Hello friends. It's been a time of shell-shock for us here in New Zealand after the horrific terrorist attack just a week ago in our second biggest city of Christchurch, which shattered the calm of a quiet, peaceful country where we always felt 'safe' from such ghastly events that tended to occur in the busier regions of the Northern Hemisphere. As if the people of Christchurch hadn't already suffered enough from a pair of devastating earthquakes just a few years ago! Our hearts go out to those folk.
On a lighter note, if that's at all possible, I'm happy to present the third installment in the comprehensive career retrospective on my all time favourite matte and visual effects practitioner, Mr Albert Whitlock. Today's edition is somewhat slimmer than the previous two mammoth entries as it's really more along the lines of an addendum for material just discovered as well as some long overdue identification of some mystery shots that have circulated for years. I have also re-examined a few wonderful mattes, now in the form of high quality BluRay images that had already appeared in the previous blog only as DVD frame grabs as I feel the step up in resolution with these is remarkable and much can be gleaned from some select detailed 'blow-ups' as to Al's technique, which of course is expressly why you(yes... I'm addressing you all!) are reading this blog in the first place.
As with the earlier blogs, I've added in some 'possible Whitlock' shots that may, or may not be the work of Albert, mostly from early films that date from around the time Russell Lawson left Universal and Whitlock took over the matte department, circa 1961-62. We may never really know for sure, but here they are, many of them courtesy of my matte shot detective friend in Madrid, Spain, Domingo Lizcano, who has studied and scrutinised so many of those images and films and can spot a matte at 500 metres.
For those who don't already know, noted Whitlock documentarian and film-maker, Walton Dornisch, has been gradually uploading his special series on Albert to YouTube, (which may be found here) with the installments now at part three, with one of Al's before and after matte shot reels now online, along with the wonderfully candid doco which sets out just how Walton came to be 'hooked on Whitlock' in the first place. Also available for online viewing is the original Albert Whitlock - Master of Illusion 30 minute doco by Walton and associate Mark Horowitz which initially aired in 1980, and is now looking better than it ever did as a high-def remaster. I've included a few shots from it in this blog as the images are quite a step up from the shoddy online pirated versions and my own old VHS version I taped off TV back in 1980, which is still one of my most treasured possessions.
So, in a relatively modest blog post (by NZPete standards at least), please enjoy a selection of mattes and magic, some familiar and many completely fresh, which will further expand one's appreciation of the master and his work.
In no particular order.....
Albert in his office at Universal with the magnificent full matte painting the is the opening shot of AIRPORT 77. I was very much hoping to include close ups of the still privately owned painting but unfortunately didn't hear back from the owners, who had already been most generous with other mattes included in the previous blogs. I don't want to over extend my welcome as any of this material is so gratefully received.
A recently discovered Universal matte shot sent to me by my FX pal in Madrid was this one from FOR LOVE OR MONEY (1963) which is most likely to be Whitlock's work.
Also from the same film is this curious shot where it appears the facade of the building (and it's shadow) has been painted in for this downview.
A recently uncovered studio portrait of Albert at J.Arthur Rank's Pinewood Studios in 1951. The matte painting he's at work on is for the film A NIGHT WITHOUT STARS. The picture came to light by way of Al's grandson and this along with a dozen others made their way to me and I'm absolutely thrilled to be able to share them here.
A NIGHT WITHOUT STARS (1951) which I had included in the last blog purely as an educated guess that Al may have worked on the film, due to the timeframe of his employment at Pinewood. Now I can be absolutely certain about it and the before and after pics confirm this. Note the pencil lay in on Al's as yet unfinished artwork, where much is still to be added.
Now, I know I've already shown this shot from ONE MORE TRAIN TO ROB (1971), but it was only when I had the chance to view a BluRay copy that what I had always figured was just a minor 'fix up' job with trees painted around George Peppard - possibly to mask out some unwanted background - is in fact a far more substantial trick shot. Al's matte art not only includes the tree branches but also paints in the entire upper half of the frame, with the hills, sky and all the rest of it being invisibly blended in. The split runs just above the heads of the guys in the wagon and curls up around Peppard's hat.
I've included BAD LORD BYRON (1948) again too as I uncovered a wonderfully detailed drawing by the art director Maurice Carter which precisely equates with the matte shot that Whitlock would paint - and receive screen credit for! As best Al could remember, this was in fact his first ever matte shot.
Effects shots from Pinewood's ESTHER WATERS (1947) with matte art top ups of sets as well as what looked like an elaborate miniature (left) augmented by painted cutouts of distant buildings and moving train. Albert was in the department then so might have worked on these shots with Les Bowie.
A previously unidentified matte shot from Universal's THE RAIDERS (1963) is certainly the work of Whitlock.
Now folks... this photograph originally was published in the 1983 book The ASC Treasury of Visual Effects(a must have for anyone interested in the old days of 'real' trick work!) I had never been able to identify the film, which is captioned as being 'towering cliffs painted on glass by Al Whitlock' with the matte camera stand set up being at Joseph Westheimer's Optical house. I can now happily report that thanks to my Madrid based FX 'detective' and good friend, Domingo Lizcano, this long unknown matte is from the United Artists western THE GLORY GUYS (1965). See below...
A nice BluRay frame of Whitlock's Westheimer matte from THE GLORY GUYS (1965)
Another of Albert's mattes from THE GLORY GUYS, with this being a full painting of a vast Indian encampment.
From the Tony Curtis film THE GREAT IMPOSTER (1961), this may not be Al's work as the perspective drawing isn't quite right. The film was made right around the time Russ Lawson was finishing up at the studio and Albert was coming on board, so it's very uncertain, but here it is anyway.
Another Universal-International picture, NO MAN IS AN ISLAND (1962) had a couple of matte effects of ships on a distant horizon and a squadron of fighter planes in a cloud filled sky etc. My friend in Madrid thinks this could be Al's work but I tend to disagree. The cloud work (Al's specialty) is just too 'cotton candy' in texture to my eyes and just not at all how Whitlock would paint a sky. The date matches Albert's tenure but perhaps the effects work and production started somewhat earlier?
An unidentified before and after by Albert, almost certainly from his English studio days at Pinewood. If anyone knows the film, please let me know.
Two frames from a comic sequence in Universal's THE BRASS BOTTLE (1964) with Tony Randall and Burl Ives. The film had plenty of optical tricks and genie gags, courtesy of screen credited Roswell Hoffman, who was Al's matte cameraman, though Al was not credited at all. The only shot resembling matte art was this courtroom sequence where it is most probable that the ceiling has been painted in for a sound stage set. Repeat 'toggling' through individual frame grabs shows sleight matte line jitter.
Although shown in Part One of the blog series, I've included these BOUND FOR GLORY (1976) before and afters again as these images are of somewhat higher quality, from the Walton Dornisch's HD remaster of Albert Whitlock-Master of Illusion
Al demonstrates the effects gag he employed for the massive dust storm in BOUND FOR GLORY where mere cotton discs were stop motion animated (with a lot of optical manipulation) into a matte painted composite of the small Kansas town.
The final effect as seen in Al's sample reel where an actual town has been significantly augmented and extended via matte art, and the vast animated dust storm rolls on in to outstanding effect I must say.
I've been aware of this shot for a while but had absolutely no idea that it was the work of Albert. The film is the British comedy YOU KNOW WHAT SAILOR'S ARE (1954) and was a lush, Technicolor affair, though I've not been able to track down the actual movie. This would have been one of the last films Al worked on at Pinewood before moving his family across the ditch to America and to eventually work at Disney.
Some unidentified before and after snapshots that were in the care of Al's Grandson. The film is most probably YOU KNOW WHAT SAILOR'S ARE (1954) judging by the architecture and general design.
A largely forgotten British comedy, though this Whitlock matte looks sensational!
Universal-International's LOVER COME BACK (1961) is another of those 'possible' Whitlock shows, though once again, it comes at the tail end of Russ Lawson's era so could in fact be his work? It's quite a nice shot though.
Two more mattes from LOVER COME BACK (1961) with a skyscraper and a ceiling being the order of the day respectively. Whitlock or Lawson? Maybe the former I suspect.
Well folks, it's apparently now 2019 believe it or not (Personally, I have my doubts), and after a restful summer break (Southern Hemisphere down here where I am of course), I'm happy to present, as promised, the second part in my admittedly mammoth career retrospective on the many cinematic illusions that comprised the work of the great Albert Whitlock. In an effort to be as comprehensive as possible, I've covered and illustrated as many of Al's film projects as possible, as well as some selected fine art examples that haven't been seen in the public arena until now.
Albert works on a shot for MacARTHUR (1977)
I don't believe Al's long career has ever been covered nor examined to such an extent until now. I've got some familiar shots as well as many unfamiliar shots, often from quite obscure films or tele-movies, in addition to more of the shots from the Pinewood era where Albert was matte artist from the late forties through to 1954. Some of those British films are definitely Al's as he was lucky in that Pinewood often gave him screen credit, which was pretty much unheard of for a mere matte artist. Others from the Rank or Gainsborough studio I've included from those years may have had input from Whitlock, though we'll likely never know, other than he was principle matte artist after former chief artist, Les Bowie, departed and went independent.
There are also some more great mattes from the Roger Corman Poe films which I am certain are the work of Albert due to the style and especially the patented 'donut' skies and spindly dead foliage which featured in so much of Al's work. Butler-Glouner was effects contractor for those Poe films and didn't have their own matte department, so often called on Albert to fill their requirements, without credit, though with a good enough 'deal' otherwise. There are some terrific high resolution mattes in this blog, with some such as THE PRISONER OF ZENDA (1979) being shown for the very first time in HD.
One of Al's Emmy nominated mattes for VANISHED (1971)
I've tracked down literally as many of Al's shows and shots as I possibly could, though a few, mainly tv shows still are hard to find, especially in any decent, viewable format. I did manage to track down the long lost Richard Widmark ABC Movie of the Week, VANISHED (1971), for which Albert was Emmy nominated for his mattes, though the video quality was abysmal at best, I still included the shots here, from what is an excellent political thriller screaming out for a DVD release (Hey, Universal-MCA... are you listening?).
A few shows had Al's name in the credits though I never found his work, even after repeat viewings. Cases in point were Mike Nichols' terrific espionage drama THE DAY OF THE DOLPHIN (1973) and the tv pilot LOG OF THE BLACK PEARL (1975).
Whitlock surveys his painted oil field for OKLAHOMA CRUDE (1973)
Both of these films may have had subtle additions of boats at sea or something along those lines, I don't know. Often BluRay shows up shots that I missed on other formats. If anyone knows, do tell NZPete :) Any snippet of extra info is helpful for future write ups.
So, what follows is a vast collection of more Whitlock magic than you could shake a stick at - much of it looking better than you would have seen these mattes ever look previously, so please enjoy, preferably on a proper computer/display, please, and do give me you feedback.
Doco shoot, with Al, Mike Moramarco & Dennis Glouner
An Important Newsflash.... Most Whitlock fans, as well as those trick cinematography buffs who thankfully still hold a high regard for the traditional 'oils on glass' art form that was matte painting, will be familiar with the excellent, one-of-a-kind television documentary from 1981, ALBERT WHITLOCK - MASTER OF ILLUSION, by film makers and ardent Whitlock fans, Walton Dornisch and Mark Horowitz. Their doco really was revered as theHoly Scrolls when it came to documenting and revealing the magic of the matte painter's process as it played out. I well remember it showing on television here in NZ back in the day. It screened at 6pm on a Monday night, and thankfully we owned a VCR (actually the first ever JVC model ever sold in this country... as big as a BBQ and it cost a fortune at NZ$2200 back in the day ... and the blank VHS tapes would set you back around $30 to boot, so whatever was recorded had to be damned good to keep with the plastic 'non-erase' safety tab chipped out.... but I digress).
Mel Brooks shows zero emotion when Al's matte of ancient Ostea is revealed.
Thankfully, that Al Whitlock documentary was an absolute, bona-fide keeper and was my most viewed tape for years. As well as making a dupe copy or two as insurance against tape-hungry video machinery (hey, don't laugh... back in the day those bloody VCR machines did eat movies from time to time, with that particularly gasp inducing crunching sound resonating from within the bowels of said Japanese machinery, that nothing, short of an air raid could get the film enthusiast (moi) leaping out of his chair quite so fast!). Years later I was fortunate to obtain a pristine, mint 16mm film print of said doco as well, which looks great when projected on a 12 foot screen.
"Did I ever tell you the one about the 2000 year old man?"
As a result of my previous epic Whitlock blog last November, I was contacted by one Walton Dornisch, the very producer of ALBERT WHITLOCK - MASTER OF ILLUSION. Walton seemed to appreciate what I had done with the retrospective and, even though I had screwed up the spelling of not only his first name, but that of his surname as well in some of my photo captions, Walton was gracious enough about it all when I explained how risky it would be to go back in and fix the mistakes, with a degree of risk associated with tampering with already published blogs. Anyway, our conversations were most fruitful, and as sheer coincidence would have it, Walton had for some time been preparing a series of special Whitlock related projects. So, as Leonardo DiCaprio said in Tarantino's wonderful DJANGO western, I responded with "You now have my attention."
Esteemed director Robert Wise gives his personal blessing.
As it turned out Walton had thankfully preserved all of the original one inch video elements from 40 years ago - of which there were several hours worth - from that original shoot, which itself took place over some time. Together with archival interviews, the documentarian also had a considerable collection of photographs, taken during the Whitlock sessions as well as rare, never before seen show reels containing Albert's before and after matte shots. All of this valuable material will now be made available for viewing via a four-part web series, in addition to being eventually donated to the Motion Picture Academy archive.
The first web episode is now available for viewing on YouTube: "ALBERT WHITLOCK - A MASTER OF ILLUSION, AND HOW IT CAME TO BE" which is a highly entertaining, informative and sometimes very funny examination of how the budding young film makers happened upon Albert (repeatedly) while employed at Universal in the editorial department, all of which kind of reminded me of the antics of the similarly enthusiastic young fans in the Robert Zemeckis Beatles-come-to-town flick I WANNA HOLD YOUR HAND (1978) or a pair of Mr Spock fans at a Trekkie convention.
The second web episode will be available in a few weeks and will be the original uncut MASTER OF ILLUSION documentary, with much additional footage that never made the 30 minute tv edit. The film will be in HD for the first time (though Dornisch could only do so much with what was in fact broadcast quality 1 inch videotape as used in 1980 - not by any stretch the HDTV we know today, but still a marked step up from the usual on-line versions we might be acquainted with).
Mark Horowitz & Walton Dornisch quiz the master.
The third episode from Walton will be a revealing, insider's look at how much of a can of worms 'intellectual property' can be in the movie business, and just how the totally legit Horowitz/Dornisch MASTER OF ILLUSION doco was hijacked along the way by unscrupulous characters, hustlers and shameless profiteers. The fourth web episode will be Al Whitlock's matte shot showreels and other goodies, including more out-takes from the MASTER OF ILLUSION doco. In all, this series promises to be a vital and revealing study of a true master at work, presented with a unique insight from documentarians who were not mere journalists for hire, but dedicated 'fan-boy' movie magic geeks (and I mean that in the nicest possible way guys) with a passion for the craft. Once again, as of this writing, the first of the four episodes is now online and may be viewed here. Enjoy.
The documentarians at work in Universal's matte department while Albert, Syd and Mike inspect the proceedings. *Photo courtesy of Walton Dornisch.
I neglected to include this overview of the Universal Studios Matte Department's location in the previous blog. Known as Building 98, Al's department shared the building with Universal's large Optical Dept. and was eventually turned into editing bays once the matte stuff was removed.
Al poses with one of his many HISTORY OF THE WORLD (1981) matte paintings. *Photo courtesy of Walton Dornisch.
THE MATTES AND VISUAL EFFECTS OF ALBERT WHITLOCK - Part Two
*Special thanks to Stephen Perry, Tom Higgenson, Walton Dornisch, Domingo Lizcano, Thomas Thiemeyer, Jim Danforth, Craig Barron, Syd Dutton and especially Bill Taylor.
Although I covered all of Al's work in EARTHQUAKE in the previous blog, this rare original matte painting was just sent to me by Walton Dornisch, the maker of the doco ALBERT WHITLOCK-MASTER OF ILLUSION. Albert gave Walton this matte as a parting gift, which turned out to be a double-whammy as there was another full painting on the reverse side. That painting features later in this blog.
Now, I also included THE HINDENBURG (1975) in the previous blog but I missed out a vital, though seemingly invisible photographic special effect, which I, in error, included the wrong movie frames with Bill Taylor's description. It may not look it, but the ever so brief shot is very ingenious. I was asking Syd Dutton about some of his favourite Whitlock shots and he immediately mentioned a particular shot - illustrated above - that I had always overlooked. "One of my favourite Al shots in the film wasn't a painting at all; and I'm referring to the men on the guide-line shot at magic hour as the ship explodes. Pure genius." Syd then asked Bill to further elaborate on this mystifying trick shot: "Syd is referring to the shot in which the men holding the mooring lines are suddenly lit up by the explosion of the airship above them. Our camera was on one of the big corner pylons of the airship hanger in Santa Ana. The same men were shot twice in exactly the same positions - their feet carefully marked and each man taking a note of his body position. In one shot they were in full sun from above, casting strong shadows. On cue, they dropped the lines and ran away. In the second shot, made later the same day when the sun was low enough to be off them (Magic Hour), we shot them in the exact same spots, looking upward at the airship. I had shot a Polaroid of the guys in the first shot and we used it to cue them into matching poses." Bill further described the effect: "The shot in the film starts with the Magic Hour shot, With a very soft-edged wipe we transitioned to the brightly-lit men, colour timed to appear as though they are lit by the exploding airship. Their shadows provide 'exclamation marks' as each man runs for his life. Because the scope of the shot is so wide, it would have been impossible to achieve the effect with any actual lighting instrument, and of course, any real pyrotechnic effect would have been very dangerous. As Syd said, it was a brilliant idea. Al did not get hung up on whether the effect was physically 'authentic'; he knew for the few seconds that were needed it would play perfectly."
The aforementioned Robert Zemeckis comedy I WANNA HOLD YOUR HAND (1978) featured an effects sequence at the end where an obnoxious character clambers up a transmission tower atop of Radio City Music Hall and gets struck by lightning. A fun movie, with a frantic pace and great moments. Positives include veteran character actor Dick Miller, while at the opposite end of the scale, a certified 101% aggravating Eddie Deezen (is there any other kind?) makes the viewer want to buy a gun and blow his/her own brains out!
Whitlock work from I WANNA HOLD YOUR HAND
Now here's an obscure one, an old William Castle chiller, I SAW WHAT YOU DID (1965) which wasn't too bad and was the basis, kind of, for the much later I KNOW WHAT YOU DID LAST SUMMER made in 1997.
Albert supplied a few elaborate matte shots for the film including the big opening panoramic matte where he created an entire rural setting, with Ross Hoffman's matte camera panning slowly across and finally pushing in on a stately home complete with live action. Very impressive for a 'B' movie.
Welcome friends and fellow devotees of traditional visual effects and old school ‘trick photography’.
It’s time once again for another of NZPete’s in depth cinematic tutorials, for want of a better phrase,
where no stone is left unturned (or, as few stones as possible) as we examine the seemingly endless
wonders to be revealed in a unique artform that, ironically, itself pretty much came to an end some
years ago, the magic of the motion picture matte painter.
Jim Danforth's glass shot for IT CAME UPON THE MIDNIGHT CLEAR
With regard to my last blog article, CATHEDRALS OF MATTE ART, in my haste I neglected to include a couple of additional great mattes by two of the industry’s biggest talents in the matte painting field, Jim Danforth and Ken Marschall.
It’s always a delight to be awakened
to any matte shot that I’ve never before seen, and in many cases as being from a film I’ve never heard of. Effects veteran Jim Danforth’s work has been covered here in great detail - as an animator and overall special effects designer and provider as covered in my retrospective
for his Oscar nominated 1970 picture WHEN DINOSAURS RULED THE EARTH, as well as an extensive career interview covering Jim’s longtime industry experience as a matte artist. We never quite got to cover all of Jim’s matte assignments unfortunately, so I was delighted to receive the following matte of some heavenly Pearly Gates and a technical description from Jim recently. This lovely shot is from a made for television film titled IT CAME UPON THE MIDNIGHT CLEAR (1984) that I’d never heard of until now.
Jim outlined his glass shot as follows: “It's from the Columbia TV movie It Came Upon The Midnight Clear. It's a cathedral of sorts. I comped it via rear projection. It has double-exposed oscillating 'heavenly rays' generated via rotating slit gags. There was also a traveling matte I used to lighten the faces of the actors lined up at the heavenly gates (necessary because the DP ordered the haze blown out of the stage before I arrived on set. Without the haze, the lighting was too contrasty”. It’s a great shot and I appreciate Jim sending me the frame.
One of Ken Marschall's amazing matte painted shots from MY BOYFRIEND'S BACK (1993).
Although I included a few of Ken Marschall’s mattes in the same article I accidentally omitted a couple of superb mattes that Ken did for a film titled MY BOYFRIEND’S BACK (1993) - a film also known in some quarters as JOHNNY ZOMBIE apparently - which depict a heavenly ‘cathedral’ from two vantage points to wonderful effect. Beautifully painted in acrylic atop special high gloss black coated artists card measuring not much more than an A3 sized sheet of paper, as was Ken’s preferred modus operandi, and often painted on Ken's kitchen table at home, which must in itself be unique in the world of matte magic, the original negative composite was shot and put together by Ken’s longtime associate, visual effects cameraman Bruce Block at their small company Matte Effects, sited ever so discretely in a backroom of Gene Warren jnr's Fantasy II vfx house.
A reverse view of the same heavenly cathedral as painted by Ken Marschall and composited by Bruce Block for MY BOYFRIEND'S BACK (aka JOHNNY ZOMBIE).
A CAREER PORTRAIT OF A MASTER: THE MATTES AND VISUAL EFFECTS OF ALBERT WHITLOCK - Part One
I love traditional matte art and old school ‘trick photography’. That will surely come as little surprise to my readers. I simply cannot get enough of it, no matter the genre, no matter the vintage, no matter the film, be it a timeless classic or a Poverty Row 'B' movie; no matter the artist or specialist responsible. The matte painter’s artform has no boundaries for me. I admire it for the purity, simplicity and honesty of the ‘trick’ - where the wool can be collectively pulled over our gullible eyes and have us believe that what we are seeing up there on the silver screen is fact, when as was so often the case, so many shots, scenes and set pieces were mere fiction, created by highly skilled artisans just by way of brushes, pigments, a smooth support and a steady camera.
For as long as I can remember, I have admired so many of the individuals responsible for achieving all of these magical shots and memorable moments. The hall of fame of matte shot giants could almost read as: Walter Percy Day, Jack Cosgrove, Norman Dawn, Emil Kosa jr, Chesley Bonestell, Paul Detlefson, Fitch Fulton, Jan Domela, Emilio Ruiz del Rio, Mario Larrinaga, Matthew Yuricich and of course the great Peter Ellenshaw just to name but a few, and these being just some of the ‘names’ that were fortunate enough to get a screen credit in the oddly covert side to the entertainment industry where motion picture ‘trickery’ was kept as far under wraps as an entombed Egyptian Pharaoh and rarely spoken about. Some studios and heads of departments would go to extraordinary lengths in order to keep their special effects secrets buried, with a general understanding that ‘what happens in the matte department, stays in the matte department’.
A most youthful Albert shown here at work, probably at Pinewood 1940's.
The specialist celebrated in this blog article however, would view things quite differently, and open up those locked doors as we shall discover. I’ve admired all of the above gentlemen, as well as the countless other, mostly anonymous and long forgotten artists from the matte business for decades, though I must say that there has always been one name in particular whose work has truly stood out in a class of its own and was largely instrumental for pulling me into this endlessly fascinating aspect of film production, and that name is Albert Whitlock. Although I have previously covered a great deal of Whitlock’s work in several blogs - an earlier, somewhat lighter career piece as well as a number of ‘stand alone’ examinations on some of his specific films, such as his Hitchcock pictures for example, it is my aim here to present as full and as comprehensive study of Albert’s matte and effects work as possible.
Three greats of FX, Jim Danforth, Linn Dunn & Albert enjoy their ASC lunch
I will be documenting not only the familiar shots - though for the most part now in spectacular high definition for the first time - but also a substantial number of rarely seen, forgotten, lost and completely new matte shots that I have been able to uncover and archive by one means or another. What follows, I hope, will be as complete a retrospective as has been published to date, and as such will occupy at least two blogpost articles (or maybe three, depending on how it goes, as I don’t ‘prep’ any of this beforehand and just ‘attack’ the blog in one giant almighty swoop and hope for the best). I’m thrilled to be able to present scores of new Whitlock shots, with a great many derived from excellent quality sources that only now revealed the ‘trick’ to me when viewed in a fresh, higher quality format, whereas until now some shots had entirely passed me by undetected, even in shows that I thought I knew quite well! I’ve also acquired excellent quality images of some of Whitlock’s original matte paintings that are still in the care of a few private collectors as well, just to add some icing to the proverbial cake, and they are sensational.
Whitlock surveys a VistaVision matte set up, circa late 1960's.
In an effort to be as complete as possible, I have also included some examples of likely Whitlock scenic backing art from his early years at Gainsborough Studios in London, as well as a number of ‘educated guess’ matte shots in that I have no real concrete evidence as to their provenance other than various factors - which I will outline in each case - pointing toward a strong possibility of Albert having had involvement such as stylistic attributes and knowledge that the man was in fact employed at certain studio effects departments at particular times or freelancing for specific contractors on a regular basis. As I say, some of those shots are assumptions on my part, but I believe many of those to quite likely be candidates of Whitlock’s work during that tenure.
Face to face: Two masters of their respective crafts.
Those familiar with my blogs will know that I, at times, have a tendency to drift off-topic, and this blog post is no exception. Hey, I love movies - all aspects of movies, so I'll occasionally talk about favourite actors, memorable lines, directors, cameramen, sound effects guys, Oscar injustices, old time movie houses from days gone by and even trailer voice-over artistes(!) Just humour me guys!
Oh, and, you might wonder at the sheer numbers of frames included in todays blog? Well aside from the fact that Albert did a lot of matte shots and other work throughout his very long career I've decided that in order to better appreciate certain key VFX shots, especially where animation or special gags of some description have been a vital component, to upload an entire sequence as individual frame grabs which after being clicked on may be toggled through to enjoy the magic in motion, such as moving clouds, animated shadows and complex interactive lighting tricks that enhanced so many of Al's shots. I don't have a clue about making 'gif' files or inserting 'quicktime' clips, so this is as good as it's going to get here folks. But hey, it's straightforward and it achieves what I want it to achieve!
*I’d like to express a special nod of gratitude to several people: Domingo Lizcano, Tom Higginson, Jim Davidson, Pam Carpenter, Chris Shuler, Syd Dutton, Jim Danforth & Thomas Thiemeyer for their various contributions, and in particular, Bill Taylor, who has been incredibly helpful with recollections, clarifications, technical explanations, industry gossip and an amazing memory. ----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Born in London in 1915, Albert John Whitlock’s early life was very much one of a working class existence within the very strongly defined ‘class system’ that was, and probably still is to a slightly lesser degree, Great Britain. Not uncommon for the time, able bodied young lads often left school after only a few years of basic education in order to help out the family financially. Albert left school at 14 years of age and through a relative was able to gain minimum waged, entry level work in 1929 at London’s Islington film studio as a general ‘dogs-body’ and factotum.
Alberts first foray into the glamour world of movies wasn’t quite so glamourous, was to hand out bags of nails to the carpenters and set builders in the studio. Whitlock eagerly took on the work and did just what he was told as it was the great depression and work was work. From this low level entry into the motion picture business the then 19 year old Cockney would gradually see various avenues open up for him which would definitely broaden young Albert’s horizons without question. If there ever was a case of being in the right place at the right time it was certainly true for him with these formative years at Islington.
The effects stage at Gainsborough, possibly for THE GHOST TRAIN (1941)
In addition to the mundane day to day storemans chores, Whitlock would find himself drawn into a quite surprising array of other duties. One was to deliver new release prints across London on public transport, which to those of the ‘digital age’ may think unremarkable until you understand that those 35mm reels were nitrate film - with nitrate being an incredibly combustible film base that was the result of many a projection room inferno and theatre conflagration until the arrival of acetate ‘safety film’ many years later (the film had a propensity to decompose and become quite unstable when stored in the film vault as I personally witnessed once). Coincidentally, the young Whitlock would later work in a junior behind the scenes capacity on an Alfred Hitchcock picture, SABOTAGE (1936) in which, in one unforgettable sequence, a child carries a similarly disguised package on a London double-decker bus which to our shock and horror is in fact a bomb and blows the bus and the kid to pieces! They don’t make ‘em like that any more.
During those early days, Albert would also gain experience as a young bit part actor, appearing in numerous British films as page-boys, newspaper boys and other blink and you’d miss it bits. When not acting, the young fellow was enlisted as a helper to on-set electricians, cameramen, scenic painters and just about anybody on the lot with all of this back and forth activity obviously before the industry became so heavily unionised and militant that the mere thought of lending an unauthorised hand to another discipline on the soundstage could result in an instant ‘walk out’ and strike! The young Whitlock would run into the actors such as Charles Laughton on DOWN RIVER and Conrad Veidt on JEW SUSS as well as Boris Karloff on THE GHOUL, who according to Rolf Giesen, didn’t even give him a tip, unlike the others!
The Schufftan Shot explained, circa 1931.
Whitlock would also find much to do at Gaumonts Lime Grove Studios in London where to begin with he was the ‘fetch and carry boy’ who was expected to come running whenever somebody yelled out “Boy”. According to historian and close friend Rolf Giesen: “One single name that Al mentioned repeatedly was that of German born art director Alfred Junge.” By good fortune Albert would go on to be assistant to the same respected art director Alfred Junge as well as working in the miniatures department for the Hitchcock film THE MAN WHO KNEW TOO MUCH (1934) in addition to showing some flare for signwriting, which he had learned at night school, that would see him on many a film set painting a wide variety of signage as required. Albert apparently worked with Junge on the 1937 version of KING SOLOMON’S MINES and it’s thought that this film may have been the one which made Albert aware of ‘glass shots’ and their usefulness. Italian born effects expert Fillipo Guidobaldi was in charge of the special effects department and he and Albert’s paths would cross again later on at Pinewood. Whitlock spoke on several occasions of his experiences during that time as he found himself exposed to so many incredibly talented technicians, cameramen, artists and other creative folk who had gotten out of Europe as World War II loomed close on the horizon. Probably the earliest exposure to ‘trick work’ would have been when Whitlock was asked to assist the set up of the Schufftan Process shot (**named after its inventor, German cinematographer Eugene Schufftan - sometimes billed as ‘Shuftan’ - the process was a superb, highly effective in camera method of combining multiple elements onto the original negative by clever use of a partially scraped away mirror and deep focus photography, all done right there on the set, the method was frequently applied throughout the 1920’s onward, especially in Europe and the UK, and even made it’s invisible mark in Disney’s wonderful DARBY O’GILL AND THE LITTLE PEOPLE (1959) and was ingeniously applied by Les Bowie to the famous closing shot of Hammer’s 1970 film WHEN DINOSAURS RULED THE EARTH ).
German fx man Willi Horn with a typical Schufftan set up in the 1930's.
Eugene Schufftan, as a sought after D.O.P would receive an Oscar for his outstanding black & white cinematography on the terrific 1962 Paul Newman picture THE HUSTLER. Al’s friend Rolf Giesen told me about the Schufftan experience as Al had recounted it: “Albert watched two experts from Germany handle the Schufftan Process and said ‘One was a Nazi, the other was not. They would make a big fuss and hide behind black velvet’. But Albert found out that the process basically was really quite simple. He remembered the..
Hello there friends. It's been a little too long since I inflicted another vast and all encompassing blog post upon your unsuspecting selves. As previously mentioned, I'm always scratching my head as to just how I can exhibit more of the thousands of great mattes that I have in my archive in order that they be seen, enjoyed and discussed in some form of coherent fashion.
I came upon the brainwave just last week of doing a special article on matte painted cathedrals - and what better utilisation of the matte artists' skills could there possibly be? In past years of touring historic towns and cities in Europe, the magnificence and grandeur of the iconic cathedral has always been a sure drawcard for me and a great many photographs have been taken over the years of said structures, with the most recent being in Bruges, Belgium; Barcelona, Spain and Venice, Italy around 5 years ago. Unforgettable!
I've gone through pretty much all of my folders of matte shots and have selected some wonderful frames that should please fans of both matte artistry and Medieval architecture alike. In addition to a truckload of the aforementioned grandiose places of worship, I've thrown in a few standard churches, Spanish missions and even a couple of precariously positioned clifftop convents just to round things out (I just love those 'hanging on the edge of the abyss' convents or monasteries, despite the daffy civil engineering that surely never got the right permits and building consent to begin with!). I wouldn't want you to accuse NZPete of not being 'complete'.
I have some wonderful matte shots here today from a broad spectrum of motion pictures from vast Biblical type narratives through to clunky horror pictures. The films range from some great early shots dating back to the earliest days of silent cinema, right the way up to the last days of the traditional 'hand painted' era. Some of these you've probably seen before but many others are fresh and haven't been published until now. Some are from totally forgotten films and others from most memorable titles.
So, with that all out of the way, let us take our fully guided 'Cook's Tour' of some magnificent sights in some enticing locales, and all without ever having to leave your armchair - though preferably on a decent screen sized device and not a damned i-phone type 'toy' ..... please! Enjoy the trip... -------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Before getting their first actual movie assignment, budding effects men Ken Marschall and associate Bruce Block put together a sample reel on 35mm in 1981 with a variety of challenging matte painted examples to show to prospective clients. For one of these trick shots, matte cinematographer Bruce Block photographed this actual church near the USC campus in California with the notion of transforming it into an exotic structure somewhere in Seville Spain.
The church plate matted for subsequent re-exposure with Ken's painting to complete a spectacular vista.
The finished composite with Ken Marschall's exquisite painting perfectly married with Bruce Block's USC plate, and as with the majority of their work to follow, all done on original negative. Ken was extremely generous when I interviewed him a couple of years ago for this very site, and was forthcoming with practically every single effects shot they ever did, including almost all of the original paintings, though sadly this painting appears to be lost. My extensive three part article can be read here, here and here. (*Apologies for serious formatting issues experienced on some aspects of those posts - Outside my control)
I've often written here about Norman O. Dawn, the pioneer of matte and trick photography. Dawn pretty much invented the techniques that would go on and see common every day use by motion picture artists over the next eighty or so years. This rare frame is from the 1917 Universal production THE BEAST OF BERLIN.
One of the several hundred production cards by Norman Dawn which extensively detail each and every effects shot he made over several decades. Astonishingly, Norman had the foresight to document every finite aspect of his long and celebrated career, and it is with great good fortune that most of these cards survive, having been bequeathed firstly to Professor Raymond Fielding and thence forth on to the Harry Ransom Centre of the University of Austin Texas, where the collection has been properly curated and digitised. Researcher's like myself simply can't get enough of this vintage material.
Norman Dawn's in camera matte shot made on the Universal backlot for THE BEAST OF BERLIN (1917) as outlined in the card above.
No, not really a cathedral but I did say there might be some other similar structures. The iconic shot from Alfred Hitchcock's VERTIGO (1958) serves a major plot device in what many acclaim as Hitch's best film (I prefer SABOTEUR myself). John P. Fulton was Paramount's effects chief here, with matte painter Jan Domela and matte cameraman Irmin Roberts creating this and several other shots to superb effect.
The dizzying downview from VERTIGO as painted by Jan Domela (pronounced 'Yarn Domela' BTW), which has far more painted in than you might suspect if you refer to the art director's drawing below. Domela found working with Fulton to be so stressful due to John's personality and complete lack of 'interpersonal empathy' that great arguments would break out over 'artistic differences' so often that studio optical effects expert, Paul Lerpae was intermediary, and Domela would relocate his matte painting studio way, way off in the back room attached to some soundstage so as to go about his work undisturbed by Fulton
The art director's design for the above matte shot. Incidentally, matte cinematographer Irmin Roberts actually devised that famous 'reverse zoom/trombone' shot that is used as James Stewart looks down the stairwell and everything distorts to chilling effect - a technique that many directors would subsequently utilise over the years, with the best use being by Spielberg on JAWS in 1975 in a particularly gob-smackingly powerful scene.
Whereas Norman Dawn was the American pioneer of the matte shot, it's more than likely that Walter Percy Day was the pioneer of the method on the other side of the Atlantic for application in British and French cinema dating back to the start of the 1920's. This shot however is from a much later film, David Lean's THIS HAPPY BREED (1944) and is a superb Technicolor matte of the era.
An early yet very competent glass shot (or hanging miniature) from Erich von Stroheim's THE MERRY WIDOW (1925)
A faded frame of a Jack Cosgrove matte from the original A STAR IS BORN (1937) made by David O. Selznick.
Les Bowie rendered this eerie church and graveyard as a full painting for Hammer's TASTE THE BLOOD OF DRACULA (1969). Initially it was supposed to be a glass shot made on a location somewhere but inclement weather saw the director scrap the shot and Bowie was tasked with painting the whole scene as a complete painting back at his studio.
The Laurence Olivier-Marilyn Monroe opus THE PRINCE AND THE SHOWGIRL (1957) wasn't too bad (though I bet Monroe's notorious disregard for call sheets and schedules and the like must have driven Larry insane). Lots of mattes from Rank's effects department which was run by Bill Warrington. Cliff Culley was chief matte painter with others probably assisting such as Bob Bell and maybe John Stears. Aside from the mattes, this film is notable for including one of the silliest rear projection sequences EVER committed to celluloid (by Charles Staffell no less!) where plate photography of a Royal procession going along The Mall is projected at Olivier's window as he looks out, yet to our bewilderment, the process plate has been shot with a slow pan across the action, suggesting our leading man (and director) Olivier is in some sort of moving building such is the very weird on screen view(!) I don't know how that one ever got past the editor's scissors. It's got to be seen to be believed folks!
I love 1950's sci-fi flicks, and THE QUATERMASS EXPERIMENT - aka THE CREEPING UNKNOWN (1956) was a great diversion, filled with matte shots and wild effects. Les Bowie was in charge of it all, with up and coming fx names such as Roy Field, Ray Caple, Kit West and possibly Derek Meddings as well all lending a hand.
Among the numerous matte shots in QUATERMASS are a whole lot in and around Westminster Abbey where the barest of minimal sets were substantially augmented by matte paintings by Les Bowie, with help from budding artist Ray Caple. This is one such shot where practically everything has been matted in later and slips by without notice.
Another Bowie matte from QUATERMASS EXPERIMENT with some nice perspective draftsmanship for the interior, practically all of which is matte art.
Extensive matte art from THE QUATERMASS EXPERIMENT (1956) where just a tiny piece of set has been blended with a Bowie-Caple matte painting.
The Ronald Colman melodrama IF I WERE KING (1938) had a number of period mattes courtesy of Jan Domela.
An enlargement of Jan Domela's matte art.
Matte World supplied several mattes for Joe Dante's frenetic GREMLINS 2 - A NEW BATCH (1990), with this beautiful Brian Flora painting being particularly good.
Another matte from GREMLINS 2 which offers an extreme up view of the cathedral just as one of the nasty hybrid creatures swoops down onto the legendary, though unsuspecting Dick Miller.
An MGM pastel matte purportedly from A TALE OF TWO CITIES (1935), though no scene like this occurs in the movie, so it may have been left on the cutting room floor.
Another matte reportedly as being from the above film, but again, no such scene appears in the movie.
Pete's Editorial: Greetings friends and assorted special effects 'nuts' (and I do mean that in the nicest possible way!) I'm back with a fresh blog post of some substantial volume (would you accept anything less?) and I think many of you will enjoy this retrospective. However, before we do that I'd like to take a moment to mention a superb book that I've just finished which I'd rate as probably the best of it's kind when it comes to giving the lowdown on the making of any motion picture you'd care to name.
SPACE ODYSSEY: STANLEY KUBRICK, ARTHUR C. CLARKE AND THE MAKING OF A MASTERPIECE by Michael Benson is the book in question, and what a book it is. I've read several published accounts on the making of Stanley Kubrick's often misunderstood 1968 cinematic masterpiece but none came even close to exploring that mammoth, complicated and certainly controversial production as comprehensively as Benson has done. Not a word is wasted in this 500 page tome, with a great many portions of the text being re-read a second or third time by this reviewer such was the quality of the writing. With scores of (the then) surviving cast and crew members interviewed - including Arthur C.Clarke, Douglas Trumbull, Stuart Freeborn, Brian Johnson and many others - often with surprisingly candid and revealing results, some of which are quite hilarious. Of course the film's groundbreaking photographic effects work is covered in much detail and even I learned so much more than I thought I already knew. Michael has augmented these very passionate recollections with many archival interviews from those no longer with us, often from unpublished sources. The result is to put it simply, wonderful. The accounts presented to the author from the least likely of interviewees such as low ranking production assistants and even newbie 'green' pimply faced interns and the like, who amazingly wound up having key creative input and artistic responsibilities on the film in itself was such a revelation and for me proved among the most rewarding aspects of the 'out of control' behemoth that was Stanley's baby. I cannot recommend this book highly enough. It's certainly one that takes a special place on my bookshelf. A must read! *PS: For those interested, I did an extensive and surprisingly well received blog on 2001's special photographic effects a few years ago and it can be read right here.
Today's blog is something a little different inasmuch as there ain't a whole lot of matte painted effects on show here for once. Instead we will be taking a look at some of the most memorable visual effects sequences where catastrophic mayhem was the order of the day. It's not really a disaster film showcase that you might anticipate, as this article covers a range of genres that just happen to have an element of epic scaled mayhem as created by the special effects departments of various studios over a long timespan of movie history. There are war films, drama's, soppy love stories, westerns, fantasy films, science fiction yarns, dawn of man epics, comedies and even musicals among the line up here. Musicals I here you utter? Well, yes... MGM's big CinemaScope song and dance show SEVEN BRIDES FOR SEVEN BROTHERS wasn't all vocals and melody, as there was a ripper of an avalanche in the movie with much technical virtuosity required.
Of course there are some of the obvious entries such as EARTHQUAKE, which played a massive part in my love for visual effects back in 1974, and there are some classic effects sequences from terrific war pictures such as THE DAMBUSTERS and the amazing HELL'S ANGELS in addition to shows like the classy Cinerama epic KRAKATOA EAST OF JAVA through to the dire Irwin Allen flick THE STORY OF MANKIND.
Some of these films had significant chunks of running time devoted to some form of catastrophic mayhem, while others may have just had one brief segment that occurred within an otherwise unremarkable movie, but all those effects sequences selected are here because NZPete fondly remembers them. Not all are masterpieces (ATLANTIS THE LOST CONTINENT - what were they thinking?), while others remain to this day fully fledged classics in all aspects of the artform and entertainment value (THIRTY SECONDS OVER TOKYO - unforgettable!). Some time back I published my Magicians of the Miniature blog special on all things miniature, which incidentally has proven to be my most popular post ever. While today's blog post isn't really a follow up, it's probably the next best thing for those of you who dig models in the trick shot arena. My big miniature effects blog can be read here.
So, with that, let us put our feet up onto the seat in front of us, dig into our popcorn (or if you were me back in the day, a double chocolate dipped ice cream) and become immersed in a few hours of most worthy m a y h e m ... I'm sure you'll get a kick out of it Enjoy
I'll start off with one of my absolute all time favourite movies, and certainly one of the finest special effects entries ever, MGM's big budgeted THIRTY SECONDS OVER TOKYO (1944). The film deserved took home the Oscar that year for it's effects work which included fabulous miniatures by the great Donald Jahraus under the overall supervision of the legendary A.Arnold 'Buddy' Gillespie in what I'd regard as a career best for both men.
The film deals with the famous Dolittle bombing raids on Tokyo as a show of force after the calamity that was Pearl Harbour. The bomb run itself as shown here was brilliantly executed on the MGM backlot by Buddy Gillespie and a crew that included several son to be famous in their field effects practitioners such as A.D Flowers, Jack McMaster and Glen Robinson - all of whom went on to major endeavours later in their careers. These sequences were shot from atop a 90 foot tower erected on the backlot.
Part of Don Jahraus' massive miniature set of Tokyo. The blur at the lower edge of the frame isn't the fault of Max Fabian's excellent fx cinematography but is a result of these frames being screengrabs from what was a fast motion sequence filmed from the bomber aircraft's POV as it swoops low over the industrial area in flames.
Miniaturist Don Jahraus started off his career at RKO around 1930 and then did some time at Universal briefly before taking up the position at MGM where he stayed for the remainder of his illustrious career.
Part of the aerial bombardment set piece, and although it's hard to see on these frames, the B25 is actually visible flying across the devastation as it occurs. What I love here is the remarkably authentic pyrotechnic work that is perfectly scaled to the large miniature set and looks utterly convincing. Marvellous horizontal piano wire guidance system (that can faintly be seen vibrating as the explosion goes off) that was an industry standard for decades and was largely known as a Lydecker rig, named after Republic special effects masters Howard and Theodore Lydecker. The system would still be in use by Gillespie's assistant A.D (Adlia Douglas) Flowers on the big Steven Spielberg film 1941 (1979) and also featured in later shows such as INDEPENDENCE DAY among others.
In his memoir, Buddy Gillespie called Donald Jahraus "...the best executor of miniature assignments with whom I ever came in contact - imaginative, intelligent, artistic and creative - Truly one of the greats."
Glen Robinson and Robert MacDonald were Gillespie's 'powder men' for these scenes. Buddy described these miniatures as being 1/2 scale, which suggests enormous models, though maybe he meant 1/2 inch to the foot scale?
A close up of one of the B25's from Gillespie's own historic collection. The take offs and landings were executed with a vertical piano wire system (barely visible in this still) attached to an overhead trolley rig which ran along cables strung between telephone poles.
A rare still taken from the same position as Maximillian Fabian's vfx camera - atop the 90 foot tower - which demonstrates the amazing skills of the powder men and their pyro mix. I just can't get enough of miniature explosions, with Gerry Anderson's THUNDERBIRDS being my weekly 'fix' back in the 1960's.
While on aerial mayhem, we cannot overlook the phenomenal effects work in Spielberg's 1941 (1979) which was orchestrated by one of the THIRTY SECONDS veterans, A.D Flowers. Jaw dropping miniature set pieces with brilliantly executed 'Lydecker rigs' allowing model aircraft to not only fly down Hollywood Blvd but to do barrel rolls and all manner of stunt gags.
Greg Jein's miniatures get all blown to hell in 1941.
Another viewpoint of the miniature Hollywood Blvd aerial sequence. Oh, and I've actually stayed in the Roosevelt Hotel once while on an expedition to great places like Larry Edmunds Movie Bookstore and Hollywood Book & Poster etc ... and all while 'attending' an international conference as an invited speaker on very weird medical things in a previous life, but keep that to yourself.
Frames from the climactic Ferris wheel sequence where the whole thing comes off it's axis and rolls into the bay, though sadly Eddie Deezen survived!
Effects crew at work on 1941. That's Logan Frazee at lower left and A.D Flowers middle right. For much more on the effects from this movie you can visit my special blog right here.
Kiwi director Roger Donaldson did a splendid job with his version of the famous Bounty mutineers saga with THE BOUNTY (1984) and the film hit all the bases for this viewer. A couple of effects shots which included a first rate climactic scene where the Pitcairn deposited mutineers deliberately sink the mighty ship The Bounty so as to not draw attention to their whereabouts. Excellent model work and composite photography by Van der Veer Photo Effects - a company established by longtime effects cameraman Frank Van der Veer who sadly died in 1982. Frank began in the effects biz in 1950 at 20th Century Fox as one of Fred Sersen's crew and he founded his own optical house in 1962 and produced many composite shots for films as wide ranging as EXORCIST II-THE HERETIC, ORCA THE KILLER WHALE and the 1976 incarnation of KING KONG.
Epic conclusion to an epic film, THE BOUNTY.
For the MGM film ABOVE AND BEYOND (1952), A.Arnold Gillespie re-created the Atomic bomb drop on Hiroshima to frightening effect though I'm sure the footage was in fact lifted out of an earlier MGM picture called THE BEGINNING OR THE END (1947). The terrain was actually just a scenic painting inside a large glass tank measuring 4 by 5 feet and 7 feet in depth, filled with distilled water. The mushroom cloud was created by injecting a chemical formula into the tank at a strategic point, augmented by specially rigged flash bulbs behind to add to the illusion. The subsequent views of devastation were achieved via miniatures. At the time Gillespie created this effect, nobody outside of the military had actually seen the effects of an atomic bomb blast so it was a bit of guess work on the fx technicians part.
For the 1957 Korean war drama, BATTLE HYMN, Universal's effects department under Clifford Stine produced a superb bit of destruction. Miniature most likely made by veteran Charlie Baker, with Fred Knoth being one of that studio's pyro experts.
Irwin Allen's feeble attempt at remaking the classic LOST WORLD (1960) was an insult to Willis O'Brien who was engaged on the film purely to have his esteemed name associated with this turkey and nothing more. Anyway, there was a halfway decent cataclysmic finale when the whole she-bang goes up like the forth of July. L.B Abbott was effects chief with Emil Kosa jnr painting the matte art, which I think much of this shot is.
Welcome fellow enthusiasts of the magical world of the traditional hand painted matte photographic effect. Today I'm offering up something entirely fresh in the realisation that I have so many wonderful matte shot frames and associated imagery encompassing all manner of genres and a myriad of themes and specific subject matter that much of the collection could well be overlooked by yours truly as I try and offer up my monthly 'topics'. So, as a change of pace I've pulled out a couple of hundred (and then some!) matte shots that cover a wide range of themes, genres and era's, with the twist being that probably 75% of these images haven't been seen until now.
Some are from films that I have covered in the past but these particular shots haven't been published as they generally didn't meet the particular theme of a given blog post, so the mattes are in the large part 'new' to my readers. I couldn't resist throwing in a few familiar ones due to much improved image quality as a result of BluRay technology or HDTV broadcast. Many here are very rare and some have originated from films that run the gamut from timeless right through to time-waste!
Those of you who have followed my blog for a while will know NZPete is especially fond of the so-called 'Golden Era' of matte painted trick shots, with many of my favourite matte artists such as pioneers Norman Dawn, Jack Cosgrove, Percy Day, Ralph Hammeras, Jan Domela, Albert Maxwell Simpson, Chesley Bonestell, Emil Kosa jnr, and those fabled, though largely anonymous Newcombe artists at Metro Goldwyn Mayer, all the way through to the next generation of oil on glass maestro's such as Peter Ellenshaw, Albert Whitlock, Irving Block, Matthew Yuricich and Ray Caple. Latter day exponents also receive wide coverage here such as Syd Dutton, Ken Marschall, Harry Walton and Robert Stromberg. Of course, a great many fine matte has been rendered over the ninety-odd years that the practice had been a film maker's staple, by largely anonymous, uncredited and pretty much unknown, yet highly talented artists whose work is the main reason that this blog exists in the first place. I am more than sure many of you will love this collection as much as I do.
As stated in the past, it's always my hope that readers of this blog actually view same on a decent sized PC or Mac, and not one of those damned little matchbox sized 'toys' that seem to have proliferated for reasons that escape me. Many of these images, whenever possible, are high quality and need to be appreciated on 'real' computers with a tangible screen size. So come on, be a 'real bloke' with your 'V8' viewing equipment and not some 'kaftan wearer' who needs to pinch that little micro-screen to make it marginally more viewable. *This message was not sanctioned by the folks who brought you the i-phone.
So folks, with that out of the way, prepare your popcorn, get comfy, dim the lights as the perfectly timed overture takes us up a notch and the glorious waterfall curtain starts it's slow ascent as the picture show commences (if you have to ask 'what the hell is a waterfall curtain?', then I'm afraid no amount of therapy will suffice...)
Now I did say that not all of the films featured here today were classics ... which brings us to the silly beyond belief MANNEQUIN 2 - ON THE MOVE (1991), which at least had some fine visuals from the always reliable Illusion Arts. Syd Dutton was matte artist and Bill Taylor chief fx cinematographer. A dud film with some beautiful matte shots.
The rather taut little British thriller, ANOTHER MAN'S POISON (1951) featured a scenery chewing Bette Davis in the role she was born for. An independent film made at a small studio at Walton-on-Thames with no effects credit so I'm assuming the several mattes were farmed out to somewhere like Pinewood or Shepperton. This one is a full painting with what looks like animated gag for the water.
From the same film is another full painting representing the estate where all manner of chicanery takes hold.
MGM's deservedly famous Newcombe department supplied this invisible matte to the Fred Astaire film ROYAL WEDDING (1951). The matte line bisects the frame right across the upper part of the gateway with practically the whole house being artwork.
The Alistair MacLean spy thriller WHEN EIGHT BELLS TOLL (1971) had this undetectable matte shot by Pinewood's Cliff Culley where an actual Scottish location (a well known castle on a lake in truth) has been made to appear atop a steep ridge via clever matte painting which adds in the cliff and distant scenery.
I've covered Selznick's SINCE YOU WENT AWAY (1944) previously but missed a couple of nice shots that slipped by. This interior of the USO club is all painted (including the suspended foreground piece) except for the people. Jack Shaw was a veteran painter with Selznick and Warners and, under Clarence Slifer had much to do with the many mattes in the film. Other artists included Spencer Bagtatopolis, Hans Ledeboer and Jack Cosgrove. The film was nominated for best visual effects for 1944 but lost out.
Also from SINCE YOU WENT AWAY is this remarkable shot that I'd never spotted before until seeing the BluRay disc. Only the area with the foreground stars and various extras are actual with all else painted and composited in flawlessly by ace camera wiz Clarence Slifer. I think the entire tree at left of frame has also been added in by the artist, such was the skill of the fabulous Cosgrove matte department at Selznick Studios. This sort of trick shot just blows my mind folks.
I have an epic Al Whitlock blog coming up soon but I couldn't help throwing in a few tidbits before time such as this wonderful (and very rare) matte from the brilliant COLOSSUS - THE FORBIN PROJECT (1970). I say rare because the shot was painted and composited with a small live action set up at lower left, initially as a full 2.35:1 widescreen anamorphic shot showing the Soviet nuclear missile battery, though in the final film it's only ever seen as a heavily cropped down image on a little tv screen, and even then, ever so fleetingly. Trivia note: years later Matthew Yuricich did a similar shot on a smaller scale for FLIGHT OF THE INTRUDER that was so degraded in the final 'tv news' presentation that it's hard to even see.
John Huston's MOULIN ROUGE (1952) had a couple of trick shots courtesy of Shepperton's matte department, with this lovely shot being one of Judy Jordan's matte paintings. Judy trained under Walter Percy Day and would carry on under Wally Veevers at that studio for a number of years before transitioning across town to Tom Howard's matte department at MGM-Elstree.
Anyone who regularly peruses my blogs will know that I'm an enormous fan of the legendary Fred Sersen and his remarkable effects department at 20th Century Fox. The excellent Gregory Peck epic drama KEYS OF THE KINGDOM (1944) was a showcase for many superbly integrated mattes, complex multi-panel glass panorama's and miniature work.
Also from KEYS OF THE KINGDOM is this extensive, though barely detectable matte painted shot where it's all paint except the patch of grass with the actors. Even the tree is a Sersen painted element.
From the same film is this superbly executed and entirely convincing trick shot. Painters working for Sersen included Ray Kellogg, Emil Kosa snr, Emil Kosa jnr, Fitch Fulton, Ralph Hammeras, Max De Vega, Irving Block, Jack Rabin, Cliff Silsby, Clyde Hill, Lee LeBlanc, Barbara Webster, Chris von Schneidau and Menrad von Muldorfer among others.
Columbia's Glenn Ford western THE MAN FROM COLORADO (1948) was a good genre piece and what's more featured several excellent matte shots that seemed a par above the usual shots produced at that studio. No FX credit but likely to be Larry Butler and Donald Glouner. Matte artists employed at Columbia included Juan Larrinaga, Hans Bathowlowsky and Louis Litchtenfield for a time.
An outstanding matte from THE MAN FROM COLORADO (1948) that is as convincing and beautifully composited as any I've seen. Very nice work.
Rocco Gioffre painted this Latin American port for the blood thirsty though oddly watchable WALKER (1987) starring the always excellent Ed Harris. It's one of those films that you want to turn off after a while but just can't bring yourself to do so.
Universal cranked out dozens of Rock Hudson vehicles over the years, with BACK TO GOD'S COUNTRY (1953) being the third cinematic incarnation of the very same story. Russ Lawson was Universal's resident matte artist for decades.
Syd Dutton painted this sweeping establishing shot for BATMAN FOREVER (1995).
If ever there was a director with a sincere feeling for the human condition it must have been the great Frank Capra, who's career included so many all time classics. THE BITTER TEA OF GENERAL YEN (1932) may not be his most well known picture but it ranks among his very best. A beautifully told and acted piece that stays long with the viewer after the fact. A Columbia film, as were most of Capra's pictures, the film is stunningly photographed (by Joseph Walker) and contains many visual effects shots from burning towns through to imposing Chinese palaces. I don't know who painted that mattes other than Columbia apparently had a New Zealand matte painter, Ted Withers, among it's staff around that time, so maybe it was Ted? Withers also painted for MGM for a while and became a famous calendar artist of pin ups etc. I think Russell Lawson and Jack Cosgrove both worked for Columbia as well in those early days.
One of the vast, oppressive interiors from THE BITTER TEA OF GENERAL YEN (1932).
The epic scale 70mm Super-Technirama CUSTER OF THE WEST (1968) slipped in a few excellent matte shots courtesy of Spanish maestro, and one of my all time favourite trick men, Emilio Ruiz del Rio. If you open this image and study it you will see much painted augmentation going on, with trees, hills, indian encampment and distant mountains all beautifully rendered with oils on glass by magician extraordinaire Ruiz. Emilio had worked on around 300 films going back as far as the 1940's and was still busy post-retirement and well into his twilight years.
Another big 70mm epic was the extremely long EXODUS (1960) from Otto Preminger and a cast of thousands it seemed. This shot was curious and struck me as possibly a full painting with doubled in pyro for the bombing of the hospital.
The timeless story of LES MISERABLES has been filmed many times, with this set of frames being from the 1934 French version. I don't know who did the fx shots but a fellow named Nicholas Wilcke was active on many French films requiring mattes, models and foreground gags,
Hello friends and assorted special effects freaks - and I do mean that in the nicest possible way ;) It's that time again where, after a sweltering summer break I have finally found the motivation to plod away at one of these mammoth blogs. It's always a strange process trying to come up with new topics for these blogs as I have so many matte images I want to share, so it can be a struggle trying find a decent enough reason. Generally, I find that while walking my dog blog ideas spring to mind, with a myriad of flashbacks to particular films I've seen and how they might figure in the greater scheme of things in a potential matte blog. Today I have something that I'm sure many of you will find quite interesting and really not really examined until now - the wonders that are the matte painted jungle.
If you are anything like me many of you will have been weened on the old TARZAN pictures and various assorted daffy jungle adventures featuring exquisitely presented heroines of the Dorothy Lamour or Maureen O'Sullivan magnitude - and to a lesser extent Maria Montez - with these glossy though wafer thin scenarios usually produced on larger than life backlot sets that have been extended into magical make believe locales by way of our best friend, the matte artist. In an effort to be as comprehensive as possible I have included some classics, some lesser efforts and a handful of best forgotten films that span the all encompassing 'hand painted' traditional matte shot era. For my money, the painted jungle was never better than that depicted in the 1933 bona-fide classic KING KONG. Matte artists Mario Larrinaga, Byron Crabbe and Albert Maxwell Simpson created the quintessential 'gardener's nightmare' - a foliage rendition of Dante's Inferno where danger lurked at every junction and a sense of unease was near palpable for the viewer. That damp, humid, tangled hell painted on glass made KONG every bit as memorable for me as the creatures that inhabited the environs. The same could not be said for the Dino DeLaurentiis reboot in 1976 which while having a few okay points (like John Barry's score), was a complete and absolute let down in the jungle stakes, such was the dreadfully unimaginative production design on Dino's film which for all intentions seemed to have been shot in a garden centre nursery. I'd love to have seen what the proposed but unmade Universal adaptation THE LEGEND OF KING KONG might have been like.
At least Peter Jackson got it right on the money with his version of KONG, and as a true devotee of the original I'd have expected nothing less from Jackson. I've assembled a fairly substantial collection here with plenty of great TARZAN vistas, some WWII jungle movies, a few pirate yarns and plenty more. Among the collection here are some very rare images and some never before seen photographs from family albums of old time matte exponents which, as good fortune would have it, fell into my hands fairly recently, for which I'm ever grateful.
So folks, let us stock up on mosquito repellent, fill our water canteens and set our compasses to "adventure" as we hack and slash a path through the cinematic foliage ...
This beautiful jungle vista was painted by Mark Sullivan for a proposed Jim Danforth project JONGOR around 1985, though I don't think it ever got finished or far into production.
One of the better films of the genre, the Arnold Schwarzenegger monster flick PREDATOR (1987) was one of the most dazzling displays of pre-CG era photographic effects by R/Greenberg and Associates based out of New York. The matte shots were contracted to artist Bob Scifo in Hollywood and included this great shot in an altogether audience jarring moment
Walter Percy Day, known as Pop Day throughout the British film industry, is still regarded as the grandfather of UK trick photography (or, 'Process Shots' as he preferred to be credited). For a number of years in the early 1920's Pop based himself in Paris and was in constant demand to the French film industry producing scores of elaborate mattes and other effects. This shot is from one such French film though I don't know the title nor year.
The matte shot world's best kept secret would have to be the astonishingly talented Ken Marschall who for more than 25 years would turn out more than one hundred remarkable original negative matte shots together with effects cameraman and business partner Bruce Block under the banner Matte Effects. This exquisite rendering for the film DANGER ISLAND from the mid eighties was classic Marschall matte magic - painted in acrylics onto special black glossy art cardboard and as was often the case, rendered at Ken's kitchen table at home! Marschall is also well known among marine art collectors for his many wonderful paintings depicting The Titanic and other vintage era ocean liners.
I've always had a soft spot for left of centre film maker extraordinaire Samuel Fuller. A real life war hero and tough guy who never minced words and called it as he saw it. His interviews are always illuminating to say the least. Among his many films was this interesting one set in Indo-China, CHINA GATE (1957). Oddly, a 20th Century Fox logo precedes the film but the effects were credited to Linwood Dunn who had for decades been a part of RKO (which I think might have closed up shop around this time).
Another matte from CHINA GATE. Well worth catching.
Norman Dawn was unquestionably the pioneer of matte photography, having developed glass shot methodology as early as 1907. Among his many decades in the business, Dawn produced nearly 900 trick shots, all meticulously recorded and indexed for future historians. This shot is from the 1920 silent picture THE ADORABLE SAVAGE. The ocean beach is real, the village is a backlot set at Universal with the background landscape a matte painting all combined in camera.
There have been numerous incarnations of the classic KING SOLOMON'S MINES with this one being from around 1985 from the Cannon Films outfit - and the resulting low brow film shows the fact. Not sure who did the mattes, possibly Cliff Culley or Leigh Took?
An invisible matte shot by Syd Dutton for the 1980's tv series MAGNUM P.I with Tom Selleck. The episode was Two Birds of a Feather. The same matte was used in at least one other instance.
I kind of enjoy some of these formula, by-the-numbers African adventures from the 1950's. TANGANYIKA (1954) was just such a show and had a couple of nice Technicolor mattes by artist Russ Lawson. The one at left was recycled (in b&w) for the horror show THE LEECH WOMAN.
...as the title suggests, the film sucked...big time!
Paramount made many a jungle movie, often starring the exquisite Dorothy Lamour in the most fetching of sarongs and HER JUNGLE LOVE (1938) was one of many. The film was Technicolor and although I have a copy it's too awful to get decent frame grabs from so here are Jan Domela before and after photos.. The sea is a real plate, the middle portion a set at Paramount and the rest a Domela painting.
Another Jan Domela shot from HER JUNGLE LOVE (1938). Gordon Jenning was effects supervisor and Irmin Roberts was matte cinematographer.
British matte artist and optical effects wiz Doug Ferris created this expansive African vista for a UK cigarette commercial in the 1980's.
Doug's matte art that still survives today along with numerous others. Doug started as a matte painter at Shepperton under Wally Veevers around 1962 as part of Wally's large and well equipped and highly regarded photographic effects department.
A big special effects show was Columbia's THE DEVIL AT 4 O'CLOCK (1961) with veteran technician Lawrence W. Butler in charge of the many effects shots with cameraman Donald Glouner. I don't know who did the matte painted shots but some are pretty good as shown above. I know that Al Whitlock did numerous mattes as an independent contractor to Butler-Glouner after leaving Disney in the early 1960's and on through his tenure at Universal so maybe Whitlock had a hand in.
More mattes, miniatures and split screen fx from DEVIL AT 4 O'CLOCK. The huge model volcano was built in Larry Butler's rural property apparently as he wanted excavation work done and it just suited him down to the ground.
A dazzling matte painted shot by Mark Sullivan for the film MIRACLES (1986).
Equatorial West Africa as realised by Albert Whitlock for the epic GREYSTOKE - THE LEGEND OF TARZAN, LORD OF THE APES (1984). This view - one of many mattes in the film - was entirely manufactured as a complex visual effect by Whitlock and cameramen Bill Taylor, Dennis Glouner (son of Donald) and Mike Moramarco. All painted, with elaborate cel overlay effects art and animation gags for the burning lava, waterfall, birds, lightning and sunlight 'God Rays', not forgetting the classic Whitlock moving clouds trick (produced with multiple soft horizontal split screens).
Another jaw dropping vista from GREYSTOKE is once again entirely painted and features subtle cloud drift split screen gags and sun rays. I am happy to report that he painting still survives and this along with several other rare Whitlock matte paintings that I have high res images of will be featured in a forthcoming Whitlock Special, where I'll have as many of Albert's mattes as I have been able to acquire - many of which have never been seen before! Stay tuned.
GREYSTOKE mighty tilt up from river boat to smoldering volcano.
Old time Newcombe pastel matte from MGM's CONGO MAISIE (1940)
As a teen I enjoyed this one, THE LAND THAT TIME FORGOT (1975) although it all looks pretty hokey nowadays. Derek Meddings was in charge of the highly variable effects,..