Page 10

Wizards of Visual Effects

L.B. Abbott  -  Russell A. Cully  -  W. Percy Day  -  Linwood Dunn  -  Farciot Edouart  -  John P. Fulton

Gordon Jennings  -  H.F. Koenekamp  -  Emil Kosa, Jr.  -  Lee LeBlanc  -  Paul K. Lerpae  Ned Mann

Fred Sersen  -  Vernon L. Walker  -  Albert Whitlock  BOOKS  -  GLOSSARY


From First Cameraman to Director of Photography  -  The documentary 'The Cinematographer'  -  What Is a Director of Photography? [by Gregg Toland & Charles G. Clarke]


Film vs. Digital Video  -  D-Cinema


Oliver Stapleton: So You Wanna Work in Movies?


What It Took to Create 'Collateral'


Bleach Bypass  -  Digital Intermediate  -  Steadicam  -  Louma Crane


Cinematographers-Turned-Director: A - F


Cinematographers-Turned-Director: G - Q


Cinematographers-Turned-Director: R - Z


A History of Aerial Cinematography

PAGE 10:

Wizards of Visual Effects: The Golden Age

Special effects is both an art and a science. Its roots can be traced back to the earliest days of the court magician, who created wondrous illusions to astound and entertain. Special effects was essentially a mechanical craft, but the invention of photography in the middle of the 19th century gave magicians a new tool with which to entertain - trick photography [e.g. in-camera mattes (masks) and image manipulation during developing and printing]. Among the well-known practitioners of stage magic and illusion, one man - the Frenchman Georges Méliès [1861-1938] - has become known as the father of special effects in the cinema. Méliès was one of the first filmmakers to use multiple exposures, time-lapse photography, dissolves, and hand-painted color in his work. Because of his ability to seemingly manipulate and transform reality through cinematography, Méliès is sometimes referred to as the first 'cinemagician'.

Trick photography, optical effects and so on are as old as the film industry itself. In the early days of motion pictures, most of the optical effects were created in-camera by the cameraman himself. That way the effects were incorporated into the film as it was being made, rather than being relegated to postproduction or assigned to a separate camera crew. But the growing demand for optical effects - writers and directors had no limits on their imagination, and producers saw a chance to save on their production budgets - and the complexity of the various techniques and processes made it necessary to specialize, i.e. to create specialized departments at the various film studios. It was up to the specialists, a combination of engineer, inventor and dreamer, assisted by cameramen and art directors, to translate the words on the pages of the script into visual terms. Simple and sometimes very complex processes to achieve this goal where 'invented' and perfected along the way.

There was a time when one could work at the same studio for an entire career. This employment stability bore fruit in the extraordinary creativity displayed by the staffs of the various effects departments under the studio system. They learned their craft by experience, passed down through the generations by mentors to apprentices. The studio system had, however, a disadvantage for many experts in the special effects department. They were almost never credited for their contribution. It was customary for major studio productions  to credit only the heads of departments, who may or may not have actually worked on the production.

In the late 1970s and early 1980s, the introduction of the computer in the film business changed a lot. At first the computer was used to control [monitor and instruct] the operation of the actual moviemaking equipment ['motion control']. But the computer was also capable of creating images and dispense with the photographic aspects of filmmaking. The entire business of movie special effects was changed forever. New 'cinemagicians' entered the scene - John Dykstra, Douglas Trumbull, John Whitney, a.o. Specialized companies were created - Industrial Light & Magic, Apogee, MAGI, a.o. They replaced the old guard and the effects departments of the studios.

Technically, the term 'special effects' does apply only to physical or mechanical effects, a continuation more or less of traditional stage effects. Optical effects are usually denoted in film credits as 'special photographic effects', but most people tend to lump both categories together under the blanket term of 'special effects'. Basically, special effects, whether optical or physical, are concerned with creating illusions on the screen.

Here we want to honor some of the wizards from the 'Golden Age' of visual effects. [*]


Born: 13 June 1908, Pasadena, Calif., USA, as Lenwood Ballard 'Bill' Abbott, son of portrait photographer, cameraman and lab superv Lenwood Abbott.

Died: 28 September 1985, Los Angeles, Calif., USA.

Four months after graduating from Hollywood High School [Class of '26], Abbott got his first job in the movie industry as a member of a photographic crew shooting a special effects seq for 'What Price Glory' [1926; ph: Jack A. Marta, Barney McGill & John Smith] for Fox Film Corporation. It was a 'Frank Williams Process' seq in which a detachment of marching soldiers was superimposed [in the camera] into a miniature forest. Ten years later he graduated from c.asst to c.op. working with Arthur Miller, Karl Struss, Arthur Edeson, a.o. He became a doph in 1943 and was placed in charge of the Special Effects Camera Department at 20th Century-Fox. In 1957, he became director of all special effects, a post he held until his 'retirement' in 1970.

Was a member of the ASC.

Awards: Won 4 'Oscars' for Visual Effects: 'Doctor Dolittle' [1967], 'Tora! Tora! Tora!' [1970; with A.D. Flowers], 'The Poseidon Adventure' [1972, Special Achievement Award; with A.D. Flowers] and 'Logan's Run' [1976, Special Achievement Award; with Glen Robinson & Matthew Yuricich]. He also received 4 'Emmy' Awards.

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[Left] with Vernon Walker

"It's a Wonderful Life" [1946]

Born: 8 April 1900 [1901?], San Pedro, Calif., USA, as Russell Alexander Cully.

Died: 30 July 1990, Rancho Palos Verdes, Calif., USA.

Entered the film industry as a laborer at the age of 18. Became lab technician at the Famous Players-Lasky Film Corporation studios in Hollywood. In November 1923, Cully was made a member of the Paramount Experimental Department [Special Effects Department], doing process and trick work. Became first cameraman in 1927. Remained with Paramount until 1933. Joined MGM. Worked on the staging and post-production effects of the earthquake seq of 'San Francisco' [1936; ph: Oliver T. Marsh; earthquake seq ph by Loyal Griggs] and cph backgrounds for 'The Good Earth' [1936; ph: Karl Freund]. In 1937 he became a member of the Camera Effects Department at RKO Radio, which was headed by Vernon L. Walker. When Walker died in 1948, Cully was named to succeed him. Stayed with RKO for 11 years.

Was a member of the ASC since 1927. He was honored by the ASC in 1979 as a pioneer member.

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Born: 19 September 1878, Luton, Bedfordshire, UK, as Walter Percy 'Poppa' Day.

Died: 20 May 1965, Brentwood Convalescent Hospital, Los Angeles, Calif., USA.

At the age of 15, he apprenticed with his cousin William J. Roberts, a Luton-based photographer. He attended the Heatherley's Art School [now The Heatherley School of Fine Art] in London, an academy specialized in figurative painting In 1901 he won a scholarship to the Royal Academy of Arts which he attended until 1905. In 1907 he went to Tunisia and lived for five years in the coastal village of Sidi-Bou-Saïd, home to an important artists colony.

Returned to the UK and established a studio in Saint John's Wood, but with two young sons to raise, he was obliged to find other sources of revenue. He was hired by Ideal Films in Borehamwood [the former Neptune Studios] in 1919, where he was initiated into the art of visual effects. But the British film industry was suffering an economic downturn. The industry in France, however, was booming, which encouraged him to go there in 1922. During the 1920s, he created trick shots for films dir by Jean Renoir, Raymond Bernard, Julien Duvivier, Abel Gance [1925-26, 'Napoléon'; ph: Jules Kruger; + the role of Admiral Hood], a.o. While still working in France, British International Pictures at the Elstree Studios asked him to shoot the visual effects, using the Schüfftan Process, for Alfred Hitchcock's 'The Ring' [1927; ph: John J. Cox].

Returned to the UK in 1932. In 1933, thanks to a recommendation from doph Georges Périnal, dir Alexander Korda asked him to paint the matte shots for 'The Private Life of Henry VIII.' [ph: Georges Périnal]. From 1936, he headed the matte department at Denham Film Studios. In addition to Korda, he worked with other directors, e.g. Anthony Asquith, William Cameron Menzies, David Lean and Michael Powell/Emeric Pressburger. ''Poppa' was the greatest trick photographer and double-exposure merchant that the movies have ever seen. He was saving [the producer] a fortune on set construction costs by painting ceilings and chandeliers, and even landscapes, on glass, which he then superimposed over the long shots that Basil Emmott had lit and photographed. Later, he was to use this process when he brought the Himalayas into the studio for me on 'Black Narcissus'. I was always dropping into Poppa Day's studio. It was like chatting with Jules Verne.' [Michael Powell in his autobiography 'A Life in Movies', 1986.]

In 1939, Alexander Korda's London Film Productions commenced work on 'The Thief of Bagdad' [ph: Georges Périnal]. Korda was determined to exploit the visual effects to a maximum, through the virtuosity of his art director Vincent Korda and special effects director Lawrence Butler, assisted by 'Poppa' Day [as one of four assoc art directors and painter of scenic backgrounds]. Among the seq created by Day were the flying horse which gallops off with the Caliph into the sky, the matte of the flying carpet on which Sabu makes a spectacular escape from a tent, and the quest for the all-seeing eye in the idol's head.

Day remained at Denham until 1946, when he joined Shepperton Studios [bought by Alexander Korda] as Director of Special Effects.

on the set

matte 1

matte 2

composite in final film

In 1946, he worked on Powell & Pressburger's 'Black Narcissus' [ph: Jack Cardiff]. It amused Powell that some spectators claimed that they knew the precise location where the film was shot. The entire film was, however, shot on the Pinewood Studios backlot, the mountain scenery being entirely the work of Day, assisted by his stepson Peter Ellenshaw. [See photos above.]

He retired officially in 1951 at the age of 73, but continued to work in an advisory capacity for the studios and took up painting in earnest again. However, as his children had all emigrated to the USA, he decided in 1959 to follow them, moving eventually to California to live near the Ellenshaws.

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Born: 27 December 1904, Brooklyn, New York City, N.Y., USA, as Linwood Gale Dunn.

Died: 20 May 1998, Providence-St. Joseph Medical Center, Burbank, Calif., USA.

Entered the film industry in 1923 as a projectionist for the American Motion Picture Corporation [?] in New York. His uncle Spencer Gordon Bennet, a leading serial director, hired him as a co-c.asst on the 10-part serial 'The Green Archer' [1925; ph: ?], produced by Pathé.

In 1928 he received a call for a two-day job in the photographic effects department, headed by Lloyd Knechtel, at the new RKO Radio Studios. He stayed on, filming miniature shots and some of the earliest projection process scenes. He developed a  home-made optical printer, consisting of a Mitchell camera and a projector in a lathe bed, a device allowing for the accurate compositing of multiple images onto a single piece of film, and used it for the first time for the film 'Ringside' [1929]. Optical effects soon became his major interest, and he began working on ways to improve the art of the optical printer.

After 'Melody Cruise' [1933; ph: Bert Glennon; working with Vernon Walker], 'a solo for optical printer accompanied by a film troupe', Dunn did the optical composites for the celebrated airplane-wing-dance sequence at the end of 'Flying Down to Rio' [1933; ph: J. Roy Hunt], the first Fred Astaire/Ginger Rogers musical. This 'aviation' sequence was shot in an airplane hangar and used suspended airplanes and wind machines. Dunn made use of the traveling matte technology along with blue-screening in order to create the desired effect. [See photos below.]

He soon became head of RKO's optical effects department [and later head of the entire Special Effects Department].

In 1942, the Eastman Kodak Company approached Dunn about a need in the U.S. Armed Forces Photographic Units for special effects optical printers. Printers at the studios were home-made rigs, but they had never been manufactured as a commercial product. The government commissioned Dunn to produce such a printer. With his longtime associate Cecil Love, Dunn designed the printer, which was manufactured by the Acme Tool and Manufacturing Company of Burbank. After the war, the equipment was made available to studios and independent effects labs. The optical printer remained the foundation of visual effects until the 1990s, when digital compositing took over.

[Left] with Cecil Love

When RKO ceased production in 1957, Dunn leased the special effects facilities, merging it with Film Effects of Hollywood, a company he had founded in 1946. In 1985, he sold the company and retired. However, he continued to give lectures and serve as a consultant on domestic and international productions.

Was a member of the ASC since 1950.

Awards: e.g. Scientific or Technical Award [Class III] [certificate of honorable mention] [1944; with Cecil Love and the Acme Tool and Manufacturing Company] for the design and construction of the Acme-Dunn Optical Printer; 'Oscar' AA 'Special Visual Effects' [1966] for 'Hawaii'; AA 'Gordon E. Sawyer Award' [statuette] [1984], and the 'ASC Presidents Award' [1989].

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Born: 5 November 1894, Los Angeles, Calif., USA, as Alexander Edouart Farciot.

Died: 17 March 1980, Kenwood, Calif., USA.

Entered the film industry in 1915 as a c.asst at Realart Studios, Hollywood. Was chief of the Photo Section of the 78th Division during WWI. Returned to Hollywood in 1921 and started working for Famous Players-Lasky Corporation, where he pioneered several traveling matte techniques before switching his attention to rear projection. 'When the process was first used, a scene inside a closed car, with a screen six or eight feet wide was something to be happy about. But demand has forced us to find ways of using screens 12, 15, 18 and 20 feet across. My most recent scenes have made use of twin screens totaling 48 feet in length.' [Edouart in American Cinematographer, 1942.] Edouart invented the triple-head projector system with 3 projectors [and 2 mirrors] bouncing their images onto the same screen, resulting in three times as much light. He stayed with Paramount Pictures [and its forerunners] for 52 years.

Was a member of the ASC since 1933.

Awards: Was nominated for/co-winner of several 'Oscars' and technical awards, e.g.:

1937: Class II Scientific or Technical Academy Award for the development of the Paramount dual screen transparency camera setup;

1943: Class II Scientific or Technical Academy Award [co-winner] for the development and practical application to motion picture production of a method of duplicating and enlarging natural color photographs, transferring the image emulsions to glass plates and projecting these slides by especially designed stereopticon equipment;

1955: Class II Scientific or Technical Academy Award [co-winner] for the engineering and development of a double-frame, triple-head background projector.

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Born: 4 November 1902, Beatrice, Nebraska, USA, as John Phipps Fulton, son of landscape painter and theatrical backing artist [set designer] Fitch Burt Fulton [1879-1955].

Died: 5 July 1966, Iver Heath, Buckinghamshire, England, UK.

Moved with his family to California in 1914. Became involved in the movie industry after accepting a job as a $25-a-week c.asst, later c.op and cinematographer. His experiments and experience with camerawork eventually lead him to the special effects department at Universal Pictures in 1931.

In 1933 Fulton created some of the most astounding effects of the time in 'The Invisible Man' [ph: Arthur Edeson]. For his effects, he used the black-backing traveling matte process. A completely black set was used. A stunt man was clothed in black velvet tights, black gloves and a black headpiece. Over this he wore whatever clothes were needed for the scene. This gave a picture of the unsupported clothes moving around on a black field. From this negative Fulton made a print [positive], and a duplicate negative, which was intensified to serve as mattes for the printing. With an optical printer, he proceeded to make a composite: first he printed from the positive of the normal background action, filmed previously, using the intensified negative matte to mask off the area where the invisible man's clothing was to move. Then he printed again, using the positive matte to shield the already-printed area, and printing in the moving clothes from the 'trick' negative. This printing operation made a duplicate, composite negative which was used for for the final master-prints of the picture. [From John Brosnan's 'Movie Magic'.] [See photos below.]

While on loan to Samuel Goldwyn, he earned a Special Effects 'Oscar' [1945] for his Technicolor split-screen effects [with Danny Kaye playing twins] in the fantasy 'Wonder Man' [1944; ph: Victor Milner, William Snyder & (uncred) Karl Struss]. The script contained an amusing in-joke when the ghostly Buzzy slips his torso onto a park statue, and asks Edwin 'What is this, trick photography?' [See photos below.]

In the process of working for Goldwyn, he was also persuaded to leave Universal upon the expiration of his contract in late 1945 and to sign with the independent producer. His relationship with Goldwyn was a stormy one, however, partly owing to a conflict over his career goals. Goldwyn gave him what work he could, but it wasn't enough; nor were the projects he worked on for other producers through Goldwyn's facilities. When his contract was up for renewal in 1949, he finally forced the issue by raising his proposed fee so high that Goldwyn would have to use him as a director; instead, the mogul decided not to renew the contract.

Joined Paramount Pictures. When Gordon Jennings died in 1953, he became head of the Special Effects Department. In 1956, he won his final Special Effects 'Oscar' for his still impressive work on 'The Ten Commandments' [1954-55; ph: Loyal Griggs]. He was tasked with overseeing all aspects of the complex photographic effects, from the miniatures, mattes, process shots and the huge list of blue-screen composites planned.

When Paramount dissolved its special effects department, Fulton found himself once again working on a freelance basis, and for the first time overseas on British and European productions. Following his work on 'The Heroes of Telemark' [1965; ph: Robert Krasker] and while planning the complex effects for his big comeback movie 'Battle of Britain' [1968; ph: Freddie Francis], he contracted a rare infection and died shortly thereafter in a London hospital.

Was a member of the ASC.

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Posing in Ivyl Burks' miniature temple set

"Samson and Delilah"

Born: 1896, Salt Lake City, Utah, USA, as Henry Gordon Jennings.

Died: 11 January 1953, Hollywood, Calif., USA.

Was trained as an engineer in Europe and at the University of Utah. Entered the film industry as a c.asst for Lois Weber Productions in 1919.
Spent most of his career at Paramount, where he served as head of the special effects department from 1933 until his death 20 years later. He worked frequently with director Cecil B. DeMille, who called him 'the best special effects man I have ever been privileged to work with.'

He invented the first moving titles by painting them on glass and sliding them over painted backdrops.

In the late 1940s Paramount [and MGM] developed a motion-repeater system, an early 'motion control' device, for the effects camera. Small servo motors controlled pans and tilts. The camera move was rehearsed and recorded on a punch tape system, and then the live action and miniature portions were filmed, with the camera repeating the moves automatically [the punches sent signals to servo motors mounted on the pan and tilt axes of the head]. The system was used on DeMille's 'Samson and Delilah' [1948-49; ph: George Barnes]. The shots in question were the first view of the Temple of Dagon [a pan following people entering the square in front of the temple followed by a tilt-up] and the collapsing Temple of Dagon [with a tilt-down when the statue falls to the ground]. The film used full-sized sets of the lower levels of the temple filled with real people and a detailed miniature of the entire temple populated with tiny dolls. [See photos below.]

The extras were filmed in front of a black backing by effects cameraman W. Wallace Kelley, with the footage optically combined by optical cinematographer Paul K. Lerpae who used soft-edged, animated, rotoscoped [a live-action scene is traced frame by frame on a drawing table] mattes to gradually envelope the crowd in falling masonry. 'As the model crumbles the debris line 'wipes off' [via the soft-edged rotoscoped mattes] the live action and you then see revealed the small dummies flopping about. There is a foreground of folks matted in via black-backing and density mattes. There is smoke and debris matted over everything and as the dust flies up everything gets a diffusion pass. All pretty clever.' [From the website 'Matte Shot - a tribute to Golden Era special fx'.]

In 1951, Jennings [+ S.L. Stancliffe and the Paramount Special Photographic & Engineering Departments] won a technical 'Oscar' for this motion-repeater system ['the design, construction and application of a servo-operated recording and repeating device'].

In 1950-51, Jennings [+ Harry Barndollar] oversaw the various visual effects for the George Pal/Rudolph Maté production 'When Worlds Collide'. Chesley Bonestell made numerous pre-production sketches visualizing the destruction of the world. From these, Jennings and his crew created some good [and sometimes mediocre] footage. The film also used miniatures [by Ivyl Burks], matte paintings [by Jan Domela, a.o.] and footage from other films.

George Pal: 'We took a scene from an old picture and froze the frame. Then we built a replica in black of the buildings, and we dumped water in from two tanks. Then frame by frame we rotoscoped it and did hand-painted mattes.'

matte painting

Background: matte painting by C. Bonestell. Paramount rushed the release of the film, forcing Pal to use Bonestell's painting of Zyra's landscape as a matte, instead of as a guide for miniatures, as he had originally intended.

Was a member of the ASC.

Brother of special effects expert and cinematographer Joseph Devereaux Jennings [1884-1952].

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Born: 3 December 1891, Denison, Iowa, USA, as Hans Frederick Koenekamp, son of immigrants from Oldenburg, Germany.

Died: 12 September 1992, Northridge, Calif., USA.

Came to Los Angeles in 1911 and started his film career as a theatre projectionist. He became a cameraman in 1913 at the Mack Sennett Keystone Studio. He later worked at Fox Films and then joined Vitagraph in 1917, where he photographed all the Larry Semon comedies. He became noted for his ability to enhance comedy action with his growing repertoire of effects. When Warner Bros. purchased First National's Studios in Burbank, he signed a contract and remained with the studio for the next 30 years. He specialized in directing and photographing second units and producing special effects shots for the studio. He became involved in early experiments with projection processes. Some of his most spectacular work was in aerial miniatures during WWII when real airplanes were not available for use in production.

He retired in 1965.

His son Fred J. Koenekamp [1922-] was a doph.

Was a member of the ASC.

Awards: Received the 'ASC Presidents Award' in 1990.

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Born: 28 November 1903, Paris, France, as Emil Jean Kosa Jr., son of craftsman and painter Emil Jean Kosa, Sr. [1876-1955].

Died: 4 November 1968, Los Angeles, Calif., USA.

Moved to the USA with his family in 1907. As a teenager, he returned to Europe to study at the Academy of Fine Arts in Prague and the École des Beaux Arts in Paris. In the late 1920s, he settled in Los Angeles and studied and taught at the Otis and Chouinard Art Institutes. In 1933, he began a thirty-five year career as a matte painter with 20th Century Pictures. He was responsible for the painting of the 20th Century Pictures 'searchlight' logo. When 20th Century Pictures merged with Fox Film Corporation in 1935, the logo was used by the new company, 20th Century-Fox.

His most famous matte painting is probably the ruined Statue of Liberty at the finale of 'Planet of the Apes' [1967; ph: Leon Shamroy]. In 1963, he won an 'Oscar' for Visual Effects for 'Cleopatra' [1960-63; ph: Leon Shamroy & (uncred) Jack Hildyard].

"Planet of the Apes"

He continually remained active as a watercolor painter, helping create the 'California Style', devoted to watercolor paintings of regional subjects. While maintaining a studio-home in Los Angeles, Kosa Jr. decorated churches, theaters, and private homes. He was also very active in the Laguna Beach art community as a teacher. He was an elected member of the National Academy of Design and the California and American Watercolor Societies. During his career his work won many awards nationally. His oeuvre includes portraits, seascapes, landscapes, and florals in oil and watercolor.

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"North by Northwest" [1958]

Photo by Denis Kavemeier [1982]

Born: 5 October 1913, Powers, Michigan, USA, as George Lee LeBlanc.

Died: 21 July 1988, Iron River, Michigan, USA.

In 1931, after graduating from high school in Iron River, Michigan, LeBlanc went to Los Angeles and spent a year studying art at the Jack Wiggins Trade School. He headed for New York hoping to find work as a commercial artist, but decided that New York wasn't for him. He went to Philadelphia where he tended bar for three years to pay for more art lessons. During that time he attended the La France Art Institute. Then, back to New York again where he landed a job as a staff illustrator for the 'New York Journal'. In his off hours he attended the Art Students League. In 1937 LeBlanc returned to Los Angeles where he found employment with Western Lithography as a commercial artist. Six months later he joined Walt Disney's staff at a salary of $10.00 per week. An offer of higher pay took him to producer Leon Schlesinger [the cartoon series 'Looney Tunes' and 'Merrie Melodies']. Through friends, he was able to get into the Special Effects Department at 20th Century-Fox. His first job was building miniatures; later he became a matte painter. After Ray Kellogg took over the Matte Painting Department, LeBlanc went hunting for another job and landed the position of head of Matte Painting at MGM in 1955, replacing Warren Newcombe. He remained head of the department for six years in spite of the constant pressures of tight budgets, impossible schedules, and television competition.


Left his job at MGM in 1962 and headed back to Iron River, Michigan.

In 1972 he began designing stamps for wildlife and fishing licenses and won the federal duck stamp competition in 1973.

He was a member of Ducks Unlimited, National Wildlife Federation, The Audubon Society, National Geographic Society, the Ornithologist's Union, and the Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology.

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Born: 7 April 1900, Mexico City, Mexico, as Paul Karl Lerpae.

Died: 5 October 1989, Palm Springs, Calif., USA.

Started his career as a lab technician at Standard Film Laboratories, MGM and Paramount. He also worked as a c.asst, becoming adept in the intricacies of several types of cameras. This combination of lab and camera techniques made him a dominant figure in the field of optical printing effects [at Paramount]. The 1931 version of 'Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde' [ph: Karl Struss] contained some of Lerpae's most dramatic effects. Lerpae also did intricate work on all of Cecil B. DeMille's pictures made after 1932. He retired in 1971.

Was a member of the ASC since 1939.

His brother Carl Lerpae was an optical line up man at Paramount.

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"Things to Come" [1935]

"Fire Over England" [1936]

"Miracolo a Milano" [1950]

Born: 17 January 1893, Redkey, Indiana, USA, as Ned Herbert Mann.

Died: 1 July 1967, La Jolla, Calif., USA.

Ned Mann was one of the top optical effects designers and technicians in movies. He had a very important influence on the British special effects field by training men like Tom Howard and Wally Veevers.

Worked as a professional roller skater and car racer in his teens and early twenties. Entered the film industry as an actor in 1920, but within a couple of years had moved into technical and special effects work. During the 1920s and 1930s he worked as a technical director on such top-flight movies of the era as 'Don Q Son of Zorro' [1925; ph: Henry Sharp], 'The Beloved Rogue' [1926; ph: Joe August], 'Two Arabian Knights' [1927; ph: Tony Gaudio & Joe August], 'Noah's Ark' [1928; ph: Barney McGill & Hal Mohr; as co-technician], 'Dirigible' [1930; ph: Joseph Walker; co-technical effects], and 'Deluge' [1932; ph: Norbert Brodine; miniatures]. For 'Deluge', Mann and his crew build a hundreds of square feet model of lower Manhattan with breakaway buildings shaken to pieces and then washed away by thousands of gallons of water from dump tanks. The scene was filmed in one take with 8 high-speed cameras turning at up to 240 fps. [See photos below.]

In the mid-1930s, he took a job with Alexander Korda's London Film Productions at the Denham Studios, Buckinghamshire, UK. The Korda studio became home to one of the best special effects units in the movie business over the ensuing six years. His work during this period included the special effects on such films as 'The Scarlet Pimpernel' [1934; ph: Harold Rosson], 'The Ghost Goes West' [1935; ph: Harold Rosson], and '[H.G. Wells'] Things to Come' [1935; ph: Georges Périnal; 'Less effective was Ned Mann's use of puppets moved along conveyor belts in miniature sets to simulate the crowds rushing towards the space gun.' (Karol Kulik in 'Alexander Korda - The Man Who Could Work Miracles', 1975] [See photos below].



During his time at Denham, he was involved with the early stages of the development of the blue-screen traveling matte process, which would become a staple of optical special effects work in the movies, though it was Lawrence Butler who oversaw the perfecting of the process [which debuted in 'The Thief of Bagdad' (1939-40)]. Returned to Britain after WWII in order to help Korda establish Shepperton Studios' special effects department, but he didn't stay for long.

His last film was Vittorio De Sica's 'Miracolo a Milano' [1950; ph: G.R. Aldo], the denouement of which is an optical effects tour de force [see photos below].

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"In Old Chicago" [1937]

Born: 24 February 1890, Vaseli, Czechoslovakia, as Ferdinand Motodei Sersen.

Died: 11 December 1962, Los Angeles, Calif., USA.

Came to the United States at the age of 17. Studied art at the Los Angeles School of Art and Design, the Portland Art Academy, and the San Francisco Institute of Art. While he received a number of awards for his fine art watercolors, he is best known for his work in the motion picture industry. He started as a scenic artist - most of the large watercolors he produced for films were photo realistic works which, when photographed and incorporated into the action sequences, appeared to be actual scenes - at Fox Film Corporation [later 20th Century-Fox], and eventually became head of their special effects department from the 1930s to the 1950s.

His first [co-]credited film was 'A Connecticut Yankee' [1930-31; ph: Ernest Palmer]. For 'The Rains Came' [1939; ph: Arthur Miller & (uncred) Bert Glennon] he directed the special effects for the earthquake and flood sequence. [See photos below.] The 'Oscar' he received, together with E.H. Hansen [for sound], was the first in the new category 'Special Effects'.

Sersen was a member of the California Water Color Society.

Awards: He was nominated for six 'Oscars' and [co-]won two 'Oscars' for Special Effects, in 1939 for 'The Rains Came' and in 1943 for 'Crash Dive' [ph: Leon Shamroy].

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[Left] with Linwood Dunn

Born: 2 May 1894, Detroit, Michigan, USA, as Vernon LaFollette Walker.

Died: 1 March 1948, Balboa Island, Los Angeles, Calif., USA.

His family moved to Hollywood in 1920. He began his career as an asst to effects ph Fred Jackman in the camera effects department at First National Pictures in Burbank, California. After First National merged with Warner Bros. in 1928, he moved to RKO Radio Pictures, where he succeeded Lloyd Knechtel as head of the photographic effects department, remaining with the studio until his death.

His expertise was directly responsible for the exceptional quality of the effects work for the always cash-strapped studio. One of his first films was 'King Kong' [1931-33] where he had to contend with the rigors of the new rear screen projection technology. He was singled out by American Cinematographer Magazine in 1941 for his work on the parachute drop seq in Hitchcock's 'Mr. and Mrs. Smith' [1940; ph: Harry Stradling]: 'His work here is excellent, for although you know it must be a process shot, you are never forcefully reminded of the fact.'

Voice of Orson Welles: 'The special effects were by Vernon L. Walker'

Was a member of the ASC.

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Born: 15 September 1915, London, UK.

Died: 26 October 1999, Santa Barbara, Calif., USA.

Was one of the most skilled matte artists in the history of motion pictures, with his work seen in more than 500 films and television shows. For over a quarter of a century, from the early 1960s to the mid 1980s, he was the acknowledged master of matte painting in motion pictures, and his mastery of the discipline was unparalleled in the industry. He was able to seamlessly integrate his paintings with live-action photography, creating scenes that would have been impossible to construct in three-dimensional reality and saving producers and studios millions of dollars in costly set construction.

Whitlock entered the film industry in London in 1929 at Gaumont-British Studios. His artistic talent led to a promotion into a job where he would paint signs and scenery. At Gaumont-British, he began a life-long association with dir Alfred Hitchcock, assisting in the miniature effects for ' The Man Who Knew Too Much' [1934; ph: Curt Courant] and doing all of the signs for 'The 39 Steps' [1935; ph: Bernard Knowles]. During WWII he started doing matte work.

Admiring his work done at Walt Disney's British studio in the early 1950s, Disney convinced him to re-locate to America in 1954, where he worked at the studio's matte department headed by Peter Ellenshaw. At Disney he successfully mastered his impressionistic approach to matte painting. He remained with the studio for seven years.
In 1961, he moved to Universal where he served as head of the matte department. 'In simple terms, a matte shot is a need for an image that doesn't exist. It doesn't exist because either it's too expensive to go shoot it, or it's too expensive to manufacture by other means. What you do in effect is block out an area of a scene into which you put a painting [on glass or plastic]. Now, my claim to fame is that I do that on the original negative instead of copying the film in order to do it, and I have all sorts of moving clouds and things that give it more life.' [Whitlock in the Los Angeles Herald Examiner, 1974.] Because Whitlock always worked with the original negative of the live action, it was neither developed nor printed after being shot. It was brought back to the studio and kept in a refrigerator because it would not be completed until the painting was also exposed onto it. When the original scene was shot, it was common practice to set up a B-camera to cover a duplicate of the action so that the editor would have something to work with while the painting was being shot to complete the scene.

Whitlock's crowning achievement was the creation of over 70 individual matte paintings for 'Earthquake' [1974; ph: Philip Lathrop], for which he received a 'Special Achievement Academy Award' in 1974. [Miniature & Special Process ph: Clifford Stine; Matte ph: Ross Hoffmann; Miniatures: Glen Robinson; Mechanical Effects: Frank Brendel, Johnny Borgese & Jack McMaster.] [See photos below.]

matte painting [AW] + foreground action composite


miniature [filmed outdoors]

miniature [filmed outdoors] + stage set [right/split screen]

matte painting [AW] + smoke elements

glass painting [AW] + fire and smoke elements

He won the same award again in 1975 for 'The Hindenburg' [1974; ph: Robert Surtees; with Glen Robinson], in which he re-created the great airship and its final voyage.

Universal closed the matte department in 1983. Whitlock retired, but continued working on occasional productions for a few more years. His work as a painter was cut short when he developed Parkinson's Disease.

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See also here




> Blue-Screen Photography [also green-screen]: a method of producing a traveling matte. A foreground subject, or element, is shot against an illuminated blue- or green-screen. Mattes are extracted from this original negative through optical [or digital] processes, allowing the subject, or element, to be isolated for compositing with a previously photographed background plate. Often characters are filmed with a blue-screen in order to place them in a different scene, or on a miniature set.
> Composite: to combine two or more individual images onto one piece of film by photographic means. Early compositing was accomplished in the camera by masking part of the scene when filming, rewinding the film and removing the matte and shooting again to expose the previously masked portion. The photographic technology of the optical printer revolutionized visual effects in the 1920s. [Since the 1990s, digital compositing is commonplace, in which multiple film images are scanned into the computer, combined digitally, and output to a single piece of film.]

> Front Projection: achieved with a projector facing a two-way mirror which is positioned at a 45-degree angle in front of a special reflective screen. The camera faces the screen directly behind the mirror which, being two-way, allows it to record the image on the screen. Actors standing in front of the screen cast shadows onto it, but their bodies mask exactly the area of their shadows. The system was introduced during the 1960s and produced images more stronger and sharper than in rear projection.
> Glass Shot: an in-camera technique that combines scenic elements painted on a large sheet of glass with live-action studio or location photography. Early uses included the finishing out of architectural details on back-lot sets or locations.
> Hanging Miniature: an in-camera special effect. A forced-perspective miniature is suspended in front of the camera. When viewed through the lens, it appears to be part of a structure in the scene. In the chariot race scene in 'Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ' [1923-25], only the lower part of the coliseum was built. The upper tiers, including thousands of tiny 'spectators' mounted on rods to allow them to stand, was a hanging miniature.
> Matte [aka mask]: early filmmakers created in-camera composites by covering part of the lens with a mask while filming, or placing a sheet of glass with a blacked-out area between the camera and the scene, to prevent a portion of the film from being exposed. The cameraman would then rewind the film, and shoot again with the mask removed and the previously exposed area covered, thus combining two images in one shot. Later there were several matte systems that required an optical printer in order to manipulate the separate films. A stationary matte marks off a static defined area; a traveling matte follows the silhouette of a moving character or object and changes shape from frame to frame.
> Matte Painting: a painting of elaborate background scenery that can be composited with live action or miniatures. They were originally painted on glass. The stationary matte did away with the need for mounting sheets of glass on the set or on location. Areas of the frame were first masked off with black card placed in front of the lens. After the take, a few feet of test shot were reserved and the rest of the footage was stored away for future use. The test film was projected onto a glass easel in the painter's studio, and the missing sections were painted onto the glass pane. Once the matte painting was finished, the exposed film was reloaded into the camera, the parts already exposed were masked off with black cardboard, and the painting double exposed onto the live footage. The economic advantages of the stationary matte to the film industry were enormous. 'Full matte paintings' are often used for establishing shots. [By the mid-1980s, advancements in computer graphics programs allowed matte painters to work in the digital realm. The first digital matte shot was created by painter Christopher Evans in 1985 for 'Young Sherlock Holmes [and the Pyramid of Fear]/Pyramid of Fear' [1984; ph: Stephen Goldblatt] for a scene with a completely computer generated character: a knight coming out of a stained-glass window. Evans first painted the window and the wall of the church in acrylics, then scanned the painting for further digital manipulation. The computer animation blended perfectly with the digital matte, something a traditional matte painting could not have accomplished.]
> Mechanical Effects [also called practical or physical effects]: special effects created on-set in front of the camera which may not require additional photographic manipulation. Includes pyrotechnics, make-up effects, flying with wires.

> Mirror Shot: 1] a semitransparent mirror placed at a 45-degree angle in front of the camera will superimpose any object, action, or setting at the side of the camera over the main scene; 2] a nontransparent silvered mirror placed in part of the camera's field of view can add to the scene by reflecting a photograph, miniature set, or art work actually outside the field of view; 3] the 'Schüfftan-Verfahren/Schüfftan Process' - refined and popularized by the German cinematographer Eugen Schüfftan while working on 'Metropolis' [1925; ph: Karl Freund & Günther Rittau] - permitted the creation of a composite image by the use of a large mirror at a 45-degree angle in front of the camera lens. First: a plate of glass was placed at a 45-degree angle between the camera and the miniature, drawing, or photograph of a setting. Second: through the camera's viewfinder an outline of the area into which the actors would later be inserted was traced onto the glass. Third: this outline was transferred onto a mirror and all the reflective surface that fell outside the outline was removed, leaving transparent glass. Four: when the mirror was placed in the same position as the original plate of glass, the reflective part blocked a portion of the miniature, drawing, or photograph behind it and also reflected the stage behind the camera. The actors were placed several meters away from the mirror so that when they were reflected in the mirror, they would appear at the right size. [Almost completely replaced by the traveling matte and blue-screen effects.]

> Montages [aka American montage]: from the 1930s to the 1950s, montage seq often combined numerous short shots with special optical effects [fades, dissolves, split screens, jump cuts, double and triple exposures, etc.]. A 'montage' condenses time and space, conveys a great deal of information in a short period, and may also suggest a hallucinatory state of mind, a dream, or a character's remembrance of past events. They were usually assembled by someone other than the director or the editor of the movie. A famous 'montagist' was Slavko Vorkapich [1894-1976].
> Multiple Exposure: the photographing of two images onto the same piece of film.
> Optical Printer: device consisting of a projector and camera with lenses facing each other; in the process called compositing, two or more pieces of film with elements of a scene are placed in the projector and photographed together onto a new piece of film in the camera. There are continuous and step printers. With the optical printer it is possible to make transitional effects [fade, dissolve, wipe, etc.], a split screen effect, change the size and position of the image, modify the frame sequence, change the frame size during action [zoom], superimpose images [e.g. rain, fog, clouds and titles], manipulate the quality, and adding motion.

> Process Photography: 1] rear-projection photography in which foreground action is shot before an image projected onto the rear of a translucent screen; 2] any photography using a process camera [a camera with the highest quality of registration and precision possible and used in special effects matte shots, bipack and optical printing].
> Rear Projection: a previously filmed background scene [background 'plates'] is projected behind actors on a screen in a studio, to create the illusion that they are on location. The background 'plates' are stationary or traveling motion picture scenes projected from behind onto a translucent screen.
> Stop-Motion Animation: technique in which a miniature puppet is moved incrementally through a range of motions and photographed one frame at a time with each movement. When the filmed scene is run at the conventional film speed of 24 fps, the illusion that the creature is moving is created [e.g. Willis O'Brien's 'King Kong' and the films by Ray Harryhausen]. Time-lapse cinematography is stop-motion, but with a lengthy duration between each frame [or shot], to show some process of development.
> Substitution Shot: trick shot in which the camera is stopped and the actors freeze while an object or actor is exchanged for another.

> Transparency: a still image printed on a transparent medium such as glass or celluloid and projected as a background in a process shot.
> Visual Effects [also called optical or photographic effects]: special effects achieved with the aid of photographic technology, occurring after the principal photography, or main shooting, of a film. Includes miniatures, optical effects, matte paintings, stop-motion animation, and computer-generated images [CGI].

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[*] This page: Using quotes from John Brosnan's 'Movie Magic - The Story of Special Effects in the Cinema' [1974], David Hutchison's 'Film Magic - The Art and Science of Special Effects' [1987], Gail Morgan Hickman's 'The Films of George Pal' [1977], and the websites Wikipedia, TCM,, &