 as an apprentice and general assistant in the CE3K matte department, which only consisted of Matt and cameraman Don Jarel.
One of Matthew's large matte set ups from CLOSE ENCOUNTERS.  I'm not sure why, but the two upper photos appear to be of different set ups for the same shot.  The one at left seems to be a multi-plane affair with masonite painted background sky and a separate glass painted plane with the silhouette of Devil's Tower blocked in, though the photo at right, from a recent auction of CE3K matte art, shows the masonite (hardboard) panel itself with blocked in silhouette as one?
So began a fruitful and long association that Gioffre frequently acknowledged as being the best education he could ever hope for.  Rocco's friend, collaborator and fellow matte painter Mark Sullivan once told me that Rocco's first real 'gig' in Hollywood was in fact handing out Halloween candy to kids who knocked on the door at Yuricich's house.  We all gotta start somewhere. You heard it here first!

STAR TREK-THE MOTION PICTURE's Frisco of the future.
Among the many duties an 'assistant' does in the matte department is to wash and clean up brushes, palettes, scrape off glasses and generally push a broom.  Gradually Rocco's responsibilities grew to such precise chores as rotoscoping or tracing film projections onto a prepared matte painting board or glass panel for Matthew to paint on.
Gioffre did block-ins for Matthew and was an avid learner, watching his mentor waste no time in knocking out mattes with the greatest of ease.  Later he contributed various painted elements to a number of Matt's paintings such as tree lines, stars and runway lights, while also graduating to completing 2 or 3 full paintings on his own, including the base camp and the city lights shutting off.  Much intermediate matte art was needed to serve as subtle blends to pull together miniature set ups and live action seamlessly, which for the most part, were undetectable. Rocco himself often remarked "Matthew did almost all of the matte painting work on CE3K, I just helped."

Gioffre at work STAR TREK.  Not sure why hues are wonky?

Years ago I recall speaking with Rocco and he was full of great stories about working with Matthew, including one whereby he and Yuricich were actually painting mattes for two different films at the same time, using Future General (Doug Trumbull's fx house) in secret.  In between paintings for CE3K, when nobody was around, Matt would ask Rocco to close the door and they would knuckle down to paint shots on the sly for Fox's post-apocalyptic DAMNATION ALLEY - some of which entailed painting directly over the top of large photographic enlargements, a time saver method Matthew was very familiar with from his many years at 20th Century Fox and later at MGM.  None of the mattes under Yuricich at the time were made on original negative, with Trumbull's organisation adamant on utilising the old Clarence Slifer interpositive film stock method where the artist was required to deliberately paint in unrealistic hues to suit the particular sensitivity and range of the slow film stock - sometimes known as 'orange base' - which to be certain of a satisfactory final match, required a high degree of skill and patience.  Yuricich, though well used to it as having been pushed on him for a few decades, none the less hated it, and found a whole new degree of artistic expression with later brushwork on original negative assignments, ironically as a contractor to Rocco, his former student.
Rocco's interpretation of planet Vulcan for Robert Wise's still vital STAR TREK-THE MOTION PICTURE (1979)
Other projects followed, and anywhere Trumbull was assigned, Matthew followed.  Robert Wise's STAR TREK-THE MOTION PICTURE (1979) was a huge effects show, with numerous effects houses tied up - some participants being hired to replace or re-shoot work deemed unsatisfactory.  Even the mattes were subject to revision and complete overhaul in some cases.  Matthew's already completed and composited shots of the planet Vulcan (which, with all due respect to Rocco, I much preferred personally) were replaced with completely different notions of the planet, as instructed by the art director and painted from scratch by Rocco, which as I recall from my extensive oral history with Matthew, he was none too thrilled about.  The then budding matte artist, Ken Marschall even contributed a replacement matte for the film from his then base at Graphic Films - the 'birthplace' of 2001's Trumbull and Con Pederson - by sheer coincidence ... though, I digress.

Interestingly, in an interview some 20 years ago Rocco commented:  "When I was in my tens and teens, 7TH VOYAGE OF SINBAD and Harryhausen's films were all an influence.  As I grew older, I became less fascinated with special effects films and more fascinated with the use of matte painting in non-visual effects movies.  There are so many non-vfx movies out there that have tons of mattes work in them.  GONE WITH THE WIND (1939) for instance, contains about fifty matte shots."

Around 1980 Rocco and several of his youthful STAR TREK alumni stepped out and formed their own VFX house, Dream Quest Images, which, though small in comparison to the ILM's, Boss Films and Apogee outfits, more than stood their ground and produced around a decade's worth of extremely high calibre visual effects of all types - a trick shot factory I personally took great notice of and followed.  The early Cinefex issue that delved deeply into the Dream Quest shop and it's staffers positively remains my all time favourite of all of the Cinefex articles by a country mile.
At Dream Quest, Rocco was chief (and for a time) sole matte artist, with the company constantly sought after by both commercial clients and feature film producers.  Among the many assignments Gioffre rendered mattes for were the tragic - in more ways than one -movie THE TWILIGHT ZONE (1983), the Bob Newhart satire FIRST FAMILY (1980), the Bill Murray comedy hit CADDYSHACK (1980) and some mattes again with Yuricich for Ridley Scott's monumental and visually perfect BLADERUNNER (1982) among many other jobs.

Wackiness was afoot in the Bob Newhart spoof FIRST FAMILY (1980)
Around 1984 another talented painter named Mark Sullivan started at Dream Quest.  Mark had been another 'Ohio export' with a similar formative background to Rocco, having created very impressive stop motion short films and matte work.  Whereas Rocco trained under Yuricich, Mark trained under Jim Danforth - yet another from that exclusive Ohio club.  Mark and Rocco would work as a team for a number of years - both at Dream Quest and later at a stand alone, two man matte effects shop of their own where the duo rendered remarkable mattes for ROBOCOP (1987) and it's sequel ROBOCOP 2 (1990) as well as films such as HOUSE II (1987), HIGHWAY TO HELL (1992), ISHTAR (1986) and PREDATOR 2 (1990) as a few examples.  *For readers seeking out shots from either of those original ROBOCOP films, check out my next blog for a full run down as space here is kind of limited.
Dream Quest at play in DEAL OF THE CENTURY (1983)
Some of Gioffre's most identifiable work was for the smash hit (and still funny to this day) Harold Ramis show NATIONAL LAMPOON'S VACATION (1983), with the fictional Walley World amusement park being a classic matte in it's own right.

Rocco at work on an unidentified film or commercial.
Rocco would continue to provide matte painted shots for the remainder of the traditional era, well into the late 90's, with the Chris Farley cowboy film ALMOST HEROES (1998) being probably his last hand painted project.  Gioffre stated:  "I was still working with a paintbrush myself at that time.  I was aware of digital matte painting, but I thought the traditional method would never die out.  I thought there was still a need for an actual matte painting, it would still be possible to make a decent living photographing a painting.  I held out as long as I could.  ALMOST HEROES contained my last brush painted shots.  I started those in 1996 - an old western fort and a view looking across the river at the town of St. Louis."

ALMOST HEROES (1998) last traditional shot...well, almost his last.
 Incidentally, although Rocco was, by nature of the business, forced to go the digital route from there onward right up to the present day, he did quite recently have the opportunity to step back into the past and actually hand paint a traditional brushes & oil matte for the popular musical LA LA LAND (2016), as the film's director understood and appreciated the romance that was forever associated with old time painted mattes in MGM musicals of days long gone.  I haven't got the shot as I've not seen the flick **[I can't possibly sit through a Ryan Gosling film without putting a loaded shotgun in my mouth!  Then where would NZPete's blog be, I ask you?]
An early test shot that Rocco made at an airstrip circa 1980, where the number of aircraft has been multiplied.  *Thanks to David Stipes for these frames.

I am the proud owner of this magnificent Gioffre matte art.  It's from a Joe Dante tv movie called THE OSIRIS CHRONICLES made in 1998, so it must really be one of Rocco's last ever traditional mattes.  The film was also known as THE WARLORD - THE BATTLE FOR THE GALAXY which sounds just awful with such a tacky title, like some 60's Italian cheaply made 'minestrone space opera'.  Love this painting!

Detail from above.
Beautiful matte work here rendered and composited for a Japanese tv commercial and directed by the guy who made the very good TRAINING DAY, Antoine Fuqua, of all unlikely people (if my failing memory serves me, that is).
Rocco works on a spectacular matte for the action thriller CLIFFHANGER (1993), though sadly the shot never made the final cut for some inexplicable reason.

Great before and after images from the uninspired Madonna comedy WHO'S THAT GIRL (1987), who's only positive were a couple of excellent mattes and complex foreground miniature and stop motion set ups by Rocco with Mark Sullivan.
Atmospheric full painting from the Eddie Murphy-Richard Pryor gangster homage, HARLEM NIGHTS (1989)

One of a number of mattes from the successful CITY SLICKERS (1991).

Arse kicking tough guy Steven Seagal, leaps the chasm in ON DEADLY GROUND (1994) - one of several expansive matte shots seen in the film.
Another shot from ON DEADLY GROUND where Steven's clifftop lair offers no off street parking nor broadband, which must lower property values somewhat.

One of three mattes Rocco painted for NATIONAL LAMPOON'S VACATION (1983).

Another VACATION matte, and probably the one that brought more fame to the artist than any other.

The fabulous Walley World painting which now hangs on the wall of director J.J Abrams, whom, I was reliably informed, has been a purveyor of this very blog!  Go J.J... and do spread the word!

Close up detail.  Just love it!
Possibly my favourite Gioffre painting.  From the action packed and very violent HARLEY DAVIDSON AND THE MARLBORO MAN (1991) - a film packed with mattes and required a bunch of artists to supply all the work.  Nice in jokes here with 'Rocco's' seen in the right background as a neon sign as well as a nod to matte cameraman Paul Curley seen at the left as 'Paul's Deli'; though you'd never notice if NZPete hadn't alerted you to that very important fact.

The opening shot for Joe Dante's GREMLINS (1984) was one of a pair of Gioffre shots that bookended the film.
The two mattes in Harold Ramis' CADDYSHACK (1980) with a fictional golf clubhouse and course has been added, as well as a penultimate scene where the golf course blows up courtesy of Bill Murray.  Lower right shows Gioffre sharing a joke with Dream Quest cameraman Hoyt Yeatman.
One of the large matte paintings that Rocco did for Ridley Scott's visually jaw dropping BLADERUNNER (1982), with another example of his sense of humour at top of the painting,  Other matte artists were infamous for painting in private jokes into their matte art.  Matt Yuricich did it on CE3K as did old timers such as Lee LeBlanc at Fox and Howard Fisher at MGM.
A recent photo of Rocco with one of the BLADERUNNER original mattes that was up for auction a few months ago.

Gioffre points out a blank area where advertising neon messages of the future will be doubled in as additional elements.

As a one-off assignment, Rocco was called in by ILM's chief matte painter and old friend Mark Sullivan, to lend a hand on the big Spielberg epic HOOK (1991).  At far left is Rocco at work (with Eric Chauvin) on a massive, multi-plane painting for the closing 'birds eye' pull back view in the film.

The toxic waste dump as seen in the John Candy film ARMED AND DANGEROUS (1986).
An undetectable matte adds a valley and township to a shot from the Gregory Peck western OLD GRINGO (1989).

Both Mark and Rocco paired up to provide highly authentic puppets of actress Anne Ramsey for the Danny DeVito black comedy THROW MOMMA FROM THE TRAIN (1987).  Also, unrelated, are pics here of a splendid stop motion T-Rex puppet, and a close look at brush in use upon glass.
A key scene from the film THE TWILIGHT ZONE (1983) where the sun comes up and the parched landscape begins to bloom - or at least that's how I vaguely remember it.  An optical wipe, I think I recall, transforms one piece of artwork to another.  I've put two different frames here as a curiosity.  The one at left was from a DVD years ago, whereas the one at right is from a BluRay.  The colour grading is totally off the wall, and is something I tend to notice more and more with BluRay, with colours I'm familiar with being re-jigged by some colourist during the authoring or re-mastering process somewhere, often with horrible results, and more often than not, casting a curious magenta or blueish glow over the proceedings.

An invisible fix here for the Liam Neeson movie ROB ROY (1995) where Gioffre has 'repaired' an actual landmark on an Irish location by painting back in the fallen walls and rooftop.  Rocco once mentioned to me that he was annoyed the film makers then decided to to a lap dissolve into the shot, thus reducing his original negative work to a dupe, whereas he could have produced the required transition himself during his own matte composite photography, thus saving the fidelity of the effect.  The same sort of post production tampering has caused other artists to complain, such as Al Whitlock, as told to me by Bill Taylor, when Warner Bros decided to dupe his pristine and meticulously crafted tornado scene at the start of THE LEARNING TREE (1969) in order to add the main titles - something that could have been achieved quite easily by Al's cameraman, Ross Hoffman during the matte composite stage back in Universal's matte department, though, as usual, I digress.
ROBOCOP (1987) - an okay film but a first class visual effects act all the way.  I'll be doing a retrospective on this and it's sequel in the next blog post.... so stay tuned.

For a very unusual, independently funded project titled LEGACY run by the Mormon Church, Rocco was asked to make this superb matte shot of a vast Mormon temple, and in 70mm no less!  Probably his one and only adventure into the mega sized film format.

The quite bizarre, quasi-historic character piece, WALKER (1987), was a tough watch but did have it's moments amid the cinematic and narrative chaos, including some nice matte work.

A trio of matte painters worked on PREDATOR 2 (1990), with Rocco painting this and other city shots.  Mark Whitlock also contributed some moody night cityscapes (painted at home in his garage I believe), and Mark Sullivan took care of the spacecraft matte shots.  Not a bad film as far as sequels go, with some very effective shocks and the usual terrific R/Greenberg-Joel Hynek 'Predator' partial visibility opticals, used to great advantage.  Man, that work in both films was sensational.
Another splendid matte that Rocco painted way back in 1982 while at Dream Quest for a popular DR PEPPER series of commercials.  I'm happy to say that I also own this piece and look at it every day.  The reverse sides of the mattes I have of Rocco's (painted on heavy grade hardboard, or masonite as Americans call it), with unfinished ISHTAR matte art by Mark Sullivan showing partially painted mosques and minarets etc than were never completed as the studio dropped the sequences from the already overblown, over spent, problematic production.

A recent photo of Rocco with one of Matthew's large CLOSE ENCOUNTERS glass mattes that was up for auction a couple of months ago.
I superb matte painter and an all round versatile visual effects man, whose work has delighted many since the late 1970's.  Rocco, we salute you.


I thoroughly enjoyed  STARS AND STRIPES FOREVER (1952) - an energetic, fictionalised celebration of America's first star of popular music at around the turn of the century, the legendary John Philip Sousa. I found myself humming his timeless tunes for days afterward.  Man, if there were ever a composer-conductor who typifies 'America', in every note, then it has got to be Sousa!!

The always capable Clifton Webb makes for an excellent lead, complimenting Fox's usual high production values.

Long time Fox effects veteran Ray Kellogg supervised the numerous matte shots for the film, with his own background being as one of Fred Sersen's matte painters and eventually Fred's 'right hand man' for many years.  Sersen retired around 1951 and Kellogg assumed the headship for several years before moving on to a career in 2nd unit on films like TORA!, TORA!, TORA! as well as helming a few B films, for reasons known only to himself, as director.  This shot I think is a full painting with just the fluttering flag doubled in as was common with 20th Century Fox.

Fox had a significant effects department and over the years consistently turned out quality effects work, with a number of Oscars to celebrate the fact.

Classic stage set top up with painted upper half flawlessly combined.

John Philip Sousa and his band were immensely popular and tours of every corner of the country were order of the day, including large expositions such as this matte painted view.

Among the painters working at Fox were Emil Kosa snr and his son, Emil jnr.  All round fx expert Ralph Hammeras was a skilled painter in addition to other skills.  Matt Yuricich and Jim Fetherolf both started the same day in 1951 and would have had a hand in some of these shots I'm sure.   Fitch Fulton worked at Fox for a time as did people like Menrad von Muldorfer, Cliff Silsby, Gilbert Riswold, Max DeVega and Lee LeBlanc.

A bit of miniature work in the Fox tank.

I can't recall if this scene was of The White House?  Nice full painting though.

More of Fox's marvellous matte painting work.
STARS AND STRIPES FOREVER covers quite a significant time frame, all packed into a compact 89 minutes.  This scene sees the end of the Spanish-America War with much celebration.


Another bio-pic, this time from 1991, THE JOSEPHINE BAKER STORY is the frank and, at times, disturbing, look at the celebrated life of black singer and entertainer Josephine Baker, who escaped poverty and violent racism in America to find incredible fame and full social acceptance in France in the early 1920's.

Made by HBO for cable tv and released in foreign markets, the film is pretty good, buoyed to a huge extent by actress Lynn Whitfield in the title role.  I recall first seeing this on tv back in the early 90's and being struck with all of the matte shots, though never knowing who painted them.  The only credit was 'Matte Supervisor Bruce Block', whose name at the time and for many more years would remain a mystery to me.  No longer!

The tiny two-person company, Matte Effects, was established in 1980 by a pair of experienced Graphics Films staffers who decided to branch out into specialised matte painted effects work.  Cinematographer and effects producer Bruce Block (shown here mid bottom and far right) and matte artist Ken Marschall (left and top middle) kept their company well below the radar for the most part and were responsible for probably 100 or more, high fidelity mattes over the next 20 years that Matte Effects was operating.  In fact, very few in the VFX industry seemed to know of Ken and Bruce's existence, which was, for many of those two decades, housed in a small room at Gene Warren jnr's Fantasy II effects house.  *Note: Gene, who sadly passed away recently, can be seen with the matte camera set up in the middle photo of the blog banner/header at the top of this blog.
**I carried out an extensive, and some would say exhaustive, full career interview with both Ken and Bruce back in 2015.  That massive document filled up three separate blog posts, and even then we couldn't include all of their remarkable work.  Those interviews are an absolute 'must' for those keen on traditional methods and remain the 'peak' of what I've tried to achieve with this matte blog.  The posts can be read here (part one),  here (part two) and here (part three).  I apologise for some glaring technical problems encountered in dealing with the original upload and page layout - those were beyond my control.  Pete
Ken's extraordinary art was always rendered on specially imported art card rather than the normal industry approaches of painting on glass or hardboard panel.  Ken liked to paint small, and could achieve incredible light and atmosphere with high levels of detail as he preferred to use small brushes and acrylic, sometimes supplemented with airbrush, coloured pencil and even black marker pens for a deep, rich black where required,  The painting here isn't from JOSEPHINE BAKER, rather from another of Ken's projects, MOBSTERS, yet I include it as a typical example of brush at work.

Although the painting shown above is not from JOSEPHINE BAKER, Ken holds up this example from the film MOBSTERS which demonstrates the size of his average matte painting.  Note the coloured swatches attached at left which would prove a vital aid in colour matching and blending.

The first JOSEPHINE BAKER matte was an invisible fix, and as Ken was so busy painting a number of shots for the production, another artist (possibly Dwight Carlisle?) was brought in to help out.  On rare occasions artist Rick Rische came in to lend a hand and render the odd shot on one or two films and told me a few times just how utterly blown away he was with the efficient, tightly run and highly organised Matte Effects operation.  

For a big establishing shot of Josephine and company arriving by steam ship into New York, a suitable location was found for plate photography - probably in Hungary where most of the film was apparently shot.  See below...

The plate with black matte in place, and Kens initial sketch shown at right which will serve as the tracing for the actual painting process.

Ken's completed painting of the port, the steamer The Normandie, and New York skyline.  Ken told me that he can't recall just why he painted it with such a magenta hue.  The final composite appeared completely natural.  Incidentally, if there is one thing Ken lives his life to paint, it's maritime art.  His specialty as a fine artist has, for many years, been ships at sea, in particular, the Titanic, which he has illustrated books and provided technical advice on for projects such as the film RAISE THE TITANIC (1979) and of course James Cameron's massive TITANIC (1997), for which he was technical advisor.  In addition, Ken has been very active in 'all things Titanic' and, as well as being an authority on the ship he also has the rare distinction of having been up close first hand to the sunken behemoth, as a part of the (terrifying to me!) journey in a submersible to the Atlantic ocean floor.

A close up of the painting with Ken's hand visible just to give an indication of the small size of the artwork, which was unheard of in the effects industry.  Ken told me he never quite understood why other artists mattes had to be so huge by comparison.  

The final composite as revealed here from the 35mm frame as it was shown on television and video before being cropped down for DVD and theatrical showings as shown below.

The same shot as it appears as cropped to 1.85:1 for DVD and BluRay.

Although I'd seen JOSEPHINE BAKER several times, I'd never spotted this shot until a recent rewatch on BluRay.  Jo is seen here performing for the troops in North Africa during WWII, and everything above her head is painted - even most of the soldiers.  Oddly, this matte never came to light even when I interviewed Ken - and he and Bruce were phenomenally generous with their time and their vast, meticulously filed archives, with practically every painting preserved, including preliminary sketches, block ins, film clips, wedges, notes, rejected shots and all.  But this shot never seemed to be among them, so I do wonder if someone else might have rendered this as an outside job - possibly Rick Rische - seeing as the small company was so tied up?

I'm an absolute sucker for classic neon lights or theatre signage matte art, as anyone who reads this blog will know.  MGM were maestros of the artform, bar none, back in the day.  Here, I was thrilled to see a homage to those days with a street chock filled with amazing theatre signage - all painted in by Ken Marschall.  Above, in these original 35mm trims is the set and then with sign backgrounds in position.  See below...

The neon signage was carefully arranged and painted in layers on separate lightproof cards.  Note the precise lettering.

Ken explained the gag:  "Each of the individual elements were variously flashed on and off.  These were each on individual lightproof cards with high contrast acetate stats of the neon artwork, each gelled with the desired colour."

The final composite with live action and four separate elements of 'neon' signage artwork, illuminated.  Magnificent!

For a period view of a busy New York street of the 1940's, the production was in fact shooting in Budapest of all places, with matte work required to transform this Hungarian boulevard into The Big Apple.  Bruce Block explained the arrangement:  "I went to Budapest where the film was shooting.  The original plan was for me to supervise all of the shots and to do them as original negative mattes [the preferred and standard method at Matte Effects].  What I ended up doing was teaching the crew about original negative mattes and then being sent back to California.  They ended up shooting all of the plates without me, and everything was done as an optical."

The Budapest plate, masked off, and Ken's drawing prepared for transfer onto the special art card he used for painting mattes

Ken's wonderful New York avenue, complete with painted traffic.  Superb perspective work.  Ken mentioned:  "I seem to recall someone saying that the Chrysler Building was so tall that it's iconic top was out of frame, and could I lower it?  I carefully sliced my painted Chrysler Building to lower it in the field so it would show, instead of repainting it.  Call me lazy.  This was another advantage of painting on this card stock; it was easy to slice with a blade and shift something around without having to laboriously repaint something."

A wonderful close view of Ken's expert brushmanship, colour and feeling of time of day.  Breathtaking work.  A few years ago Ken discussed his methods with me:  "We [Matte Effects] wanted to keep a low profile, and from the beginning Bruce and I wanted a comfortable amount of work, not to be overwhelmed, have to hire others and complicate our lives.  We looked at it like a sort of professional hobby, I think.  We wanted it to stay fun and interesting, not to become a burden, an obligation that we resented.  I much prefer to paint more manageable, convenient size - something that will fit on my table in front of me.  I paint 'flat' and always have.  This was dictated by the amount of reference material I usually had scattered all around, often lying right on the painting for ease of access.  I didn't want to turn away from a vertical easel and step to the side for a reference photo.  I also kept my water and palette - usually an old pie tin or a piece of illustration board - right next to me and sometimes on the painting too.  On average, unless they were for VistaVision, the paintings themselves were only about 18 x 22 inches, with the unpainted borders extending a bit further to around 20 x 27 inches."

The final composite as seen in Academy ratio when it was shown on tv.  Flawless in every respect, and what's more astounding, the fact that Bruce wasn't able to composite as latent image, which they always swore by as the best method, bar none.  The optical composite is excellent, with no visible matte lines nor, when viewing, any movement.
Well, after all of that work the top of The Chrysler Building did get chopped off in the needlessly reframed 1.85:1 ratio for BluRay presentation.  Don't for Christ's sake tell Ken!

For another key scene in the film, the cast enter The Stork Club (also visible in previous matte shot) and this one's a real stunner.  The image at left is Ken's original concept painting for the director's approval.  A completely fabricated shot with the exception of a small pocket of live action under the entrance lights, and, if you look carefully, a second tiny bit of action with the cab driver's face visible in what will eventually become a painted taxi.

I've seen the majority of Ken Marschall's matte paintings [thank you Ken] and they are without question, sensational, though I feel that this one is my favourite.  A near on full painting with just a blacked out patch under the Stork Club awning and a tiny spot also where an actor's head will be doubled in as the taxi driver. Naturally I praised Ken for this work and he commented:  "Jo Baker, as we called the project, was one of the biggest jobs we had.  I wasn't credited for that...go figure.  Anyway, the night time Stork Club matte is neat, I agree, although the front of the foreground taxi is too fisheyed and tweaked.  Bad planning on my part.  But I liked the night cityscapes, which required multiple double exposed lights with flashing red beacons above roofs.  Although I don't remember, we probably made some of the distant signage blink on and off."

Close up of the cab and street.  Note the beautifully realised pin-pricks of reflected signage and street lamps visible on the taxi's paintwork.  Masterful.  Interestingly, Ken would paint practically all of his mattes at his home, and on his kitchen table.  The work was done in acrylic to allow for fast drying and when ready he would 'bag them up' in a special purpose made satchel and drive across town to meet up with Bruce at a parking lot near the airport, pass the satchel over to Bruce, who would then travel across town to the Matte Effects studio which was situated in Gene Warren Jnr's Fantasy II effects shop, defrost the held takes, as most of their work was latent image, from the original photography, and set up and shoot and composite the matte during the night.  It seems an odd arrangement - especially the covert meeting in a dark and deserted carpark - but both Ken and Bruce told me that it worked fine and continued like that for some twenty years.

More detail of the skyscrapers and night lights of NYC.  Both Bruce and Ken had years ago attended a series of visual effects seminars by Albert Whitlock and were both utterly captivated by what Al presented with his shot breakdowns.  Al had just finished THE HINDENBURG at the time.  The simplicity yet high quality of Whitlock's trick work struck the pair of them like a light bulb switching on.  Right then and there Ken told me he just had to become a matte artist.  

The finished composite.  I'm lost for words, so I'll let Bruce Block speak:  "I was determined to keep everything at Matte Effects as simple as possible.  Ken painted on special black cards, and the size wasn't very large.  The paintings were registered to the artwork stand using traditional Acme animation pegs.  We stopped using the Mitchell NC camera for the artwork photography and indulged in a specially designed animation camera built by John Monseaux.  He had designed and  built a similar camera for Apogee.  The camera accepted standard Acme 4 perf and 8 perf VistaVision movements.  The maximum speed was 2 frames per second, but I could slow the camera down if we needed blur effects or very long exposures.  The camera used standard Mitchell magazines and had bi-pack capability.  It ran forward and reverse, of course.  We never took a photo of our matte room but our matte stand was a horizontal rig.  The camera was bolted to a very heavy platform, and about 6 feet away was a vertical artwork stand for Ken's paintings.  The camera and art stands were welded together with heavy steel beams so there was absolutely no chance that either unit could independently move.  We had one lens for the matte camera, a Nikkor Macro lens, with the focus locked to the artwork distance.  That never changed.  We had a whole range of diffusion filters and colour correcting filters that I'd use, depending on the job."

Another great period matte shot is of the Copa Club. Here is the already masked off plate, with Ken's drawing that served as the means to transfer to card stock and painting to begin.

The finished painting.  Ken commented to me:  "The Copa Club in Miami, following reference material I was given, it's considerably reimagined from what the original looked like."

Close up detail 

The final composite.  Bruce Block explained the credit situation, or lack therein:  "Unfortunately, credits back in the 1980's were not yet evolved into the endless, everyone-on-the-movie triple-column lists we see now.  We never got credit for a lot of our work, and even on the internet it's impossible to find an accurate list of all the movies and tv shows we contributed to."

As Josephine is nearing the end of her days, her lifestyle inside this massive French Chateau is about to be turned upside down.  A full painting by Ken, with a later optical of animated snow falling down.

Some detail.

Even closer detail.

Final shot with animated overlay.

Interestingly, Matte Effects would continue, silently and well under the industry radar - yet with a steady stream of clients - for two decades, and even well into the digital era that other FX companies embraced, Ken and Bruce would stay with traditional photochemical methods of paint and camera, making many more mattes for film, television and commercials up until 2001 when they made their last hand painted shot, then, having enjoyed the ride, decided to close up shop and move on to separate pursuits.


One of the long running series of hugely successful vehicles for munchkin Shirley Temple, who must have earned a fortune for Fox.  HEIDI (1937) was of course based on a very popular childrens book and would be remade and reinvented numerous times over the years.
Upper photo shows a complex dual panel glass shot being completed on the Fox lot, very likely to serve as the opening glass panning shot shown below.  Standing in front of the set up is Fox head of effects Fred Sersen, with several of his artists seen busy at work.  The lower photos show, at left, Sersen with his assistant Ray Kellogg, and at right, the matte painting room in full swing.
No official effects credit but almost certainly supervised by the great Fred Sersen, with adept assistance by Ray Kellogg and Ralph Hammeras.  This beautiful glass shot - most likely the set up pictured above - opens up the story and is in fact part of a perfectly designed and engineered wide pan from the valley and alpine range, following Heidi as she walks around the house and up into the village square.  See below...
The gag was an oldie, but a goody, and Fox were absolute geniuses at deploying multiple painted glasses in order to execute unusual camera moves to outstanding effect on scores of films.  No studio came near Fox when it came to these gags.  Note the strategic placement of the prop tree at a point to conceal the rigging supporting the carefully positioned and very large bulky framed glass plates.  That 'tree' would become such a familiar attribute in countless Fox movies for the exact same purposes.

The final part of the epic glass shot as young Heidi proceeds up into the village.  Perfection.  The crisp resolution was a big plus with well orchestrated in camera foreground glass tricks.

A subsequent cut, although well painted, is most certainly a production matte shot and I think, part of a dissolve, thus the dreadful resolution that comes with a dupe.

More matte work from HEIDI, with almost everything painted.  The film has also been released on home video formats in an appalling 'colourised' edition, which, like all colourised editions looks diabolical to say the least.

The hustle and bustle of turn of the century Frankfurt as presented with much matte art and some fake snow on the Fox lot.


Very recent, broadly speaking, of my general blog catalogue of films, DEMOLITION MAN (1993) was an enjoyable, 'get-your-moneys-worth' sci-fi actioner that hit all the right buttons - and featured a few stunning conventional mattes.  

A trio of highly talented matte painters were responsible for the first class work seen in the film, with Mark Sullivan painting two shots, while both Brian Flora and Mike Pangrazio painted one each.

Some inside pics of Mark Sullivan's earlier matte studio in West Los Angeles which he shared for a time with fellow artist and former Dream Quest compatriot Rocco Gioffre.  In the background we can see matte art for ISHTAR and HOUSE II. Also shown here is the tried and trustworthy Acme matte camera mounted on a bolted down, heavy pedestal.  Mark described the camera set up to me:  "This is the Acme model six camera I used for photographing my matte paintings.  Since it was engineered for single frame and low speed shooting, it was easy to thread, especially with bi-packing.  The site viewer, seen to the left of the shutter control, has the nice feature of allowing a line up film clip to be placed into it, and the clip could be seen imposed over the ground glass field view.  The lens mount is for Hasselblad medium format lens.  I enjoyed using this camera for several years, and it was always 100% reliable.  It had a nifty manufacturers emblem too!"  I think Albert Whitlock and Bill Taylor used an Acme too if I'm not mistaken.

A concept painting done by Mark Sullivan for the first matte shot, though Mark didn't paint the final actual matte, as he explained to me:  "I spent a couple of days in Warner Bros. art department working on shot design sketches for DEMOLITION MAN.  The director and producer both liked this one, so it was followed closely.  Brian Flora worked with me on this project, and he did the final matte painting for this shot.  It was fun to see my little sketch turned into such a nice shot by Brian."  See below...

Brian Flora at work in Mark's studio putting the finishing touches on his rendition of Mark's original concept sketch [Mark calls his a sketch, but to me it's a piece of fine art in it's own right!]

The final composite of Brian's painting is a brilliantly realised look into the not so distant future.

Here is another of Mark's concept sketches for a proposed matte shot.  Again, it may be a 'sketch' to Mark, but it's a mini marvel to me!  Mark mentioned to me a couple of years back:  "I have very few of the little concept paintings.  The DEMO MAN was scanned from a colour xerox.  Mike McAllister kept the originals on that project.  I guess you can't argue with the client.  The few that I have, I've had to be kind of sneaky with.  I got a little p.o'ed when I was at ILM.  The supervisors and the upper management would just help themselves to the sketches.  After a while, I started to 'help myself' to a few too."

An excellent photograph of Mark with his final matte art ready for the camera.  Mark told me about his small studio:  "My little studio in Berkeley was where I did this work.  I had a process projector, a tiny darkroom, and a matte stand rig, set up with an Acme and a Mitchell camera.  I worked on a number of freelance projects there, such as BUGSY, TOYS, THE HUDSUCKER PROXY and WYATT EARP."  **I did an extensive career interview with Mark back in 2013, and that can be read here.

The final comp of Mark's superb painting.

Another of Mark Sullivan's shots, which, although planned as a latent image original negative composite ended up being quite the opposite.  Mark elaborated:  "It was a problematic shot, made so by Mike McAllister's sudden decision to do the shot as a digital comp instead of a latent image matte.  It could have been a nice, straight forward o-neg shot, but as it turned out the company Mike was working with, Cinesite, made my work on this shot an extremely difficult process.  I won't bother to list all of the complications and difficulties, but I felt the shot could have been better, and accomplished so much faster as a straight film latent image composite."

The final matte in the film was handled at Matte World and painted by former ILM artist Michael Pangrazio, with camerawork carried out by Craig Barron.  Another superb matte shot.


An oldie, but a goodie... THE YOUNG IN HEART (1938) from David O. Selznick.

A highly amusing, occasionally laugh out loud, vintage screwball comedy of confidence tricksters, scams and get rich quick schemes and the screen's least appealing automobile, The Flying Wombat - a character all unto itself!

As with virtually all of the Selznick pictures, special photographic effects man Jack Cosgrove provided all of the necessary trick shots, miniatures and matte paintings.  Long time associate, Clarence Slifer was Cosgrove's effects cinematographer and the pair worked on dozens of high profile, important films such as THE PRISONER OF ZENDA (1937), GONE WITH THE WIND (1939), THE ADVENTURES OF TOM SAWYER (1938), REBECCA (1940), DUEL IN THE SUN (1947) and SINCE YOU WENT AWAY (1944) to name but a handful.

Part of the title sequence shows an elaborate matte painting beneath the transcript, though the shot fades out right about here, leaving no opportunity to grab a 'clean' frame.

An early effects sequence involves a train derailment on a precarious viaduct, done in miniature, with follow up scenes utilising split screen tricks and painted mattes to extend the danger.

Things go, quite literally, off the rails!

Ingenious split screen work by Cosgrove and Slifer combining miniatures with well integrated live action.

Probably all matte painted beyond the immediate area with the actors.

Left: Crossing the ocean an entirely manufactured effects shot.  Right:  All painted, with rain overlaid.

The latest, greatest automobile ever, The Flying Wombat, is here and ready to hit the market, and is about to be revealed.  Mostly painted here by Cosgrove.

Well....will the public buy it?  Frame at right largely matte art.  If we build it, they will come.

An extensive matte painted shot where I think everything here is artwork aside from a middle section where the actors walk.

A curious image here that I came across by chance.  Presumably a Selznick publicity department reworking of the Jack Cosgrove matte art for promotional purposes.  Interesting.

All painted from the opposite edge of the riverbank, with the nearest foreground tree movement probably doubled in as a bi-pack element, a common gag through the thirties and forties to break up the static matte shot.

An interesting shot where I'm sure the ceiling has been painted in, along with the reflections of the diners and dancing couples from below, maybe as a separate superimposition.  Very clever.  Clarence Slifer was always taking the classic matte to whole new levels with various ideas and innovations.

Janet Gaynor at the door of a partial stage set augmented with a matte painted upper floor, trees and all of the left side flower beds etc.  I love the boldness that Cosgrove believed in, as he could paint anything and wasn't afraid to paint way beyond what was a reasonable expectation.  So many shots in GONE WITH THE WIND were significant in the sheer amount of painted frame, with very little live action worked in - sometimes with miniature elements as well.

A long shot of the house with The Flying Wombat in the driveway.  Extensive matte art here as well.


That's all for now.  Be sure to come on back for some more great mattes and motion picture magic next time.  Zsa Zsa would want you to.


  1. Glad to hear you're well, and that the virus hasn't been able to attack your superhuman blogging powers! By the way - if you ever tire of Ms Ardern, there are plenty here who'll happily trade her for Boris any day of the week..

    Stay safe!

    1. Hi Andy

      I always enjoy your correspondence.

      Oddly, some emails we've had from family in NY city (Queens) come with the little AVG stamp 'Safe and Virus Free', so that must be a good thing, right?

      You ain't the first one to try to 'buy' our Prime Minister mate. I'd consider a trade if the 'Boris' you are referring to is 'Karloff' rather than 'Johnson'. Can you make that happen?

      Cheers mate and look after those close to you.


  2. Another amazing article! Thank you.

    1. Thank you Stephen, you are most generous.

      Stay safe


  3. You consistently amaze me! Thank you!! Stay safe and healthy!

    1. Thanks Marshall. Take care of the folks nearest to you.


  4. Great as always Pete! You make me want to see the Josephine Baker story...it was only on a trip to France that I learned of her popularity there. I think I even saw her home that was represented in the snowfall/1959 shot. It's great to have a nice long read to distract during this time. All the best from Canada.

    1. Hi Marlon
      Thanks for those words. Yes, JO BAKER is worth another look. The way she was treated with utter contempt and downright hatred in her native America was eye opening.
      I like to explore these shots and films quite thoroughly when possible, hence the lengthy blog posts. Nothing worse than a 'once over lightly' approach when one wants to delve deeply.

      Have family in Toronto BTW - great city. Been to Montreal & Trois-Rivieres in my former career.... not sure where you are.

      Take care


  5. Terrific as ever! Do you know Pete, why in Matthew Yuricich's original paintings for the planet Vulcan in Star Trek The Motion Picture, he interpreted the red feet, which are clearly meant to be the feet of a huge statue, as the bottom of a very weird rock formation? Seems like something must have been miscommunicated.

    1. No, I've no idea about that. Maybe the confusion of interchangeable VFX contractors on the massive project meant problems with what had already been shot/designed/built/tossed aside....? I dunno.

      I do know a funny story though, told to me by Harrison Ellenshaw, that at the Oscars that year 5 films were nominated, with TREK being the red hot favourite. The confident TREK fx nominees were seated strategically nearer to the stage so the could get up to collect "their" awards. Well, the winning film was ALIEN, and the TREK people, who had already seen the award as a foregone conclusion for them were apparently ashen faced and in total disbelief at losing out. Harrison was also up for BLACK HOLE, but had a chuckle none the less.


  6. About the warmly tinted TREK TMP GG bridge shot, I figured (wrongly) that it represented MY's concept, with the shot taking place near dusk. While all of the SF paintings were done with that in mind, and only changed to that awful final blah day look during the printing phase, Rocco corrected my analysis of this shot -- I don't know if we corresponded on the ST-TMP facebook page or elsewhere -- saying that the behind the scenes still was photographed with film that tinted the image (sort of like how we used to always forget to switch the 85 filter on Super-8 cameras when shooting indoors, causing everybody to look like they were madeup like Suzanne Somers with a glowing orange tan.) And yes, I am a fanatic about that first TREK movie, hating and loving it almost equally ... recently got some details from Scott Farrar about a motion-control test shot of a tumbling potato (!!) he did that screened for Paramount ... right before the original fx team got canned!

    This site, btw, is an absolute godsend, especially these days. I'm always recommending it to interviewees who have an analog/in-camera fascination, as they seem to have the most voracious appetite for learning.

    1. Hi Kevin

      Thanks for the detailed message. I've always felt ST-TMP was under appreciated. I recall it on the big (very big here) screen on it's opening day and being engrossed in it. I actually liked the 'slow burn' pace which so many people simply hated.
      Your theory about that peculiar tinted photo did indeed bring back memories to me of Super 8 indoor filter (and the picturesque Ms Somers too for that matter!). A certain 'world leader' also displays that identical glowing 'orange hue' - at least he does on our televisions here making us think our settings were all way off the mark (!)

      I recall Harrison Ellenshaw sending me a whole bunch of murky looking behind the scenes photos from the fx of BLACK HOLE that had all wonky colours too. He told me that at the time he used 'short ends' of 35mm motion picture film as 'colour film' for his personal still camera, with the dismal life expectancy we now know of production neg, leading to fast deterioration of hues and such.

      Love the 'Potato' story, and thanks for your blessing re my blogsite.