Saturday, 26 January 2013

THE SKY'S THE LIMIT: Movie magic and the painted sky



Albert Whitlock's glorious African skyscape created for GREYSTOKE-THE LEGEND OF TARZAN, LORD OF APES (1983)

THE SKY’S THE LIMIT:  Movie magic and the painted skyline
A Percy Day glass shot from THE DEMI-PARADISE (1943)
For as long as I can recall I’ve loved that peculiar atmospheric phenomenom commonly recognised as ‘The Sky’.  As an enthusiastic photographer (and mediocre oil painter) myself I’ve long since lost count of the number of unusual, dramatic, forboding or just plain damned appealing skies I’ve captured on film or more recently in digital format.  In days long passed I can recall many instances where all must come to a halt as I frantically sought out my trusty Canon Ftb 35mm SLR  to record on film a particular atmospheric cloudscape which, more often than not,  captured my imagination to significant effect.  And we’re not always talking textbook postcard sunsets for the most part, more often just exquisite and complex light on a massive, infinite and constantly changing stage.

A Russell Lawsen matte from CHIEF CRAZY HORSE (1955)
The same may be said of skyscapes as portrayed in classical art with many of my own particular favourites being the 17th Century Dutch landscapes and coastal paintings with those customary  low horizons and masses upon masses of evocatively exhilarating sky to delight both the eye and the soul.  The works of Jacob van Ruisdael, Claude Lorrain, Aelbert Cuyp, Jan van Goyen,  Canaletto,  Richard Parkes Bonnington, Peder Monsted, Atkinson Grimshaw, Albert Bierstadt, Frederick Church and so many more I find so utterly inspirational and soul expanding in the extreme.
ADVENTURES OF MARK TWAIN (1944)

Unsurprisingly, this passion in photographic and classically painted skylines crosses over quite enthusiastically into motion picture matte art, and as such I’ve put together a quite considerable collection here of traditionally painted matte shots where the sky has made an impact upon NZPete.  Many of the mattes shown here are highly dramatic, some deliberately low key, but sometimes it’s that beautiful subtlety that works wonders.  As a staunch advocate of Golden Era matte trickery it’ll come as no surprise to my regular readers that a great many of the shots I’ve included come from that magical period of the Hollywood Dream Factory of the thirties and forties whereby not only was the art of the painted matte at it’s peak, but the renderings of those glorious painted skies in so many films at their very best too.
Michael Pangrazio painted vista from INDIANA JONES AND THE TEMPLE OF DOOM (1984)


Technicolor matte from the Columbia film SALOME (1953)
Among the numerous Hollywood studios (and those based across the Atlantic) I often draw attention here to those marvellous artists on staff at MGM, Selznick International and Warner Brothers in particular as the quota of delightful matte painted skies which poured forth from these three studios really did corner the market, though not to fear, all the studios and many practitioners are also represented in todays blog, as is the entire traditional ‘hand made’ era .  Artists such as Paul Detlefsen, Chesley Bonestell, John Barthowlowsky and Mario Larrinaga at Warners were at the top of their game throughout the thirties and forties on shows like CABIN IN THE COTTON, CHARGE OF THE LIGHT BRIGADE and THE ADVENTURES OF MARK TWAIN.  The same could be said of the many, largely anonymous painters under Warren Newcombe at MGM where delicately crafted pastel crayon visions on pictures such as DRAGON SEED and TALE OF TWO CITIES remain works of utmost beauty and a joy to behold .  
A full frame painting by Les Bowie from Hammer's CAPTAIN CLEGG (1962)

Jack Cosgrove matte art from DUEL IN THE SUN (1947)
The great Jack Cosgrove was another supreme visionary in matte design and execution with the skies depicted in the many David O. Selznick pictures from the mid thirties to the late forties being sublime masterpieces from the intuitive brushmanship of painters Jack Shaw, Albert Maxwell Simpson, Fitch Fulton and Spencer Bagtoutopoulis rating among the best the genre would have on offer.  The Cosgrove mattes remain among my all time favourite as seen in films like DUEL IN THE SUN and of course GONE WITH THE WIND.

Jan Domela matte shot - TOP O' THE MORNING (1949)
Early shows such as James Whale's FRANKENSTEIN and it’s numerous follow ons are tremendous examples of a long since vanished trend toward larger than life scenic backings whereby the admittedly theatrical mood of a given scene would be provided by a huge painted backing occupying much of the screen with the actors performing directly in front of this exaggerated expanse of cloud and sky upon a very limited stage set – and to great effect.  Films such as HOW GREEN WAS MY VALLEY achieved this beautifully, as you will see later in today's awe inspiring blog of near biblical proportions no less!


MGM matte shot from CRISIS (1950)
Universal Studios too produced wonderfully evocative skylines and atmospheric mood in the many unforgettable horror and science fiction shows so strongly present in the thirties through to the fifties.  Matte artists Russell Lawsen and future art director John De Cuir would collaborate on many of these gothic inspired vistas, especially during the 1940’s that remain firm in the memories of millions of genre fans.  John De Cuir’s mattes as seen in the climactic set piece of Hitchcock’s marvellous SABOTEUR are trademark success stories in their own right.

One of ILM's mattes from HOOK (1991)
20th Century Fox always had a strong matte department and pictures such as JANE EYRE, THE RAZOR’S EDGE and THE BLUEBIRD were prime examples of the craft of beautifully rendered skies from the hands of artists such as Emil Kosa, Ray Kellogg, Ralph Hammeras and Menrad von Muldorfer among others.  Painted skies of this era were more often than not heavily romanticised, which is in no way a critical view, but an expected visual motif of the times – and the films were all the better for it.

Peter Ellenshaw matte: THE LIGHT IN THE FOREST(1958)
Among the many matte painters strongly represented here as bona fide geniuses in ‘skycraft’ are the titans of the artform, Peter Ellenshaw and later on Albert Whitlock - both of whom would be recognised as true masters of the art.  I’d rank Peter Ellenshaw as the maestro as far as this sort of brushwork goes, with countless examples of glorious cloud work infused with subtle backlight and hues as masterpieces few could ever equal.  Even little shows such as DAVY CROCKETT,  THE LIGHT IN THE FOREST, IN SEARCH OF THE CASTAWAYS and SWORD AND THE ROSE.  I have many large photo blow-ups of Ellenshaw’s  movie mattes and I never cease to be amazed and thrilled in equal doses.  

Robert Stromberg's grimly determined sky and other additions to Martin Scorsese's CAPE FEAR (1991)


Albert Whitlock's Bodega Bay skyscape- THE BIRDS (1962)

Whereas Peter Ellenshaw must be recognised as the master of instinctive and true to form brush work and paint handling that would put many artists to shame, it was Ellenshaw’s former assistant Albert Whitlock who would lift the entire medium to a whole new level with his technical innovations which could transform mere static painted clouds into a wholly credible moving skyscape.  Moving skyscapes were nothing new, and as far back as the the late thirties rudimentary attempts had been made by various artisans to simulate cloud progression across artificial skies.   

Real Venice with painted moving sky: ANNA KARENINA (1947)
Percy Day did it in ANNA KARENINA and THE THIEF OF BAGHDAD  and Russ Lawson did it on some Technicolor pictures at Universal, though these effects were really just rather rudimentary sliding glass gags with painted clouds where all cloud, regardless of apparent distance, moved as one plane and lacked correct dimensional depth.  Albert Whitlock would pioneer the technique of dimensionally accurate moving skies where clouds would drift in proper depth or layers – that is with those nearest the camera moving significantly quicker than those in middle background, and the most distant layer barely detectable in movement.  

MGM matte:THE POSTMAN ALWAYS RINGS TWICE
 Whitlock’s tried and true methodology was to split-screen the carefully timed, hand cranked painting move during final photography into three individual horizontal bands –each band of cloud being ‘cranked’ across a track at a slightly different speed - all combined in camera on original negative.  I believe Whitlock may have initially tried this method out while at Disney, though it was his move to Universal which saw the technique become the studio’s in house ‘stock in trade’ of effects gags for decades to follow, and much admired by fellow visual effects practitioners.




Syd Dutton's sprawling matte art from NEVER ENDING STORY PART 2 - THE NEXT CHAPTER  (1990)

RKO matte from: SINBAD THE SAILOR (1947)
Later exponents in the traditional matte arena such as Rocco Gioffre, Mark Sullivan, Michael Pangrazio and Paul Lasaine would each prove their worth many times over as superb painters and effects men whose trick shots would stun and enthral a whole new generation of film enthusiasts and effects buffs alike with beautiful skyscapes in shows like HOOK, ALIEN 3, TWILIGHT ZONE and of course the wonderful matte extravaganza DICK TRACY (which really should have been recognised by that incestuos Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences... though as usual, I digress!)



One of Bob Cuff and Ray Caple's beautiful paintings from the epic MACKENNA'S GOLD (1969)


THE PRIVATE LIVES OF ELIZABETH AND ESSEX (1939)
The mattes I have selected are, as is my habit,  vast in number, so this blog will be broken into two parts – not something I really like to do as I tend to lose the plot when not attacking everything in one fell swoop – such is my idiosynchratic personality – but them’s the breaks as they say.  So with that, let us embark upon a glorious stroll down matte memory lane and celebrate the art of the painted sky.
I'm sure all my readers will find something they love in all of what follows.  There's not much else as inspirational and arresting as a beautifully rendered sky.

Enjoy!! 



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A staggeringly impressive Paul Lasaine full painting from ALIEN 3 (1992) which regrettably didn't look anywhere near this good in the final film due to optical tweaking and a total change of hue to orange sunset.  Not sure how Paul felt about this?

One of several eerie viewpoints from THE ADDAMS FAMILY VALUES (1993) with Robert Stromberg and Syd Dutton sharing painting duties.

Robert Stromberg seen here painting the tower and creepy sky for ADDAMS FAMILY VALUES -  a shot which would ultimately not be used.  Note: at bottom left is Illusion Arts matte technician Lynn Ledgerwood as he slowly hand cranks the painting along a special rig developed by Albert Whitlock many years before, as sky area is photographed in three consecutive soft bands and comped on original negative to simulate a realistic cloud drift.
While not so much a sky as such, a nice undetectable skyline has been created by The Warner Bros matte department for Humphrey Bogart's ACROSS THE PACIFIC (1942)
Disney's popular ABSENT MINDED PROFESSOR (1961) was Oscar nominated for Eustace Lycette's opticals and Bob Mattey's terrific physical effects.  Peter Ellenshaw oversaw all of the matte art and I'm told by Rolf Giesen that Albert Whitlock painted some of the many clouded sky mattes.
Irwin Allen's FIVE WEEKS IN A BALLOON (1962) had this picturesque shot of the Eastern city appearing under the clouds.  Emil Kosa jr was matte supervisor with L.B Abbott running the effects unit.

SEVEN DAYS LEAVE (1942) was an RKO wartime picture with this shot appearing to be entirely matte art.

Mario Larrinaga's matte art for the exciting Bogart war film ACTION IN THE NORTH ATLANTIC (1943)


ABBOTT & COSTELLO MEET JACK IN THE BEANSTALK (1952) featured matte work by veteran Jack Glass.

Universal's slapstick ABBOTT & COSTELLO GO TO MARS (1953) was filled with neat effects by David S.Horsley, Millie Winebrenner and Roswell Hoffman while Russell Lawsen provided the requisite matte art.

Warner Bros famed Stage 5 Special Effects Department were never ones to shirk a tough assignment, especially during the forties on shows such as THE ADVENTURES OF MARK TWAIN (1944).  Under supervisors Byron Haskin and Lawrence Butler this staggeringly beautiful , not to mention highly complex  final vision occurs where the dying Fredric March morphs into a cloud-like facsimilie of his own dying figure, and the heavens open up...literally.  A gorgeous effect with multiple matte paintings and what I'd imagine as a nightmare in optical line up and other elements.  Just stunning!

The final frame.  Matte artists most likely to be Paul Detlefsen and Chesley Bonestell with matte photography by long time Warner FX employee John Crouse.  Both Crouse and Detlefsen were nominated for an Academy Award for this and several equally as impressive trick shots in this film.
Two mattes from the Columbia pirate serial THE ADVENTURES OF CAPTAIN KIDD

A deleted Paul Detlefsen matte shot intended for THE ADVENTURES OF ROBIN HOOD (1939)

If ever an artist was a natural at painting wonderfully character drenched skies it was the great Jack Cosgrove, as evidenced here in these early Technicolor matte shots from Selznick's THE ADVENTURES OF TOM SAWYER (1938)

Although my frames don't show up too well, the Gary Cooper adventure THE ADVENTURES OF MARCO POLO (1938) has several very nice mattes which expand the settings.  A Samuel Goldwyn film, so I've no idea who might have been matte painter though I assume James Basevi was the overall effects chief.
Syd Dutton and Robert Stromberg painted shots on Scorsese's not very good AGE OF INNOCENCE (1993) - an ill advised departure from the De Niro and Pesci milieu in my book.
Magnificent paintings designed by John De Cuir for the large scale THE AGONY AND THE ECSTACY (1965).  Matte supervisor Emil Kosa jr
Another De Cuir designed matte shot from the centrepiece of AGONY AND THE ECSTACY

Albert Whitlock's stunning opening reveal (top) and later shot (bottom) as danger is near: AIRPORT 77 (1977)



The 80's television series AIRWOLF utilised the services of Albert Whitlock and Syd Dutton to create a variety of atmospheric skyscapes and several other scenic enhancements.

Universal's Errol Flynn swashbuckler AGAINST ALL FLAGS (1952).  Matte artist Russ Lawsen seemed a bit skewed with the perspective here.
MGM's ANNIE GET YOUR GUN (1950) featured some quite delightful painted sunsets and moonlit skies courtesy of the Newcombe Matte Department.  Artists probably Howard Fisher and Henry Hillinck.

Doug Ferris was the artist responsible for this spectacular painted view for Terry Gilliam's eccentric THE ADVENTURES OF BARON MUNCHAUSEN (1989).

Ferris would also paint the epic skyscape as seen in the finale of BARON MUNCHAUSEN, with all of it paint except for the character on the horse.

For Disney's Oscar winning family musical BEDKNOBS AND BROOMSTICKS (1971) Alan Maley would oversee and paint a great many mattes, with these being especially good.  The lower matte is virtually all paint except for the immediate bit of roadway with the car.

Uncredited mattes from the Agatha Christie whodunnit AND THEN THERE WERE NONE (1945)
A Jan Domela matte from an unidentified Paramount film, probably dating from the 1930's
Paul Detlefsen painted this grand vista during a short stint at RKO in the fifties for ANDROCLES AND THE LION.

Another Detlefsen matte from ANDROCLES AND THE LION (1952)

The Irwin Allen-Ray Harryhausen curiosity ANIMAL WORLD, with matte art by Jack Shaw serving here as a painted backing behind the stop motion set up.

The Rank picture APPOINTMENT WITH VENUS (1951) used mattes to add moonlit skies etc, and may well have been the work of Albert Whitlock or Cliff Culley - both of whom were active at Pinewood at that time.

Universal's vibrant 1942 costumer ARABIAN NIGHTS was littered with matte work, much of it painted by future art director John DeCuir in Russ Lawsen's matte department.  The mattes in this show are remarkably crisp.
Disney's not very good BABES IN TOYLAND (1961) looks as though it must have been a fun project for matte painter Jim Fetherolf.  Love the sky, which is deeply suggestive of Disney matte chief Peter Ellenshaw's style.

The excellent WWII story BACK TO BATAAN (1945) with an impressive multi part composite by Linwood Dunn, under Vernon Walker's supervision and much matte art - probably by Albert Maxwell Simpson or others.

Another BACK TO BATAAN painted matte shot.

I believe this was painted as title art for the MGM picture BATAAN, though it's not in the film (maybe in the trailer?)

An interesting use of matte art.  Ray Caple shot from THE BATTLE OF BRITAIN (1969) which imitates an identical matte effect by Percy Day for IN WHICH WE SERVE (also included in today's blog).
For the 1939 Gary Cooper BEAU GESTE Paramount effects chief Gordon Jennings and matte painter Jan Domela created the much storied locales for the French Foreign Legion.

When THE BELL'S OF ST MARY'S was being made there was the big Hollywood strike of 1945 where things purportedly got really nasty.  Covert matte painting was carried out by non union artists off the lot by some studios, and I understand that the shots for this film were painted at home and smuggled into the studio by stop motion guru Willis O'Brien - himself a fine artist.

A Percy Day full painting from the quite dull THE BLACK ROSE (1950) - one of many matte shots.

The original silent BEN HUR (1925) had mattes by one of cinema's true pioneers, Ferdinand Pinney Earle.
Peaceful Bodega Bay for Alfred Hitchcock's THE BIRDS with Albert Whitlock's clouds setting the tone for all that is to follow.

Iconic sky mattes by Albert Whitlock for Hitchcock's THE BIRDS (1961)

Ethereal mattes from the excellent Frank Capra picture THE BITTER TEA OF GENERAL YEN (1933).  Matte artist not known but could have been New Zealand born painter Ted Withers who painted at Columbia around that time and later on at Metro Goldwyn Mayer before becoming a noted calender and pin up artist. 
The still cool 50's monster cult classic THE BLOB was a heap of fun with many effective opticals, effects animation and mattes.  Photographic effects were by Bart Sloan.

Nice skies and fx animation from THE BLOB (1958)

"We're on a mission from God".... Albert Whitlock's moment of revelation from THE BLUES BROTHERS (1980)

One of a substantial number of Percy Day mattes in BONNIE PRINCE CHARLIE (1948).  Assisting Day on this film was Judy Jordan.

Another spectacular moonlit sky by Percy Day from BONNIE PRINCE CHARLIE
The brilliant 1947 Burt Lancaster prison drama BRUTE FORCE was top rung in all departments, with David Horsley's effects work both elaborate and impressive.  Miniatures, painted mattes and live action - often all of the above combined via travelling mattes (right frame) provide a uniquely gloomy and oppressive atmosphere, largely thanks to former Universal matte artist John DeCuir's excellent design work.

One of John DeCuir's conceptual paintings for the oppressive prison in BRUTE FORCE.  *photo courtesy of John DeCuir jr

The 1940 Jeanette McDonald-Nelson Eddy film BITTER SWEET

Classic Peter Ellenshaw moonlit skies from BLACKBEARD'S GHOST (1967) that to me are very reminiscent in style and mood of the Victorian painter J.Atkinson Grimshaw.
Fred Sersen's special effects department were nominated for the VFX Oscar for the mattes and miniatures in the Shirley Temple fantasy THE BLUE BIRD (1940)

One of the best SFX films of the forties, MGM's BOOM TOWN was packed with superbly terrifying pyro work, miniatures, outstanding optical work and glorious Newcombe mattes that are simply stunning.

The dust storm from BOUND FOR GLORY (1976) was an unforgettable Albert Whitlock visual effect.
Jena Holman's matte of New Chicago from the tv series BUCK ROGERS (1979)

A very early technicolor fx shot by Al Whitlock from CHRISTOPHER COLUMBUS (1949)
Examples of 1930's in camera cloud glass shots conducted by Charles Clarke and Fred Sersen at 20th Century Fox.

More of the same made with a portable rig attached to camera set up allowing photo transparencies to be mounted in front of lens whereby the 'clear' area of the lower sky/cloud permitted live action to take place so long as nothing moved into the more solid cloud area. 
Jan Domela painted land and skyscape from an unidentified Paramount film, probably from 1930's

Veteran matte painter Paul Detlefsen had painted on silent epics and early RKO shows before getting his premier gig at Warner Brothers on CABIN IN THE COTTON (1932) - where he would remain as head matte artist for 20 years.  In an interview Paul said that director Michael Curtiz was a prickly individual who was hard to sell matte shots to and wanted to be rid of Detlefsen, until Paul devised a gag to suggest some movement in the painted cotton plants.

A pair of frames from the 1946 western CALIFORNIA.  Matte artist Jan Domela

A dazzling Matthew Yuricich matte shot from the 1982 CANNERY ROW.  Magnificent handling of colour and light.
Russ Lawsen matte shot from CANYON PASSAGE (1946)

Martin Scorsese's CAPE FEAR (1991) used matte art in quite a few shots to lower the tone of the proceedings to a suitably ominous level.  This is one such shot by Bill Taylor and Syd Dutton at Illusion Arts with the characteristic moving 'Whitlock' clouds rolling in.

Another of the CAPE FEAR split screens with painted sky and lightning animation to good effect.

A Peter Ellenshaw full painting with fluttering flag burnt in later from CAPTAIN HORATIO HORNBLOWER (1950)

Les Bowie's atmospheric matte art from one of Hammer's best features, the 1962 CAPTAIN CLEGG (aka NIGHT CREATURES)
Fred Jackman supervised shots from the classic Warner Bros adventure CAPTAIN BLOOD (1935)

Jan Domela matte painting from the Alan Ladd picture CAPTAIN CAREY, USA (1950)

British studios produced a lot of good matte work through the Golden Era with this matte from THE CARD (1952) also known as THE PROMOTER.  Being a Rank film it's quite likely Albert Whitlock could have painted this shot.

A Sersen shot from the Fox film BUFFALO BILL (1944)


Another good Hammer film, this one THE CAMP ON BLOOD ISLAND (1958) with Les Bowie's matte art.
One of only a handful of fx shots in the film, CAPTAIN FROM CASTILLE (1947) ends on this awesome note.
Although a minor use of the process, this vintage Jan Domela matte shot from an unknown Paramount film demonstrates the subtle application of adding artwork to a set obviously on a sound stage to lay in a sky and obscure the studio fittings.  Very common indeed in the 30's and 40's and no one would ever know.

The opening matte from Michael Curtiz's CASABLANCA (1942) where although the city isn't too convincing, the sky is a stunner.  Lawrence Butler oversaw the many mattes and models with Edwin DuPar.

The hypnotic opening passage from Paul Schrader's CAT PEOPLE (1982) featured a vast amount of matte paintings and special visual effects by Albert Whitlock and Syd Dutton.
CAT PEOPLE:  Syd Dutton's sky and details set to terrific Giorgio Moroder music... I've said it before and I'll say it again; "Music maketh the matte".

A wacky matte from a wacked out film - CAT WOMEN ON THE MOON (1954) with Irving Block's matte painting. Dig those groovy 'moon clouds'.

The rather excellent CAT ON A HOT TIN ROOF (1958) used an extensive painting by Lee Le Blanc to extend the set.

Byron Haskin before and after clips from Errol Flynn's CHARGE OF THE LIGHT BRIGADE (1936) with skyline added.

More jaw dropping mattes from CHARGE OF THE LIGHT BRIGADE - a film loaded with exquisite Warner Bros matte paintings, the style of which I love and were really a 1930's staple, especially in films from this studio.  Paul Detlefsen would have had a fair bit to do with these shots, many of which would be recycled in many other Errol Flynn pictures such as THEY DIED WITH THEIR BOOTS ON and other shows.

Doug Ferris painted this matte shot for the film CHARLEMAGNE in the 1980's
Russell Lawson matte from CHIEF CRAZY HORSE (1955) with a lot of painted additions.

Attractive matte art by Cliff Culley from CHITTY CHITTY BANG BANG (1968)

Syd Dutton and Albert Whitlock matte work from CLUE (1985)
A favourite for me - Bob Cuff's dramatic and imposing matte painting for THE COLDITZ STORY (1957)

CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE 3rd KIND (1978) with live action foreground, a Matt Yuricich painted horizon and a scary Scott Squires sky created as a practical gag in a large aquarium tank - an effect that veteran Arnold Gillespie pioneered 40 years earlier on BEGINNING OR THE END to simulate the Hiroshima blast.

An early Roy Seawright shot from Laurel and Hardy's A CHUMP AT OXFORD (1940) with matte art probably by Jack Shaw or Luis McManus

Three Rocco Gioffre mattes from the comedy CITY SLICKERS (1991) with mood enhancing skies added to the lower pair of frames and the top frame a full painting with added smoke and foreground foliage.

A surprisingly effective static painting of WWI ruins in a storm from LIFE AND DEATH OF COLONEL BLIMP (1943) which works so well with sound effects track and a slight camera move to fool the eye that the river is just painted, as is the rain itself.  Walter Percy Day was matte artist and knew how to sell a shot.
A barely noticeable Albert Whitlock full painting from the excellent COLOSSUS - THE FORBIN PROJECT (1969).  Just love Al's receding and diffused light.  Another master who knew just how much to paint (or not to paint) to sell a shot.

Part of the jaw dropping opening effects sequence from John Landis' last really good film - COMING TO AMERICA (1988) with Syd Dutton, Albert Whitlock and Bill Taylor pulling out all the stops.

BRAM STOKER'S DRACULA (1992) was a significant special effects project for the top rung FX house Matte World, with many excellent mattes, miniatures and other effects perfectly integrated into Francis Coppola's bold interpretation of the blood drinker classic.  Matte artists Brian Flora, Bill Mather and Michael Pangrazio worked wonders.

For a made for tv movie, CRASH ISLAND, Jena Holman supplied invisible painted set extensions while David Stipes shot and comped same on original negative.
The only matte artist I've ever actually met - Syd Dutton painted these fantastic shots for the Richard Pryor comedy CRITICAL CONDITION (1986) - both of these shots rate as my favourite Dutton mattes and have all the Whitlock-isms of moving clouds, subtle animation and diffusion of light and hue.

MGM have always been at the top of the game when it came to special effects, with matte art being among the industry's best.  These shots are from the WWII film CROSS OF LORRAINE (1943) with rooftops and skies all seemlessly added.
Doug Ferris and John Grant created this firey skyscape over Africa for a television commercial in the eighties.

The oddly cast gothic thriller, CRY WOLF (1947)  saw Errol Flynn up to all sorts of shenanigans with Barbara Stanwyck.  Being a Warner Bros show the mattes are probably Paul Detlefsen and Mario Larrinaga's handiwork.
One of the greatest visual effects films of all time, the marvellous Disney romp DARBY O'GILL AND THE LITTLE PEOPLE (1959).  The film is absolutely loaded with magnificent mattes by Peter Ellenshaw and incredible perspective gags which even today look remarkable.  I find Peter's work in this show his career best and the painted mattes are 'gallery' pieces in their own right.

More of the dozens and dozens of DARBY O'GILL mattes with some great stormy skies.  How this film got completely overlooked for a visual effects Oscar is beyond me, and one of the great sins of celluloid stupidity!  Shame!
David Selznick's DAVID COPPERFIELD (1935)

Peter Ellenshaw painted a hell of a lot of great mattes for Walt Disney over the decades, and few as beautiful as those for minor shows such as DAVY CROCKETT (1955) which in fact was a tv series re-cut into two feature films.  This opening shot from  DAVY CROCKETT - KING OF THE WILD FRONTIER is a winner all the way.

Two of my favourite Ellenshaw painted skies - from the above film.  Art suitable for framing and constant admiration.  Peter was assisted by fellow painters Albert Whitlock and Jim Fetherolf on many of the Disney features and tv series throughout this period.
Although quite painterly, it's a delightful composition with that low horizon and vast expanses of sky - very reminiscent of the 17th Century Dutch masters.  Peter Ellenshaw again - DAVY CROCKETT-KING OF WILD FRONTIER (1955)

An uncredited matte from the 1934 COUNT OF MONTE CRISTO with Robert Donat.
Hammer's CURSE OF THE WEREWOLF (1961) was one of their best, and Les Bowie's painted atmosphere helped too.

ILM matte shot, possibly by Chris Evans, from THE DARK CRYSTAL (1982)

Rick Rische's fantastic up view matte from the film DARKMAN (1990) I love the perspective.
The RKO black comedy THE DEVIL AND DANIEL WEBSTER (1941).  Matte probably by Chesley Bonestell.

Warner Bros matte artists were really something else in the thirties and forties (sadly lost that touch in the fifties for some reason), with the Errol Flynn western DODGE CITY (1939) having some of the most beautifully designed and executed mattes ever seen in a western - and in glorious Technicolor to boot!  Photographic effects by Byron Haskin with mattes likely painted by Paul Detlefsen for the most part.

So poetic... straight from a Zane Grey novel.  DODGE CITY

I have forever been a follower of the matte art and effects work of Mark Sullivan, with this dynamic matte from Oliver Stone's THE DOORS (1991).  Mark was at ILM for a brief stint and this was one of his projects.
Universal-International put out quite a few pirate shows, such as this one, DOUBLE CROSSBONES (1951) with an unlikely Donald O'Conner swashing his buckle as I recall.  Mattes by Russell Lawsen.

British matte exponent Doug Ferris painted this, with long time associate John Grant compositing.  I vaguely recall it was for a dog food tv commercial or some such?

Emil Kosa matte from the diabolical DOCTOR DOOLITTLE (1967). Partial real location with augmented sections, hills, sky and maybe church.  Inexplicably, this dire tedium robbed that year's VFX Oscar from Universal's war film TOBRUK...... the bloody cheek!

Les Bowie and Ray Caple worked out some very inventive matte shots depicting an especially bad day for earthlings for the under appreciated DAY THE EARTH CAUGHT FIRE (1961)
..."and the weather forecast for London is shite!"  More Bowie & Caple matte work from THE DAY THE EARTH CAUGHT FIRE.

The 1961 disaster picture DEVIL AT 4 O'CLOCK had tremendous miniatures by Larry Butler, lots of truly ghastly blue screen shots with Spencer Tracy's silvery hair picking up lots of blue spill and showing scenery through his head - though the numerous painted mattes were pretty good, with this one an especially nice shot.  I'm of the opinion that maybe Albert Whitlock painted them as he did a lot of work for Butler-Glouner at the time and apparently got on well with Butler. 

So many great shots in DICK TRACY (1990) it's tough picking my faves for this article, though this Michelle Moen matte is a beauty in my book and perfectly encapsulates the flavour and tempo of the comic strip.

Another DICK TRACY matte - this I think was a Michael Lloyd painting if memory serves.  Lovely shot.
Rita Hayworth's 1947 film DOWN TO EARTH featured several heavenly sequences, possibly painted by Juan Larrinaga?

The sci-fi cult classic DR CYCLOPS (1940) had a lot of impressive process work and split screens by Paul Lerpae and Farciot Edouart and a few painted mattes such as this shot, by Jan Domela.

The original Bela Lugosi DRACULA (1931) carried off some nice glass shots, overseen by early Universal FX boss Frank Booth, prior to John Fulton's arrival at the studio.

While on ole' Vlad, the amazingly talented Frank Langella tried his hand at the legend in 1979's DRACULA which had several very nice mattes by Albert Whitlock.
More from the '79 DRACULA with a mostly authentic location, later augmented by Whitlock with additional spires, turrets and extensions and of course that sky.

Hammer's old 1958 DRACULA, with a Les Bowie top up matte painting.

I love this painting - a multiplane Peter Melrose glass shot from DRACULA HAS RISEN FROM THE GRAVE (1967).  I'm pretty sure Hammer used the shot in other shows after the fact.
ILM's Christopher Evans created this painted landscape for DRAGONSLAYER (1981)

The quite bizarre and hopelessly politically incorrect DRAGON SEED (1944) featured lots of Caucasian actors such as Katherine Hepburn in oriental make up etc was more than made up for by the vast scoreboard of beautiful Newcombe shots.  The film is jammed with stunning matte paintings that are quite something to admire.  Artists under Warren Newcombe at the time were Howard Fisher and Henry Hillinck as principle painters, with others also involved.

Close up detail of one of the DRAGON SEED pastel matte paintings, which exhibit incredibly fine detail upon close examination.
Fred Sersen's department at 20th Century Fox produced these DRAGONWYCK (1946) mattes

A great concluding matte from THE DUNWICH HORROR (1970) from the brush of an uncredited artist.  Possibly Albert Whitlock, Louis Litchtenfield or Matthew Yuricich maybe??
One of John Wayne's best movies, the timeless and hilarious EL DORADO (1967) had this moonlit shootout, and I'm fairly sure the sky is painted.  Not sure who did this as longtime Paramount matte artist Jan Domela had retired by now.

THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK (1980) with trainee matte artist Mike Pangrazio shown here.  Mike would of course quickly progress to become one of the finest artists of his generation with many truly memorable matte shots to his name.  He's now based down here in NZ with Peter Jackson's WETA as lead art director.


Oh, Boy...do I love this one!  Matte painted skyscapes rarely ever improved over Jack Cosgrove's phenomenal work in Selznick's DUEL IN THE SUN (1947).  The paintings themselves, many of which still survive, are surprisingly loose and quite rough - apparently Cosgrove's style from what Matt Yuricich once said - with cigarette ash and dirt all in the paint, but the final shots once composited were something else.  Cosgrove had a sixth sense of knowing just what to paint, where to paint it and when to stop.

Surviving matte art from DUEL IN THE SUN with very casual brushwork at left and live action elements burnt in later by Clarence Slifer.  The lovely painting at right never appeared in the commonly seen release version of the film.

One more of the many sensational DUEL IN THE SUN mattes.  What a stunner it is too.  Cosgrove had several artists painting with him on this - Jack Shaw, Hans Ledeboer and Spencer Bagtoutopoulis.

Fox's big CinemaScope biblical epic THE EGYPTIAN (1954) was filled with mattes.  Ray Kellogg was principle matte artist with Emil Kosa, Lee Le Blanc and Cliff Silsby among the other painters.
Possibly Disney's best live action show, 20'000 LEAGUES UNDER THE SEA (1954) was a winner in all aspects, with Peter Ellenshaw's glass shots quite a sight.  Ample evidence of Peter's adeptness at skies and clouds, not only in cinematic art but his hugely successful gallery art.
The perplexing mismatched alien buddy movie ENEMY MINE (1985) was at least redeemed by magnificent ILM matte shots supervised by Craig Barron and Christopher Evans.  ILM were at their peak during this period and the quality of their matte art and opticals were so impressive.  Sean Joyce painted that lower sprawling vista of the planet at sunrise.

For Tony Scott's fast moving action thriller ENEMY OF THE STATE (1998) even amid modern CG technology, simple, conventional sleight of hand was employed by uncredited matte artist Leigh Took for satellite POV shots of Earth.  Leigh accomplished these quickly and without fuss with a little blue paint and some hand sprinkled talcum powder - a trick he'd picked up from his mentor Cliff Culley.  Bravo for simplicity!!!

The not very good ERIK, THE VIKING (1989) was made bareable by stunning matte art from a duo of top British painters: Doug Ferris and Bob Cuff, with this being an extremely detailed Cuff matte painting with much of the sky area re-exposed separately to allow subtle movement.

Although I really liked Sam Raimi's first EVIL DEAD splatter flick, the sequels were lousy in my book, though part 2, DEAD BY DAWN as it's sometimes called, did at least have several glass shots by Bob Kayganich which quite nicely establish mood and locale.

George Lucas made a few tv movie spinoffs from his Star Wars franchise, generally featuring midgets in furry suits.  EWOKS-THE BATTLE FOR ENDOR (1985) was one such tv movie, though it did have outstanding matte work supervised by Michael Pangrazio and Craig Barron.  I love this painting, which forms the basis of a big tilt down onto a live action exterior setting.
For John Boorman's ill-advised sequel to William Friedkin's original masterpiece, EXORCIST II THE HERETIC (1977) was a visually stunning yet ultimately ludicrous affair with some great locust fx by Jim Danforth and beautiful mattes by Albert Whitlock.  This shot is a winner - and one which Whitlock was asked to string together in a hurry as release deadlines threatened.  Cotton wool clouds, glass paintings and interactive light was all that was required to make the shot of the plane flying through stormy skies, and Whitlock proudly stated "we did it for nothing and we did it in an hour and it was nothing more than simple tabletop photography".

I'm not sure if this is a matte, but it does suggest so:  The Rock Hudson version of FAREWELL TO ARMS (1957)

The Republic picture THE FIGHTING SEABEES (1944) with effects supervised by Howard and Theodore Lydecker.  Perhaps  Ellis 'Bud' Thackeray may have had a hand in this matte shot as he'd started out in the industry as glass artist.

The 1980 Dino DeLaurentiis version of FLASH GORDON was impressive, visually (especially the very appealing female cast) with some great matte art by Louis Litchtenfield and Bob Scifo.  Not sure here, but it all looks like multiple paintings.

A very interesting step by step set up I found in an old magazine years ago.  Purportedly an RKO film called FLOTSAM - which I can find no info on, made in 1940, with this being attributed in the article to Jack Cosgrove!  Nothing really adds up in any of that but it's still a great behind the scenes examination of old school travelling matte compositing, to marvellous effect.  Certainly Cosgrove would make almost identical shots a year or so earlier with effects cameraman Clarence Slifer in GONE WITH THE WIND.

One of Alfred Hitchcock's absolute best pictures, FOREIGN CORRESPONDENT (1940) had a number of eerie, atmospheric effects, overseen by veteran Paul Eagler, with these skies being especially to my liking.  The long set piece shown at left is the highlight and brilliant film making.  The windmills and landscape are all matted in, possibly combined miniatures and artwork.  The shot at right is an effective soft split with painted sky and added in steamer approaching.

20th Century Fox's FOREVER AMBER (1947)
One of my favourite matte shot films, and a hell of a good movie at that - THE FOUNTAINHEAD (1949) features elaborate matte art, miniatures, process and the customary Warner Brothers effects shot track in's that other studios never dared to do. Several painters worked on the film - Louis Litchtenfield, Mario Larrinaga, Paul Detlefsen and Chesley Bonestell.  The matte shown at left was painted by Bonestell.

A pretty much worthless film, Roger Corman's FRANKENSTEIN UNBOUND (1990) - it at least employed the talents of Syd Dutton and Bill Taylor to create it's patently off the wall environs.

Another all time fave matte for NZPete.... FALL OF THE HOUSE OF USHER (1960).  I love extreme architecture and perspective lines in matte art and this is a real mind bender of a shot - and the sky is a winner to boot!  The effects were contracted to Lawrence Butler and Donald Glouner, who frequently utilised Albert Whitlock as matte artist, and I'm inclined to think that Al painted this, as he would on several Edgar Allan Poe films for Corman.

The excellent 1942 war picture THE FIRST OF THE FEW (aka SPITFIRE) was a Percy Day matte assignment.

The film FLATLINERS (1990) actually improved over time and wasn't too bad when I gave it another look recently.  Jim Danforth was matte painter and compositor.

Jena Holman is seen here (hiding from David Stipes' paparazzi shutter) working on the large and quite exquisite painted skies for the kids sci fi flick FLIGHT OF THE NAVIGATOR in the mid eighties.
An extensive yet invisible matte painted by Jan Domela from an unidentified Paramount picture.
A Jan Domela matte from the massive matte and effects show FOR WHOM THE BELL TOLLS (1943)

Spanish matte and miniatures maestro, the great Emilio Ruiz Del Rio shown here finishing a foreground glass painting of a stormy sky for the 1989 film THE FRENCH REVOLUTION.

Jack Cosgrove mattes from Selznick's stunning Technicolor epic GARDEN OF ALLAH (1936)

A Jan Domela matte from Lewis Milestone's THE GENERAL DIED AT DAWN (1936)
A great shot from a film called GENESIS II made in the seventies.  I've not been able to track down who did the shot.  It looks like a Jim Danforth matte but he told me he didn't do it.  Bill Taylor couldn't recognise it as one of Whitlocks, so my guess is it might be one of Matthew Yuricich's many, many uncredited shots over the years.

Classic Warner Bros matte shot, from Errol Flynn's GENTLEMAN JIM (1943)

For Bob Hope's hit spookfest THE GHOST BREAKERS (1940), artist Jan Domela supplied requisite locale and mood.

The Rita Hayworth classic GILDA (1946) featured a nice effects sequence with plane crash.  Seems alot went into this with miniature plane, real people - apparently shot out of doors - painted sky and animated explosion (with garbage matte clearly evident).  Effects supervisor was Larry Butler.
The Japanese monster movie GODZILLA VS MEGARO - probably from the sixties?

An early MGM epic, and one which still stands the test of time, THE GOOD EARTH (1937) with these delightful mattes by Warren Newcombe.

David Lean's masterpiece GREAT EXPECTATIONS (1946) is one of his best pictures.  Chief Pinewood matte artist Les Bowie painted this shot and others. 
The low budget horror show THE GATE (1987) had a terrific effects crew who really delivered the goods - from multiple perspective tricks, stop motion, make up and mattes - guys like Randall William Cook, Jim Aupperle and Bill Taylor worked wonders.  This matte was painted by Mark Whitlock, though was completed by his father, Albert, when Mark ran into difficulties making the sky work out.

GHOSTBUSTERS (1984) was a perennial favourite, and is still a good watch.  Mattes were painted by Matthew Yuricich and assistants Michelle Moen and Deno Ganakes.  Not sure who did this shot as it doesn't look like Matthew's work.

Though not a success, Disney's THE GNOME MOBILE (1967) was a pleasantly diverting musical with nice mattes, superb effects animation and some good songs.  Beautiful mattes by the great Peter Ellenshaw.

One of the biggest and best matte effect shows of all time, David Selznick's GONE WITH THE WIND (1939).  Loads of stunning mattes and gorgeous Southern skies courtesy of Jack Cosgrove and his team, Jack Shaw, Fitch Fulton and Albert Maxwell Simpson.

Les Bowie and Ray Caple glass shot from Hammer's THE GORGON (1964)
Peter Ellenshaw and assistant Albert Whitlock supplied a number of period mattes to the Disney western THE GREAT LOCOMOTIVE CHASE (1956).

A film loaded with fine matte effects, that were robbed at Oscar time by a wholly undeserving competitor, THE GREATEST STORY EVER TOLD (1965) holds up extremely well on all fronts and the matte art just contributes so much.  Matte supervisor J.MacMillan Johnson employed a trio of fine artists to turn out a large number of shots.  Jan Domela, Matthew Yuricich and Albert Maxwell Simpson were kept busy.  The upper frame is one of Domela's shots.

Film critic Richard Schickel once said:  "Albert Whitlock is the master of the matte which never draws attention to itself".  Evidence enough in this flawless shot from THE GREAT NORTHFIELD MINNESOTA RAID (1972).  Subtle drift of clouds, beautiful gradation of hues and light - the perfect equasion.

MGM's big Oscar winner for really impressive effects was the 1947 GREEN DOLPHIN STREET.  Lots of great matte work from Warren Newcombe's department that are a pleasure to the eye, and fabulous miniatures by Don Jahraus and Arnold Gillespie.  Painters on the show included Howard Fisher, who may have painted the shot at left - and the pioneer of matte art himself, Norman Dawn who I can confirm painted the frame at right.
A poetic Newcombe shot from GREEN DOLPHIN STREET

Joe Dante's 1984 hit film GREMLINS had some memorable matte work by Rocco Gioffre and assistant Mark Sullivan.

While under Peter Ellenshaw's tutelage at the Disney Studio's, Peter's assistant Albert Whitlock would occasionally be granted a sole assignment such as GREYFRIAR'S BOBBY (1961)
I can't identify either the film nor the studio.  I'm told it's from an RKO picture though.  Nice shot.

The film GREYSTOKE - THE LEGEND OF TARZAN, LORD OF THE APES (1983) was a good take on the famed vine swinger story and benefitted immensely from the matte work of Albert Whitlock and Syd Dutton


Another Whitlock shot from GREYSTOKE.  Oddly, when this first came out in tv format and early vhs the top of Al's easel was clearly seen in frame.

Samuel Goldwyn's HANS CHRISTIAN ANDERSON (1952).  Effects by Clarence Slifer.  Mattes unknown.
Two mattes from the big 70mm epic HAWAII (1966) with artists Jan Domela and Albert Maxwell Simpson sharing.

The rather funny Peter Sellers film HEAVEN'S ABOVE (1963) with this Bob Cuff matte shot.  Newcomer Doug Ferris contributed gags to the various paintings.
Another from HEAVEN'S ABOVE.
Back in the eighties, artist Rocco Gioffre painted and comped this test shot with much altered in the final composite.

A Cliff Culley matte from HELLRAISER II - HELLBOUND (1990)

Jan Domela shot from THE GREAT McGINTY  (1940)

Matte shot from GREMLINS II - THE NEW BATCH (1992).  Craig Barron's company Matte World contributed most of the mattes with artists Brian Flora and Bill Mather.

An undetectable matte adding sky to conceal studio fixtures from the Spencer Tracy-Sidney Poitier hit film GUESS WHO'S COMING TO DINNER (1967)

Possibly Rocco Gioffre's best ever matte, from the film HARLEY DAVIDSON AND THE MARLBORO MAN (1991)
An uncredited matte from Roger Corman's THE HAUNTED PALACE (1963) - possibly by Albert Whitlock?

Samuel Fuller's HELL AND HIGH WATER (1955)

The Hitchcock parody HIGH ANXIETY (1978) had mattes by Albert Whitlock with Bill Taylor.

The excellent Humphrey Bogart drama HIGH SIERRA (1941) with matte art by Paul Detlefsen and Mario Larrinaga

Percy Day was asked by director/star Laurence Olivier at the eleventh hour to paint this one last matte for HENRY V (1944)
Robert Wise's 1975 true life disaster show THE HINDENBURG proved a winner for the special effects team as is clear from such stunning matte painting and effects cinematography as seen above.  Albert Whitlock would collect his second Oscar for this film.  Syd Dutton assisted on his very first film and Bill Taylor shot and composited all of the visual effect shots.

THE HINDENBURG
More Whitlock magic from THE HINDENBURG (1975)
Newcombe matte from the Clark Gable film HOMECOMING (1948)

A pair of evocative widescreen mattes from the Michael Powell film HONEYMOON (1959).  Matte artist was Ivor Beddoes - one of Percy Day's protege's who had previously painted mattes with Day on BLACK NARCISSUS and contributed much to Powell's wonderful THE RED SHOES.  Beddoes was assisted here by Judy Jordan - another Pop Day protoge.

Michael Pangrazio tilt down matte from the rather funny HOT SHOTS-PART DEUX (1993) - a film that just happens to have the all time best cinematic in joke:  "I loved you in Wall Street" (!)

Excellent composition and execution in this Albert Whitlock matte from HOUND OF THE BASKERVILLES (1971)

Classic Universal matte from THE HOUSE OF DRACULA (1945) by Russ Lawsen.

An uncredited matte from the obscure THE HOUSE ON SKULL MOUNTAIN (1974)

I've a definite soft spot for 70's Japanese cinema where the most outrageous and extreme run hand in hand where the likes of Hollywood would never dare to tread.  These mattes are from the utterly incomprehensible, though wholly entertaining ghost picture HOUSE (1977).  No idea on who painted the many really interesting shots.

Another fine matte from the wacked out Japanese picture HOUSE.  The flick is packed with insane visuals as if a maniac were let loose on an optical printer and thrashed the hell out of it till it fell to pieces.  Well worth a look though!
Fox's classic John Ford drama HOW GREEN WAS MY VALLEY (1941) was right on target - with even the usually wooden Walter Pidgeon actually quite good for once.  The Fred Sersen matte department supplied a number of subtle mattes, though none could conceal the fact that the picture, set in Wales, was shot in that same damned Malibu ranch as a million other films.  However, the mattes are wonderful, with tops added to buildings and skies telling as much story of hardship as John Ford did with his cast.

Detail from the above matte.

As alluded to earlier, a common visual motif of the time was to employ these huge sky backings right the way down to the actors feet, for significant dramatic effect - and it looked great.  These are from HOW GREEN WAS MY VALLEY.
A dreadful film for sure, HOOK did have superb effects work all the way courtesy of Industrial Light & Magic.  Several matte artists were engaged on the overblown film - Christopher Evans, Mark Sullivan, Rocco Gioffre, Yusei Eusugi and Eric Chauvin.  This is possibly a Chris Evans shot.

Once again Warner Bros famed Stage 5 Camera Effects came to the party with an array of dazzling trick shots for THE HORN BLOWS AT MIDNIGHT (1945) with some amazing moving camera matte and miniature set ups on top of the elaborate matte paintings shown here.  Chesley Bonestell and Paul Detlefsen were matte artists under Lawrence Butler.

A showy Russ Lawsen matte from the 1944 HOUSE OF FRANKENSTEIN

James Basevi was in charge of the catastrophic storm effects in the John Ford picture THE HURRICANE (1937) though this is about the only matte effect I could spot.  Great miniatures and full scale destruction though.  Note, the eternally ripe Dorothy Lamour was herself a special visual effect!
Michael Powell & Emeric Pressburger's I KNOW WHERE I'M GOING (1945) was a quiet, subdued little masterpiece that seemed devoid of trickery.... but it was there if you looked hard enough in the form of  Percy Day glass shots.

British film I'LL MET BY MOONLIGHT - aka NIGHT AMBUSH (1957) is another Powell/Pressburger film with some nice subtle sky effects, probably painted by Cliff Culley as multi-plane glass shots.

The brilliant 1942 Noel Coward-David Lean production IN WHICH WE SERVE was one of the best WWII dramas - and Coward's best work.  Several good miniatures by Bill Warrington and a half dozen excellent mattes by Percy Day
Mark Sullivan's top up matte for the barely released ISHTAR (1986)

Albert Whitlock shot from THE ISLAND OF THE BLUE DOLPHINS (1964)

George C.Scott was one of my favourite actors, and this film ISLANDS IN THE STREAM (1976) was an offbeat though interesting outing for a strong cast.  Frank Van Der Veer was photographic effects man and I'm not sure but the skies here look split screened in - possibly painted - with actors added via travelling mattes.
Universal Studios theme park in California required a matte shot for a short promotional film for their Galactica Cylon ride in the early eighties, so David Stipes was contracted to provide requisite footage.  Jena Holman was matte artist here.

Columbia's THE JOLSON STORY (1946) had several dynamic mattes, with the awe inspiring night to day transition matte at right being a particular winner.  Effects director was Larry Butler with matte art possibly by Mario's brother, Juan Larrinaga.

Oh my God this is good!  The great Peter Ellenshaw at his best for IN SEARCH OF THE CASTAWAYS (1961)

INDIANA JONES AND THE LAST CRUSADE (1989) gothic shot with a real castle supplemented with matte extension and a terrific sky.  I can't recall the artist - possibly Mike Pangrazio or Yusei Uesugi

The vintage James Whale INVISIBLE MAN (1933) matte shot, possibly by Russ Lawsen.
Plate and painting from an unknown Jan Domela matte shot.  Sadly I don't have the final composite, though I's love to see how it looks as this is an ambitious matte, blending sky to sky.  If anyone can recognise the film, do let me know.

You just can't much more gothic than the eternal classic JANE EYRE (1944) - with these representative mattes being a taste of the look this film so successfully achieves.  That shot at right is a masterpiece and ranks as an all time classic matte in every respect.  Fred Sersen's team -Emil Kosa, Ray Kellogg, Menrad von Muldorfer and others were active at the time.

The big Walter Wanger epic JOAN OF ARC (1948) starred Ingrid Bergman somewhat awkwardly.  John P.Fulton and Jack Cosgrove co-supervised the effects with Cosgrove's mattes being central to the narrative.  Luis McManus also painted some.

The Walt Disney feature JOHNNY TREMAIN (1957) was a big matte show with Peter Ellenshaw as production designer, though as Harrison Ellenshaw told me, barely a matte would have been passed across to the cameramen without Peter having had some input.  Albert Whitlock painted some of the shots and he would comment to Bill Taylor years later as to how tiny the actual sets were in comparison to the huge painted views.  It's likely that Jim Fetherolf too painted on the show.  Regardless of who painted, all the shots have that profound 'Ellenshaw' look it terms of palette, infused backlight and of course those bloody marvellous clouds which are Peter to a 'tee'.

Another magnificent JOHNNY TREMAIN matte.  Note the soft blend running across mid shot and up through the roof.   Man, I could look at these skies all day long!
In 1969 this film, JOURNEY TO THE FAR SIDE OF THE SUN was submitted to the all powerful Academy for visual effects consideration and were rejected even as a nominee in favour of KRAKATOA EAST OF JAVA and MAROONED - with the latter inexplicably taking home the award!  Anyway, don't get me started on Oscar injustices!   The film is a Derek Meddings rollercoaster ride and has exceptional VFX cinematography and optical effects. The one matte painting I could spot was this one, possibly done by art director Bob Bell who I believe had some background in that field.

Universal's 1950 western KANSAS RAIDERS with Russ Lawsen's matte art.

Warren Newcombe's matte unit supplied a lot of excellent, finely detailed matte art for KEEPER OF THE FLAME (1943)
An often overlooked big budget epic, KING OF KINGS (1961) took cloud painting to the next level.  Lee Le Blanc supervised the matte art and I'm sure Matthew Yuricich would have had a hand in some of the shots.

Newcombe shot from the 1944 version of KISMET

The very funny Edward G.Robinson comedy LARCENY INC (1942) with mattes by Warner's Stage 5 effects studio.

A Jan Domela matte from LAST TRAIN FROM GUN HILL (1959) with picture's original title inscribed by Domela.

Japanese cinema came up with some great effects work, especially in models, though occasionally matte paintings do shine such as in the film LATITUDE ZERO (1966) which had a large number of impressive mattes and tons of effects shots.
Skies and towns as painted by Russell Lawson for THE LAWLESS BREED (1952)

Movie tornados have come and gone, but Albert Whitlock's frighteningly convincing manufactured hurricane for THE LEARNING TREE (1969) is the all time best.  Superbly subtle approaching storm over a painted landscape with the funnel gradually forming - it's as good as VFX gets.  A whole lot of credit is due to Whitlock's long time cameraman Ross Hoffman and assistant Mike Moramarco for bringing this off so well.

Very moody matte art by Paul Detlefsen from the Bette Davis film THE LETTER (1940).

Alfred Hitchcock's outstanding one set drama LIFEBOAT (1944) used matte art in low key ways to enhance mood.

For the Frank Oz rehash of LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS (1986), British matte veteran Doug Ferris painted this skyline.
Syd Dutton's desert sunrise full painting from the tv show AIRWOLF.
  

Well folks, that'll do it for the first part of 'The Sky's the Limit'.  I have easily as many shots again to present in the second part, as 500+ pics is way too much for one blog article - even for NZPete who typically doesn't do these things in half arsed measure.

Hope you enjoyed these.

Peter 

18 comments:

  1. Another excellent entry ! Would you be able to find out from Leigh how he built up the talc powder skies over the painting and "fixed" them to the painting.

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    1. Hi Steve

      I'm trying to recall what Leigh said (I have other pics somewhere of Leigh shooting it I think). I think it's just talc sprinkled carefully directly into the wet paint on a board or pan lying flat on floor. I'll try to find out more. Bloody clever (and he said very well paid)FX shot for the Tony Scott show.

      Peter

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  2. Replies
    1. Can't thank you enough. Spent nearly two hours here, reading the captions and gazing into the "sky"!

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    2. Hi Ehsan

      Thanks for that - I'm happy you enjoyed it (as I did posting it).
      Stay tuned for a couple of hundred MORE skies in part two of The Skys the Limit. More beautiful Ellenshaws, Whitlocks and other wizards of the artform.

      Peter

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  3. Overwhelming as always. Thanks Peter for this great new entry.
    All the best, Thomas

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    Replies
    1. Thanks Thomas.... I thought you'd enjoy this one. Stay tuned for part 2.

      Peter

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  4. Wow, great post. Just shows how much the sky contributes to the shot. The organ of sentiment ;). Thanks for compiling this - cant wait for the next part.

    Jeremy

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    1. Hi Jeremy

      Thanks for that. Of course you know that it was Albert Whitlock who coined the phrase 'The sky is an organ of sentiment' - or at least borrowed it from his favourite classicist, John Constable (which I forgot to mention in my article!)

      Peter

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  5. Peter, many thanks again for that beautiful entry. It is always a pleasure to spend some time on your blog. Congratulations.

    Domingo

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  6. Great post! These are absolutely stunning. You're right about the painting from Alien 3 looking a lot better in its original form. A brilliant painting.

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  7. Thanks guys.... Yes, it's interesting how different the original unadulterated matte art can look before being subjected to photography and compositing, with the essence sometimes lost along the way. Veteran Paramount matte artist Jan Domela used to complain constantly when his technicolor mattes were all off balance as a result of too much filter fiddling during the camera stage which put his hues all out of whack.

    Peter

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  8. So many inspiring shots, I'm having a hard time picking a favorite... Looking forward to part 2!

    Jadrien

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  9. Hi Pete- great post! Just wanted to submit one correction- Richard Kilroy actually painted the "Darkman" shot, looking up at the dawn sky as the elevator comes down the side of the building. He and I worked on several paintings for the film's "high steel" climax at Introvision.

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  10. Hi Rick

    Thanks for that. Yes, Richard quickly corrected me on that error. Fantastic shot!

    Peter

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  11. I really enjoyed this blog some wonderful artists that worked on these films and captured the awesomeness of the backdrops. Thanks for posting them...it's a shame you had to piss me off my called Hook "A dreadful film", when it isn't it's a classic up there with Spielbergs best!

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  12. What a wonderful site this is and to chronicle all these fantastic matte paintings under one 'roof' is a great idea. What these artists did for cinema is immeasurable. It';s a shame there isn't a book containing all of the paintings together. It is a truly overlooked and frequently ignored (by Joe Public) art. Thank you for starting this blog...it's a shame you had to piss me off by calling 'Hook' "A dreadful film" when it's nothing of the sort. It's a classic film right up there with Steven Spielberg's very best.

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  13. What a fantastic blog. I tried matte painting for a short film of mine recently "The Search For Inspiration Gone" and wish I'd found this site prior. A great collection! Thanks.

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