the studio gate

the backlot

the screening room
The Screening Room


Acclaimed matte artists were finally given their due before a standing room only house at the Linwood Dunn Theatre in Hollywood, CA. In conjunction with this celebration of an incredible art form, Craig Barron held a showcase of matte artists called "Fantastic Reality: The Magic and Mystery of Movie Matte Painting." The cold December night didn't stop a lot fans from showing up to get a possible ticket. The show was sold out. It was held on December 12th, 2007.

Actors and directors receive a lot of kudos and press for their work in the movies. Yet it's a crime that some of the people who make them look great aren't given much attention. This changed when author (and visual effects artist) Craig Barron co-authored the amazing book, "The Invisible Art" (Chronicle Books). With Mark Cota Vaz, Barron did extensive research on matte painters and their art of illusion. And this winter, the Academy of Arts and Sciences put on a matte show at the Linwood Dunn called "Playing God: The Art and Artists of Matte Painting."   

For the "Fantastic Reality" show, the panel discussion featured visual effects and matte artists including John Knoll, Harrison Ellenshaw, Bill Taylor, Chris Evans, and Matthew Yuricich.

The show featured digital slides of mattes dating back to the early days of filmmaking, and digital matte work of today featured in "Zodiac" (2007).

Alfred Hitchcock was one of the proponents of matte painting. "The beauty of a matte shot is that you can become God," he said.

The panel discussion was flavorful and entertaining. Mr. Yuricich didn't mince words about some of the people he worked in the past. The audience laughed and seemed to enjoy what he said, even if it was a little frank. Barron did a respectable job in keeping the conversation going on. A photograph of Harrison Ellenshaw as a child was shown. It's a photo of he and Walt Disney. He told the story about that picture, in which Walt pushed Harrison on Disneyland's railroad on a cart. Harrison is proud to say he was the first person on Disneyland's railroad, but poor Walt was pretty winded after the fact. Walt was also a fan of using mattes in his studio's films and employed Harrison's father, Peter, for many years. Harrison's own work has been featured in "Star Wars" (1977), "The Black Hole" (1979) and "Tron" (1982). His famous matte of the Death Star reactor core scene in "Star Wars" was shown on the Linwood Dunn screen and drew huge applause.

Harrison's father, Peter, painted the one and only matte shot in "Spartacus" (1960). This spectacular matte opens up the "Rome" scene. The audience gasped in awe when this was shown. The panel remarked that Peter's work looks detailed on-screen, but when one looks at it closely, it's amazingly simple (that's what they think!-Editor). His matte was on display in the lobby. People, including matte artist Chris Evans, stood there looking at it for a long time in admiration.

The attention to detail, lighting, perspective and composition in matte paintings was readily apparent in many of the slides shown that evening. It's truly a valuable art form in and of itself, and can make a movie come alive. It was nice to finally see a spotlight shown on the likes of Norman Dawn, Walter Percy "Pop" Day, Chris Evans, Craig Barron, Peter and Harrison Ellenshaw, Alan Maley, Neil Krepela, Michael Pangrazio, John Knoll and Matthew Yuricich.  

(left to right) Science and Technology Director Andy Maltz, Oscar winning visual effects supervisor and Photoshop co-creator John Knoll, moderator and Oscar nominee Craig Barron, Chair of the Science and Technology Council's Public Programs and Education Subcommittee Tad Marburg, Oscar nominee and matte legend Harrison Ellenshaw, visual effects supervisor and Academy Governor Bill Taylor, chief matte artist at Matte World Digital and Oscar nominee Chris Evans, (seated) and visual effects supervisor and Oscar nominee Matthew Yuricich

Matthew Yuricich and Craig Barron

John Knoll and Harrison Ellenshaw

Chris Evans lines up his vision with Peter Ellenshaw's "Spartacus" matte painting (Barron in the background)

(left to right) Chris Evans, Craig Barron, Matthew Yuricich and John Knoll

Bill Taylor and Ellenshaw

Barron talks about a matte by Spencer Bagdatopoulos from "The Paradine Case" (1948)

Special thanks to A.M.P.A.S.
Photos 2007 Todd Wawrychuk / A.M.P.A.S. All rights reserved.