Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Art in the movies: on the matte

Although you’d never convince an art auctioneer that painting was dead, some say it's so. One form of the art though that has indisputably flourished for the last century or so is matte painting. This is the painting on glass that has added dimension and magic to the movies. So now, as it goes into freefall at the hands of CGI, let’s hear it for matte painting - that extraordinary combination of film and paint that has pimped up indifferent locations, created impossible ones and given us a whole genre of how-the-hell-did-they-do-thats? 

The first matte painting was created for Mission of California by Norman Dawn in 1907. A mansion was 'aged' via a painting on glass and the camera rather than the art department having to take an axe to it. Famous matte paintings include the Emerald City and Yellow Brick Road in The Wizard of Oz, just about everything apart from the horses and actors in Ben Hur, the Statue of Liberty in Planet of the Apes, a shattered LA in Earthquake, the landing bay in Star Wars, and stuff you wouldn’t see on an average day in Lord of the Rings and Avatar. You can see fifty great examples from the history of film at Shadowlocked.com here.
Images: top to bottom left to right matte painting hard at work in The Wizard of Oz, Ben Hur,  Planet of the Apes, Earthquake, Star Wars and Lord of the Rings