Saturday, 28 July 2012

MATTHEW YURICICH - In His Own Words

Pete's editorial:

It's been a while I know, but I did promise you guys I'd be back, and back I am!  I've been touring Europe and Scandinavia with my family and enjoying all manner of cultures and landscapes, ranging from Venice to Lisbon and Tunisia to Copenhagen and Stockholm to Budapest, and then some.  It's official.... Barcelona, Spain is THE most beautiful city in the world!  You heard it here first... a wonderful place to visit.... and I've been around the globe a fair bit over the years.  The only downside were the astonishingly fascist cops there who seemed to relish busting innocent street artists and performers everywhere we looked, as if the joint were still under General Franco's iron fist.  Still, a great place, fantasticly insane Dali-esque architecture, super book stores for film and art, beautiful sights and nice people.  If it weren't for the fact that it takes around 30 (yes, thirty) hours to get there from New Zealand, I'd go again next month. Living down here at the arse end of the globe can have it's advantages for sure, but travel ain't one of them!

I was recently invited to compile a list of the 10 best mattes of all time for the online magazine Shadowlocked.  Well, 10 proved just a tad too lightweight for me so I upped the ante to 50, and that article may be found right here.  I wanted to avoid the obvious, popular mattes where possible and have a wide range of genres and era's as an educator to the non matte savvy general reader to appreciate just how mattes can slip by totally unnoticed so often.  The editor of Shadowlocked even agreed to install movie clips of several key matte shots as those special shots were difficult to appreciate as a mere static image.  I expected all sorts of angry responses to my list (but only got one to my surprise).  Regular readers of this blogsite will not be surprised at many of those finalists,with a great many vintage shots in there.

If any readers out there happen to have copies of old (and I mean OLD) American Cinematographer or British Kinematograph with articles on special effects, I would be your friend for life if any kindly souls would contact me in hopes of getting a scanned copy of particular articles.  Am.Cine did alot of FX profiles in the 40's especially, with articles on Fulton, Sersen, Kellogg, Ries, Haskin, Dunn and Lerpae - all of whom are of great interest to your humble author.  I thank those who have already sent me copies of fantastic articles such as the rare Whitlock article in Film Maker's Newletter among others.  It's all very much appreciated and is so helpful for my research.

Anyway, the sad news of Matthew Yuricich's passing eventually caught up with me while between foreign locales so I counted my blessings as it were, that I'd had the unique opportunity to present a great many questions to Matt just a month or so before his death.  What follows is a candid, often amusing and always revealing insight into the world of the matte painter as told in his own words.  I hope you enjoy the journey.

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MATTHEW YURICICH: 
IN HIS OWN WORDS


A few months ago I was contacted by Craig Barron, visual effects supervisor at Matte World Digital and principal author of the indispensable tome The Invisible Art – The Legends of Movie Matte Painting, whereby I was  presented with the once in a lifetime opportunity to have a candid Q & A with legendary matte artist Matthew Yuricich.   Naturally I leapt at the chance, though the vast geographic distance between California and New Zealand proved to be a quandary as I’m not a telephone guy (I never use ‘em) and Matt wasn’t an email guy.  Just as such a unique once in a lifetime opportunity started to look as though things wouldn’t pan out, an extremely generous solution was quickly formulated by Craig with Matt’s friend, visual effects cameraman Peter Anderson.  I am most grateful to both gentlemen for their solid support and really going ‘beyond the call of duty’ to facilitate the ’on site’ interviews with Matt at his retirement home in Los Angeles. 

Since this conversation took place in April of this year, Matthew sadly passed away on  28th May 2012  at the age of 89, so this document is more than likely his final interview, and I for one feel proud to have been invited to 'chew the fat' with Matt.


The following article presents Matt’s recollections of his introduction to art and then into the photographic effects world,  told entirely in his own wordsThe topics discussed with Matt were wide ranging, the many personalities colourful – to say the least, the behind the scenes info revealing, and the chronicle of one of Hollywood’s foremost matte painters - in all probability, the last of the Golden Era studio matte practitioners, are priceless.  It is my hope that this article will be enjoyed by the many matte art enthusiasts out there – be they industry professionals or armchair archivists.  As I’ve been told by numerous people who knew and worked with him, Matthew was indeed ‘one of a kind’.

 None of the following chronicle would have been remotely possible, as outlined above, without the help of Craig and Peter, to both of whom, I am deeply indebted.  A big thank you too to Michele Moen for kindly agreeing to write the foreword on her memories of working for Matthew, and a thanks too to Richard Edlund, Virgil Mirano, David Stipes and Gene Koziki for kindly supplying additional photographs. Lastly, I’d like to acknowledge Robert Welch for allowing me to use very rare material on Matt from the A.Arnold Gillespie collection.

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MICHELE MOEN REFLECTS ON MATTHEW - MENTOR & FRIEND:

Matt's protoge and close friend Michele Moen at work on a matte at Boss Films.
Matt Yuricich  hired me by asking me, in his down-to-earth manner, if I’d like to wash some brushes and then through the years as my mentor, he became my life-long friend.  He was very loyal, most of all to his family and then to his friends.  Every Christmas he’d buy all the ladies at Boss Film Studios a little gift, usually a bracelet or some type of trinket and have it boxed with a ribbon and then he’d hand me a paper bag of the gifts and tell me to distribute them after he’d gone home.  He said he was too shy (with a twinkle in his eye).  He didn’t want a big fuss to be made over him yet he was filled with generous and caring gestures.  He was a proud gentleman who was a master at his craft.  He taught me that matte painting was a craft that one learned and practiced.  He was also a very talented artist who, in his free time, painted beautiful landscapes for art galleries but he never really advertised or promoted himself.

 I began as an apprentice on Bladerunner and the way Matt taught me was to have me sit on a stool behind him and just watch.  He’d come in to the studio really early in the morning, sometimes at 4:30 or 5 a.m. and do the most important sections of the painting before the rest of us came in.  I’d be in before dailies at 9 a.m. and after dailies I’d watch Matt paint for 2 hours or so and he’d explain process or point something out.  He was a good teacher and patient and I am lucky to have had that kind of training.  By 3 he’d show me an area on the painting that he wanted me to fill in or continue painting on.  He showed me how to look at the film frame through the loop every few minutes while I was applying a stroke to make sure the blend was successful.  Look through the loop, look at the painting over and over until I knew exactly what I was looking for. 

On Bladerunner, the matte paintings were shot on a particular film stock so that to get a black color on film, the paint had to be a muddy, murky grey-green but once a series of dabs of color stroked on the side of the matte painting were filmed and we could see the result, we knew what to mix to get that color.  It was all in relation to the film; the painting itself was not a pretty picture to hang on the wall.  Matt painted with Winsor & Newton long-handled sable brushes and made short dabs of color almost as an impressionistic style.  He said the film would bring it all together and it did.  He smoked cigarettes then and would leave the cigarette burning in his mouth until the ash fell onto the oil painting; that was added “texture” which was O.K.  Razor blades scraping away the top wet layer of a lighter brown would become a dirt road or a tree trunk; random texture that would photograph as realism.  I would draft out in pencil the next painting or project a film clip onto a board or glass and trace in pencil the details so that Matt could come in the next morning and start a new painting.  Also, I’d clean off his glass palette every night and lay out fresh oil paint in the same order that he’d been working with for years so that he could reach for a color without looking.   At the end of the day, I’d wash often as many as 50 brushes with an Ivory soap bar in warm water and then place them carefully in a drying cabinet.  If one of the brushes was a little stiff and not washed properly, Matt would toss it back into the turpentine-filled container to be washed again. 

Other than visiting Matt and talking to him on the phone, the last big, recent, fun outing together was when I took my nephew and Matt took one of his grandsons to The Academy Awards in a limousine.  I think he took all his grand kids and his kids one at a time to the Awards.  I wish he was still here; he had wanted to live to 100.
I really miss his stories; he remembered everything about every movie he worked on.

Michele Moen 
July 20, 2012
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MATTHEW YURICICH – IN HIS OWN WORDS

One of the many Oscar nominated mattes from THE GREATEST STORY EVER TOLD (1965)


EARLY FORAYS INTO ART:

I was always interested in art.  I can remember my father taking me to school back in Ohio with 8x10” coloured sheets of paper and pencils because I was drawing since I was at least 2 or 3 that I can remember.  I couldn’t speak a word of English then, that’s why he took me there, although I was born in this country, and it just went on from there.  I’m very proud of the fact that the very first thing I did commercially or professionally was a contest in the paper for, I think, Flash Gordon.  It was a whole city and you had to paint it and I won first prize.  I was 12 years old or something.  In The Depression years that was really something.

THE EGYPTIAN (1954)


ARTISTIC TRAINING & UNCLE SAM:

I had no formal artist training.  I was doing the stuff through high school and I even got permission to take two years of art because you had to take one year and a year of physics and chemistry and all that, but the art teacher thought that I showed so much promise… then I went into military service and served in the US Navy on the USS Nassau in the Pacific theatre of war.

Fred Sersen with his glass shot artists on the Fox lot.
When I got out of the service, I took aptitude tests, trying to get into anything BUT art, because at that time I was reading books on it and it was like ½ of 1% of all graduating art students all over the United States ever ended up in the art field as a career.  That was the days of painting illustrations and covers for magazines, which were popular in ads and everything until photography took it over.  I enrolled in the school that became fine arts – it was painting and illustration before that – and I finished school only because I met my wife to be there, and I then came out here to California.


The grand CinemaScope costumer PRINCE VALIANT (1954) was one of many big Fox shows that Matt painted on.



HOLLYWOOD BY DEFAULT:


Matt & Betty. A guy in uniform always gets lucky.
I knew actress Betty Grable. She was a close friend.  I met her during the war years through the Hollywood Canteen, and I used to go to the studios all of the time so I’d see these guys illustrating for movies.  They had illustrators who did a lot of work for the designers.  I thought I’d love to do that stuff.  I’d never heard of matte painting.  Well, I had my application in everywhere and I remember one place at NBC and the guy looked at my portfolio and he said “you’d be wasting your time here”.  He talked me out of it.   The guy that got it ended up as my neighbour – a big producer, multi millionaire, designing sets for early television.



Animated airplanes and tracer fire fx from Matt and Jim Fetherolf for DESTINATION GOBI (1953)
One day 20th Century Fox called me and they wanted to hire me for six weeks of frame by frame animation (rotoscope) work.  I didn’t know what the hell that was…I’d never even heard of ‘24 frames a second’ and all that jazz, but I quickly found out it was tracing and carefully inking figures, taking them out of one scene and putting them in another (by hand drawn traveling mattes).  This was about 1950 I think.  I also was assigned to make the duping boards (for duplicate matte compositing) at Fox. 
The 20th Century Fox Special Photographic Effects department in 1953 under Ray Kellogg.
  
We never did originals (original negative mattes) there in those days.  We’d have a white board and black out an area, then you’d have to trace out that area and reverse.  It was very critical because that line has to be perfectly matched.  Everybody else had lines that looked too heavy, and I could never understand that.  I always tried to leave a little separation so the stuff blends together in the shot.  That was one of the things I was doing there under Fred Sersen all the time. 

One of Matt's earliest assignments as VFX roto/animator for DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL (1951)


Jim Fetherolf
My friend Jimmy Fetherolf and I started at 20th Century Fox on the same day. We made seventy something dollars a week.  There were three of us newcomers that day.  It was the only time I’ve ever seen somebody without thumbs…that third kid… he was born without thumbs!  I forget his name, that other kid, but he didn’t last more than 2 or 3 days because he just didn’t do well. I watched this poor kid flounder… they had to let him go… he just couldn’t grasp the pencil, and you had to trace accurately do succeed in this sort of work.

NIAGARA (1953) which Matt assisted Emil Kosa on.



We were working on a picture with Clifton Webb and John Payne – in the film they both died and were sent to heaven.  We had to make rotoscope mattes for their ghosts walking through walls and that sort of thing, and I remember for some reason I had an affinity for this stuff.  Both Jimmy and I did real fine, even though we had some problems with the frame by frame animation, we both traced accurately.
I did a lot of that rotoscope work back then that people will never know.  I learned a lot of useful stuff right away at Fox.   

TITANIC (1953) multi part split screen composite.
On the 1953 picture Titanic, we were moving big blocks of people to fill out a scene.  They only had a small line of people on the railing which we kept moving and changing them around to put them on the whole ship (by split screen mattes), but there’s really only a little piece of them.  Of course now you can do it all with computers.





One of Matthew's most iconic shots - LOGAN'S RUN (1976)


TEAM PLAYER FOR A SUPERSTAR:

Around this time I wound up on Marilyn Monroe’s softball team.  We won the championship.  She was going out with Joe DiMaggio at the time.  That party up at her house was something…she chased me all over the damn house.  She liked men.  I was rather a stick in the mud in those days, and very na├»ve…I wouldn’t even dance with another woman because I was married.  I still wake up and have nightmares of being so stupid.   I may have kept my integrity there, but I’d sure like to have lost my integrity with Marilyn!
Marilyn had a bad reputation on the set, but she was a really great gal as far as I was concerned, and to the guys on her team.  She really was alright… she gave us a baseball autographed by the World Series champion, The New York Yankees and Joe DiMaggio and Marilyn Monroe.  My wife threw it into the incinerator!!!



A wonderful, unused matte composite prepared for SOYLENT GREEN (1972)


FRED SERSEN & RALPH HAMMERAS:

Ferdinand 'Fred' Sersen
They did everything there in the Fox special effects department.  There were miniatures, matte paintings and the scenic department in that building.  Bill Abbott was there with James Gordon, and Fred Sersen was the head of the department then.
Sersen was good, and all the credit to him.  Ralph Hammeras was an old friend and Ralph was the head of the matte department in the earlier days at Fox before Sersen took over from him, and Ralph was just pushed aside, I don’t really know why.  Ralph had some very interesting stories and he was almost killed in a bad automobile crash one time.   
Ralph Hammeras (at right)
He did miniatures as well as matte painting.  Ralph was a good artist.  They got rid of Ralph because of some personal stuff and Ralph then worked for Fred.  They brought Fred, and Fred brought Emil Kosa – both Czechoslovakians, so I guess there was a little something there that I didn’t see.  Fred was one of those guys like a real quiet Santa Claus type, but really rough though.  The man will fool you completely.  He was a very tough guy and very knowledgeable.

Gary Cooper's GARDEN OF EVIL (1954)


THE MATTE DEPARTMENT PECKING ORDER:

THE DESERT FOX (1951) on which Matt assisted.
At both MGM and Fox there was no monkey business.  Fred would come over to us and see what was going on, and he smoked his cigars, and the problem was that when he told you or gave you orders, he was chomping on his cigar.  You couldn’t tell what the hell he was saying (laughs)… but when it was clear then you paid attention – I remember that part very well.

I’d occasionally put my two cents in, not knowing anything at all, but I’d never heard of a suggestion box, if they’d had one at Fox.  They sure never had one over at MGM.  He (Warren Newcombe) would never go for that just because of principle because he was the ‘Lord and Master’.

Fox FX cameramen with head Ray Kellogg 2nd from left.
I was at Fox for about 4 years, and then one of the other artists went to MGM.  They needed some help.  They called saying they needed an assistant and I was being laid off every month at Fox for a week or two.  Ray Kellogg tried to get me back.  I knew where everything was in the department, all the paintings and stuff.  I did everything, I did the paintings… they didn’t realize until I was gone for a week.  They hired two guys after me – another matte artist – he did a lot of the western paintings.  He was probably my age then.  Then they hired an assistant to him just to wash the brushes.

The not terribly entertaining DEMETRIUS AND THE GLADIATORS (1954) which recycled many mattes from THE ROBE


EMIL KOSA, JR – ADVERSARY & ANTAGONIST:



His old man smuggled him out of Paris to get in here.  His father (Emil Kosa senior) was also a matte artist, but his father was nothing like him, either as a painter or as a person.  He (Kosa snr) was nicer, and although I met him I never worked with him.  Kosa jnr was a friend of Ray Kellogg’s, who became head of department, and Ray befriended him pretty well.

Emil Kosa, jnr
I’ve had some run in’s with Kosa jnr…as a matter of fact I’ve had a lot of run in’s with him.  He was a big mother…6 foot 2 and 220 pounds and stuff, but I almost killed him one day, like the one time I dragged him across the table, he said “Remember your position”.  I had just had it up to here with him.  I was only an assistant matte artist I was just starting there and Jimmy Fetherolf was shouting to me “Hit him, hit him”… can you imagine this?  I started laughing like crazy and then I let him go.  That was our introduction.  It was brutal when I started.  Jimmy just hated Emil.  Kosa took charge of everything there and he just didn’t care for me because I beat him at push ups (laughs)… he didn’t even look at my portfolio…never saw it…or my college degree and all of that stuff.  Emil only affected my work in the sense that whatever he said we all paid strict attention to it.

Kosa in self portrait.

Emil was an excellent portrait painter, a real traditional artist – but he was very bitter at that time because the abstract stuff that was popular was really hitting the traditional art world hard and I saw Emil try some of those things and I thought they were great.  I told Emil that what he should do is to paint something different.  Here I am, a little assistant telling him.  He came upon his traditional ways when his father smuggled him out of Czechoslovakia in a potato sack...he started as the artists did for the last 400 or 500 years… they learned to grind their own paints and all that stuff in Europe.  His father was a great artist too with a great traditional background.  Emil’s ballet dancer paintings were just as good, if not better than Degas…and his portraits were just excellent.  His matte shots were very good, though at times they’d be a little too tight.  He was a prolific painter in mattes.  He did most of the work and he was fast.  Emil’s private life was kind of sad.  He’d lost both his wife and his 11 year old daughter – both of them died.  That daughter was his only child.

Matthew again assisted Kosa and Kellogg on KING OF THE KHYBER RIFLES (1953) with VFX animated dust storms.




KOSA & YURICICH – AN UNEXPECTED APPRECIATION:

Emil Kosa jr plein air painting - late 1940's
I never had anybody tell me or show me how to paint.  When I didn’t have anything to do at Fox, I went upstairs and I had Harry, the camera operator sit there, and I painted his portrait, and if I must say so myself, it came out real good.  Here comes Emil with his palette and stuff, and I’m there painting… There’s windows along one side, it was the north side, and he looks at my painting and looks at the subject, and he says “Here…I want to sit here   So I had to move to the other place.  He painted…and then I painted…. Usually he was always giving me hell for painting portraits instead of painting rocks and trees and stuff.  He said “Ray Kellogg is going to be upset”… I told him I have nothing to do.  I would think that he’d be glad that I’m doing some painting of some kind… so he sits down because he could never get me to stop, and we paint together.  My portrait was much better.  This is Emil who was a great portrait artist.  He was commending me on my work and all that, but then he tried helping.  He’d pick up a brush and he’d paint a little over my painting;  This is what you should do there…”, and “… try this colour here”… He was screwing up my damn painting!  I don’t know if it was deliberate or if he was trying to help me. 

Kosa's gallery art which Matt admired.
I was after him to take me painting with him on locations to paint gallery stuff and he never would.  Kosa must have thought I was capable because he came to MGM one day years later and looked to see what I was doing there, and I was doing Mutiny on the Bounty – squeezed (for CinemaScope) ships and all that, and he was quite impressed.  And then I went to one of his art lectures on La Sienna Avenue, and he’s painting a subject and describing it and he spotted me and my brother in the audience and he stopped and he said “I’d like you to meet one of the finest portrait painters” and “here is Matthew Yuricich.”  I had to stand up and everybody clapped and all that.  Later when I got to talk to him I said “How can you say all that stuff…you never let me paint… you never let me do anything… you don’t know what the hell I can do”  Emil said, he saw my work at MGM on Bounty and he remembered that portrait I did back at Fox.

Both Scope frames from THE ROBE (1954)



TRANSITION INTO MATTE PAINTING:

Yuricich glass shot set up: UNDER THE RAINBOW (1983)
Well it got to where they needed some really good mattes made, and Jimmy and I got into it little by little from there on to where Emil would leave us to go on location and we’d get to paint.  Then Emil would take it off you right away when he got back…he’d just take it off us, but Sersen would come back into the department and he’d say: “Leave them alone”.  He knew you had to start somewhere.


CALL ME MADAM (1953) - Ralph Hammeras matte shot.
When I first started in mattes, I said to Jimmy “What the hell…we’re never going to be able to do that kind of stuff”.  We worked some dupes and the tests they would give you just a black and white piece of negative, and it was all reverse image and you have to learn all that.  And then they started us with the 3-strip.  At the time, Jimmy and I were 26, and the next guy up was in his fifties.  Emil tried to keep me off the mattes as long as he could, and he told Ralph Hammeras, who then told me, “it’s no use cutting your own throats”.  Kosa wanted to control everything … in fact he did control everything.  I guess in those days they had more leeway.  Anyway, Ray Kellogg took over and he put me on paintings right away.  Emil would take me off of them when Ray wasn’t around…all that stuff.  When I had free time I’d be up there painting portraits.

Fox Artist Menrad von Muldorfer (left)
They had good artists at Fox… Max De Vega, Clyde Shears, Emil Kosa jnr, Menrad von Muldorfer, Gilbert Riswold, Cliff Silsby…a big department with a lot of artists painting there.  Fred Sersen gave 3 or 4 of the guys ‘assistant head of the department’ cards, and they didn’t mean a thing.  There were more chiefs than there were Indians there!   I knew that you could learn the art…you just keep doing it, and that’s what I was told by Clyde Shears – he was 80 and still working at Fox.  “You just keep doing it, and one day you can see you’ve got a style”.  I remember also later asking Henry Hillinck.  He said, “It’s easy…after 500 paintings, you’re going to find out that you’ve got a way to paint, which means experience.  Keep doing it, and keep finding out.”  It’s really building upon everything you’re learning and absorbing.

The very dull bio-pic DESIREE (1954) with a miscast Marlon Brando as Napoleon.



THY MATTE PAINTER SHALL PAINT, AND ONLY PAINT:

Lee LeBlanc at Fox
We (the artists) were never allowed to see our finished matte shots projected on a screen, and then later Bill Abbott started to show the guys their matte shots and Ray Kellogg did a little too.  At MGM it would be Newcombe showing the shots only to the director and the head of the art department.  They wouldn’t let you (the matte painter) ever look at them.  It doesn’t make any sense…you’re relying on this person to do this painting, this matte shot, which is important especially back in the old days because we had more matte shots than we have today.  Ceilings, skies, clouds – almost every interior was done by a matte shot and it’s very important to the picture, because most movies were made on the lots in the old days.  The matte artist was very important, and to not let him see his own work defeats the whole purpose because, if there’s something wrong, the matte artist has to go by someone else’s verbal instructions form his own visual sighting.

Intended matte shot final design for BEN HUR (1959)
I really admired hearing about guys like Mike Pangrazio and Craig Barron building little things (rudimentary models) and then throwing light onto it just to see how things would work out to paint the shot.  They would never stand for that sort of stuff where I was working.

POLTERGEIST II - THE OTHER SIDE (1986)
When Lou Litchtenfield came to MGM to do An American in Paris he was surprised that they’d not let him see his own shots up on screen.  The artist is the one that then has to make this all work, but he cannot see it.  I’d like to see them do that to Albert Whitlock or Peter Ellenshaw…I mean, Albert would have had a heart attack if somebody tried to do that with him.






Dazzling, flickering neons from LOVE ME OR LEAVE ME (1955).  My own personal favourite matte genre...sublime!




DAZZLING NEONS & SPECTACULAR SHOWCASES:

Those big theatre marquees….I did a lot of them.  I tell you, I must have worked on 50 theatre fronts and animated the lights.  I was drilling out the holes for the bulbs and backlighting them.  We did all that stuff for movie marquees and we did an awful lot of that as double exposure and we used to use the punched holes.  Mark Davis was doing most of this sort of work at MGM, he really liked that stuff.  
Reverse side showing drilled out 'bulbs'
 I’m trying to think of these other matte artists.  One of them had a bad back or something and he was doing a lot of scenic work too.  He designed and built a motorized chair on rails so he could roll back and forth while painting matte shots and different things.  His name was Lazini or Muselini or something like that.  We did all the marquees and signs, they were all painted, even those with 1000 bulbs glittering underneath.


FIRST MATTE PAINTED SHOT:

Matt's first actual painted matte - from CALL ME MADAM
I did a little work on a lot of mattes but the first full shot was a show called Call Me Madam around 1953, and it was a circular spiral staircase coming down into a wine cellar.  Emil took it off of me as soon as he got back so I didn’t get to finish it then, but several old timers stepped in…I can’t think of their names...and helped me out.  They all knew what a bully he (Kosa) was.  Ray Kellogg said “leave him alone”… it was one of those things.  I did eventually get to finish it and had to draw it off, which was not easy to do and probably not accurate, but it worked out well.  I remember Sersen as being very precise with the mattes, and your drawing had to be precise.  We were trying to work it from geometric (theoretical) design and stuff, but even the real thing wouldn’t look that precise when you’d study a circular staircase.  I remember studying that and saying “This is ridiculous” and I never did get it down right, then Ralph Hammeras came over to help me and he says “Just paint the damned thing”.  It was true, but Fred Sersen had everybody scared because if it was off….watch out!  But this was so complicated that nobody could tell.  If it didn’t look right, then they could tell.
 
If I was painting one of those big ornate ceilings, if you painted as though you were doing the actual plastering of all of those curly Q’s and fleur de lis and all that stuff, and all very precise, it would look like a polished piece of painting…that’s what it would be like.  Your eye might go to it.  Well, there were a lot of paintings where I had to do that though.  I had to paint it so the painting looked like a finished shot.

If you’ve got a good design, things go and will fit.  Some paintings fall into place.  If you’ve got a lot of vegetation or foliage, that takes a lot of good expertise which Albert Whitlock was good at and Mark Sullivan is fantastic at and as I say, he’s the best in the business right now.  They really had a feeling for that stuff.

Matthew at MGM puts final touches on twin opening shot paintings for MUTINY ON THE BOUNTY (1962).  Note the other finished painting for the sequence where Bounty sails on her voyage propped up behind Matt's leg.              *Photo courtesy of Robert Welch from The A.Arnold Gillespie Archive


WARREN NEWCOMBE – ECCENTRIC OVERLORD:


Warren Newcombe, circa 1930's
Newcombe had a lot of power, because when he got going, that was a mystery department at MGM.  He just didn’t let anyone know just what he was doing, so they figured out they’d just better not get him angry, because he was weird (laughs)…to say the least!  You just couldn’t come on up there to see what we were doing for him (Newcombe).  From his desk you could see through the door and anybody who came upstairs he just wouldn’t let them come in.  Even the windows were painted over in black. 
Mark Davis became the cameraman for Newcombe, but Newcombe treated him like something else – poorly in fact.  He would take Mark out on location to shoot the plates and he (Newcombe) would take his brushes and clean them on Mark’s hair!  Mark put up with a lot, though he was a real clever guy and was able to figure out a lot of technical stuff.  He used to tell me that his wife used to get mad at him for letting Warren do these things to him.  Mark was very creative and would take a lot of junk from surplus stores and he would create things (effects gags) and they would work.  He was inventing stuff and he turned out to be a good cameraman but he still got ‘beat up’ by Newcombe.  I don’t think Newcombe ever knew any of those technical things.  Mark came in to MGM when Newcombe was assistant boy there and he left the studio about ’56 or ‘57.
Newcombe fine art
Did Newcombe make suggestions to us?…he left the guys alone and every now and then he’d make suggestions, but we never followed his instructions (laughs)… he was‘The Mad Hatter’, exactly that!
Newcombe did paint mattes back at the beginning in the 20’s, but to me he couldn’t paint and wasn’t really a top artist…his own paintings were all very stylized, but he was a painter and would hold the brush like a hammer.  He did some lithographs and stuff.  In the old days the matte shots were done by his friend that he brought with him from New York – he was a real artist… he did all the work.  They had some 20 other guys there they hired during the war while the regular matte artists had to go away, and their mattes were atrocious.  There were a lot of artists in those days who were matte artists only because they were the first ones to know about it.
I’d like to look into Newcombe’s death and backtrack to see what happened.  He was murdered in Mexico…he’d warned me to stay away and that it was all pretty dangerous and in his letter he tells me not to come down because it’s very dangerous in Mexico…though I sure was curious.


Period costumer matte shot from THE KING'S THIEF  (1955)




HENRY HILLINCK – MENTOR & TEACHER:

Henry was a superb artist… he was the head of the scenic department at RKO or somewhere… a very good craftsman… he was the president of the union local. He could draw well.  He was in the scenic department so he had some background in it.  A lot of the scenic artists turned out to be good matte artists.  Henry let me do a lot of stuff when I first started there.  He said “just keep painting”.  I remember when I first painted and when I was doing paintings for myself, but practicing matte shots while at MGM, and I talked to him about it and I said, “What do you think?”  He said, “Put it away and look at it after you’ve painted another 100 paintings and then you’ll see where it fits”. 


 He taught me the razor blade technique for texturing the painting…it was just beautiful.  I’d wanted to go into painting for galleries using that razor technique, but it would have taken forever to do a painting that way, so I continued using it just for matte shots as there were no other matte artists using it.  I picked up a lot from Henry Hillinck. The razor blade is great for ground texture like in Forbidden Planet… it was great because you had these phony looking mountains in it and you have your grain on the masonite.. you just put paint on it and just scrape it to create texture.  You couldn’t use it at all times, just for certain places. I painted some of the rocks and stuff… I was lucky there because Henry would let me paint and it looked great to me then and I was thrilled because I got to work on it, though when I look back it looks a little stiff.  Michelle (Moen) picked up the razor blade technique too… she’s like a veteran with it.

Henry was more of a loose painter, although he could sometimes be very tight in style.  I remember when he used to fight Newcombe all of the time on this ‘modern painting’ thing…abstracts were all garbage… anybody could do it.
Henry Hillinick full painting from FORBIDDEN PLANET (1956) which Matt assisted with some of the rocks.

I remember one of Henry’s mattes that he was experimenting with painting impasto – real thick. These hanging chandeliers, they had a half dome, and instead of painting them in 3D, he actually put thick, sculpted paint to see if it was any different than painting in the 2 Dimensional.

Close detail of Henry Hillinick's matte painting.
Henry would grab a big bristle brush just to show that he could not be ‘precise and controlled’.  I never had the nerve to paint a complete painting with a big bristle brush, except where it called for it…I’m talking about really finely detailed stuff, yet I had done paintings for galleries where I only used a big wide bristle and used the end of it like a chisel.  I liked to chisel the end of it, and you never saw anything photograph so realistically in your life.  It was a complete impressionistic painting done with a big bristle, but I never had the balls to do it in a real matte shot.

Atmospheric closing shot from BEN HUR (1959).




HOWARD FISHER – GENTLEMAN MATTE ARTIST:



Howard was a really nice guy… he was an MGM matte artist and also one of the nicest guys you’d ever find – a very nice gentleman.  Howard must have been around 65 back in 1955. They hired Howard away from some other studio.  There was a lot of jealousy in those days.


Howard Fisher's iconic FORBIDDEN PLANET shot.
Both Henry and Howard would paint on drawing drafting tables tilted down.  They were 2 or 3 feet away from it.  Their jobs were on the line to do really good matte shots.
Now Howard was more of a photo realist in his painting, Henry had the feel and could paint it as though he were standing 10 feet away.  At MGM when I first got there you were so close to the painting, you couldn’t get further away.  Each camera stand was enclosed and the easel was just out about 5 feet.  You couldn’t paint that loose as you could from if it was 10 to 15 feet away.  That’s what most artists can do.  Warren once said to me: “I want you to copy Henry’s painting here…I want to see how good you do with a painting.”.  He couldn’t tell them apart when I got through. 

When they ran matte shots in the projection room at MGM, they didn’t loop it (spliced onto a continuous 35mm loop).  They cut the matte in with a production shot before and a shot after and ran it that way.  You’d be surprised how many times people watching these said what are we supposed to be looking at?  They didn’t know.  But if you run the matte on a continuous loop you’re going to see every disease that there is in there, and the painting at it’s best is no way close to looking real.


DESTINATION GOBI  (1953)
THE MONSTER SQUAD matte shot for Boss Films.  Michele Moen also painted on this picture.


NEWCOMBE AND THE DUPY DUPLICATOR:

LOVE ME OR LEAVE ME
The first thing done (with automated matte camera move) on the Dupy Duplicator was a commercial.  The MGM sound department (developers of that equipment) under Douglas Shearer kept us away from the Duplicator, which got Newcombe really angry as Doug Shearer wanted full control.  Then they had a movie with that short guy, James Cagney, where we panned and tilted up onto a matte painting … things that had never been done before … it was pretty good stuff.

The Dupy camera set up at MGM
Doug Shearer was a general sound department technologist, and, like most of those guys he was a politician too… they have to be… and of course the fact that his sister was the actress Norma Shearer didn’t hurt either.  I didn’t blame him for getting upset with Newcombe.

Mark Davis & Newcombe



The camera moves were recorded on a wax disc by the sound department and they wanted control of it all, and that’s what really fouled up Newcombe… he didn’t like that, as it was a ‘matte shot’ and Newcombe wanted full control.  Each department was a kingdom in it’s own, and the Dupy Unit was a separate unit (Olin Dupy was the MGM sound technician and inventor)… but at least they were trying something new.  That was probably the earliest motion repeating system ever built.




THE EGYPTIAN (1954)


ANAMORPHIC ANTICS WITH CINEMASCOPE & CAMERA 65:

The Robe was at Fox…I did a big glass shot where the donkey is riding towards the city of Jerusalem.  They had two big pieces of glass framed in wood and we’re in the middle, we had a tree so it hid the frame. I had done mattes before that but never a true ‘glass’ shot.  I had never seen a glass shot until then.  We didn’t paint our mattes in the studio on glass in those days – everything was done on masonite or over photo enlargements but I did it plenty of times since then I tell you.
One of the magnificent mattes from KING OF KINGS (1961).  Among the best mattes of the Biblical genre.




It was very difficult to paint squeezed, and to get your perspective correct and all of that.  When I started on the first anamorphic picture, The Robe, the scope lens was being used on the main production (**image photographed in a vertically compressed format and later projected theatrically through an anamorphic lens to horizontally uncompress the original image to usually 2 ½ times the normal frame width) .  They had colour problems with that process too.  Everything was going red, I don’t know why.  That was another enigma with Emil Kosa on The Robe… we had a big glass shot and Jim Fetherolf and Lee LeBlanc started painting walls and rocks.  I came in with the second crew with Emil and he say’s “Wash it off!”  I said, “What?” He said “Wash it off!”  Jimmy was what you’d call a photo realist and Emil was trying to get me to wash it off because you’re never going to see it (so much detail).  Emil had me mix some great colour and he painted the whole thing.  Emil’s paintings were up and down in consistency and some on The Robe were so stiff – the architecture was too rigid.
Both this and above matte are from BEN HUR (1959)

The very first week I started at MGM, Cinemascope had just come in and MGM still wasn’t sure about scope so all of the matte shots were done two ways – in scope and regular –  I got to paint the regular…while Henry and Howard worked on the scope.  I complained that we didn’t have enough space.  If you paint full paintings for 65mm we needed about 20 feet just for the matte stand, so everything had to be painted squeezed for Clarence’s photography.  Later on Ben Hur we shot in MGM’s Camera 65 format.  On the sides of the frame it had a lot of squeeze, which flattened out toward the middle of the frame.  The squeeze had something to do with quality, but to me there would be more quality in a straight spherical lens than in that widescreen process.
Matthew at work on his grandest painted matte - for BEN HUR.  Mattes were split between Lee LeBlanc and Matt.

The big matte shot in Ben Hur, we had real troops for some of it – they marched up and turned right.  So I took these real troops and reduced them, and reduced them and then painted more, so there’s like 3 or 4 columns of the same troops, repeated optically, and the rest were just painted people.  On each side of the procession were real soldiers.  We had to make several tests because we could see problems in the tests.  Lee insisted on painting the 3-point perspective stuff, with the columns painted almost leaning over to accommodate that squeeze, and Clarence would scream at him and say it doesn’t look right, and Lee would say “Well that’s the way you’re photographing it”.  He said that it’s the goddamned lens, it isn’t the human eye at fault.


I remember in Ben Hur, Lee painted this shot with these statues of horses rearing up on the right hand side.  So I’m telling Lee, who’s my boss, “Lee, you’re too dark and those horses on the side are going to have asses 3 feet wide in anamorphic.”  He didn’t allow for the correct squeeze.  So on the test, those horses butts were clear across the room and blacker than a piece of coal.  Of course it was a learning process too for Lee.  I don’t know why Lee didn’t know because he had been painting mattes for years.

Barely detectable matted in city, lake and mountain range from THE DUCHESS AND THE DIRTWATER FOX (1976)



UNIONS, POLITICS AND DEADLINES:

The Hollywood strike of 1957, Henry said you’re in the union and you can’t paint and all that stuff, and I said “I’m not going to, but Henry, you told me yourself in 1945 when the big strike was on, you got a building across the street or somewhere, and you guys did the matte shots over there.  What’s the difference?”  Well, as it turned out Ray Clune, head of productions who I knew from 20th Century Fox called up Lee LeBlanc… things were slow, and he knew everybody, he said “You’ve got to lay Matt Yuricich off.”  And I remember Lee, he said,“I can’t do that.  He’s doing a lot of work”.  There was some kind of…. it wasn’t really a strike, but there was a problem and I had to go.  I went to Columbia in 1957 and I worked with Larry Butler.   Because he wanted me back, Lee called, and I said “I’m not going back to that place.  I’m doing full matte work here as a first assistant.  At Columbia, these people let me do it”.
ATLANTIS - THE LOST CONTINENT (1960)
Larry’s partner, cameraman Don Glouner, he was a nice man.  He says “Come on back, I’ll get you your first union card as full journeyman matte artist”. At that time in the industry with the union, you couldn’t paint unless you were ‘first assistant’.  Newcombe in the end got me promoted in an around-about way.  He got to where MGM was insisting on promoting me. That’s the only reason I came back to MGM.  I wasn’t gone long.  I was bitter though that the guy (Clune) named me by name to lay me off.

One of Matt's last trick shots, for UNDER SIEGE II (1995).  The entire upper half of the frame is painted on glass.



MEMORIES OF FELLOW MATTE ARTISTS:

Ray Kellogg
Ray Kellogg…  Ray Kellogg started as a matte artist but he was really Sersen’s right hand man.  He was a tough guy and a very strong, aggressive individual.  He did all of the shooting on the sets of all of the shots for Fred and he eventually took over the department.  Ray would say things to me like “How many push ups can you do?”  and being young and not very tactful, I said “one more than you can do”.  This is unheard of to talk like this to the guy.  He jumped down and did 25.  I could never do more than 10 in my whole life.  My muscles just….. I did 26!  When Fred retired they kept him on as a sort of advisor because they weren’t sure Ray could handle the whole department.


Jim Fetherolf fine art
Jim Fetherolf… When he first started on mattes, Jimmy would paint in every speck of marble…every detail… painting it just right.  It would be a beautiful painting, but it photographed just like a beautiful painting.  I didn’t like to use acrylic because I’d mix the colour and it would be dry already.  The only ones I ever saw use it later on were Peter Ellenshaw and Jimmy Fetherolf. All the painting Jim ever did for galleries he painted in acrylic because he could get it done and then he could paint with oils over it.  I didn’t like it because it would be dry on the pallet before I could even use it.
Jim would go on to work later with Albert Whitlock over at Disney.  Albert liked Jimmy too.  Apparently they were very friendly.

Lee LeBlanc… I helped him at MGM and he was enough of a politician to eventually make it to head of department.  I don’t know how he did that… he just felt that he was top artist, and that wasn’t hard for him.  I remember on one black and white picture at Fox, Viva Zapata, Lee was having some problem, he was painting this particular shot of a ceiling, and he was arguing with somebody who said the ceiling isn’t quite right and you can’t see the design properly.  Lee painted in two dogs screwing and things like that up there.  They photographed it and it looked just like a beautiful, ornate ceiling.

Menrad von Muldorfer… Yes he was at Fox.  His dad actually built the studio, so I guess he got in through that end.  Von Muldorfer worked on all of those early big Fox films… The Rain’s Came and In Old Chicago and later on Cleopatra and others… they were all big shows.

Albert Maxwell Simpson… In the old days, Al Simpson was another big matte painter. He was one of the real old timers and he was used mainly to ‘work’ the matte line.  They had soft blends and he had the patience to sit there and green by green touch up and eliminate that whole matte line that was showing.  That was all pretty tricky work where he’d view the tests with the painting overlapping the live action.  There was always something to it…he’d go in and it’s amazing just how well that worked.  You’d get there with patience, and Simpson was known for that, and that’s what they used him for – a sort of a ‘pinch hitter’ for solving the blend…exactly that.

Cliff Silsby at Fox
Cliff Silsby… Oh yes, I remember Cliff.  A mousy little guy… yeah I remember him pretty well.  He was a good matte painter and would take a lot of it quite personally.  All us matte painters were loners doing our thing, and they didn’t mind us bringing up some things sometimes.  Emil of course would go on in to bug the artists and everybody resented him.  Emil was something else… I don’t think he realized the damage he had done (with the artists). 

Max de Vega… Another one of the real old timers.  I knew him though there’s no real special story.  He gave me a lot of the background on the previous Fox matte artists.  He helped me out a lot and taught me the tradition of the art.  He gave me a lot of information  about staying far away from Kosa, that’s for sure (laughs).  Fox had a big department with a lot of resourses, and I utilized it and learned a lot of stuff.

Jack Shaw…  Jack and I were pretty good friends.  He committed suicide.  Jack could not take the constant direction from everybody, and Clarence Slifer told me that he did have one failing thing that he’d just keep on painting – that they’d have to pull it (the matte painting) away from him!  I saw him paint and what a good matte artist.  I wanted to find out more about the matte painting and stuff and Jack was telling me it’s just too difficult when you have people that don’t know anything about painting telling you how to paint.  It bothered the hell out of him.  He was a good man.

Lou Litchtenfield… Lou had started with Paul Detlefsen and Mario Larrinaga at Warner Brothers before the war…I knew Lou pretty well.  I’ve seen a lot of his work and it was pretty good.  He went to Warners and set up an optical department.  Warner Bros had quite a contingent of good matte artists, and Lou told me that when he was working on The Fountainhead and there was a big, tall building that he’d designed and all that, and he was going to paint it in oil and he used lacquer thinner and the oil paint ‘ran’ by mistake.  Lou called Mario and he came in and they worked all night to repair that matte painting.  I can imagine the problem.

George Gibson  (Scenic Artist)…
George’s thing at MGM was head of Scenic Art, and it’s just unbelievable how good these guys were (scenic art department).  You come up there to look at those backings and you can’t tell a thing.  The brush strokes are 4 inches wide and you step back just like it was designed for…I mean it was just unbelievable how great the finished thing was.  When you’re painting a thing like that, you are 2 or 3 feet away, you have to know what you’re doing even though it looks like you can’t tell what you’re seeing.  That’s the same thing with matte shots.  You’re painting for the camera and those who have the advantage of painting that same way and same distance for their whole career, they can do it standing backwards, and the same thing with painted backing.  Henry Hillinck had that experience although his backings were nothing compared to George Gibson.

Irving Block… I found paintings in storage from Julius Caesar that I tracked down that Irving had done, maybe in 1950 or thereabouts…mainly painted over photo blow ups as I recall. He would always be huddled over his painting whenever anyone came into the room. He’ll be painting it like he’s hiding in a corner.  He’ll be turning with his back, so if you walked by you only saw his back, but he was always doing something.  I later worked for Irving and his partner Jack Rabin on that race picture, Death Race 2000.

Rocco Gioffre…  I brought Rocco out here from high school in my old hometown in Loraine, Ohio for Close Encounters, and I got him started. I didn’t know him back in Ohio.  When later on I worked with Rocco, we did it all on original negative, and we could make them match right there, and it kind of took me back.  I had kind of forgotten it all.  There’s nothing better than the original negative… it’s like comparing night and day.  You can take the same painting that doesn’t look too good on a dupe, and it works fine as an original.


Jack Cosgrove... Clarence Slifer would tell me about Jack Cosgrove, because he worked for Jack for years and he said that he was the sloppiest painter.  He’d drop his cigarette ashes and they would be all in the painting, and there was dirt and everything in it, and he said “But boy, it sure looked good”.  At Selznick when Clarence was there with Cosgrove, they had terrific matte paintings.

Spencer Bagtoutopolis… Spencer was an older man and, painting wise, he was the best because he’d had 60 years experience of painting that way…there was no impressionistic stuff to his work… everything was precise and done right and with a feel, yet done fast…the guy was training all his life and he didn’t know it.  Living in a time where guys weren’t photographing, he had to get these illustrations out real fast.  There were assignments Spencer was painting for the King and Queen! He was sent all over the world, especially India.   He was 80 when he was working for Clarence.  Spencer and Clarence (Slifer) had some sort of big falling out though.

Peter Ellenshaw… Peter Ellenshaw was a master.  My then wife and I were once driving by The Laguna Beach Art Museum, and the road is quite a ways from the gallery windows and entrance, and there are paintings there in the windows.  I said “Stop the car!”  She says, “What’s the matter?”  I said, “There’s a matte shot artist that has some paintings in there!”  She then says “Those are all seascapes”.  I said, “I don’t give a damn…I know a matte shot technique when I see one”.  It was Peter Ellenshaw’s work.  From 200 feet away I could tell there was a matte painting technique there.  You look at Peter’s stuff that he did for Spartacus and Quo Vadis… what beautiful shots  Peter used a lot of the old tricks on Darby O’Gill.  He’s a guy that not only paints matte shots, he supervised that whole thing and it was fantastic.  I envy him having Percy Day show him how to paint.  Peter was able to learn the craft and carry it on.  Peter saved some of his paintings, and I had one of them at MGM…it was on glass, already cracked, from Quo Vadis.

Michele Moen… I remember Michele was painting a city thing, and she wanted to do the toughest shot.  She was a very aggressive gal, very ambitious and very talented.  She said “There’s something wrong with it.”  I said to her, “Step back here.”  I could see the problem as I walked by and I thought I’d let her sweat it out, as it’s the only way to learn.  Well, a third of the painting or more, the buildings looked like they were down into a 100 foot hole.  It was a very simple thing and when I showed her she corrected it because you tend to get so used to your painting while you’re painting, and you look at it and it looks fine, and until you see it on a screen, you then look at it and it ain’t fine.


EARTH II (1971)
Jim Danforth… Jim is one of the top talented people in the special effects business.  He can do everything, he knows it all.  He’s a kind of a rebel in a sense and he was hot headed.  Jim and I got along pretty good.  We were working together at Fox and he was hired to do some space stuff at MGM, he was doing all this front projection. I had to paint this sputnik thing going over the United States.  Art Cruickshank was there and I remember I had to do a couple of matte shots, not for the space thing, but one was a trestle bridge and sky, and Jim says he never thought he’d see anybody paint a sky so fast since he saw Albert Whitlock doing it.  He couldn’t believe that I was doing it.   
Jim got to know my work and I had seen his, and then what happened was that we’d get lulls and there was nothing to do, and I’d go into the little camera room, which was all glass and you could see in there, and Art Cruickshank came up to me in the room and said “It would be smarter if you went somewhere where you can’t be seen when you’re reading a book”.  I said, “Art…I got nothing to do right now, if you don’t need me let me know and I’ll leave…I’m not hiding for anybody.  If I have work, I’ll do it…..if I don’t have it I’m going to do……” And Jim just started clapping.  He loved that.

The unfathomably bizarre Audrey Hepburn vehicle, GREEN MANSIONS (1959)



THE LIFE AND DEATH OF VINTAGE MATTE ART:


I knew every painting that was left at Fox.  It broke my heart to burn most of them up.  Of course 9 out of 10 it didn’t matter.  There were some good ones.  The only ones that were left were the ones they happened to paint on glass or masonite or things like that, and they had quite a few because this was from years of collecting.

 

When I went through these old pictures, I mean the matte paintings in storage, there were close to 4000 – everything was numbered – there were no titles on them.  It seemed like they neglected the matte shots and there were superb paintings, and some of them that go way back.  They had a lot of cutouts and painted mountains and stuff like that, pastels, and I used to take them home for my kids’ train set and put them all around it.   When I was working I knew the shots by their numbers.  I’m working on 1342 or 4031 and production number with it.  During one of the lay off periods, when things were very slow I set up a system of filing these paintings because now we could save them.  In storage, each one had a nice tissue paper over the top and was protected and slotted and everything else.  It’s all gone forever.
I remember when MGM opened up the hotel in Las Vegas, they had a lot of paintings and they had a sort of studio thing in there then.

Painted sky and island split screened with a gentle optical ocean roll comp for MUTINY ON THE BOUNTY (1962)


MATTE SHOT PREPARATION:

At that time at MGM there was Henry, Howard Fisher and Bill Meyer who was a draftsman that drew in the matte shots when I first got there, and I thought Bill did a great job.  So he would mostly draw architectural stuff.  He would draw the buildings and everything…all he did was to draw these things in, and the lines were like an indelible blue… they would bleed through.  Bill did nothing but draw this stuff and then you just filled in the spaces.  Then Bill was gone and I’m trying to think of who else was there before… of course Lou Litchtenfield was there for a while, but not very long.

THE WIND AND THE LION (1975)
When I got to MGM the artists there would make sure it would take at least three weeks to finish a matte.  Some were intricate, but there were a lot of shots that I, as an assistant, could bang out in three days – unless you ran into problems.  Sometimes you could do it in one day and then do three weeks worth trying to fix the one thing that was wrong  We had this one at MGM with lights drying it.  I got to where I was using a spray fixative.  You had to be careful – it’s like doing 10 coats instead of 2 – sometimes the heat would crinkle the painted surface.  It would start drying and already start crinkling.  That was a matte artist’s dilemma when he just had to get things done.  Nobody understood that it takes time to dry.  None of our mattes were original negative.  All matte shots were done as opticals.

The big STAR TREK-THE MOTION PICTURE (1979) money shot, which Doug Trumbull kept bugging Matthew to add more and more and more detail - most of which would be invisible to the viewer in the first place.


CLASSIC ERA PASTEL MATTE ART AT MGM:

Incredibly fine detail achieved with sharp pastel pencil and crayon.
Early on, somebody at MGM wanted to do them all in pastel crayons – all of those paintings were pastels.  They thought that blending would be easier with pastels.  There happened to be other artists that Newcombe would hire, and they’d work in pastel.  We tried pastels later but found they weren’t worth it. They were so soft we found that we just lost the entire composition.  Newcombe had this one guy who was doing all his work and all in pastel, and then I’m sure it was Lou Litchtenfield that started him on oils when he came there for a short while.  I still have the pastel pencils somewhere…white carbon pencils…you can’t get them anywhere that good.  Sharpened pencils, they were needlepoint sharp…they had white and black pastel pencils, but mostly white.  They were the greatest pastel pencils in the world and you could draw with them.  The others today look like they have glycerine in them or something.  There were boxes of these things, and I did take a couple of boxes because I used them at home.  They weren’t using them there when I worked at MGM – they were used in the old days.  Nobody needed them and I used them for laying in drawing stuff over my painting when it was dry.
MGM matte painter Rufus Harrington in 1939 working with pastels on a typical Newcombe shot.  Note the pastels laid out to the right of this photograph.   *Picture courtesy of Craig Barron


ICE STATION ZEBRA (1968)


TOO MUCH DETAIL AND NOT ENOUGH FEELING:

I’m trying to think of the movie…I remember a movie we were on about Vikings (Prince Valiant) with a Viking ship out at sea and we’d painted a whole fleet of these and every one of these the sides were decorated with shields, and on the shields we painted tiny detail that you could see with a magnifying glass.  Emil Kosa had us paint it over and completely start again.
PRINCE VALIANT

UNDER THE RAINBOW
If you do a matte shot where it’s not called for, like the ornate castle…I did this Disneyland like castle for one of those Little House on the Prairie things…a dream sequence.  They are riding on the carriage, there’s the castle right on the knob of the hill…well you know that’s not really there so it doesn’t ring true.  Well, a lot of the matte shots that DO work…thousands of those…are the ones where you wouldn’t expect that they had a matte there.

Paris in THE 4 HORSEMEN OF THE APOCALYPSE (1961)
Impressionistic matte painting was something that Peter Ellenshaw and Albert Whitlock were masters at, but it didn’t work too well when I started with Clarence because I was working on 5253 duping stock, and the contrasts were built up by a third just in the photography using that film stock, so you had to paint real sharp.   
I talked to the old time artists doing everything very precise because, evidently, the clarity of the film and stuff wasn’t as good then.

For the 1983 tv miniseries 'V' Matthew painted numerous shots.  *Photos courtesy of David Stipes.


SHAMELESS LOSS OF THE ARTFORM:


When Kerkorian finally closed down the art department at MGM, all those paintings were taken by three guys, one guy from MGM’s library and the other two were outsiders from a salvage company.  These guys took them and they were trying to sell them, they were going to build a museum for motion pictures.  They took them… it irritated me.  I wanted to get some of the others that I really liked such as Mutiny on the Bounty.  I’m very sorry that I was so weak minded not thinking of these things and trying to grab them.  They wouldn’t let me take even a brush out of that building!  In the meantime the salvage company came down and took down the whole place, and they took those paintings and everything.  So much stuff was taken. 
Greg Jein got two of those miniature Russian Mig jets from Ice Station Zebra, and he was telling me what those guys were taking… all the old illustrations and sketches were stored in one of the old stages upstairs.  Well, some of these people found stuff and were lifting it.  People who didn’t even work on the lot got away with them.  That was tragic.  The only ones they didn’t get are the ones that I saved to help me with other paintings.  We had pastels from the old days, and there was about 3000 of them.  They kept everything on file.  When people wanted to know what I did, they’d show the steps that were shot before the black matte on it, and then the whole drawing, and the partial painting, and the completed painting.  They had hundreds of those things around.  I remember the ones that thrilled me to death from those Tarzan pictures.

THE PRODIGAL (1955)
As a matter of fact, I was working there in another place that was just above the film library and I had the matte stands taken out.  Bob Hoag, who was head of optical, saved them.  He set up a matte room in there and saved an easel and stored the others.
ATLANTIS - THE LOST CONTINENT (1960)

I saved some like the Las Vegas casino painted ceiling mattes for an Elvis Presley picture and a bunch of others.  I even managed to grab one of Albert Whitlock’s paintings of the Gemini rocket on the launch pad and I saved that, maybe from Howard Anderson’s company.  Linwood Dunn had a garage full of mattes at one time, including a bunch of Albert’s Star Trek paintings.  I think all of those were sold.

A very rare DUEL IN THE SUN (1947) Cosgrove matte.
When Selznick’s was closed down, some guy there took most of the matte shots and he used them to make an inner wall by nailing them in his garage.  That’s where they were.  He nailed them against the wall… instead of plastering the wall, he nailed these matte shots that Clarence, Jack and Spencer were doing at Selznick.  Clarence and I couldn’t get any of those things away from him. (*many of those were later recovered and sold to private collectors.  A number of those have featured in my Cosgrove blogs – Pete)



PLEASE DON'T EAT THE DAISIES (1960) - tilt down matte shot.


HANDLE WITH CARE – GLASS MATTE MISHAPS:

STRANGE BREW (1983)
I remember painting on glass once at one of the film labs.  They had a matte department that I didn’t know about – a big place and they had some old glass and stuff, and I think I was painting something for the TV film The Nightstalker with Darren McGavin.  I got most of this glass painting done and all of a sudden I hear this sound, and the glass was cracking in front of me.  It’s an old piece of glass that’s been used 100 times or so before and had been there for years and years, and the paint when drying started to contract and the glass would just crack in front of me.

YOUNG FRANKENSTEIN (1974)
And then the one I painted for Young Frankenstein, where I painted the castle – well that one cracked too.  I glued a piece of glass on the back with silicone…I was finding everything out…I didn’t know that you could do that, and I puttied the big cracks in the painting with regular putty and then sealed it and painted over.  You can see it (the repair) when you look at it from the sides, but it worked out fine on screen. 


Another thing I was doing for a commercial… it was about the size of a table top – a square or rectangle.  I got the thing done and I wanted to do a little more on it, so I was going to carry it out in the sun and I picked up the painting and it just fell into 1000 pieces!  You’ve got to use real good glass, and it can’t be aged!

There was another one… on one of the Peter Sellers things, one of the Pink Panther series, they didn’t like the matte shots done in England and I had to redo some, and it’s always when you think you’re done, and I think the paint has something to do with it, just a little tap, and you snap it!

KING OF KINGS (1961)


THE YURICICH METHOD:

Let’s say there were some buildings in the original dupe, and I start with one building and draw the line up, if I wasn’t working on the enlargement already which had the building there.  I’d work on that part, and I’d work another part and it was the main structure of the shot, whereas if I were to do it now, or in the last 25 years, I’d work on a building, but I’d paint that in real quick, in paint – not draw it unless I had to be very precise.  I’d go all the way across and that would give me a feel when we shot a test as to where I was headed.  If there was a sky, then I would make the sky…I would get that in.  That was my ‘key’ and I would paint some of the building and I would move over here so that instead of working on one end and sweeping across, I would be jumping from one to the other, and keeping everything in continuity so that one side wasn’t too strong or a contrasty green and the other side a recurring red, or whatever.  You just keep doing it and it keeps centering in, then you start picking from your tests the stuff that makes it come alive.  You’ve been doing it all along, but now you’re gonna do the things that give it that sparkle and give it the ‘life’. 


All photos here from THE THORN BIRDS (1983) beautifully demonstrate Matt's invisible trick work to add a non existing beach house to a Greek Island.  The close up detail nicely shows Matt's free and loose brush work, colour handling and most importantly, his sense of light - which can make or break a matte shot.  * Original matte photos courtesy of David Stipes, who shot and composited these effects.
Of course, everything is predicated on what the dupe looks like.  If it’s wrong, I wipe it off and then do it again.  I’ve found that a lot of times I’m painting ‘mud’.  I have to paint and match to what I’m painting to.  It’s the live action part.  If it’s a dull colour, that’s what I paint to.  I had no problem with those things.  You had to have a feel for it for that kind of work.   I remember one time, Henry got so carried away with a painting for Raintree County that he fell in love with the upper part of it.  It actually looked like two shots in one painting – one was set way forward and the other went way back.



One of the less noticeable matte shots from GHOSTBUSTERS (1984)



PHOTO ENLARGEMENT MATTE SHOTS:

THE WORLD, THE FLESH & THE DEVIL
At the time (early 50’s) they often worked on photographic enlargements and we’d paint directly onto that photo print to make our matte shot .  It could be a real time saver.  They would make an enlargement of the scenes and they didn’t have to draw it out… I didn’t see why anybody else didn’t do it.  You didn’t have to draw a damn thing… you just made a big black and white photo.  The reason they kept me on was that when they first started doing this, you had to glue photographic paper in a dark room onto a large board and they would add Shellac.  You had to leave the Shellac exposed so that it would evaporate and then you’d glue the photographic paper on and right next door is the darkroom where the lab guys develop a print.  This was all on about a half inch thick plywood.  If the photo was too contrasty, when you painted on it, it would show through… you had to get it just right.  That’s where I learned it…all that stuff in the paper comes right through your paint.  I don’t know how I made tests with it. 



LOGAN'S RUN (1976)
The photo blow up method drove me crazy on Logan’s Run because they were colour enlargements.  I ended up painting the enlargement because there was red dye or something, and it was coming right through.  My green ivy was brindle brown and Bill Abbott was saying “God damn Matt, can’t you paint green?”  I was using cyanide green – it was as green as it could get!”  I explained it to him and he finally came up to see where I was painting and he said, “Oh for Christ’s sake.”  I tried to explain to him that these colour enlargements are no good.  If you are going to use colour enlargements, then use the colour enlargement, period, like an insert – just shoot it without anything on it and it’d be fine.  You control the colour when you’re developing it.  I repainted the enlargement over again.  At first I tried glazing over with very poisonous green, because  that red that came from the photo enlargement was showing through…the green ivy was going ‘baby shit brindle brown’….I’m not exaggerating.
 
In several pictures we did an awful lot of it. The World, The Flesh and the Devil with the three people left on earth and everything is abandoned, so New York City has no traffic, buses overturned – we used all real photographic enlargements of the library and stuff and have to paste them down using this technique, and then paint the stuff to tie it in.



WORLD, FLESH, DEVIL photo blow up matte technique.
When we got into CinemaScope and the bigger stuff where Emil and I would find little bumps here and there.  We had a little iron that we’d prick it and heat it and just flatten them out.      And then later (when the photo board was required again) when you took it off you had to use a blowtorch and learn how to heat it until you got the consistency where you can peel it (the now no longer required photo painting matte)… you could peel it right off.  But of course, when I first got into that I was tearing everything to pieces.

Another example of Matt's photo enlargement technique, this from DAMNATION ALLEY (1976).  Upper photo shows Matt's original significantly reworked photo mural on board, and below the finished shot in the film.

One of the many wonderful expansive painted mattes from THE GREATEST STORY EVER TOLD (1966)


CLARENCE SLIFER – OPTICAL GENIUS:


Back row: Matt & Clarence
When I started with Clarence, he understood matte paintings and everything else.  When he developed his aerial image optical printer he had his machinist, Oscar Jarosche, standing there, and as he thought of something that he wanted built, he just told Oscar and he then built it for Clarence.  I’m not that technically minded to follow the physics of Clarence’s aerial image system… it’s a motion control sort of thing.   


When they were making this printer, Clarence was there supervising and seeing that it was done, and they’d have one of these electronics experts and Clarence could talk with any of them and beyond!  He knew not only machinery, the camera, the electronics, the whole bit.

When we were doing animation, he kicked the optical printer operators off.  I had to sit on the camera photographing these things…. it used to drive me nuts….  I hate boring stuff.  And near the end, if you goof up, you’ve got to start all over again.  That was in the 50’s.
Of course we always did moving people gags.  We had Clarence’s thing with a screen and painted jagged coloured things and holes in the paintings, and it would move in an oscillated form behind the hole wherever the people that were painted were.  This was a real popular at MGM over the years.

An elaborate Clarence Slifer motion shot from BEN HUR, beginning as a brief dolly forward with Chuck Heston, followed by a tilt upward onto the matte painting. 

Lee LeBlanc and Clarence Slifer left Fox and came to MGM on the promise that they were up to the latest technical advances.  The very first shot they were going to do there was for The Brothers Karamozov.  They wanted a 360 degree pan around shot with a guy lighting a lamp, the camera is on him, and the horseman comes by and you follow him all the way around the village until you come back to the lamp – a full circle with mattes and live action combined.  Lee went to the meeting and said “Oh yeah, we can do all this stuff”.  He comes back and tells Clarence, and Clarence says “it can’t be done”.  Lee says we have to go out and try it because this is what we sold to the director.  So we filmed this shot and we got that back and Clarence looked at it and said it’s not going to work.  Lee asked why.  He said we didn’t use a Nodal Point camera!  What did we know about Nodal Head camera’s at that time?  Well, I painted, and I don’t know how we doctored the ‘slippage’ – or marry up between the set and the painted elements.  I’ve forgotten the whole technical thing, but I know we matched the tree trunks and pretty soon, the buildings too.  I tell you, that was the most successful shot… impossible to do, but we pulled it off.  I wish I still had the paintings.
That very impressive Slifer-Yuricich aerial image 360 degree pan from THE BROTHER'S KARAMAZOV (1958).

Clarence would tell me something and then when it didn’t work out he’d say to me, “Well, I don’t know why you did it that way…”  I said, “Clarence, you told me to do it this way”.  He’d say, “No I didn’t!”, and I started to write down what Clarence wanted, and he’d sign it and I’d keep it.  It was the worst thing in the world to do, but I was upset and tired of being blamed.  So Lee LeBlanc said to me not to do that anymore.  He said “We know Clarence”.

Clarence was so innovative.  Every shot for him was a new way to figure out how to do it.  You wouldn’t believe the set ups we had at MGM…the printer way over there, running a wire this way and all the rest of it….. and he really was a creative genius, really, but Clarence needed the assurance that it was all going to work even from somebody like me, and I didn’t know 1/100th of the technical end that he did.  Clarence was really ahead of his time…I’ll tell you this, it wouldn’t take him any time at all and he’d know all about today’s digital computers and  he’d make improvements.  I tell you, right now he’d be ecstatic…giggling like a baby.  The guy was something else.  In Ice Station Zebra they had these miniature Russian Mig’s flying, and you can see all the cables.  Clarence did something where he optically shifted over just a little bit on the printer, trying to get rid of them so that the sky would be doubled in to obscure those cables, and it worked.  I don’t know who shot the miniatures, but they must have used 4 inch housers for God’s sake.
Another Slifer aerial image composite, from BILLY ROSE'S JUMBO  (1962).  The shot starts on Matthew's painted circus (with matted in people walking by) and pans across onto a live action train on the MGM lot and then tilts down and pushes in onto the principal characters.  Slifer had this trick down pat, and would use variations of it over and over on films like THE UNSINKABLE MOLLY BROWN,  MUTINY ON THE BOUNTY and THE GREATEST STORY EVER TOLD.

On Forbidden Planet there was this partially built set of the saucer with a considerable amount of painting done on it.   
So there was Arnold Gillespie, head of special effects, who was going to do all this with process projection, and he and Clarence were fighting all the time.  Gillespie was a sharp guy, but he was a politician – another guy that got about four or five Oscars.

Clarence had his friend come in, J.MacMillan Johnson, who was an art director and a good one, and a good illustrator.  They had worked together on Gone With The Wind and he was doing sketch illustrations.  Mac took over the MGM effects department.

Controversial matte shot from ICE STATION ZEBRA where the director insisted on having artificial snow blow through!
I miss Clarence alright.  As much as he drove me nuts, he was never wrong and I just got tired of being the fall guy on all this stuff.  Everybody knows Matt’s not going to tell Clarence how to run that camera because they know I wouldn’t have the foggiest idea.  It seems that when you work with geniuses, you’ve got to cater to their whims and stuff, and us mortals just get to do our job, and that’s it.

NEVER SO FEW  (1959)



CINEMATOGRAPHER VS. MATTE ARTIST – DIFFERING VIEWPOINTS:

The cameramen running things (matte dept) always had a different perspective than the painters.  The artist has a better chance of making it work.  For good matte painting you had to have a feel for it – not only to be able to paint it, but to feel that’s the way it should go – and not all could do that.
Almost all the artists that I started with there (at Fox) were also cameramen because in the olden days they had to do their own camera work.  They’d do the painting and then they’d photograph the painting.  The unions would come on in, and they (the matte staff) had to separate – are you going to be a matte artist or are you going to be a cameraman?  At that time, the matte artists were the ‘top dog’ on the pole, and just what is there to ‘photograph a painting’, is the way they looked at it.

Before and after Yuricich matte shot for 'V' (1983).  *Frames courtesy of David Stipes.

Yuricich matte shot from THE LAST CHASE  (1981)
 Jim Liles was at MGM in optical, and I had some real trouble with him.
 I knew more about shooting matte shots than he did, and where you place your camera and all of that stuff.  We had some shots in The China Syndrome – the reactor shots - and the camera moved.  We’d have to make a soft matte line and split the painting in… the camera wasn’t properly locked down, which was what I complained about at the time.  The director then insisted on doing things my way.  
THE CHINA SYNDROME (1979)

I had several paintings to do – long shots of the reactor and all that stuff, and there’s no character, no shade – everything in the plate was ‘blah’.  You’d think that the cameraman would know, and Jim Liles would fight me.  His assistant could never believe that a matte artist could know anything about a camera, which is the most ridiculous thing.


Matthew's extensive opening matte from BILLY ROSE'S JUMBO  (1962)

A NEW BOSS AT METRO – J.MACMILLAN JOHNSON

On Billy Rose’s Jumbo the circus tents are all painted, as well as some of the trees.  It was all like the English countryside it looked to me.  The tent is halfway down before they raise it up to the centre pole.  I’d put the pole in – it was just a slash with the brush and the pole was painted – and Mac, this little short guy, was watching me and he went bonkers again, “You didn’t even try to draw it in or anything!”  I said “It doesn’t need it”.  Again, he was not convinced until he saw it on the screen.  Now if I would have painted a pole with the little knots in it and everything, and it was a foot’s distance away, it would have looked like a steel beam out there.


Mutiny on the Bounty was where I had to teach Mac Johnson about matte shots.  He was a good artist, but being a good artist has nothing to do with being a good matte artist.  I’m painting these ships in the harbour and I’m painting The Bounty, and it’s got to have portholes.  Now I’m putting the cannons in and I just give the brush a little dark colour and I just slap them in.  .
On the painting I just went with the bold strokes and didn’t even bother to line them up.
Some were a little higher, some were elevated, and Mac says “You can’t do that?”  I said “Why not?”  He says that there’s no holes in the ends of them.  I said “When you see it on the screen, people will look there, and their mind will say those are cannons”.  He just couldn’t believe it.
THE GREATEST STORY EVER TOLD - a beautifully atmospheric matte, and one the Matthew was proud of.

The Greatest Story Ever Told had a lot of photographic enlargement matte stuff.  Jan Domela came in and helped us out on some of the mattes on that film.  Mac Johnson loved colour, and he’s say “Matt…with these canvas awnings in this shot you’ve got to paint some in a little different colour.. that’s all drab and blah”.  I said “Mac, the whole shot is drab and blah!  If I change the colours it’s going to jump and hit you like a damn neon sign!”  So, I get pissed off.  I painted it bright yellow, bright orange and bright red and we see the test and look at it, and it looked gaudy.  Mac just turned to me and said “I get your point”.  So I went back and did it the way it should be so everything has to fit.

MUTINY ON THE BOUNTY - setting sail for adventure.  A seriously under rated epic.

L.B ABBOTT – PHOTOGRAPHIC EFFECTS CINEMATOGRAPHER:

Bill was the First Cameraman (Director of all Effects Photography) at Fox and later he became the Head of Department after Ray Kellogg left and he did some really amazing stuff. He was more than a cameraman… Bill Abbott was studying art and all of that stuff, and I said “Bill, the books aren’t going to do a damn thing for you.  They’ll tell you how to make a cube or the shadows from the light and stuff”.  He wanted to know more about that end of it because he knew the technical end of it backwards and forwards, but the artistic side, he knew he was lacking in that.  He was such a nice man, I’ll tell you… the nicest guy I’ve ever worked with.  He was a great guy to work for… he helped everybody.  Bill was responsible for me getting an Academy Award, of course and for getting me a screen credit too.  I should have been screen credited much earlier with him and a couple of guys…Emil and another one who came from Disney, Art Cruickshank.  He put them up (on screen credits) on the pictures where they did the most work.  Art… he was a nice guy too, and he had a chance to get an award too.
LOGAN'S RUN

Lenwood Ballard (Bill) Abbott
For Logan’s Run they come up these ivy covered White House or Lincoln Memorial steps, and the small set with stairs was the only thing they shot.  I said you’d never see the people walking up the steps because they’re just too small.  I could see that immediately when they were shooting the plate.  Just the steps with some ivy on it…everything else was a painting.  The first one they did, they couldn’t even see the people.  So they did it over again, and I said they were still too small, but they used that one.  I’ll bet 50% of the people that saw the movie never even saw them walking up there.  And the long shot of Washington, the producers look at this shot, and I had a matte line that wasn’t matching the painting, and Bill says “That’s good”, and I say “No, it isn’t Bill”.  It’s the first test and they take it and I say no, you can’t do it – and they did it, and it’s still in the picture.  It’s hard to see, but maybe I was a perfectionist…I don’t know.

Before and after Yuricich matte shot from THE WORLD, THE FLESH AND THE DEVIL (1959)

CREATIVE CONFUSION & THE WHIMS OF THE FILM MAKER:


For The Poseiden Adventure they had this set, a little piece built.  I painted the whole ship upside down sticking up out of the water.  The helicopter’s coming and they climb out of the hatch.  William Creber was art director and a good friend, and Bill Abbott was on effects.  One of them wanted barnacles and everything on the ship’s brass propellers, and the other one wanted it shiny and clean because it was a new boat!  It was five different times where one of them would come in and say “God damn it Matt, I told you this…” and I’d have to remove that and every time I’d remove it, when you repaint it you’ve got to tie it into your painting.  Finally I said “You guys have to settle on one thing because I’m screwing up the whole painting!”  They didn’t want to talk to each other, but they wanted me to do their bidding.

I remember the picture The Great White Hope, I was going to have to paint the stands of Wrigley Field for the boxing match and that stuff, and there was the director and producer and I just casually said, “What point of view – am I out in centre field looking toward home plate where there is like five levels...or am I going to be on the home plate photographing out?” – and each one took the opposite view.  They ended up fighting it out with each other right there.  They never did the shot in the end.

Painted foreground and sky- ICE STATION ZEBRA
I’ve done Ice Station Zebra, and I’m there with John Sturges, a real famous director, and we’re on a stage and Clarence says “I have stuff to do Matt, would you go over to see Sturges… it’s right near us on Stage 30”.  Clarence was just scared of everybody and everything because this was one tough director.  We had a platform from maybe 8 feet with a camera on it and a partial set, and I was going to have to paint the ice.  Sturges says to me “I want to have snow coming down”.  I said, “No, you can’t have that in this shot.  We can put it in for you later.”  He then says, “What do you mean I can’t have snow?”  I say “You’re going to get snow, but if you have it dropping down there it’s going to end up with a line where it’s going to fall from a line in the middle of the shot from where I have to paint.”  He didn’t understand that concept and he was fighting with me.  I was a little hot tempered and I argued and fought back with him.  I said I’d shoot it with the snow falling, but “IS EVERYBODY LISTENING…. When the shot doesn’t work, you don’t blame me!”  He looked and looked at me and said “OK, we’ll shoot it your way”.  We shot it my way and before I could get off he said,  “I want it lit with snow falling” – He still thought he could do it.  This constant stuff like that…I’m sure Peter Ellenshaw and Albert Whitlock never had problems like that.  Nobody told them how to paint.  You can see how important it is to get the matte artist out there with the camera and make sure it’s done right.

STRANGE BREW  (1983)


On Ben Hur, they would not send anybody from the matte department across to Rome.  They were shooting off 50 or 60 foot parallels or higher, and Eddie Carfagno told me to check all these shots.  He said he couldn’t get them to tie down the matte camera.  Eddie knew all this stuff and he was the art director but he had his own problems to watch over.  He warned us… every shot jiggled!  A big picture like that….. it cost them 1000 times more in the long run for us to take the jiggle out later!  I had to plot the jiggles – vertical and horizontal – on the matte stand, and I had to move it right down to the half millimeter and so on.  This was something else.  We’d photograph it, and I had to move it frame by frame.  Clarence wouldn’t trust anybody else.

I remember on a big Lincoln TV series, and at this time MGM had closed and I was working everywhere.  This was with Howard Anderson’s company and it’s just the White House with columns – muslin for the roof because I was going to paint it in.  What happens is this carriage comes up and drives by, and gets in front of the steps and Lincoln gets out.  I said, “Howard, you can’t do it”.  He say’s why not?  I said “that carriage is going to come out of one of those columns – it’s going to be like one of these cartoons where the wolf disappears and sticks his head out and this and that”.  Howard says “what are you talking about?”  I said, “there is nothing to back up the carriage driving up.  You’re only going to see it coming out of the first column from the inside… it comes from nowhere!”  I painted the White House on the right and on the left, so where’s the carriage come from??  So I sent him back to the studio to get some big sheets of plywood, the biggest they had, and paint some colour on and put it on the right hand side- just blank and put some bushes so there’s stuff there.  I had to put in some windows right there on the spot so it would marry up with the matte.
Painted oil drilling platforms from THE LIFE AND TIMES OF JUDGE ROY BEAN  (1972)

Paul Newman’s western, The Life and Times of Judge Roy Bean, I remember I painted the car and there is oil derricks there and I have to paint in the background and this car – the old Model T – and I’ve got to paint back there and everything and the production is blowing smoke up there…it goes right through where the painting is going to be!  I just can’t believe the problems these people can create for you and you don’t do a good shot.


CONQUEST OF THE PLANET OF THE APES (1972)
On one of the Planet of the Apes films…I worked on all of them except the first one… I did all the paintings on the others, and talk about interference there!  One of them, Conquest of the Planet of the Apes, I was on location at Irvine, and young Bruce Surtees was a cameraman and a real funny guy.   

KISMET  (1955)

These apes are walking around and I’m supposed to paint Century City back in the middle.  J.Lee Thompson is the director, and in the shot there is a lot of activity.  I’m just standing there.  I’d come to do a matte shot but they’re handling it and I’m going to watch that nobody goes through the matte line.  Thompson turns to me and says “Boy, that looked good…what did you think Matt?”  I said “Everything looked fine.  There was this dog that came wandering through, but I don’t think it bothered anybody.”  He says “Oh shit!  There’s no animals alive at this time in the story!”  If I weren’t there, they would have printed that and they couldn’t have used the shot because their whole concept was that there were no domesticated animals left alive, which is why everybody had pet apes.

THE GREATEST STORY EVER TOLD

TRICKS OF THE TRADE – MAKING THE SHOT WORK:

I got to where I was just using my mirror all the time.  I had a mirror behind me when painting.  Reverse image is an old portrait painter’s trick going back to before Rembrandt.  If you reverse the image, I remember somebody showing me how each half of your ace is completely different.  Now with the mirror, you get so immersed in that, when you look in the mirror you find the eyes – one is an inch above the other, one ear is lower, distortion becomes more apparent because you have a different image now.  Of course, the mirror throws it back twice as far too, but it does give you a completely different picture.
GREEN MANSIONS  (1959)

BATTLE FOR THE PLANET OF THE APES  (1973)
If you could paint at a certain distance from the camera lens, you would get proficient enough that you wouldn’t need a mirror because you know how much your brush strokes won’t show.  But if you’re doing like I had to do, I worked from 4 feet, from 10 feet, from 15 feet, and at Howard Anderson’s, there I finally couldn’t, so I worked quite a few things.  I made my own matte stand.  There was a wall with 2 nails and a nail stop…that was it.  Basic!  But I could register and make a counter matte.  As a matter of fact, after I stopped doing the aerial image when Clarence retired and then went back to painting on normal film stock, I had a difficult time getting contrasts in my paintings.  I had to test and get that contrast back in there because I got so used to the 5253 stock that you had to paint it kind of flat.
SILK STOCKINGS  (1957)
For that big interior shot in Forbidden Planet, I did all the animation on that when they walk out from that door into the matte painting, which was done by Howard Fisher.  I told Newcombe that you’re never going to see the actors there…I never know why people don’t know these things… including Howard and Henry and everybody else.  So they shoot the shot from way up, and the actors come through the door…you can’t see them…your eye is on all the other futuristic stuff everywhere and you don’t even know the door has opened!  I said, “Newc… you’ve got to have a light over the door.”  Then I changed it to go one step further.  I said, it’s still not enough… we know what it is… we should have the light blinking on and off (to catch the viewer’s attention) and that’s what they did, as an animation overlay.


Res Square in Moscow painted for the Arthur C.Clarke sequel to 2001, 2010  (1984)


Almost every sky that I got to paint, I learned from Emil by watching, and he’d have Jimmy and I…Jimmy was shorter and I was taller, and we had to both work on stipples with a big brush.  We’re passing each other … I’m over him, he’s under me.  Most people who saw my paintings insisted that I had airbrushed that sky, but no… no airbrushes.  Clouds have always been hard to paint.  Clouds are tricky.  If you stopped in the middle of a cloud, you’re going to get a cotton ball.  I would always lay them in coloured and use my big brush to move them around and wait for those ‘accidents’ to happen, then I’d highlight it a little bit here and work it.


HARLEY DAVIDSON AND THE MARLBORO MAN
I did something years ago for Rocco, and it was this building and inside were all these fluorescent lights and stuff, (see frame at left), and when I painted the fluorescent lights I just jabbed a bunch of white…they weren’t even all the same length and weren’t all the same width, and this guy…this art director who’d become a special effects supervisor came by, though I wasn’t there at the time, but Paul Curley (matte cinematographer) told me… this guy came to within a foot of the painting and he says to Paul, “I didn’t think that Matt was this lousy a painter!”  He said that none of the things are even the same size or anything.  Paul tried to tell him “that’s what Matt does…he does this on purpose”.  This painting had a little life to it instead of a clean, beautiful image of a building with lights in it and all that.  That guy couldn’t see past his nose on those things.  I was a little upset about that because he’ll tell somebody else and there I go again!

KING OF KINGS (1961) -  a great shot despite the very noticeable cutting off of the Roman's spears as they all pass through the matte line at left - an almost identical screw up appears in BEN HUR near the start with much chopping off!




MONUMENTAL MATTES FOR ALFRED HITCHCOCK:



Matt's establishing shot matte painting.
One of my brothers from Ohio came out to LA when I was working on North by Northwest.  I had to work on a stupid shot looking down from behind the heads of the monument… and you can’t actually see the heads from behind… there isn’t a ‘behind’ on the monument.  For movie purposes we had things they wanted put in.  We put a house up there and the whole thing.  My brother, he saw what I had been painting at the time and he said “I just saw the movie, and boy, I could tell they were just a painting…it wasn’t that good up on screen….I hate to tell you this, but it was so obvious that it was a painting”.  I said “Yeah?”  I started naming other shots in the film and asking him how they looked.  He said “Were those paintings?”  He hadn’t seen the paintings I’d done for those other shots so never thought about those scenes when they came up on screen.  That’s why I don’t want the producers and people to see the painting because now they’re going to have an idea of what it is.  When it comes up on screen, it’s like a pimple on your nose… everybody focuses right there on that matte, and that was the perfect example to me.  The paintings that my brother saw me doing there he thought looked like paintings.  The paintings that he didn’t know about, he had no idea.
Lee LeBlanc's painting for a closer shot of the house.
They wouldn’t let us in there (the Mount Rushmore National Park) to film.  For some of those monument shots we took photographic enlargements and they would shoot a set piece, just a little set piece, and we would matte that in and paint around it to ‘sew it up’.   I painted all of those heads for the drive around bit.  That was all my painting because they would not allow…that’s twice now…Logan’s Run and North by Northwest… they would not allow you to photograph a national monument.   

Both Lee and Matt worked on this shot.
Matt's vast interior painting of the UN.
In Logan’s Run, Dan Guriae, our illustrator and a very good artist – he went out there as a tourist and used a 4x5 format camera and he would snap pictures.  That’s how we got the enlargements and stuff.  On North by Northwest we just had to do it.  None of it was real.  You just couldn’t go up there and photograph it.  I don’t know how they got the photos, but they didn’t let any camera crew up there.  Maybe as a tourist… everybody’s got cameras anyway.  There was no problem there.  As a matter of fact, when I was later working on Dances with Wolves I went with Bob Bailey, who was the cameraman, and I went on location in South Dakota, and these locals were talking about how they made the picture North by Northwest just over there, and how it was shot in the mountains and all of that, and Bailey turned to them and says “No it wasn’t…He’s the one that did it” and he pointed to me.  They had no idea that all these things were paintings!




The first two shots of the house are two different paintings.  Lee painted the closer one and I painted the long shot with the stone gates Cary Grant goes through.  On the close shot I said “Lee, this has too much orange in here”.  Lee painted reflected light underneath the windows.  He was always very broad and strong in that way.  On another wide shot both of us painted on it.  Lee painted the trees and rocks.  The other shots, like when Cary’s running away with the Mercedes and all that stuff, I had to paint the Mercedes emblem and the hood and stuff…it was all painted.   For the United Nations scene Lee painted the outside down view and I painted the inside lobby and high ceiling.  I had a problem there, and although it doesn’t look it, but the columns wouldn’t line up.  I don’t know if the plate was moving or not?.

The art director would come around…a very knowledgable guy…and he would relay requirements from the director and we never got a complaint from Hitchcock.  He liked it all.  There were some shots that he didn’t even know there was a painting on it.  Airplanes chasing Cary Grant down the road…I had to paint all this scenery on the side with the fields and horizon.

“We never looked at our shots with Hitchcock.  They took them all across to Paramount and he viewed them there where he had his office.  He wasn’t on the MGM lot.

Lee LeBlanc painted this downview of the United Nations.
A lot of times we got illustrations to work from.  When I started at MGM you had good sized illustrations, maybe 2 x 2 ½ foot size, done in the art department.  You can make a whole matte painting from this and it looks good, but if you’re going to shoot something and then fit that there, it doesn’t work.  Trying to get it changed was almost impossible… too much bureaucracy.  When I worked independent I could do my own stuff.

The Oscar winning hit epic, DANCES WITH WOLVES  (1990)

STRANGE BREW

SEAGULLS AND CONDORS:

I remember the work I did frame by frame to add birds flying on Mutiny on the Bounty.  We had seagulls and we were going to put silhouettes because we weren’t going to make travelling mattes.  We were drawing each frame.  I remember when we started, I said “Lee, these birds are too big.”  Here we go again I thought…I don’t know why nobody else can see this.  Lee’s been doing matte work for 20 years more than I have, especially animation and stuff.  He said “No, no..we had to figure out the size and we’re doing the roto mattes on white cardboard”.  Well, we put that with the silhouettes flying over and it looked like condors flying across…half the size of these sailing ships.  We had to cut it down in size to make it work.



GEORGE PAL & EXECUTIVE INTERFERENCE:



DOC SAVAGE - THE MAN OF BRONZE (1975)
I remember we were doing Doc Savage at Warner Brothers, and we had 25 beautiful illustration sketches that I had painted.  George had different ideas for the look of it and he had no idea on perspective and the horizon and where you were standing and all of that, and I had to paint some cruddy stuff.  They called me in to see Ed Maury, he was the production manager at Warners.  I was already on another picture then, with Yul Brynner - another science fiction picture, The Ultimate Warrior.  Maury was referring to these shots for Doc Savage, and George controlled every one of them and they were all corny and bad.  Some of the shots I did fairly well despite him, though he had troubles with the art directors and George fired them because they wouldn’t listen to him…but anyway, now we’re going to work on another picture and Ed Maury says to Bill Abbott, “I don’t want that artist from Doc Savage because that’s all such rotten stuff.” 
Bill Abbott says “You’re crazy!”  He said you’re lucky to get him.  He’s talking about me! 
Well, I went in for an interview and Ed was complaining about my shot of the landing of the lost world in Doc Savage and he said “Why didn’t you make a sketch or something first?”  I said that I did, and that there were about 25 others.  George didn’t follow them.  Now I’m getting angry, which was not uncommon, and I said, “That’s it…I’m not working on another science fiction special effects picture, period, ever again!”  Well, this one was set in the future with Yul Brynner, I had to paint an abandoned New York city.  Anyway, Maury said,  “No...wait a minute”  He now reversed his position.  “Don’t make up your mind like that…we need you.”  All of a sudden they need me!
New York, year 2012...THE ULTIMATE WARRIOR (1975)
Anyway, I wound up working with Frank Van der Veer on it.  Maury said we were going to come up and have a meeting with the producer and director, which we did.  Ed said he’d be coming and sitting in and listening.  So, sure enough, I made some sketches, and they’d okay’d them, and just before we were going to start on the thing, one of the producers said “I don’t think you should do this…I think this should be whatever…”  Ed Maury’s sitting there, and I turned to him and said “You see…I think we’re lucky we didn’t do the matte shot yet!”  Anyway, this producer or whatever he was gets madder than hell and says “I used to be an art director…an artist, and all of that”   And I said something about “You must have been a shitty one!”  Ed finally said to the guy – I forget his name – he said “For Christ’s sake, SHUT UP…you’ve okay’d these things before”.  So I do the matte shots, and if I must say so myself, they looked pretty good.  They’re running it in the projection room at Warners – Ed was there but I wasn’t there - and this guy started off again, and Charlie, the head man of all of Warner Brothers was sitting there and he finally turned around and told this guy to shut up because it looks damn good.

Matt's painted Battleship Row in Pearl Harbour for the excellent TORA, TORA, TORA  (1970)



A STINT ACROSS TOWN AT DISNEY:

After MGM, Clarence was retired and then I freelanced.  I worked everywhere.  I even did a little work with Alan Maley at Disney on Island at the Top of the World.  Alan maybe wanted me there because he had trouble with the union because they hired Peter to work and he’s not in the union anymore and all that.  For the picture, there was a lot of ice and I was painting a matte of the whale’s graveyard.  I was a huge fan of Peter Ellenshaw’s…I used to go to Peter’s shows and other stuff and the galleries and I thought he was just fantastic. I asked Alan “Is Peter still around?” Alan went into a tirade…he said “I’m the head of department and Peter is just an officer…he has nothing to do with this.  I run all this”.  I said, “Okay, okay”.

Disney matte man Harrison Ellenshaw still clearly remembers Matt painting this shot of the Whale's Graveyard in a week.


I ended up working when Peter was there and Alan was there, and these English guys were funny.  Very biting comments…they have this dry sense of humour, and all of a sudden you realize that they are saying the funniest things, but it’s all in a straight delivery.  They’re bantering back and forth constantly, and I’ll be damned, they are the funniest people.  You are so used to this English stiff upper lip that you wouldn’t suspect.  These guys have a sense of humour that’s out of this world, and it was said in such a way that if you weren’t paying attention, it would pass you by. 


Painted ceiling and upper walls for THE UNSINKABLE MOLLY BROWN  (1962)



GETTING HIRED & THEN FIRED BY SPIELBERG:



My brother Dick is very knowlegable  and he can anticipate problems, so he talked to Doug Trumbull one day and they hired me as an insurance policy on Close Encounters of the 3rd Kind.  I ended up doing matte shots all over the place, with not one planned.  As a matter of fact Spielberg fired me once because I told him to stay out and stuff.  I like to lay in the whole shot - it might take me an hour, but when I see that lay in together on film I know where I’m heading.  So I was laying in a tree here and the rocks scattered and coloured swatches of perspective, then I’d photograph it, put it together and take a look at it and I would tell my brother, Dick, I said, “Don’t let Doug and Steven see this because they won’t understand no matter what you tell them.  I’ve been through this…when they see something up on screen, to them they’re looking at the final thing in their mind…  they might say that the’re not, but they are”.   
The matte that nobody notices, in CLOSE ENCOUNTERS (1978)
Sure enough, one of the first things I did was a tree and rocks and stuff, and Steven had some comment about the tree is leaning too much and something else, and I blew my stack!  Here we go again and I didn’t have the freedom!  I understood his part of it because he hadn’t worked with matte shots before and he was curious, that’s why he’s a genius.  When I got to yelling and stuff like that, Spielberg told my brother that he wanted me out of there and wanted me fired.  My brother talked him out of it and tried to explain what I’m trying to do in this process, and from then on we were very close friends because he started to understand.


In Close Encounters, I put everybody’s name – my ex wife and my lawyers (laughs) – all around the rim of the mother ship at the top.  You wouldn’t really see it because it looks like texture. Anyway, what’s happening is here’s this mother ship with all these lights on, and nothing is being lit down below on the ground.  It was a faux paux in the planning stage – they had no time.  My brother called me and said we’re going to have to do big board animations here.  These are tremendous size boards – sixty of them – painting on each one frame by frame?  I said, I can do it for you in one painting.  He says, how?  I said, “I can do it”.  I had never done this before.  I took the dupe of the set and my matte painting – there was a matte painting with this shot – this ship has to come down over both.  So, as it’s coming down, what I did was make a copy of my matte painting and original together, and try to trace everything just exactly right.  I painted it as though it were real ‘hot’ – the light and stuff like that.  It had to match everything else that was there.  I said to my brother, now, as it comes down, you intensify that light on the painting, so the light gets stronger as the ship gets lower, and I’ve painted it so that it filters out to the trees all the way to the side.  I did this shot in one day. 
 
I had to come up with an answer.  The next day my brother came to me and said they loved the shot…it looked terrific and all that.  I said “Wait a minute – how can you do this?  I want to see that.  I didn’t think I’d get it in one crack”.  I think I was entitled to see this thing in case I have to do some more painting”.  My brother blows his top.  He says come with me, and he goes to Spielberg’s office and says “Matt’s pissed off at all of you because he feels he should have been able to see the damn shot.”  Spielberg says, “Matt…it was great.  It looked good”.  I said, “I’m not interested in quantity, I’m interested in quality, and I don’t like anything that I’ve done to get out simply because they have to have it”.  He says, “You and Rocco go down to take a look at it”.  I was really mad and they all knew it, and everybody was stone quiet.  Rocco and I go look at it and I said, “Geez, it does look good”.  So we walked back and as I walk into this room, everything is deathly quiet still, and I said, “The shot looked good – I don’t know what the hell all the fuss is about”.

On Close Encounters the easels were large – more than six feet across.  Fox had much the same size for CinemaScope…they were essentially miniature scenic backings.  I’d sure like to get a hold of some of those.
CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND  (1978)



Spectacular night time cityscape full painting from BRIGADOON (1954)





GHOSTBUSTERS – MATTHEW ON BOTH SIDES OF THE CAMERA:


On that big, wide shot looking down the building, I said to Neil Krepela (matte cameraman), “Neil…those cars down there aren’t moving”.  I’d painted the cars and everything else.  I said “We’ve got to get some animation in there”.  There is some movement in this blown out room with people walking up I guess.  Neil says “Why don’t we photograph somebody and put a balcony in there?”  I painted a balcony and Michelle and I went out and we would stand there waving things and Neil photographed us and matted us into the painting… just a little movement out on that balcony.

Richard Edlund sold some paintings from Ghostbusters.  My brother and my son have some too.  Michelle called me to say there’s a lot of them that were left from Ghostbusters and some other stuff that I wouldn’t use to line my garage.  All the good ones were gone.  Richard  has some other stuff of mine that I didn’t even know he had.  Well, we used to have them in the hallways at BOSS.  I had several from that stupid picture Masters of the Universe that actually weren’t bad, considering the cruddy stuff.

THE MONSTER SQUAD  (1987)

New York of the future - SOYLENT GREEN  (1972)

HAPPY ACCIDENTS & SATISFYING OUTCOMES:


Irwin Allen's MAN FROM THE 25th CENTURY pilot.
Some of the best things that I’ve seen others do, or that I’ve done myself, were accidents.  I have this sketch somewhere – a sketch for a pan shot on Ice Station Zebra.  It was all the ice around the conning tower of the submarine that’s just busted through the polar ice cap.  In this case, this was done just a guide for doing the shot.  Clarence photographed it anyway, and I don’t know how, but he got the most out of it.  It was a pan and they projected it up on the 80 foot front projection screen… we projected this little damn painting.  No one ever knew it was a painting, which is why I kept that one.


LOST HORIZON  (1973)
I  remember working for Larry Butler for Lost Horizon…the second one made of course, they come through the snow and through this passageway and there is the temple down there, and I’m going to paint everything – the temple, mountains, sun shining and beautiful greenery.  My first test I had rocks on the right hand side.  I would always try to get the test back right away to see it.  I’d painted some rocks on the right and I just used squiggles… real rocks didn’t look much better than that, and these were just to have something there.  I didn’t get into it fully yet and I could never understand why that photographed so well.

CANNERY ROW  (1982)



CREDIT WHERE CREDIT IS DUE:

LUCKY LADY (1975) - possibly one of Matt's films?
I never have asked for screen credit or anything.  Well I think Doug Trumbull raised hell with somebody several times, even in American Cinematographer.  There was an article there, and I had just done, maybe it was Logan’s Run or Bladerunner – I don’t recall – a tremendous amount of work and not even a mention of my name!  Everybody else’s name.  Doug went to the editor to raise hell, he said “How the hell can you do that?  You talk about all of these paintings and stuff and you don’t even mention the guy who did it!”

YES GIORGIO  (1982)
I never had much control over where you add things to a matte shot and have miniatures in front of it and stuff like that.  Even at MGM with Mac Johnson they wanted me to take over the department when Lee LeBlanc left, and I asked them up front “Do I have full responsibility?”  They said “Yes.”  I said “Do I have full responsibility of Clarence because Clarence spent all the money in the world”.  They said “Clarence would run the camera department and you’ll have the mattes”.  I said, “No…either I have total control, or I don’t want it.”
I don’t think I ever got to paint one matte shot at Boss Films that I had full control of… well maybe just a couple of them.

LEGAL EAGLES  (1986)

DAMNATION ALLEY  (1976)

HELL AND HIGH WATER  (1954)


MORE MARQUEES ON MY FAVOURITE YEAR:

MY FAVOURITE YEAR  (1982)
I remember in later years going to New York on My Favourite Year with Peter O’Toole and Richard Benjamin, who was the director.  They called it a ‘period’ film, which was like the late 40’s and 50’s era.  Some of the theatre marquees were different and my job was to paint the new marquees, based on the designs of what was there then, as well as New York as it was in the background.  I painted the whole hotel front, and had to guess what was on the other side.  I painted a kind of aged brick and they loved it.  Anyway, we’re shooting out from under a marquee and I’m getting on with doing the lights and Richard Benjamin says to me “Wait a minute.  What are you going to do?...All those lights are off over here…and what about that white truck over there?”  I said “No problem, we can matte right over the top…we can do it all as a matte shot”  He then says “My God, we could have stayed back in LA and done it there!”  I say, “Absolutely”.  All I did back in my beginning days back at Fox and MGM was paint theatre marquees and add lights.  You couldn’t screw it up.

DEATH RACE 2000  (1975)



MASTERING SOMEONE ELSE’S UNIVERSE:


On that Masters of the Universe there’s one shot, and I said to the director, “Have you ever directed before?” He says, “Hell no!”  These guys have all this confidence, and I admire them.  He want’s to paint these bubbled buildings…. He’s talking it all up…there’s no sketch or anything, and the more he talks the more I realize this wouldn’t even look good as a miniature, and he wants light illuminating from the inside or something like that, and I said it’s not going to work.  What you’re saying there, I think you should build a miniature.  You can control different lighting and all that stuff.  He said “No…I’ve got the picture right here in my head.”  I said to him, “You’re not going to get the picture that’s in your head…you’re going to get the one that’s in my head, and I don’t know what the hell you’re talking about!”  I did something different.  That’s the thing… when somebody’s got a visual thing in their own head, you’d have to do a thousand illustrations before you got close to what’s in their imagination.  That’s hard work… but the painting is easy.
MASTERS OF THE UNIVERSE  (1987)


BLADERUNNER – RIDLEY’S AFTER DARK ALTERATIONS:


Ridley Scott was an artist, and so was Tony – they were both artists …I love Ridley…I know he’s tough, but he was funny.  I would go home at 3 or 4.00 and then they would bring in Rocco.  Rocco was at Dream Quest then, and when they couldn’t get me to do what they wanted, they got Rocco to do it.  They were paying Rocco more money than I was getting.  I didn’t know that until I walked out on them.  A couple of scenes of balconies, Ridley wanted sharper edges, so he had Rocco paint and outline things, and I see this shot the next day and it’s different and I’d scream “What happened here?”  I could tell right away they were making a mockery of a matte shot.  Rocco had to paint wider and sharpen it for them because that’s what they wanted.

All the paintings that I would have liked to have kept from Bladerunner, all the stuff that were good paintings and good matte shots…and the one matte that I wanted, I understand Alan Ladd jr took it.  He was the producer on it I guess.



THOUGHTS ON THE DIGITAL MATTE REVOLUTION:

BILL & TED'S BOGUS JOURNEY (1991)
Well, I had talked to Syd Dutton at one of the Academy things a few years ago, I said “How the hell can you paint on that (computer) thing?”  He said he’d gotten to where he paints stuff traditionally and scans it in and then works on that.  Syd says “It works, but there ain’t no fun in it”.  I think that’s a very important observation, because real, true artists get pleasure out of the painting, and if it’s really working, man, you’re having orgasms all over the place because it’s really working.

SOLAR BABIES  (1986)
Years ago, Rocco was busy and needed someone to come in and do some shots, so I’d go to LA and do the shots.  The producer and somebody else came over one day to see the set up – and they were just young kids…they’re 21, 22 or 23.  They wanted to know where the digital computers were.  Paul Curley worked for Rocco there as handyman, cameraman and everything.  He said to them that they don’t do that (digital), they do it all the traditional way.  These guys all insisted that you just cannot do mattes shots without using the computer!

I remember I met several young digital matte artists they called themselves, and they’d heard about me.  If you’re grey haired and old they figure you did alright.  One guy was studying to be a representational matte artist, and he was taking fine art lessons.  I said, hey, that’s great , but I was thinking to myself that it’s extremely difficult to go from the computer type of thing and then become a traditional artist, unless you happen to be artistically inclined to begin with.  You’re not going to get a Mark Sullivan or a Mike Pangrazio or any of those guys that didn’t have that ability already.

An unfinished test and the final matte composite from the tv miniseries 'V'  (1983)  *Frames courtesy David Stipes
BLADERUNNER  (1982)

REFLECTIONS ON PERSONAL PAINTING:

FIELD OF DREAMS  (1989)
Boy, I gave a lot of paintings away to relatives, and if I could sneak in at night I’d get them all back and throw them away.  They all know me…they won’t let me near the paintings.  Some of them are just awful, but they love them!  On my art, mostly the pleasure of it would come from realizing that things are just working out. When I got divorced I pulled all my paintings out of galleries in Arizona and Wyoming.  I had already given away about 100 of my paintings.  People liked my painting, and I was really impressed by that, and I gave it to them if they wanted it.
My family still have some really early stuff…old sketches I did of movie stars.  I always felt I had it in me to be a matte artist, I was destined to do this stuff, though there were some artists I knew and worked with who didn’t have it in them.

BENEATH THE PLANET OF THE APES  (1970)
Matthew working on a wonderful, though ultimately unused matte for STAR TREK  (1979)


MATT’S LAST WORD:

I could have told you some real raunchy stuff you know!   (much laughter)


BLADERUNNER  (1982)



                       MATTHEW JOHN YURICICH

                                  19th January 1923  -  28th May 2012
























































9 comments:

  1. This is marvelous. More information like this needs to exist from the practitioners of this art form. We can learn so much from their expertise.

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  2. Welcome back with another excellent post ! Don't know if Matt worked on these but Left Hand of God and Stars and Stripes Forever has some nice matte work. Are there a lot of matte paintings in Call Me Madam ? What's coming up next on the blog ?

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  3. Hi Steve

    I've not heard of those two shows, but if you have the mattes I'd gladly receive same.

    I've not seen Call Me Madam, but just have a few of the mattes from it. There were alot of other Yuricich shots I just couldn't squeeze in. It was cluttered enough as is. I think the Bounty set up was wonderful.

    Coming up... well I have an extensive career Q&A with Harrison Ellenshaw where we will discuss everything from Pop Day, Peter, Disney, Star Wars and Dick Tracy.

    I've also got a Rank-Pinewood biggie, and an ILM mammoth post as well as a few little profiles on things like Rains of Ranchipur and other oldies.

    All the best

    Peter

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  4. I realize,through this precious post,how much Matthew Yuricich was involved in so many iconographic shots of the Motion Pictures History.So interesting to hear about his thoughts and reflections on his art and career.Thank you Peter for this fascinating tribute to this Artist.

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  5. Since publishing this interview I have received fresh and very important historical information on various aspects of 'the old days of matte art', and I shall include this in my editorial on the next blog, as it's too dangerous to go back in here and fiddle with it.

    Peter

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  6. Hello Pete,

    another very special entry in your ongoing series of 'golden' matte art.
    Side by side with Albert Whitlock and Peter Ellenshaw Matt Yuricich was one of the true old masters for me. I will always remember him as the one who painted the mattes for some of my favourite films: the Planet Of The Apes series, Logans Run, Ghostbusters and Blade Runner. I think he would very much enjoy this tribute.

    Thanks my friend for your outstanding work.

    Thomas

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  7. Blade runner is a timeless movie that never gets old. I love the sketches for the movie as well. Very futuristic for the times.

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  8. hi
    I just want to take this opportunity to thank you for generously documenting this fine art. I have enjoyed immensely reading it and i look forward to referring back again for updates.

    I see that you have an ILM post soon, i will look forward to that
    I have been working in the fx world for 18 years, i wanted so badly to be a matte artist, as i taught myself up to that point, doing matte shots on slides etc.. but i was discouraged somewhat by my early letters from VFX houses incl ILM, stating how much of a dying art it is, so as you can see from my site i got into prosthetic's industry,
    I dont paint as much as i used to, but after reading this re ignited my passion for this art i had as a child, my parents still have no idea i painted matte shots on their new expensive patio doors!!
    I now live in Wellington, just finished on the film with 3'7" people. (yes we are still not allowed to say we even worked on the film!! warner bros can be vicious!)

    well done on the site.
    maybe ill pick up a brush once im back in NZ.
    thanks again.

    simon rose

    www.srosefx.wix.com/simonrosefx

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  9. Hi Simon

    Thank you so much for your kind remarks - it is appreciated. It's always gratifying to find like minded fans of the old hand made illusions.
    As I write this, I've just learned of yet another specialist VFX house closing it's doors for good, Matte World Digital in San Francisco. Craig and the MWD boys produced so many wonderful matte and miniature trick shots over the past 20 years.

    Peter

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