Friday, 25 October 2013

Albert Whitlock and Alfred Hitchcock (more matte paintings) - part two

This is the second part of the blog I posted on Monday (which you can find here), detailing some of the astonishing matte painting work Albert Whitlock produced in the 1960s for Alfred Hitchcock (there're pictures from "The Birds", "Marnie" and "Torn Curtain").

This part takes us through the late 60s and into the early 70s and includes one of my all-time favourite Hitchcock films, "Frenzy".

In case you didn't see the last post, here's a quick catch-up on the genius that was Albert Whitlock (1915 - 1999) who began work as a page at Gaumont Studios in London in 1929, before moving up to build sets.  After training as a sign painter, he worked on Hitchcock’s “The Man Who Knew Too Much” (1934) creating miniatures for it and “The 39 Steps” (1935) and began working as a matte painter during World War II.  Finding work with Disney, he relocated to the US in the early 1950s and stayed with Disney until moving to Universal in 1961, where he headed up the matte department and resumed his close working relationship with Hitchcock.

He created over seventy paintings for “Earthquake” (1974) and won an Academy Award for his work.  He won another Oscar the following year for “The Hindenberg”, in which he re-created the airship and it’s final voyage.  As well as film work, Whitlock is also famous as the matte painter for the original series of “Star Trek” (though, sadly, his work was replaced by CGI replicas in the remastered DVDs).  He retired in 1985.

Topaz (1969)
Approaching the Hacienda.  Can you guess which part is the matte painting?

Answer, virtually all of it!  
The small area, where the car was in the final shot, was the only live element.  An astonishingly good effect. 

A street scene, with building extensions

The tanker, with the completed shot on the right.
Top left - the original live action plate (note the stanchions placed to help line-up the shot)
Bottom left - the blocked out live image - all of the black area would be replaced by the painting.

Frenzy (1972)
This is one of my all-time favourite Hitchcock films (his penultimate, as it turned out) and part of my love for it is that it's set in London, but it's not a place any of us recognise any more.  Now we go to Covent Garden for the stalls and the food and the street artists, but in 1972 it was a fruit & vegetable market that was on its last legs.  Hitchcock's father was a Covent Garden merchant and he wanted to record the area as he remembered it.

The prison (final image)

And how it was made
Top left - the studio set and - Top right - the element used for the live action element
Bottom - Whitlock's incredible painting (note the two guards at the far end)

 Covent Garden by night (film still)
A fantastic image, especially when you consider the perspective Whitlock has captured, simulating the wide-angle distortion that would be needed to film this shot for real.  
The live action element is part of the roadway, which Barry Foster walks across (that was filmed at Pinewood) and some of the trucks.  Everything else is Whitlock’s masterpiece.


So there we have it, I hope it's been enjoyable.  Since Whitlock produced such a vast body of work I imagine there'll be more posts about him in the future and also about Hitchcock too, who used matte paintings extensively in his films.

In the meatime, if you're interested, I've posted previously about matte paintings on this post or also on this post, which is exclusively about "Return Of The Jedi"


with thanks to NZ Pete, for his superby researched and lavishly illustrated blog Matte Shot - a tribute to Golden Era special fx and also to the Whitlock Archives at Galeon.

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