Sunday, 18 September 2022

TRICKERY ON A BUDGET: Special Visual Effects in Low Cost Films

 


Greetings friends.  It's been a while since we ventured together down those hallowed halls of cinematic wizardry, though I'm quietly confident the extended wait will prove to have been worth the wait.  My good lady wife of nearly 40 years strongly feels I waste my time with these blog posts and is utterly convinced that nobody actually reads them, especially given the size of the average post and no one today has the attention span required.  Is she right?

Today I have tackled something a little different.  In many recent blogs, such as the mammoth ILM two-parter, the emphasis has in general been on big, mega-budget showcases, where more often than not, money was no object, and top shelf facilities and practitioners of the effects art form were in plentiful supply.  This blog post we will be examining the more economic budget effects work for a change.  The work covered here today represents various aspects of what could be termed 'low cost' trick work.  The more than 320 examples range from outright quickie 'B' movies to ambitious semi-professional projects, through to made-for-tv films of the week (and never seen again!) productions, independent movies through to Hollywood studio releases purely intended as the bottom half of some double bill, that is to say, back in the glorious era when we had such things as double or triple bills. We had several movie houses here in Auckland that would routinely show 7 or more films back to back, with kung fu, horror, westerns and sexploitation being big drawcards.  Those were the days.   A staple of my formative years!

 I've put together a substantial retrospective from American, British and a small handful of foreign  film producing locales such as Finland, USSR, Czechoslovakia and even here, New Zealand(!)  Many of the technical staff's names associated with the sampled films will be familiar, though in many cases the films may not be.  While a certain number of the films and some of the shots may be familiar, I'm confident that a sizable number will be entirely new to most Matte Shot readers and fans of old school visual effects.  I always try to dig deep.   The examples illustrated cover the range of matte paintings, miniatures, stop motion, opticals and a few full scale physical effects.  Also, as a first, I've included a small handful of highly memorable old school special make-up effects, where ingenious prosthetic gags made a major impression on me way back in the day.  I could do an entire blog just on special make up fx, but will just stick to the few choice examples I've selected here for now.



I've always been fond of low budget flicks, be they cheesy exploitation shows or well meaning though by circumstance, economic sci-fi movies.  I'm often more impressed with what a film maker can pull together with very limited means over some trillion dollar exercise in self indulgence.  So many great 'little' 1930's horror films, 40's comedies, 50's sci-fi pictures, minor thrillers and westerns, not to mention the great decade of the 1970's where the sheer number of amazingly good, low key, modestly produced motion pictures (non-effects films) were made - the likes of which we'd never see again as no studio exec would green light 'em, though as usual, I digress....

What follows is, hopefully, a fascinating and informative journey into an aspect of traditional, hand made visual effects often overlooked.  It's not my intention to 'scoff at' nor denigrate any of the technical work shown here, as one must keep in mind the practitioners and artists could only ever achieve what the often absurdly tight budgets and ludicrously unworkable scheduling would allow. There is some great material here to be revealed, appreciated and enjoyed.



Enjoy the ride...

Pete



A delightfully ancient clipping I found in a very old motion picture industry journal, dated 1918, showing pioneering effects legend Ralph Hammeras (right) and associate Ray Mammes shooting a miniature for an unidentified film.  I live for historic documents just such as this!

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***This post, and all 176 previous blog post articles, known as 'Matte Shot', were originally created by Peter Cook for nzpetesmatteshot, with all content, layout and text originally published at http://nzpetesmatteshot.blogspot.com/

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An atmospheric matte shot from RKO's  programmer A GAME OF DEATH, directed by an up and coming prestige film maker, Robert Wise in 1946.  Matte artist could have been Albert Maxwell Simpson or Fitch Fulton.

Here's a rarity indeed... the opening panoramic effects shot as seen in BBC's (live) television version of George Orwell's NINETEEN EIGHTY FOUR (1954), starring Peter Cushing and Donald Pleasence.  Longtime BBC vfx director, Bernard Wilkie supplied this impressive shot.  Wilkie would go on to oversee all of BBC's fx work for decades, with things like DR WHO among many shows.  Orwell's novel remains one of my all time favourite books, and definitely worth revisiting every few years or so (now more so than ever, sadly) , ever since my high school English teacher had us read it in the mid 70's.  Masterpiece!     A subsequent British feature starring Michael Redgrave (and again, Pleasence)  film came out two years after this tv presentation, which too is well worth viewing if you can find it, and decades later Michael Radford made his definitive version with John Hurt and Richard Burton - his final and finest role ever - purposely released, unsurprisingly in 1984.

Les Bowie was a vital cog in the UK trick shot industry from the mid 1940's up until his early death in the late 1970's.  This is Les's wonderfully evocative full frame CinemaScope matte painting from the low budget Hammer flick THE ABOMINABLE SNOWMAN (1957).

Four uncredited mattes from the tough and violent gangster noir 99 RIVER STREET (1953) from United Artists.  Good, understated movie!

I couldn't resist throwing in these genuine antique photos from the very dawn of motion picture trickery. Love this 'old stuff'.

Jack Rabin and associates were forever associated with 'B' movies and second rate pictures, and a number of their shows are documented in todays blog.  Rabin began as far back as 1927 with Selznick and later worked in the Fox and Warner Bros effects departments where he dabbled in matte painting, models and finally specialised in opticals.  Rabin formed his own optical house in the mid 1940's. ATOMIC SUBMARINE (1959) was fairly entertaining in it's own way, especially if you, like me, like sub movies.  The sub model, by the way, measured 3 feet in length.

Irving Block's matte from ATOMIC SUBMARINE.  Block started off as one of Fred Sersen's matte artists at 20th Century Fox in the 40's and later served under his friend Warren Newcombe in the MGM matte department and painted on epics such as JULIUS CAESAR and others.

Roger Corman always bragged that he never lost a dime on any of the hundred-odd movies he made.  That's due to the fact that Roger never spent much more than a dime on his productions!  AVALANCHE (1978) was something of a laugh-fest, made at the tail end of the 'Disaster Cycle'.  Highly variable vfx abound, supervised by William Cruse, who a year or two later would oversee the $20 million dud METEOR and recycle several of the AVALANCHE fx sequences, which while passable here, looked awful in the latter flick once reformatted, cropped and stretched out to 2.35:1 Scope proportions with grain the size of golf balls!

This AVALANCHE sequence was one that popped up again in the dire METEOR, and also in a couple of made for tv films as I recall.  Completely gratuitous nudity (thankfully) breaks the histrionics and saves AVALANCHE from being a total wash out though!

THE GREAT ADVENTURES OF CAPTAIN KIDD (1953) was one of those Columbia serials of old.  I remember a couple of old serials shown with Saturday matinees, something long lost today.  No idea about matte artist, but at least 2 of these shots were lifted from other films, with the lower left bay originally being a spectacular Technicolor matte shot lifted from somewhere else.  It re-appeared a decade later cropped to fit the Scope screen in a Fox pirate movie, and in colour!  You'll find it later in this blog post!  Man, do I do the hard yards all in the service of old time visuals!!  Ya' can't complain!

SSSpectacle in spades with this matte from THE ADVENTURES OF HAJJI-BABA (1954), distributed by Fox but likely not the real TCF deal, as it was a Walter Wanger production.  Careful how you say that last name!

The brothers Skotak - Robert and Dennis - have for many years been a main stay in the field of Oscar winning visual effects on many a big budget studio epic, more often than not, sticking to their tried and true basic no-nonsense, yet pragmatic methods.  Years ago the boys made this moderately interesting little post-apocalyptic thriller THE AFTERMATH (1979).  Top pic shows the brothers setting up an in-camera glass shot of wrecked Los Angeles, to excellent final effect.  See below...

The ruins of the once bustling city were achieved by much painted alteration and extensive retouching over a high quality photo blow up of Los Angeles, with some carefully placed foliage placed in the foreground to hide the blend.

A close up of the Skotak matte painted additions.

Many of THE AFTERMATH views of destruction comprised superb use of foreground miniatures, shot in natural light - always a 'plus'.

While THE AFTERMATH was a bit of a jumble, and occasionally lacking, the Skotak visual effects made up for the (numerous) directorial and acting short comings.


The minor but okay made-for-tv western AVENGING ANGEL (1995) did have a couple of nice Illusion Arts matte shots such as this one.  One of my Matte Shot long time readers owns this one.

The dreadful Cannon Films, Israeli produced and shot post-nuke quarry pit epic, AMERICA 3000 (1986).  There were a whole sub-genre of terrible movies of this ilk around that time, mostly out of Italy, and all of 'em insufferable.  Blame MAD MAX 2-THE ROAD WARRIOR for starting this trend.


Now, this one was fascinating. THE ANGRY RED PLANET (1959) wasn't half bad, even if the patented CineMagic process made one crave for 'full colour' after a while.

Sam Raimi's ARMY OF DARKNESS (1993) was chock-filled with effects work and nods to icons like Harryhausen.  The shots above were highly effective Introvision miniature-front projection composites (see below...)

Before and after Introvision work.

Another ARMY OF DARKNESS miniature before and after.

Low rent, though inexplicably popular hi-jinks with the cut-price, bargain basement Bowery Boys, this time round in BOWERY TO BAGDAD (1955).  The matte is one of those 'evergreen' paintings that seems to show up endlessly in various 'B' pictures.  

The same matte as originally rendered in colour for another mystery film.  Quite likely a Universal or Columbia show some years previous?  This same matte shows up in another sci-fi flick later in this blog, this time stretched all to hell to fit the CinemaScope frame!


Yeah, I kind of dig giant bugs (or whatever) on the rampage, with the fifties knocking out some gems, usually on a micro-budget such as Bert I. Gordon's BEGINNING OF THE END (1957).  Bert specialised in 'larger than life' sci-fi with many independently made films under his belt, and often not bad all monetary things considered.  Bert's initials, B.I.G said it all!  Give me this over some CGI bullshit any day of the week!

BUGLES IN THE AFTERNOON (1952) was a Warner Bros flick with Ray Milland.  I'd hazard a guess that perhaps Jack Cosgrove did the matte art as that sky is very telling.
A tightly made, yet very effective fifties monster show, done for little money  was the excellent THE BLACK SCORPION (1957).  Veteran all round effects man Ralph Hammeras painted the glass shots (some of which catch the reflection of the stop motion puppet) while Willis O'Brien and Pete Peterson looked after the very impressive and varied stop motion sequences.
More great stuff from THE BLACK SCORPION, where highly creative camera angles and lighting - not to mention camera moves - lend so much to what could have been otherwise 'drab' animated sequences.  Well worth a look and very under rated!


BLOOD OF THE VAMPIRE (1958) was a low budget British horror film with a number of uncredited matte shots.

A rather effective painted matte from BLOOD OF THE VAMPIRE.

One of Irving Block's mattes from THE BLACK SLEEP (1956).

Also from THE BLACK SLEEP with Jack Rabin and Louis DeWitt collaborating.

A bona-fide cult classic from right here in New Zealand was Peter Jackson's first film, BAD TASTE (1987).  Shot on 16mm on weekends over four years with Peter's mates and pocket money from his 'day job', Peter hit pay dirt with this one-of-a-kind splatter epic.  Jackson not only co-starred, but wrote, directed, photographed, edited and manufactured the incredibly good special effects and prosthetics - with the aid of his Mum's kitchen oven for baking foam latex, and his Dad's tool shed for building miniatures!

Hey, I did tell you I'd include a few choice low budget make up effects didn't I?  Zombie getting head blown off with 44 Magnum (nasty), and subsequent brains-on-a-spoon dining scene (featuring Jackson himself in multiple roles) were show stoppers!  They didn't call the flick 'Good Taste' for a reason.  Who'd have imagined Pete would end up with a barn filled with Oscars a few years later??  Classic!

One of the early feature films that made Ray Harryhausen a household name was THE BEAST FROM 20'000 FATHOMS (1953), which like most of Ray's projects was really an assignment under adversity to get things looking as good as they did.  Great stop motion and composites.


Columbia's THE BLACK ARROW (1948) seemed filler for the proverbial double bill.  Uncredited effects would have been supervised by Larry Butler and photographed by long time studio fx man Donald Glouner.  Juan Larrinaga may have painted as he was a long time artist in Butler's effects department.

The diabolically awful Italian sci-fi sex film, THE BEAST IN SPACE (1980) with Euro-leaze kitten Sirpa Lane, was as bad as bad can get.  Supposedly directed by one 'Al Bradley'.... I strongly smell a pseudonym - a very common practice in Italian cinema of the 80's, and used with good reason here!.

An effects vision from BEYOND THE TIME BARRIER (1960) from director Edgar Ulmer.

Swashbuckling on the Afghan frontier in Hammer's THE BRIGAND OF KANDAHAR (1965).

BRIGAND OF KANDAHAR matte art by Les Bowie, Ray Caple and Ian Scoones.

Another slice of Kiwi special effects ingenuity with Peter Jackson's BRAIN DEAD (1992), known in the US as DEAD ALIVE for reasons which escape me.  Above illustrates detailed miniatures of Wellington, circa 1955, created by  newly established little firm known as WETA Workshop.  The flick, naturally, is mostly known for the sheer amount of gore, bodily dismemberment and living dead mayhem - the likes of which had never been seen before, nor since!  Kudos to Richard Taylor and Bob McCarron for in-fucken-credible make up effects and prosthetic work.  The perfect 'date movie' says NZ Pete.

A well made and taut little Columbia second feature, THE BLACK ROOM (1935) with Boris Karloff expertly split screened into dual roles.  Matte art provides an excellent gothic gloom.  Solid mystery movie.

Bruno Mattei turned out a great deal of sleaze, with Italian horror and cannibal flesh-chomping his usual stomping ground.  CALIGULA AND MESSALINA (1981) saw Bruno jump on the Bob Guccione bandwagon with this, literally just one of scores of cheesy Italian CALIGULA ripoffs, none of which reached the dizzying heights of the Tinto Brass original.  Above is one of a couple of mattes in the film, though I'd bet my left testicle that it was lifted from another Spaghetti extravaganza, and likely the work of someone like Joseph Natanson, Emilio Ruiz or similar.

Low grade costumer from 1954, apparently in 'color', so why is my frame in black & white I wonder?  I feel so ripped off!

This CAPTAIN KIDD (1945) isn't to be confused with the one shown above.  There were a lot of similarly titled pirate films.

Lloyd Kaufman's two-bit outfit Troma put out a number of extreme splatter films in the 80's, with THE CLASS OF NUKE 'EM HIGH (1986) being one such example.  Theo Pingarelli was credited for matte shots.  Troma usually churned out third rate exploitation fodder, yet did however hit bullseye with the classic THE TOXIC AVENGER.

The H.P Lovecraft inspired tv movie CAST A DEADLY SPELL (1991) was entertaining enough, and captured a wonderful period flavour.  Tons of vfx from a number of contributors such as the Skotak brothers among others.  Artist Rick Rische painted the mattes and glass shots.

A revealing before and after of Les Bowie's Middle Eastern matte painted locale for the opening shot of the British film CIRCLE OF DECEPTION (1960).

The late Jena Holman was matte painter for this sequence for the tv movie of the week CRASH ISLAND made in the early 1980's.  David Stipes was effects cameraman.


Hammer didn't only turn out horror flicks as many might think.  They made comedies, pirate films, mysteries, adventure films, science fiction, dinosaur epics, war movies... you name it.  This shot is from the very low budget (yet solid and exciting) WWII drama THE CAMP ON BLOOD ISLAND (1958).  Les Bowie was the uncredited matte painter with Roy Field on fx camera duties..


Oh brother... they don't make 'em like this any more!  CAT WOMEN ON THE MOON (1954) ranks right up (down?) there with FIRE MAIDENS FROM OUTER SPACE and ROBOT MONSTER in sheer insanity.  Jack Rabin was fx boss, with associate Irving Block painting the mattes.  I think they shot some of this on left over sets from Gary Cooper's epic ADVENTURES OF MARCO POLO.

Columbia's THE CROOKED WEB (1955) featured a few less than optimal matte shots that didn't seem in step with the usual quality to come from Larry Butler's photographic effects department.

Two beautifully rendered matte painted shots from the wonderfully atmospheric RKO classic CURSE OF THE CAT PEOPLE (1944) co-directed by Robert Wise.  Vernon Walker was effects chief, with old time veteran artist Albert Maxwell Simpson painting the mattes.  I'm especially fond of the beautifully rendered snow covered park and bridge at left, much of it being painted to augment a tiny set.

Another from the second-tier disaster cycle, CITY ON FIRE (1979).  William Cruse was effects supervisor, and yes, that is Leslie Nielsen there, before he found his cinematic 'funny bone'.

Four excellent mattes from Warner's COLORADO TERRITORY (1949).  Chief matte artist was Paul Detlefsen, with fellow painters Mario Larrinaga, Vern Taylor, Lou Litchtenfield and Chesley Bonestell on staff.


These were actually pretty funny, and immensley popular here in New Zealand, with CARRY ON ABROAD (1972) being one of about 20 odd cheaply made entries in the long running series.  The producer was something of a miser and the cast were bitter in that they were always working for peanuts, with even seasoned and experienced character actors like Sid James being paid an insulting pittance.  The films, by and large, still are amusing and give rise to more than a few chuckles, though the 'woke' PC brigade of today would shudder in horror at the well seasoned and harmless array of saucy gags!  A Cliff Culley matte shot here of a half built (and, as things turn out, half-arsed) 'luxury' holiday resort. 


A little known British shocker starring Boris Karloff - CORRIDORS OF BLOOD (1958) utilised mattes to establish the 19th Century period.  Quite entertaining.

I grew up with all of those great Irwin Allen tv series of the 1960's, and they always inspired me and filled me with awe and wonder.  This is one of the mattes from CITY BENEATH THE SEA - a 1971 tv movie.  Irwin's longtime effects man, Bill Abbott was naturally chosen to oversea the various effects shots, as he had done on all of Irwin's series and subsequent features.  No idea who painted this.  Emil Kosa jr had passed away some years earlier, and it doesn't strike me as being the brush work of Matt Yuricich.  The matte is interesting as it includes dozens of tiny coloured bulbs all wired together at the back of the artwork, with many holes drilled out of the support to facilitate back lit blinking lights.  Anyone who grew up with any Irwin Allen show would know the dude just loved banks of flashing lights everywhere!!

CAPTAIN SINDBAD (1963) was directed by Byron Haskin - himself a veteran vfx man who's career dated back to the silent era.  Haskin, as director,  helmed many big effects pictures in his day such as WAR OF THE WORLDS, THE NAKED JUNGLE and TREASURE ISLAND.  The fx in this show were supervised by Tom Howard at the British studios of MGM.  Note the upper left before and after, as well as the far right extreme upward tilt, no doubt accomplished with a hanging miniature.

Actually a pretty good little gangster film, despite it having the Monogram label.  DILLINGER (1945) had a couple of quick mattes, one with The Biograph where the signage lights sparkle and blink, and the other with the Tucson banner.

The late Paul Bartel was quite a character, both as an actor and as director.  Paul admirably helmed DEATH RACE 2000 (1975) for cheapskate producer Roger Corman, with the result being a wonderfully dark social satire that was an absolute hoot.  The opening shot was this Matthew Yuricich matte.  The original painting shown at left.  I do wonder about this shot as an interview with Jack Rabin states that he did the matte?  Perhaps he just shot and comped the Yuricich painting.
Yuricich's matte as seen once cropped down for theatrical and DVD viewing.  Animated vehicle is seen passing through the 'skyway'.  Great little movie that Bartel almost disowned when Corman filmed extra gore inserts and spliced 'em in without notifying Paul.  Amusing support cast with the always good Mary Woronov and a chap named Sylvester Stallone no less!


The inevitable sequel was the abysmal DEATHSPORT (1977), strictly a cheap cash-in by Roger Corman and his New World enterprise on the original, vastly superior DEATH RACE 2000.  Dreadful in every respect, with the only selling point being co-star and former Playboy Playmate Claudia Jennings 'getting her kit off' as they say.  


The matte shots were painted by Jack Rabin, who as mentioned, had begun his long career back in the matte departments of Selznick, Fox and Warners.

DEATHSPORT - see it at your peril...


DESERT SONG (1943) from Warner Bros.

Even low budget tv movies can dazzle with fx work.  Ken Marschall painted this beautiful matte for DANGER ISLAND (aka THE PRESENCE) back in 1992.  Oddly, when I interviewed Ken a few years ago for a mammoth career blog he told me he had no recollection whatsoever of actually painting this piece, though interestingly, once he stumbled across the artwork in his storage boxes it's now one of his favourite matte paintings!

Okay, back to bizarre, off-the-wall motion pictures...  DEMENTIA (1955) - also known as DAUGHTER OF HORROR on re-issue - must have had audiences walking out and demanding their money back when first shown!  No dialogue whatsoever; stark expressionistic camerawork, with lots of close ups of eyes and laughing mouths!  This matte shot (which was a wide pan across to some action in a hotel window) and some wacked-out opticals by old timer Albert Maxwell Simpson.

Costumed action piece set in the 17th Century, THE DIAMOND QUEEN (1953) featured this nice matte, with veteran effects cinematographer Clarence Slifer credited for photographic effects.  Matte artists could have been Jack Cosgrove or Jack Shaw?
So-so fantasy adventure with variable animation.  DINOSAURUS (1960) was one of Project Unlimited's assignments, with founders Gene Warren, Wah Chang and Tim Baar on effects.


MGM didn't usually dabble with 'B' pictures, so THE DEVIL DOLL (1936) is a bit of an unusual entry.  A fun picture for sure, with interesting 'tiny' folks, though these weren't a patch on almost identical 'tiny folks' sequences engineered by John Fulton for Universals BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN just a year earlier.

The third film in the 'Dead' series by George Romero, DAY OF THE DEAD (1985) was in my opinion the weakest of the lot.  Not a patch on NIGHT nor DAWN, DAY does though have some premium Tom Savini bloodletting (eventually) to make it worth a once-over.  This shot is a Jim Danforth painted matte, with an actual Miami location extended and altered invisibly.  Interestingly, late in production the director decided he needed an additional shot of the same street but without the hordes of zombies. Jim used the same matte painting twice by painting in an apparently empty street with cars parked etc, over the top of the portion where the zombie extras were visible in the original composite.

THE DUNGEONMASTER (1985) I never saw, and from what I've researched was good judgement on my part.  Apparently it took seven (yes 7) directors to make this thing!  This shot appears to be a sort of Dynarama type set up, with a rear projected live action plate split screened with a foreground model, a-la Harryhausen style.

Highly esteemed visual effects visionary, Willis O'Brien was mostly known for stop motion creations such as Kong, but few know that O'Bie was a highly accomplished artist and in fact worked as matte painter for hire on a number of movies.  THE DANCING PIRATE (1936) was one such job, with these very early Technicolor matte shots.
I remember finding this all so cool when I saw it on first release, DAMNATION ALLEY (1977) certainly doesn't hold up well today.  William Cruse and Margo Anderson supervised a huge number of optical effects composites, from weird laser photography for the matted in skies, giant scorpion blue screen comps and some Matthew Yuricich paintings.

Pinewood's resident matte man Cliff Culley did mattes for hundreds of films, such as this entry in the long CARRY ON series, DON'T LOSE YOUR HEAD which was set during the French Revolution.

The effects loaded (some might say overloaded?) sci-fi picture THE DAY TIME ENDED (1980) started off really well and had some good ideas, but ended up getting swallowed by simply too much visual grandstanding for it's own good.  This was one of several mattes painted by industry veteran Jim Danforth.

The spectacular City of Light matte painted shot by Jim Danforth from the same film.

Another great shot from THE DAY TIME ENDED, which was also known as VORTEX during filming.  This sprawling matte painted shot was rendered by artist Dave Carson and nicely brought together as a rear projection composite.  Years later Dave would join ILM I believe and did some painting on films such as HOOK.

Same film, with a dazzling optical sequence where homestead vanishes under a swirl of inter-galactic something or other (quite what the hell was going on, I dunno?)  Peter Kuran worked on these shots and has always been at the top of the game when it came to cel animated fx work.

Sam Raimi's EVIL DEAD II (1987) had a number of effective visuals.  Bob Kayganich was matte painter with Jim Aupperle as effects cinematographer.

I covered the making of EQUINOX (1969) in an earlier blog, with some great behind the scenes pics.  Several mattes by Jim Danforth as well as some strikingly well executed perspective tricks by Dennis Muren and stop motion by David Allen.

In the pantheon of crazy mattes, this uncredited British matte from Marty Feldmans' satire EVERY HOME SHOULD HAVE ONE (1970) must rank right up there?

Throughout much of his distinguished career, Ray Harryhausen was restricted by tight budgets and near unworkable schedules, yet still expected to perform miracles, but miracles were produced.  EARTH VS THE FLYING SAUCERS (1956) was a miracle in what Ray managed to bring to the screen with Dynarama  and much animated destruction.  I believe Larry Butler, who was in charge of the effects unit at Columbia, provided the various optical effects such as force fields and ray guns etc.

Show stopping mayhem with Harryhausen destroying Washington Monument frame by frame with wire rigged animated debris and such, all comped with the Dynarama RP process.


Even a multi-million dollar big studio action thriller like Tony Scott's terrific ENEMY OF THE STATE (1998) can benefit from simple low tech yet imaginative tricks.  UK effects man Leigh Took of Mattes & Miniatures created satellite views of the Washington DC area simply by carefully sprinkling talcum powder onto glass.

Another example of Leigh's talcum powder clouds prepped for ENEMY OF THE STATE.  Leigh learned this trick from his mentor Cliff Culley who had been in the J.Arthur Rank matte department from the mid 1940's.

As mentioned earlier, Bert I. Gordon specialised in movies about 'big things', and in this case FOOD OF THE GODS (1976) based on an H.G Wells story, with giant rats terrorising the cast.  Bert designed, and to a large extent, executed many of his visual effects himself.  This shot is terrific!

More vermin pest control problems in FOOD OF THE GODS - a film I thought somewhat better than critics hammered the movie as being.  Jim Danforth told me about working on some travelling matte shots for the film.

An excellent composite shot from FOOD OF THE GODS - a film I first saw back in the day on a double bill with another of Bert's 'big films', EMPIRE OF THE ANTS - a very silly film that a can of Raid pesticide spray could have sorted.

THE FLYING SERPENT (1946) was barely an hour in length but seemed to go on forever.  No idea on who did these mattes.

I saw FRANKENSTEIN 1970 (1958) when I was a kid and it gave me nightmares for a week.  This sole matte shot was obviously filched from some other film, with the extreme anamorphic stretch giving the game away.

The most unusual Brit black comedy set sometime in the future, THE FINAL PROGRAM (1973) - which was also known as THE LAST DAYS OF MAN ON EARTH for American audiences.  Gerald Larn was matte painter on this film, which he told me was the very last assignment for the once proud and busy Shepperton special effects department, with the studio shutting down all departments thereafter, laying off all staff and going 'four wall'.

Another of Gerald's mattes from THE FINAL PROGRAM.
There aren't too many things as pleasing as discovering some obscure little film I'd never heard of that proved most enjoyable and as an added bonus featured some dynamite special effects scenes.  This film is FRISCO JENNY (1933) - what you might term a 'B' picture - yet a good one - from Warners that worked into it's neatly driven dramatic narrative a whopper of an earthquake - that being the great San Francisco quake of 1906.  Excellent effects work from the studio's well regarded 'Stage 5', with top notch miniatures, full size destruction and very impressive combination shots where those are combined with high quality process projection.  For such a 'small' film I was very impressed.  Effects supervised by Fred Jackman.
Another sensational thirties miniature shot from the film FRISCO JENNY.  All of the fx appear to have been shot in daylight, which is always a positive for a convincing result.


Universal made a mint from all those cheaply produced talking mule comedies, such as this one, FRANCIS GOES TO WESTPOINT (1952).  Matte art by Russell Lawson.


The fifties saw a truckload of space travel movies churned out, most of highly variable quality.  FLIGHT TO MARS (1951) from the poverty row Monogram Pictures was mildly entertaining.  The cockpit NASA type technology here is hilarious.  Irving Block and Jack Cosgrove painted the mattes for Jack Rabin's fx house.

 I still recall this being on tv in the sixties, which even as hokey as it was, FLASH GORDON (1936) still enthralled a kid like me.  


Rude, crude, lewd... but a total hoot!  FLESH GORDON (1974) was a cavalcade of trick shots of all types, and all carried out with an affection for old time matinee serials of yester-year.  I did a major, detailed retrospective on this film in an older blog, and that may be read here.

Jim Danforth at work on one of the Throne Room mattes for FLESH GORDON, with a temp RP composite shown at right.
The same shot as scanned full frame from Jim's original 35mm trim.



More from FLESH GORDON with matte art, foreground miniatures and stop motion.  A number of major names in the effects community were involved with FG.

Before and after matte by Jim Danforth.


Probably my favourite shot in FLESH GORDON is this Danforth matte.  I've only now just noticed that the left side of the shot clearly shows the edge of the actual painting on glass in it's mount.


The misguided, sanitised sequel FLESH GORDON MEETS THE COSMIC CHEERLEADERS (1990) made way too far into the poisonous era of 'political correctness' to be of any consequence.  Quite a lot of mattes and other effects though.  Matte artist was Bob Kayganich.

Another of many films about body snatchers Burke & Hare, FLESH AND THE FIENDS (1959) was pretty good actually.  No fx credit but possibly Les Bowie, who did a lot of mattes for independent producers when not gainfully employed by Hammer.

Albert Maxwell Simpson's matte shots FROM THE EARTH TO THE MOON (1958), directed by former Warners' vfx chief, Byron Haskin.

A Les Bowie matte shot as seen in GRIP OF THE STRANGLER (1958) that was in fact originally painted by Bowie for David Lean's GREAT EXPECTATIONS  more than a decade earlier but not included in Lean's final edit.

Cost-effective and not by any means even a medium budget fantasy show, THE GATE (1987) certainly looked good.  Randall William Cook supervised the extensive trick work which was entirely 'old school', with much use of live in-camera forced perspective DARBY O'GILL inspired gag set ups (top left and right); dimensional animation; matte painting and rotoscope animation.

THE GATE:  Mark Whitlock supplied this spectacular sunrise vista as one of two overlapping full paintings which were optically 'wiped' from one to the other.  Mark's father, Albert stopped by and helped out with the sky according to effects cameraman Jim Aupperle.

While the first film was a fun trip, the follow up GATE 2-TRESPASSERS (1992) was utterly forgettable.  Rocco Gioffre rendered a couple of matte shots to help it along.

Also from GATE 2.

Expansive matte art from the Japanese GAMERA-THE GIANT MONSTER (1965)

GAMERA again, with all hell breaking loose in Tokyo.

Roger Corman's New World organisation knocked out a somewhat mystifying though highly competent perils-in-space thriller with GALAXY OF TERROR (1981).  High quality visuals courtesy of Robert and Dennis Skotak, with input from a certain James Cameron as art director.  Some great beam-splitter composite shots keep the quality high.

Martin Landau starred in an oddball thing called THE GHOST OF SIERRA DE COBRE (1965). Van der Veer Photo Effects had credit for vfx, though the shots with the strange canter levered house atop the hill looks so good I don't know if it's a matte shot or an actual address!  The actor is careful not to cross in front of the area of the frame with the structure.  Any readers know if this is an actual property?  If not, it's an outstanding matte shot (??)
The lovely Maria Montez made dozens of 'B' pictures for Universal before her untimely death.  Mostly Ali-Baba genre flicks and the like.  This one, GYPSY WILDCAT (1944) was certainly forgettable, with none of the rich flavour that the usual Arabian Nights costume melodramas had.  Just the one effects shot, this Russ Lawson matte with quite odd perspective.



Britain's Ealing Studios produced so many memorable and much beloved 'little' films over the years.  This show is THE GHOST OF ST. MICHAELS (1941), with this shot almost certainly the work of matte artist Geoffrey Dickinson.


Tom Howard was in charge of the visual effects for GORGO (1961), and much of the work looked pretty good.  Ton of action, lots of model work and some fine opticals.


Poor old Jack Palance must have been really slumming it to be enticed to lend his name to the dire sword & sandal cheapie HAWK-THE SLAYER (1980).  Cliff Culley supervised the effects work, with assistant Leigh Took tackling the lions share of the matte painting chores such as this example.

Leigh Took at work, and the final shot.

Another British show, this being the cult television series THE HITCH HIKERS GUIDE TO THE GALAXY.  I believe veteran matte and scenic artist Peter Melrose rendered these shots.

British film HOTEL RESERVE (1944) starring the always wonderful James Mason.

The extremely popular American tv series MAN FROM UNCLE would spark the notion in some exec's head that to splice together a couple of episodes, bang a new title on it and release it to theatres would fool the unsuspecting punter.  Apparently it did, so they repeated the experiment several times.  This shot is from one such 'feature', THE HELICOPTER SPIES (1968).  It's most likely a matte by old time industry veteran Jan Domela who according to his daughter, painted mattes for the tv series.

A Rocco Gioffre matte shot from the teens in peril horror film HOUSE (1986).

The New Wave futuristic attempt at cinematic cult status, HARDWARE (1990) would see a young Steve Begg render the mattes.   Steve told me he was strongly influenced by BLADERUNNER with his night shot of the city.  Some time later Steve would go on to supervise all of the vfx on the Daniel Craig 007 films.

A rare matte in pristine condition from the tv series HAVE GUN, WILL TRAVEL which ran from the late 1950's through to the early 1960's.  Jack Rabin and Louis DeWitt were credited with photographic effects.

The above painting as seen composited (left) and a revised version shown at right from another episode.

Excellent miniature work from the Spanish-UK co-production HORROR EXPRESS (1972).  The film was a sort of Murder on the Orient Express with monster and splatter, and a first class ride it was too.

The Italians churned out a million sword & sandal muscleman yarns and each one was the same as the last.  HERCULES UNCHAINED (1959) was typical of the genre.

HERCULES UNCHAINED glass shots of temples atop hills etc.  Director Mario Bava was an accomplished visual effects artist and supplied trick shots to a number of his - and his son Lamberto's - films as well as some shots for Dario Argento.  Mario is shown at right with glass shots from another of his productions.

Uncredited matte shots from THE HOUSE ON SKULL MOUNTAIN (1974), which I saw years ago.  Was it a blaxploitation pic...?  Voodoo or something? ... I can't recall?

I grew up watching shows like The Monkees on television (along with gems like Get Smart, Hogan's Heroes, I Dream of Jeanie, and even, dare I say it, The Banana Splits!).  HEAD (1968) was the American Fab 4's feature film, and it's a blast!  Insanity prevails with Marx styled gags, bizarre cameos, breaking the forth wall,  freaky dream sequences, counter-culture satire and some great songs, with the creme of the crop being the remarkably choreographed and edited show stopping 'Daddy's Song' routine with Davy Jones and Toni Basil that utterly demands repeat playback ... just brilliant!  Anyway, a heavy load of optical effects shots supplied by Butler-Glouner flesh out the wacky unscripted craziness.  Groovy, baby!

I liked the Edgar Allen Poe films that Roger Corman made in the sixties, and was always surprised that self confessed cheapskate Roger managed to present such rich production values up on the screen that never at all looked as cheap as they most likely were.  THE HAUNTED PALACE (1963) is an example of one such film, and had some marvellous matte shots such as these, which I'm strongly of the opinion were the uncredited brushmanship of Al Whitlock, with all the hallmarks of his technique.  Larry Butler and Donald Glouner had the effects contract and they would often subcontract Whitlock to paint the mattes.  Apparently Albert had a good relationship with Butler.

Eagle-Lion was a small independent outfit who made a number of interesting films through the 1940's and beyond.  HE WALKED BY NIGHT (1948) was a fairly engrossing cop movie, with matte shots by Jack Rabin, who was credited with 'Special Art Effects' on many Eagle-Lion pictures.

Ray O. Binger was an effects cinematographer going way, way back, and supplied the effects on HEAVEN ONLY KNOWS (1948) for United Artists.


THE GIANT BEHEMOTH (1959) was a sad, sad experience, in more ways than one.  Directed by Eugene Lourie - who really should have known better - this monster flick was a turgid affair and absolutely reeked of cheapness.  Again, Rabin, Block and DeWitt had the effects contract, with someone having the bright 'marketing idea' to enlist the great Willis O'Brien on board to lend an air of prestige to the dire proceedings.  The stories behind this film are far more engrossing than anything on screen.  Poor O'Bie - a legend in the field - actually did barely any animation on this thing, with O'Bie's longtime offsider, Pete Peterson doing most of the work at home in his garage.  Rabin was a bit of an opportunist, and devised a myriad of ways in which to extend the limited amount of stop motion footage by giving his optical printer a full workout by 'flopping' footage, 'zooming in', re-printing and repeating shots over and over to make it all look like far more animation had been carried out than was ever filmed.  This film wasn't the only experience O'Bie had with shyster film makers, capitalising upon his good name and reputation.

An often quite intense little sci-fi programmer, IT, THE TERROR FROM BEYOND SPACE (1958) must have been in the mind of Dan O'Bannon when he wrote the first treatment for what would become Ridley Scott's brilliant ALIEN (1979)

Uncredited miniature and scenic art from the above film.  Film is a lot better than it might sound!

Highly esteemed production designer William Cameron Menzies directed this seminal fifties 'B' picture, INVADERS FROM MARS (1953).  Irving Block painted the mattes, while Jack Rabin did optical work and Theo Lydecker did miniatures.

An obscure 1940 vehicle for the often under-rated Peter Lorre.

A striking vision of the not too distant future, courtesy of matte artist David Stipes, as seen in the minor sci-fi adventure ICE PIRATES (1984).  See below for fx breakdown...


David was an all round effects man, with expertise in many facets of the art form.  Here is a step by step demo of the wonderful futuristic city that David created for ICE PIRATES.  Here we see the original live action plate masked off; the painting;  the construction of the miniature monorail and its track.  The monorail was shot frame by frame and isolated as an element to be matted into the lower part of David's painting. The shot was combined as a rear projection composite.  David told me that he much admired Albert Whitlock's work, especially his famous El-Train shot for THE STING, which proved to be the motivation to make this shot.


Fabulous sky artwork from I WALKED WITH A ZOMBIE (1943) - a low budget RKO chiller but a definite classic of the genre.  Matte artist possibly Al Simpson or Fitch Fulton.

Not really an octopus as many think as it only had six tentacles to make for less animation chores, Ray Harryhausen's IT CAME FROM BENEATH THE SEA (1955) did much  with so little money.  Interesting shot with a sprawling matte painted San Francisco, most likely pinched from an entirely different film, which occurred a lot in Ray's films around that time, with creature and model clock tower added later.

I didn't know whether to include this in this particular article as the film is a top notch and important British true story; I WAS MONTY'S DOUBLE (1958) was a superbly made though low key war drama.  Shepperton Studios' Bob Cuff painted this, and other subtle mattes for this excellent film.

Don't be put off by the ludicrous title!  I MARRIED A MONSTER FROM OUTER SPACE (1958) is in fact a terrific little flick, very much along the lines of the masterful INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS in nerve wracking unease.  The star, Tom Tryon reportedly told Paramount "No way am I  appearing in this fucking thing!" when handed the script, with the film's title putting off more than a few participants.  Tryon had to do the film as being under contract means they tell you what you'll do!  He ended up getting right into it as the very quick shoot progressed and he and co-star Gloria Talbot (who was excellent BTW) much admired the finished product.  By the way, that matte shot above was stolen from an older Universal comedy, PARDON MY SARONG, with Abbott & Costello.  John P. Fulton supervised fx on both films so obviously recalled the shot as a budget saver for Paramount.

Quite a number of subtle and genuinely jarring vfx were used by Fulton - some of which must have totally freaked out 50's film-goers.  This one's a corker...  our square jawed hero isn't who his new bride thought he was (ain't that the truth, guys?) - and in this brilliantly executed sequence a thunder storm reveals just what the dude is made of with almost subliminal glimpses of his actual self during lightning flashes.  Bravo!

Same film; one of Paul Lerpae's excellent optical transitions where an ominous alien smoke absorbs the poor human inhabitants.  John Fulton was a dab hand at 'choreographing' amazing smoke/mist optical transitions in many films when at Universal, with his jaw dropping SON OF DRACULA jail cell trick shot among the NZ Pete Hall of Fame in VFX Excellence.

Now here is an interesting matte from a fairly obscure comedy starring Ryan O'Neal, IRRECONCILABLE DIFFERENCES (1984).  Part of the film involves the making of a Civil War epic, with some fx work needed to create the battlefields.  Ken Marschall painted this and a few other very hard to detect mattes, with associate Bruce Block on camera and original negative compositing.

Ultra cheap Cold War quickie, INVASION USA (1953) made to cash in on the Red Scare of the time.

Revealing behind the scenes pic, and equally revealing in quite a different way, publicity photos of models with models(!)  Bizarre!

William Castle was long renowned for his (sometimes quite good) low cost chillers, usually sold with absurd theatre in-house gimmicks to scare the audience.  This film, I SAW WHAT YOU DID (1965) was a major studio release for a change (Universal), though I'm sure a quickly made and economic affair, with Albert Whitlock rendering mattes, including a vast sweeping panoramic shot.


I can't believe both John Ford and Howard Hawks passed over this 'epic' western!  What could have been!  JESSE JAMES MEETS FRANKENSTEIN'S DAUGHTER (1966), with the legendary William 'One-Shot' Beaudine behind the camera, so nicknamed as his reputation for rarely doing more than a single take on any given shot, and squeezing every frame of 35mm raw stock as 'usable' footage.

Matte art possibly done by Jack Cosgrove from the excellent Nicholas Ray western classic, JOHNNY GUITAR (1954).  Highly recommended for fans of non-formula cowpoke flicks.

Some rarely seen frames from a little known Czech fantasy-adventure JOURNEY TO THE BEGINNING OF TIME (1955) by Karel Zeman, who amazingly not only wrote and directed this (and other genre titles), but also was production designer and chief visual effects artiste.

The original 20th Century Fox version of Jules Verne's marvellous JOURNEY TO THE CENTRE OF THE EARTH, made in the late fifties, which starred James Mason, remains one of my favourite films.  Well, this utterly appalling 1988 remake is one of the worst films of the eighties!  So mind numbingly awful it beggars belief.  Several effects contributors involved, with this shot being a Robert Stromberg matte.

From the same film some more matte art, with Ken Marschall providing this first rate full painting.

Another marvellous Ken Marschall full painting from the same abysmal film.  I never understood what the point of writing this sequence and setting into the script was all about?  Waste of fine matte art.

KINGDOM OF THE SPIDERS (1977) was a fun 'creature' romp, very much of it's era.  William Shatner battles a never ending assault by creepy-crawlies with tongue firmly in cheek.  Although hard to distinguish here, the final scene has this massive pullback from a gas station covered with spider webs out to a big 'shock' reveal where the whole town is pretty well buggered.  Sometime art director Cy Djurgis painted this large matte.

I've long admired and appreciated the Hammer film factory.  Their films were generally of a high standard, both in acting and production values, which, given the small budgets and very limited resources really was admirable.  KISS OF THE VAMPIRE (1963) was good, solid gothic horror of its day, with Les Bowie in charge of the effects.  Ray Caple was matte artist, assisted by Ian Scoones.

I used to own a Super 8mm print of KONGA (1961), and even as a kid found it pretty laughable... even though it was shot in 'Specta-Mation' (!!)

There were some quite good special effects to be found in the Japanese monster mash KING KONG VS GODZILLA (1962), where, unsurprisingly, lots of things get 'squashed'.

This is one film I'd like to see remastered on BluRay.  KRONOS (1957) was highly imaginative and really well done on a low budget of just $160'000.  Jack Rabin, Irving Block and Louis DeWitt handled the extensive photographic effects work, with the aid of old time 20th Century Fox matte painter Menrad von Muldorfer who was one of Fred Serson's originals back in the thirties.

Property values reach all time low thanks to that merciless metallic bastard KRONOS.

One of the many, many serials that came out of the thirties, THE LOST CITY (1935) utilised the services of vfx pioneer Norman Dawn for the glass shots.  Most historians credit Norman with inventing and further developing the matte shot process around 1910.

Republic Pictures were never a cash-heavy outfit, and made the most of what they had, often extremely well.  THE LADY AND THE MONSTER (1944).  In-house special effects supervisors, Howard and Theodore Lydecker had long provided high level expertise to the small studio with their highly skilled miniature effects, with many of their shots becoming 'library stock shots' for other studios to utilise.

LADY AND THE MONSTER miniature.

Same film with miniature skillfully matted onto live action area.

The sequence shown here is most fascinating.  The film was one of director Ken Russell's more outlandish (if that's at all possible?) pictures, LISZTOMANIA (1975) - a film that had to be seen to be believed, believe me!  The climax involves Roger Daltry (as 18th century pop idol, Franz Liszt) piloting a sort of jet powered Cathedral organ(!), packed with groupies and fitted out with lasers, which swoops over WWII devastated Berlin, firing it's lasers at the Frankenstein monster (no, I'm not making this up) and blowing the lumbering, stitched together bastard to kingdom come!  According to fx man Ian Scoones, he got a call from Les Bowie asking for help to do this sequence as an insert, though, as usual, for next to no money.  Bowie and Scoones built a tower 16 feet high on the Bray backlot for fx cameraman Harry Oakes to film a swoop down over Berlin.  Scoones says:  "Les got these cardboard boxes and tore them so that there were irregular edges to each side, placed them like buildings side by side and sprayed them black.  He then got me to shovel all this ash from a bonfire up to the boxes, and that was all the rubble.  Then we put titanium tetrachloride - which is a toxic smoking chemical, all around the boxes, plus some black smoke from burning diesel rags inside the boxes.  Les then said "Right, let's zoom in on that Harry!"  So Harry Oakes zoomed in on it.  He said he'd got it and we finished by 11.30, so Les said, "Right...down the pub!"  That was it, and on screen it looked fantastic.  It looked just like Berlin in the blitz."    *Note:  I've enjoyed many of Ken Russell's films, with THE DEVILS, starring Oliver Reed (never better) and Vanessa Redgrave made 4 years earlier, being an outright masterpiece - a film that the executives at Warner Bros positively fucking hated, with a passion bordering on hysteria! A one of a kind experience, especially if you manage to catch a rare uncut print.


A barely noticeable foreground glass shot from the excellent British WWII psychological drama, THE LONG AND THE SHORT AND THE TALL (1961).  All takes place in Burma though filmed entirely on interior sound stages which proved most effective in ratcheting up the tension with a claustrophobic animosity and mistrust between the individual Brit soldiers under much pressure.  Brilliant film.

The completely bananas mystery/thriller LAST RITES (1988) did have, in it's favour, a couple of nice matte painted shots by Mark Whitlock - son of legendary painter, Albert.

A fave slice of insane 70's multiple genre crossover was the deliriously crazy LEGEND OF THE 7 GOLDEN VAMPIRES (1974) - a blood soaked tri-production between Britain's Hammer, Hong Kong's Run Run Shaw and American giant, Warner Bros.  I've always had a soft spot for this film... I mean, hell... it's got the always wonderful Peter Cushing; Chinese vampires; a sultry Swedish sex-kitten;  kung fu battles; throat slittings;  slow motion zombies and this Les Bowie matte shot of Dracula's new bachelor pad and distant mountain range in China(!)  This flick has it all!


The popular motion picture LOGAN'S RUN (oh man, did I have a crush on Jenny Agutter!) spurned a tv series spin off which, I guess, wasn't too bad back in the day as I recall.  Once again, Matthew Yuricich was tasked with providing some matte shots.  Heather Menzies (above right) subbed for the exquisite Jenny for the tv series and left quite an impression too.

LANCELOT AND GUINEVERE (1963), which was retitled SWORD OF LANCELOT for US theatres, was a lively period action adventure that looked good on a tight budget.  Les Bowie painted a number of mattes (all done as foreground glass shots) with trainee assistant Ian Scoones lending a hand.

Same film; Les Bowie's grand Medieval castle painted to blend with a facade built on location establishing the lower sets of windows and drawbridge.

Bowie and crew cleverly introduced highly effective and realistic broad pan moves across landscapes onto painted castles for several shots in the film.  Interestingly, that exact same tree appears in the other 'matte pan' shots too for different scenes, so obviously that tree was part of the trick where the glass painted castles were mounted/secured.

Another LANCELOT AND GUINEVERE shot painted and executed by Les Bowie.  The pic at left demonstrates the painted castle on glass on location whereby the matte art isn't yet aligned correctly to blend in with the Yugoslavia location.  At right is the final CinemaScope shot as made directly onto original negative.



MANHUNT IN SPACE (1954) was one of many cheap and spartan space adventures made in the fifties.  Mattes were by Jack R.Glass who worked on a ton of 'B' movies and much television shows from 1949 through to around 1959.  Jack was born in 1915 and died in 2001.

This one was a great example of much being achieved for relatively little;  MOONTRAP (1989) starred former Trekkie Walter Koenig and Bruce Campbell.  Some fine matte work in this little show, with Bob Kayganich painting mattes.

Bob Kayganich matte art.

Another matte from MOONTRAP

I've seen hundreds of Hong Kong movies over the years (though find now that Korean cinema is in a class of it's own as far as intense thrillers go).  THE MIGHTY PEKING MAN (1977) was pretty much a carbon copy of  a hundred Japanese monster flicks, but did have its moments here and there, though you've really seen it all before.

I must thank a regular reader (hey Steven...I'm talking to you!) for giving me the heads up on this remarkably good 'little' Columbia thriller.  MY NAME IS JULIA ROSS (1945) was a title I'd never heard of, yet turned out to be an excellent, very well made psychological drama with strongly effective Hitchcock-esq themes.  This wonderful matte sets up the forboding atmosphere so well.

THE MAN FROM PLANET X (1951) with effects by Jack Rabin and associates, though I did read somewhere that the film's director, Edgar Ulmer apparently painted that top right castle shot himself.

Les Bowie was credited here as 'The Bowie Organisation' for the fx with this matte in Morecombe and Wise' comedy THE MAGNIFICENT TWO (1967).  A very funny duo sadly missed whose comic timing was impeccable.


As I said in my intro, I've selected a few choice make up effects to delight and disgust.  Here is a jarring shock reveal for Fay Wray from Michael Curtiz' MYSTERY OF THE WAX MUSEUM (1933) in very early two-tone Technicolor no less.

Highly disturbing I'm sure for audiences of The Depression era, thanks to Warner's make up artists Perc Westmore and Ray Romero.

It seems every studio had to have a gal being abducted by an ape man, with Paramount being no different.  THE MONSTER AND THE GIRL (1941) has matte work by Jan Domela.


Arguably one of the 'remade' and 're-imagined' stories ever was THE MOST DANGEROUS GAME (1932) which still to this day crops up in various incarnations,  Byron Crabbe made the glass shots, and no, your eyes aren't deceiving you; that lower right 'log across the chasm' glass painted vista was also used in KING KONG, as both films were shot back to back on the same stages at RKO with much of the same crew and cast!

Another multi-element effects shot from THE MOST DANGEROUS GAME where matte art, stop motion birds in flight etc have been combined with live action with the Dunning travelling matte process.


Like Universal, Columbia Pictures churned out scores of these Aladdin type second features.  At least one of these mattes (middle bottom) has shown up in a bunch of other films.

MONSTER FROM THE GREEN HELL (1958) matte shot by Irving Block.

More of that giant wasp from MONSTER FROM GREEN HELL, with effects by Gene Warren, Jack Rabin, Jess Davison, Irving Block and Paul Blaisdell.


The Spanish made Jules Verne fantasy trip, THE MYSTERY OF MONSTER ISLAND (1981) was strictly for kiddies.  Emilio Ruiz del Rio supervised the effects, with foreground paintings, glass shots and perspective miniatures. 

I never really cared for the man-in-a-rubber-suit 'stomping monster' movies from Japan, but some of the science fiction films of old were pretty good   THE MYSTERIANS (1959) had lots of inventive visuals by the great Eiji Tsuburaya and his most able team.

A young Mark Sullivan painted and composited this invisible matte shot early in his career for a tv movie titled MURDER ME, MURDER YOU (1982)

In the spy mad sixties, Columbia knocked out a quartet of Dean Martin-Matt Helm spy spoofs, all containing mattes and trick shots of various types, and made quickly on limited budgets.  This is MURDERER'S ROW (1966) and this matte painting was done at Film Effects of Hollywood.

These oldies are quite a buzz.  THE MYSTERIOUS DR FU MANCHU (1929) was a very early talkie with matte art by Jan Domela and effects photography by Irmin Roberts.  I don't think Gordon Jennings was at Paramount yet.  Maybe Roy Pomeroy ran the fx dept??

I think MANIAC (1962) was a Hammer film.  Matte shots by Les Bowie and Ray Caple.

The 16mm dino epic  A NYMPHOID BARBARIAN IN DINOSAUR HELL (1990) had mutants, stop motion creatures and glass shots - all supplied by the director and creator Brett Piper.  Sadly, the title promises far more than it delivers, and was disappointingly sanitised.  Note the glass shot where the frame support is visible.

Ninja's were all the rage through the 80's, with this beautifully painted and composited matte by Jim Danforth from NINJA III-THE DOMINATION (1984)


Here is another of those little 'B' films I'd never heard of, but stumbled across by accident - NIGHT KEY (1937) with Boris Karloff in a non-horror role.  A neatly wrapped crime story with a smooth sci-fi undertone.  Thoroughly enjoyed it!  John P. Fulton did the effects, with cool cel animation and a Russ Lawson matte of New York city.

I bet no reader of this blog has ever heard of Cirio H. Santiago?  He directed around 100 low budget Filipino exploitation and action flicks such as this one, NAKED VENGEANCE (1985).  Sleaze, tits and retribution come thick and fast in Cirio's extensive high-brow back catalogue:  T.N.T JACKSON ("...she'll put you in traction"); EBONY, IVORY AND JADE (..."they'll match every man ever made, with fist, foot & blade"); NAKED FIST (..."she makes a seduction with destruction"); THE MUTHERS and who could forget VAMPIRE HOOKERS?  Well, the frame above is a glass shot, primarily to try to disguise the fact that the film was shot in The Philippines but is supposed to be Washington State ... but who'd ever know the difference?

Back to Hammer Films again... two frames from NIGHTMARE (1964), with Ray Caple painting the top matte of the mental hospital, and the distant view below, aided with some foreground miniature dressing by Ian Scoones.


Hal Roach Studios normally made Laurel & Hardy comedies and small films, which made ONE MILLION BC (1940) quite an ambitious affair.  Lots of Oscar nominated visual effects that still look good 70 odd years later, so good in fact that many of the sequences were frequently lifted and spliced into dozens of other films and tv shows over the years.  Roy Seawright was the Hal Roach photographic effects chief.

ONE MILLION BC Jack Shaw matte shot.
For the big volcanic catastrophe in the remake ONE MILLION YEARS BC (1966), Ray Harryhausen enlisted occasional collaborator Les Bowie, who along with miniatures expert George Blackwell and assistant Ian Scoones created an impressive sequence, supposedly for just 1100 UK Pounds.  The lava was porridge with red dye and the earthquake consisted of simple tabletop models, with extras added by travelling matte after the fact,

PICKUP ALLEY aka INTERPOL (1958) with a most intriguing cast, including the always great Trevor Howard and the enormously talented Anita Ekberg(!)

Matte painted fortress by Ray Caple for PRISONERS OF THE LOST UNIVERSE (1983).  The ad-art promises much more than this B grade flick could ever hope to deliver.

Middling film of one of the greatest maritime mysteries, PHANTOM SHIP aka MARY CELESTE (1936).  A 'Guaranteed Picture' by all accounts..

Ray Milland both starred in and directed this post-nuke survival story PANIC IN YEAR ZERO (1962).  Very efficient, gripping and at times downright nasty.  Great mushroom cloud matte shot enveloping Los Angeles!

A number of vfx folks worked on PLANET OF THE DINOSAURS (1977), with Jim Aupperle shown top with stop motion puppet, and Jim Danforth below at work on a matte shot.

Another inventive bit of matte painting by Jim Danforth that brilliantly creates a cave where there never was one.  It's matte trickery like this 'fix' that always fascinates me more than the huge, spectacular type of matte.

A pair of mattes from THE PIRATES OF TORTUGA (1961).  The bottom shot is intriguing as it's from at least 2 other older films, one of which is the 1940's serial THE ADVENTURES OF CAPTAIN KIDD, which was in black and white, and not CinemaScope, so it was clearly a colour matte shot from some even earlier film.  The original 1.33:1 frame has been very successfully cropped in to fulfill the Scope 2.35:1 aspect for this 1961 film, whereas such an 'optical re-jig' would normally suffer badly.

I've already mentioned William Castle - the man directed so many different genres though he was forever associated with horror.  PROJECT X (1968) however falls into the indescribable category.  Something about cryogenics, spies and much totally freaked out psychedelic sensory overload that must have delighted the druggie fraternity no end back in the day!  Tons of visual effects by Paramount's veteran opticals expert Paul Lerpae, with additional 'special sequences' by Hanna-Barbera of all people! 

THE PEOPLE THAT TIME FORGOT (1977), with effects by John Richardson and Ian Wingrove.  No credit for matte shots, but maybe Cliff Culley or Leigh Took?

The very eerie and well acted chiller THE REINCARNATION OF PETER PROUD (1975) utilised Jim Danforth's skills to create a landmark lakeside lodge at two different time periods.

It's a toss up as to whether Columbia or Universal had the monopoly on pirate costumers, though these frames are from Uni's THE PIRATES OF MONTEREY (1947), with several nice Technicolor mattes by Russell Lawson.

Matte art and miniature work by Jack Glass from PROJECT MOONBASE (1953).

Oh brother...what were they thinking?  The Zsa Zsa Gabor interstellar laugh-fest QUEEN OF OUTER SPACE (1958) was a giggle indeed.  Surprisingly, the effects were done by the great Jack Cosgrove - one of the foremost matte artists, responsible for such mighty achievements as GONE WITH THE WIND and many other prestige pictures.

The opening shot from QUEEN OF OUTER SPACE was in fact from a totally different movie(s), with the squashed out fake Scope format a dead giveaway that it was from a 'flat' film originally.  The painting looks like either a Universal or Columbia matte and appeared in, among others, BOWERY TO BAGDAD in b&w.

I'm at a loss for words here... QUEEN KONG (1977) was a deliberately 'bad movie', played strictly for cheap laughs, with cheesy fx being done on purpose I'm sure.  Top right frame is odd, with what I'm certain is a huge picnic table right there in shot as Queen Kong busts down the wall! .


This one's an interesting 'lost' shot - from the popular tv series RANDALL & HOPKIRK made in the early 70's, which if I recall was about a ghost.  The matte painted portion is perplexing as it almost, but not quite, looks like part of the vast glass painting rendered in the 40's at Fox for the musical STATE FAIR, but possibly modified to add more at the right?

A neat behind the scenes glimpse at the miniature set up at the Hal Roach Studios for the film ROAD SHOW (1941)

I rather enjoyed ROCKETSHIP XM (1950), and liked the photographic effects of Jack Rabin and matte artist Irving Block.  Decades later some enterprising effects folks got together and shot a few additional effects scenes for the film for a video edition.

Ken Marschall painted this full matte for Dan O'Bannon's amusing RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD (1985).  Great theme music in this flick!

I don't know if this film ever got finished or shown, RAIDERS OF THE STONE RING was a late 60's or early 70's project for a number of then budding vfx men such as Dennis Muren and others.  Great example here of creative foreground perspective photography.

The very ambitious and at times quite an exciting ride, ROBOT JOX (1989), from the, at times dubious Charles Band production house.  Excellent and plentiful vfx throughout, with stop motion, opticals, miniatures and best of all terrific 'live' puppeteered robot mayhem executed in camera at actual desert settings.  David Allen was effects supervisor and lead a large crew.  I still have the VHS copy of this.


Fabulous behind the scenes look at the marionette systems and rigging.  That's David Allen at right doing stop motion in a more controlled setting.  Well worth a visit with the material looking a million bucks on screen.


Republic Pictures may have been a tiny studio, but they made a lot of quality product with very limited resources.  ROCK ISLAND TRAIL (1950) was one such film, with the usual quality Lydecker miniatures and some fine matte art.  Early era matte artist Lewis Physioc had a long association with Republic, so he may have had a hand in the matte art?

A forgotten matte before and after was a Matthew Yuricich shot from the made for television movie SANDBURG'S LINCOLN (1974).  Matthew explained in my 2012 extensive oral history how he had to fight the director on this shot as they wanted the actors to perform well beyond the limit of the masked off matte line, with Yuricich having to explain, with exasperation, that the people will disappear and then reappear like some silent movie joke gag!!!

Republic's SINGING GUNS (1950) with a most fanciful vision of the old west.

I've never seen this one, SLAVE GIRLS FROM BEYOND INFINITY (1987) appears to be one of William Shakespeare's lesser known works.  My friend Mark Wolf, who penned a marvellous book recently, Smoke and Mirrors, on traditional special effects, was vfx supervisor on this show.  I'm sure he has some tales to tell...

An original matte painting from the sci-fi flick STRANGE INVADERS (1983).  IMDB list a large vfx crew, including the Skotak brothers, with Jay Roth as 'visual effects artist'.

Close up detail.
Until Peter Jackson came along, New Zealand had never ever ventured into any sort of visual effects, with cinema here being very 'dry', minimalist and largely uneventful.  Geoff Murphy's THE QUIET EARTH (1985) was the first feature to require any vfx work, with this memorable climatic shot being the first ever matte shot.  Famed NZ gallery artist Brent Wong painted the large matte, with Murphy attempting our first original negative composite with the held take-rewind the film method.  With John Scott's magnificent orchestral score, the scene remains indelible, though arguably perplexing. 


I think SPACEWAYS (1953) was a Hammer production if my memory serves me.  Watchable enough, though not very good.  Matte shots by Les Bowie.

Allied Artists tended to specialise in low end product, with SABU AND THE MAGIC RING (1957) being simple matinee fodder to fill a double bill. Curiously, the poster states 'Color', while the YouTube print was in b&w.  They often made b&w 16mm prints from color originals for tv broadcast in the old days.  The matte here is another of those 'stolen' shots seen in dozens of similar films of this ilk, and is probably of Columbia origin.  Film is noteworthy for costarring William Marshall - a very good black actor with a most commanding presence who ultimately found cult status as BLACULA in a pair of very cool 70's flicks.

A number of mattes make SLAVE SHIP  (1937) not a bad film by any stretch.  The upper middle shot of a busy port appeared in several Fox films such as the excellent DOWN TO THE SEA IN SHIPS, some 12 years later.

The late Larry Cohen was sometimes a complete schlock-meister, to put it lightly, but sometimes knocked one out that was pretty enjoyable.  THE STUFF (1985) was a fun little movie, with some interesting effects such as this inventive and quite complex shot, as described here by Jim Danforth, from the first volume of his essential and meticulously detailed memoir Dinosaurs, Dragons & Drama.
Mark Sullivan also contributed some of his expertise the THE STUFF, with this splendid matte painting.  All painted except for small areas for the soldiers and a doubled in blob of fast encroaching deadly pudding!


The very funny western THE SKIN GAME (1971) with James Garner and Louis Gossett jnr was a real treat.  I've studied this establishing shot at length, both in motion and as successive frame grabs (a good way to spot matte line jiggle).  It's a good shot and looks like something Al Whitlock might have done, but I can't confirm who did it.  Whitlock did a lot of uncredited shots for Warner Bros in the 70's.

Fred Sersen painted this matte in conjunction with fx cameraman Charles G. Clarke, for the silent film SIN SISTER (1929).

A very unusual though quite watchable sci-fi, THE SPACE CHILDREN (1958) has a few good moments but overall fails to hit the mark.  Modest effects by the great John P. Fulton.

SPACE CHILDREN matte shot by Irmin Roberts.

THE SPACE CHILDREN matte, with probably miniature added in, by Paramount's Ivyl Burks rather than Jan Domela painted art.

Here are a set of astonishing matte shots rendered for the 20 minute short film SCENE STEALER (2004) by the highly creative effects duo of Richard Kilroy and Rick Rische - who worked side by side on several features.

Wally Veevers and his team of matte artists at Shepperton Studios in England were responsible for SATELLITE IN THE SKY (1956).  Artists in Wally's crew included George Samuels, Albert Julion, David Hume and Bob Cuff.

As mentioned in my intro, I love old school make up effects - you know, the type done with latex appliances and clever devices, live on set!  None of that CG shit here!!  Some of my idols in the arena were, naturally, the great Dick Smith (a God), John Chambers, Tom Savini and Rick Baker.  Well Rick devised these make up effects for the unassuming yet top notch little American International horror film SQUIRM (1976).  I well recall seeing this at the grand old Civic theatre here in Auckland on a double bill back in the day, possibly with SUSPIRIA, and this show-stopping set piece just blew my mind!  Movie is about meat devouring killer worms on a rampage in Georgia after high voltage power lines fall in a storm and pump a zillion volts into the damp earth.  The sequence still has my jaw on the floor today.  This poor bumpkin trips head over heels into a basket of these fucken' worms, whereby the little slithering bastards burrow and chew their way up into his face in graphic detail.

Astonishing in all respects as the sequence was filmed in bright sunlight, leaving little chance to conceal prosthetic blends and mechanisms to literally drive these worms up under his 'skin' in close up...

Bumpkin tries in vain to rip these things out of his face, while others keep burrowing in.  I recall reading somewhere that Rick devised a monofilament system within the (excellent) facial appliances to drag the silicone worms up through pre-prepared 'flat' channels.

I well recall a group 'gasp' in the cinema as this SQUIRM scene hit the silver screen.  The only thing I've seen similar around that time were some Joe Blasco prosthetic fx for a pair of David Cronenberg horror shows, SHIVERS and RABID.

I haven't seen too many Finnish-Soviet co-productions, but this one proved of interest, SAMPO - THE DAY THE EARTH FROZE (1959).  The English title, and ludicrous ad campaign was misleading (probably on purpose) as it's really a rather quaint Finnish folk tale, albeit quite an elaborate affair.  Lots of photographic effects work and some beautifully painted mattes, which looked great.

Some nicely done shots from Columbia's thriller SIGN OF THE RAM (1948).  Likely to be the work of Juan Larrinaga, brother of Mario.

An amazingly accomplished matte by Albert Whitlock from a completely obscure and forgotten tv film, STRANDED (1966) which I believe was also titled VALLEY OF MYSTERY.  The viewer would be hard pressed to even spot a trick here it's so well done, on original negative, as was Al's constant modus operandi.

In what is a clear and affectionate fan 'nod and a wink' to the great Ray Harryhausen, Italian effects man Armando Valcauda created this stop motion sequence for STAR CRASH (1979), also known as THE ADVENTURES OF STELLA STAR. 
The exquisite Caroline Munro was the chief sales pitch for STAR CRASH, unsurprisingly.  Directed by Italian exploitation auteur Luigi Cozzi, who like many other Italian directors through the 70's and 80's went by pseudonyms to try to fool foreign audiences into believing they were watching an American movie. Cozzi was one 'Lewis Coates' here.  Top right shows some quality model work under construction by effects man Armando Valcauda.


More cosmic shenanigans from STAR CRASH.

Here is another of those absolute gems - a film I was unaware of until UK vfx man Steve Begg most enthusiastically told me about it.  SPLIT SECOND (1953) is a dynamite little inexpensive thriller from RKO.  Seriously unbalanced crim on the lam takes hostages in desolate ghost town unaware that it's right in the zone of the American atomic tests!  Much tension ensues as the clock ticks by to A-bomb detonation.  Terrific film!  Harold Wellman was in charge of the special effects, with long time RKO fx cameraman Russell Cully involved.

The town is blown to hell in one god-almighty A-bomb blast, in what was a phenomenal bit of effects engineering for it's day, and extremely impressive still now!  In this incredible, but brief master shot, the entire street is literally 'swept up' - with cars flipping over and roofs coming off!  An amazing mechanical effects set piece that even had Steve Begg baffled - and he's got decades of effects experience with the latter day 007 films and a good deal of work with the maestro Derek Meddings.  It doesn't look like a (large) miniature, and seems to be full scale.  Just how they managed to rip everything apart all at once (maybe pre-stressed facades pulled rapidly by some pneumatic devices??).  The only similar type scene I've seen, full scale, was in an old Buster Keaton short where the wind blows the town to bits and Buster along the street like a feather!!  Bloody brilliant!!!

A quite good sci-fi flick, THE STRANGE WORLD OF PLANET X (1958), which was also known in some places as THE COSMIC MONSTER.  Very moody and quite gory in places, with plenty of special effects by Les Bowie, including models, painted mattes and some quite jarring - for it's time - make up effects.  Worth a look.

The very unusual sort of a Die Hard in the future (or some such nonsense...I lost the plot) SHADOW CHASER (1992) started off with this impressive matte painted extension by Steve Begg.  Steve worked for a time at Westbury Optical & Design, with old timer Cliff Culley and his son Neil, where Steve learned matte painting and compositing.


The always terrific Sterling Hayden (so damned good in his films with Stanley Kubrick) was right on the money in this compact though completely satisfying western TERROR IN A TEXAS TOWN (1958).  No special effects credit.

Samuel Fuller wrote and directed so many great films.  A true life tough guy, which shone through in most of his films such as the excellent Korean War drama THE STEEL HELMET (1951).  No credit for photographic effects.

The late, great Steve McQueen found stardom through this cheaply made, though completely agreeable 'monster' movie THE BLOB (1958).  Bart Sloane did the numerous effects shots which ranged from perspective photography to miniatures and some very cool cel animated effects

THE BLOB matte shot.  A later 70's sequel SON OF THE BLOB  was worthless on every level, while an 80's remake was passable, though aimed purely at the teen splatter crowd.

So-so small scale sci-fi THE TIME TRAVELLERS (1964) did what it could on a typically tiny American International budget.

Some behind the scenes shots of effects man David Hewitt at work on some models for THE TIME TRAVELLERS, with the bottom right pic nicely demonstrating the hanging miniature for the cavernous control centre (see upper colour frame).
Just love that over-the-top lobby card at top left... real American International bally-hoo


As described in previous writings, Norman Dawn was the pre-eminent name in special photographic effects dating back to very early motion pictures.  Some may not be aware that Dawn was as much a director and film maker as he was a trick shot man, with hundreds of films to his credit.  TWO LOST WORLDS (1950) though, was nothing more than a quickie programmer, made in a hurry, and packed with stock shots from other films.  Dawn himself didn't participate in the visual effects on this film and just directed it.  Dawn stated in his files that the Hal Roach effects department did all of the effects work, with Jack Glass painting some glass shots.  Recycled stock fx from ONE MILLION BC and CAPTAIN FURY - both old Hal Roach titles - were used a fair bit.


What, oh what were they thinking when the greenlit THE TERRORNAUTS (1967)??  Definitely from the 'so bad it's good' school with the most over the top ad campaign imaginable!  Micro budgeted, and trying far too hard to be polished (it ain't), the film has sfx by the usually reliable Les Bowie and the bizarre casting of CARRY ON's Charles Hawtrey as a bloke trying to defeat alien invaders!  Note the glass shot where the explosion cloud passes up behind the distant planetoid!  Eeegads!

A very, very big tarantula in the backyard, from Bert I. Gordon's THE CYCLOPS (1957)

Charles Band's post-apocalyptic detective film TRANCERS (1984).  Don't know who did this shot but looks like a foreground glass shot.

When not painting mattes for his studio, Paramount, artist Jan Domela did numerous outside jobs such as this matte of a Korean POW camp from the very intense Richard Widmark drama TIME LIMIT (1957); the only film Karl Malden ever directed.  Powerful drama here.

Two matte painted shots by Les Bowie and Ray Caple from Hammer's TERROR OF THE TONGS (1961), with almost everything in the frame painted.

The low budget UK horror flick TOWER OF EVIL (1972) takes place entirely on this rock with said lighthouse, all painted by an uncredited artist.  Maybe Ray Caple or similar painter?

The low brow but popular Australian comedy THE TRUE STORY OF ESKIMO NELL (1974) utilised the services of Jim Danforth and Bill Taylor for this closing shot.

Mattes were frequently used in the endless Italian and Spanish 'sword & jockstrap' sagas, such as THOR AND THE AMAZON WOMEN (1961)

Another solid, well made and acted Hammer thriller that's well worth the time, was TASTE OF FEAR (1961).  The plate was shot at Black Park, near Bray Studios - location to so many Hammer films - with the matte painted by both Les Bowie, who did the left side, and young trainee Ian Scoones, who painted the right side, with both merging in the middle with an airbrush.  The painting was rendered in the living room of fx cameraman Kit West's London flat.  Kit used to shoot all of the mattes for Les through the 1960's before turning his hand to mechanical effects and Oscar glory later on.

Leigh Took painted a couple of traditional mattes for a made for television film THE TALE OF SWEENEY TODD (1997), interestingly well into the so-called digital era.

Some of the most profound impacts upon my childhood were the tv series' from Century 21 Productions - ie Gerry Anderson.  I loved 'em all - FIREBALL XL, STINGRAY, CAPTAIN SCARLET, UFO, JOE 90 and most of all above everything else, the fantastic THUNDERBIRDS!  Nothing else quite like it ever appeared on television, and even today my grandsons love it, and we frequently read the old THUNDERBIRDS annuals and such.  Derek Meddings, of course, was 'The Man', and none of those wonders could have been brought to the screen without Derek's skill, eye and sheer imagination.

Derek (left top & bottom) and fellow technicians bringing incredible adventure to the tv screens around the world for kids of ALL ages.  *Note:  the pic at right demonstrates one aspect of the cost saving attitude, with an effects staffer with hands at the ready to catch the mighty Thunderbird 2 should it break free of the piano wires and fall during a shot - which apparently it did on frequent occasions.  Call it a Century 21 safety net.

Magnificent model construction in Derek Meddings' effects workshop for the tv series U.F.O (1971)

THE TROLLENBERG TERROR (1958) - also known as THE CRAWLING EYE - was kind of fun, especially after a few beers.  Les Bowie said that he was always embarrassed whenever this film popped up on tv, especially with his matte painted mountain with a nailed on wad of cotton wool, which Les would reposition for different shots to suggest the passing of the day or night.  I enjoyed it.

The low budget Universal classic, TARANTULA (1955) was one of several highly effective big bug shows of the 50's, such as Warner's excellent THEM! made around the same time.  Clifford Stine and David Horsley created the special photographic effects, with Ross Hoffman as optical cinematographer.  Oh, and yes... that is Clint Eastwood flying the fighter plane.  "Go ahead arachnid....make my day!"

One doesn't normally equate fifties British television with pirate shows, but here is one:  THE BUCCANEERS (1957), with mattes by some long forgotten artist.


Another Hammer picture, and not with the slightest horror undertone.  THE UGLY DUCKLING (1959) was a highly amusing comedy - the sort they just don't make nowadays.  Les Bowie painted the matte shots, with Kit West  on board as matte cameraman.

Two more Bowie mattes from THE UGLY DUCKLING (1959).  It's likely that Les' young assistant, Ray Caple, had involvement too.

A rip-off Jules Verne adventure, VALLEY OF THE DRAGONS (1961) was a Columbia cheapie that stole every single effects shot from other films such as Universal's BAGDAD and a ton of quality work from Hal Roach's ONE MILLION BC, including big lizards, volcanic eruptions, lost valley mattes and the excellent Roy Seawright 1940 lava flow devouring cave people.  Do they pay to use this stuff?

Time for another prosthetic make up effect.  This one is a cooler than cool shot of David Prowse - sans Darth Vader get up - having a massive calibre flintlock blast a hole the size of drain pipe through his belly!  The movie was VAMPIRE CIRCUS (1971), with Les Bowie, once again, providing effects.  Les was so versatile; trained as a matte painter by the legendary Walter Percy Day, he branched out into model work, gore fx, practical effects, explosives and all manner of work as required.  He passed away just as he learned he (and others) were to receive the Special Achievement Award' for the visual effects on Richard Donner's still essential SUPERMAN-THE MOVIE (1979)

Bert I. Gordon again, with these shots from WAR OF THE COLOSSAL BEAST (1958), with the versatile Bert involved in all aspects of production, including the trick shots.

The barely watchable comedy THE WIZARD OF BAGHDAD (1960).  L.B Abbott was fx boss, with long time associate Emil Kosa jnr on matte shots.

If you are seeking an effects filled witch hunt-time travel chase extravaganza, then WARLOCK (1989) may well be just the film for you.  I can't remember much other than it had good visual effects by a large team which included Bob Scifo as matte artist, Jeff Matakovich on opticals and Laine Liska on stop motion, among others.

The eerie and highly effective little horror picture WHITE ZOMBIE (1932) had much atmosphere courtesy of British born matte artist Conrad Tritschler.

Enterprising Italian film makers churned out dozens of these thrifty science fiction actioners through the 80's, few of which are worth celebrating.  WARRIORS OF THE YEAR 2072 (1984) starred American action star Fred Williamson and was helmed, surprisingly, by notorious gore-meister Lucio Fulci, in a change of genre from his usual zombie flicks.  This shot was however very effective, executed by Polish born matte painter Joseph Natanson, who had been one of Percy Day's matte team at Shepperton before shifting to Italy in the mid-fifties where he was never short of work on films such as CLEOPATRA.  I'm thinking this shot may have been a foreground glass painting.

Also from WARRIORS OF THE YEAR 2072 are these very Bladerunner inspired shots, probably miniature set up, as were a couple of other sprawling future city shots.

Full matte painted shot, complete with animated lights, from the Benny Hill comedy WHO DONE IT? (1956) made by the beloved Ealing Studios in England.  Geoffrey Dickinson had been Ealings' in-house photographic effects expert, usually credited with 'Special Processes', though he passed away the year before so may not have been involved here.

Some of the impressive matte shots as seen in Roger Corman's quickie WAR OF THE SATELLITES (1958).  Never one to miss the chance to make a quick buck, Roger cashed in here on the recent launch of the Soviet sputnik satellite.  Irving Block painted the mattes, with associates Jack Rabin and Louis DeWitt putting it all together.  The film was a hit and some of the fx shots would turn up for years in other films and tv shows.

Television matte shot from the show THE WILD, WILD WEST episode NIGHT OF THE INFERNO.  No effects credit but possibly contracted to the Howard A. Anderson company.

Another long forgotten tv matte shot; this being from the popular THE UNTOUCHABLES, which ran from 1959 to 1963.  Once again, I think it was a Howard A. Anderson job, using some freelance matte artist like Luis McManus or similar?

There's no getting away from Rabin, Block & DeWitt in this blog!  VIKING WOMEN AND THE SEA SERPENT (1957) I have never seen but do have copies of the numerous mattes.

WIZARDS OF THE LOST KINGDOM II (1988) featured a few in camera glass shots to make things look a little more grand.  Pony Horton was glass shot artist.

Pony Horton on location with two in progress glass shots.  I corresponded with Pony some years ago and he kindly regaled me with tales of his days as a beginning matte painter and general assistant at Van der Veer Photo Effects.  He even mentioned rattling around looking at old glass mattes in a storeroom when he accidentally knocked over a couple (CAPRICORN ONE was one matte as I recall, and maybe KONG was the other?) which were smashed to pieces, with Frank van der Veer and Barry Nolan rushing in with a "What the hell happened here?"

The utterly charming and unique WIZARD OF SPEED AND TIME (1988) was definitely a one-of-a-kind experience by the enthusiatic and highly creative indie film maker Mike Jittlov.  The feature was an extension of an earlier short subject that Mike had made a few years earlier.  A delight to view, the simplistic little film is wall to wall visual effects and trick shots - some harking back to the silent era.  Several genre celebs appear such as the great Forry Ackerman and seasoned effects man Jim Danforth, who also contributed to the many optical fx shots.  Jittlov was known for his unique ability to 'animate' himself in camera to highly amusing effect - (an old silent movie gag that would also be used superbly in the 1970's by the BBC for the quite brilliant slapstick classic show THE GOODIES).  Mike would later contribute similar 'self animation' work to the mega-hit GHOST with Patrick Swayze.


One of those movie-of-the-week tv films, WHAT WAITS BELOW (1984) had several matte shots by Mark Sullivan, with David Stipes on the fx camera.

A young Mark Sullivan finishing off the matte for the shot above.


Donald O'Connor starred as a most unlikely Aladdin here in this 1961 Italian desert fantasy, THE WONDERS OF ALADDIN .  Directed by Mario Bava, who, as previously mentioned. was also a most adept visual effects artist on many of his films, this one included.  Bava created some amazing vfx shots for his cult classic DANGER DIABOLIK, which I will cover in a separate blog.

One of several excellent British sci-fi pictures was this Hammer film X-THE UNKNOWN (1957) where much is brought to the screen for very little money.  Les Bowie supervised he effects and painted all of these shots, with optical cinematographer - and long time Bowie colleague, Vic Margutti - adding in electrical explosions and interactive lighting to a 2 dimensional Bowie painted landscape with power pylons.

Like Japan, South Korea also - for a time - delved into monsters stomping around Seoul.  This epic, YONGARY, MONSTER FROM THE DEEP (1967) followed all the same formula, and was a bit of a giggle.  Lots of miniature sets split screened into live action plates, and things exploding.

More catastrophic calamity from YONGARY.  Send this big bastard to North Korea I say!  Incidentally, I love modern era Korean cinema and find it so damned good, after largely predictable American crime thrillers etc.  The number of outstanding Korean films I've got is way up there.  Such dark masterpieces as I SAW THE DEVIL;  THE ROUNDUP-OUTLAWS 2;  BATTLESHIP ISLAND;  THE GANGSTER, THE COP & THE DEVIL; ESCAPE FROM MOGADISHU and PARASITE are some prime examples.  Man, can they make some great films!

I did say William Castle made some oddball films from time to time... ZOTZ (1962) was a strangely uninvolving comedy of magical powers and casting spells.  One rather nice extreme perspective matte shot from an unknown artist, and an amusing Columbia logo bit where the Liberty Lady turns her head and winks at director Castle - unquestionably the high point of the film.  *Note- Columbia weren't afraid to make fun of their logo and did similar things in many films such as the friggen awful disco flick THANK GOD IT'S FRIDAY made in the late 70's where the famous lady strikes up a disco pose and boogies her buns off!!



***This post, and all 176 previous blog posts known as 'Matte Shot', were originally created by Peter Cook for nzpetesmatteshot, with all content, layout and text originally published at http://nzpetesmatteshot.blogspot.com/


Hopefully this sums up this thrilling blog post!!


Do give me your feedback...it's always appreciated.
All the best
Peter




30 comments:

  1. Top right on the second Star Crash photo compilation is the Battlestar Galactica!

    Best,

    Peter Noble

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Oooops.... I scanned two pics from an old Starlog annual (carelessly), and 'should' have realised that STARCRASH wasn't quite on the John Dykstra scale of model making(!)

      Pete

      Delete
  2. Pete…you absolute legend. I’m gonna spend my entire sunday on this massive update you made…tea and biscuits at the ready,and away we go..

    greetings as always

    William

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi William

      I knew you would enjoy this one.
      I've seen quite a lot of Dutch films but never one that I could include in my blogs.

      All the very best,

      Pete

      Delete
  3. William again..i think there is an error in the Starcrash post. It shows a picture of the Battlestar Galactica. 😏

    ReplyDelete
  4. Are you really going to make us say that your wife is wrong? Seems like an awful position to put us in. I will not participate! (also, I go through every blog meticulously from start to finish. Favorite mention here: Split Second! Great little flick)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hey David...

      Too late! I told her you said she was VERY wrong indeed!
      She muttered something about 'Putin looking with interest toward Denmark'..... (just kidding)

      All the best my friend,

      Peter

      Delete
    2. Daaaaamn youuuu! Hehe! But in all seriousness, wonderful work as always. Many titles for my Must Check Out list.

      Delete
  5. Another prodigious effort! I am in awe of your ability to track down the images and information that you provide to us. Thank you once again!!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi Marshall,

      Many thanks for that feedback. I'm proud to illustrate rare and obscure, and even utterly forgotten trick shots and films of ye' olde' days. Often more memorable than tripe made today!

      Pete

      Delete
  6. "My good lady wife of nearly 40 years strongly feels I waste my time with these blog posts and is utterly convinced that nobody actually reads them" Well, you can tell her that you have at least one faithfull reader from Europe. I'm always absolutelly stunned by them.

    ReplyDelete
  7. Hello, Captain Sindbad was an american picture filmed entirely at Bavaria Studios in Munich, Germany and not at MGM Studios in England.

    ReplyDelete
  8. Blimey Pete. You've featured my three of my 6 attempts at traditional optical and incamera
    mattes. The Hardware producers were scumbags so I had to hold back the neg, £300 for two bloody mattes. I was just desperate to have a go..And found out Im not a matte artist... There were a few more, but none the less thank you..

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Is this Steve Begg I wonder? Comment just states "anonymous", but must be you mate!
      That's a great story Steve. And here I thought the movie biz was all straight up and honest, kindly, generous and with moral compasses at the ready(?) .... Seems I've been misinformed. ;)

      Pete

      Delete
    2. Yesh Pete. Havent got the hang of this yet.. Steve B

      Delete
  9. Hi Pete, great post as usual. I visited Cliff Cully's studio the day his son Neil was photographing the daylight river matte from ' Hardware ' .. gosh that's years ago now, sadly nothing remains of the old matte studio at Pinewood. All best wishes Nick

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. How I wish I could have had a look through that once proud facility.

      Pete

      Delete
  10. I am here for every post, and even show my students the blog when applicable, but I don't always have time to post.

    ReplyDelete
  11. Please do post. I very much enjoy reading them.

    ReplyDelete
  12. Wonderful - your posts never disappoint. We saw an awful lot of the same stuff when we were young. I'll have to fight you for Jenny Agutter though. Couldn't agree more about Ken Russell's The Devils - I think it's his best work. And inform your Better Half she's married to an International Treasure, who is greatly appreciated, over and over again. Cheers!

    CanberraPete

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Whoooooa.... ease up my Aussie buddy! I claimed Jenny first!

      Other Pete

      Delete
    2. Back off on Jenny. I'll take you both on!

      Delete
    3. You 'talk the talk', but are you sure you can 'walk the walk' my friend?

      Pete

      Delete
    4. At least I was of legal age when I fell for her!

      Delete
  13. Great roundup!

    The binoculars shot from It Came From Beneath the Sea actually doesn’t feature Ray Harryhausen’s model or a miniature building. The entire shot is a painting. There’s no movement. Harryhausen was disappointed with it, and it flashes on screen for the shortest time possible.

    I happened to be on the soundstage (a warehouse in Long Beach, CA, as I recall) of the ill-fated remake of Journey to the Center of the Earth. It was a Golan-Globus production, and it was known to be in trouble. The director, who previously had specialized in commercials, insisted on doing the effects shots in the camera by backwinding the film and double exposing it. This led to horrendous delays. The sets were impressive, though.

    Raiders of the Stone Ring was never completed, but the idea formed the basis of David Allen's dream project The Primevals. That movie was in post-production when the studio, Charles Band's Full Moon Productions, went bankrupt. Amazingly, The Primevals was revived a couple of years ago, with new stop-motion shots executed to complete scenes partially shot. Supposedly it will be released on DVD sometime this year, though I suspect a 2023 release is more likely.

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    1. Hi 'anonymous' reader (I wish people would leave even a first name...)

      That info is excellent, and I thank you for those fascinating tidbits of VFX history. I had always wondered about STONE RING as it always looked so promising.

      On the Golan-Globus 'mis-adventure'.... there is a wonderful (often hilarious) feature length doco on the notorious Cannon Films called 'Electric Boogaloo' which is absolutely worth seeking out!
      I used to work in film distribution here in NZ from the late 70's to mid 80's and we handled all of their catalogue of that era.

      Pete

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  14. Great stuff here! The City Beneath the Sea images, however, are not from the film. They are from an earlier short pilot that Allen produced that never became a series. It's on youtube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dZrifEjU-H0

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  15. Hi! This post is amazing. Do you know if any of these matte painters are still working today?

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    1. Most are long gone or retired. The only ones I know of that are still working are British fx men Leigh Took & Steve Begg. The American effects men, Robert & Dennis Skotak may still be working too, but I don't really know. Matte painter Mark Sullivan is still busy I think, and maybe Rocco Gioffre too.

      Pete

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