All but the last two are what are now referred to as “Traditional” matte paintings (i.e. not “Digital”). I started in the matte business only a few years before the digital revolution happened. I was fortunate to have been one of the last of the matte artists who actually painted on glass with real paint…which means that I was also one of the first of the new breed of matte artists that painted on computers, when my Matte Department went digital a few years later.
Unfortunately, I never found digital matte painting as much fun, or as challenging as traditional matte painting (sorry, no offense to you digital matte painters out there.) So in 1995, I hung up my matte painting brushes and started concentrating on concept design and art direction.
Here are a but a sad few of the matte shots I actually have digital files of. They’re all in the “before and after” format, with the live action first, and the final composite last. A couple of them didn’t have any live action, so there’s just a painting.
My first big show was...
THE EL (Elevated) TRAIN:
This was the first “finaled” matte painting for Dick Tracy. I painted it along with my supervisor, Mike Lloyd. After finishing it, the director (Warren Beatty) came by to take a look. He said that it looked totally real - that if he didn't know it was a painting, he would have been totally fooled...in other words, it was completely wrong. What he was looking for was an unreal world - one that didn't exist and couldn't be filmed. The best example we had were the matte paintings Peter Ellenshaw did for Mary Poppins, which were very idealized versions of the real world. So we went back into the painting with an eye for pushed color and graphic compositions. Warren loved it, and the "Tracy" style was born.
This painting is the background level of a multi-plane painting of the city. The character was shot in front of a blue screen and composited into the painting.
The first Batman film came out while I was working on this shot. In honor of it, I hid a little Batman in the painting.
This is one of the several paintings we did to create The Bridge location, for the climax of the film. Except for a few limited set pieces, almost all of the bridge was created by matte paintings. Most of this scene is painted, with the "real" portion of the scene being the stair case and a small, square section of wall behind it.
This painting took about two weeks to paint. Only when I was done with it, did someone point out that I'd misspelled "Warehouse". Go back...fix it.
By the way, in keeping with a long Disney tradition, we hid Mickey Mouse in almost every matte shot in Dick Tracy. Can you spot him in this one?
ON THE WHITE HOUSE LAWN:
In Dave, when the White House appears on screen, it's almost always a matte painting. Why not just shoot the real White House? You can't. No cameras crews are allowed to set up on the White House grounds. You're welcome to shoot from the sidewalk, but if you need a shot from within the gates, you have to create it yourself. Building an entire full size replica of the White House would be incredibly expensive. So sections of it were built and extended with matte paintings. For this scene, the center portico was built as a setpiece at the Los Angeles Arboretum. I painted the rest.
THE WHITE HOUSE AT NIGHT (NORTH PORTICO):
If an Art Department is really on the ball when they're designing a matte shot, they'll build just enough set to serve as a backdrop for anything that moves in the scene. Anything outside the "motion area" can be handled by the matte artist. In this case, the moving object is the car, and the only portion of the White House that was built, was the low wall that's visible just above the car's roof.
THE WHITE HOUSE AT NIGHT (SOUTH PORTICO):
This scene was cut from the film just after I finished painting it. As a consolation prize, my boss said I could have the painting, which, at Disney, was almost unheard-of. There must have been a curse on it though, because of all the hundreds of paintings on glass in the matte department, the only thing we lost in the 1994 Northridge Earthquake was this painting.
THE WHITEHOUSE FROM THE MALL:
This scene could have been shot for real on The Mall in Washington D.C. However, the crew was here in L.A., and it wouldn't have been worth it to send everyone to Washington for one shot, so we shot the live action plate here in L.A., on the golf course in Griffith Park at about 2am. As the painting needed to represent an existing location, it was necessary to get some good photo reference of the real thing... which I shot from the base of the Washington Monument, in 5 degree weather, sometime around midnight, in January of '93. I’ve never been so cold in my entire life.
THE NORTH POLE:
I wish this shot looked better in the final film, because I was really happy with the painting itself. It was my fastest painting ever. Everything was working right, and even though it was a pretty large painting (5 feet across), I completed it in one day.
This one, I did not complete in a day...it was more like a month. The concept here was that Santa's workshop was under the polar ice cap. I felt that a mix of architectural styles would give it a timeless appeal, as though this place has been here for a long time. There's renaissance, baroque, gothic, art nouveau, Victorian, etc., all rolled into one. I started this painting by roughing in all the buildings as dark silhouettes. That way I could see how all the big shapes worked against one another. Once I was happy with the space and the atmosphere, I turned the lights on.
THE DISTINGUISHED GENTLEMAN
Most traditional matte paintings were painted on glass…a rather delicate material upon which to create a work of art, to say the least. Some of the old time matte painters boast that they never had a painting break during their careers. I wasn't so lucky. I lost two - this was one of them. The easel that I was using, gave out in the middle of the night and fell over. I found the painting in a million pieces the following morning. Fortunately, I'd finished it the night before, and we shot it for final approval before we went home. Lucky for us, it was approved by the director, who didn't know that he couldn't have another re-shoot if he didn't approve it.
SPLASHDOWN SEQUENCE - GANTRIES:
Most of my work, I do in acrylic. This however, is one of the few matte paintings I painted in oil, and I think it's one of my best paintings. Unfortunately, I'm not happy with the way the shot ended up in the final film. C'est la vie.
THE JUNGLE BOOK
This was one of my first all digital matte paintings. This is pre-Photoshop; we used the painting module from Disney's CAPS compositing system. It was pretty rudimentary.
Part of this painting was done by Chris Evans.
THE LORD OF THE RINGS
In 1999, I moved to New Zealand to work on The Lord of the Rings. Later I'll dedicate an entire post to my LOTR work. But in the meantime, here is one of the matte paintings I designed for The Fellowship Of the Ring. I say "designed", because this is really just an illustration of what I wanted the shot to look like. The final painting was done by Laurent Ben-Mimoun. Check out his web site... http://www.blueman.ws/