Regular readers of this blog will know that I am very interested in behind the scenes stuff for films and one of my key areas of fascination are matte paintings (which I posted about here, back in January). I'm planning to do a small series, covering various films (Hitchcock's "Frenzy" will probably be the second post after this one) and I thought it'd be good to start with "Return Of The Jedi". So here we go, with as many before (the original shot) and after (how it appeared in the final film) images as I can find.
A quick history - Matte paintings were created by Norman O. Dawn (1884-1975), an illustrator and photographer who worked in Los Angeles. Around the turn of the last century he was commissioned to take some stills of a factory which was partly obscured by rubbish and telephone poles. His boss, Max Handsheigi, showed him how to put a pane of glass between the camera and its subject and paint in details which would then cover unwanted areas. He adaped the principle when making his first film, “California Missions” in 1907 as a way of restoring missing portions of the crumbling structures.
Although he was the first known proponent, he was keen to “dispel any assertion that I invented this technique—I merely built on to it and took advantage of conditions to advance an art in the making. One must not get the idea that other men were not doing things too. How much, will never be known.” Following this, glass painting became an important tool of movie makers and is still used widely today, though it’s almost all digital now.
All of the matte paintings for "Return Of The Jedi" were created by a dedicated team at Industrial Light & Magic (ILM), made up of five people. Michael Pangrazio was the supervisor, Chris Evans and Frank Ordaz were the artists, Neil Krepela was the camera supervisor whilst Craig Barron was the camera operator.
The droids arrive at the main gate
Early evening, outside of Jabba's Palace. Essentially an establishing shot, the added element of the beast having his dinner adds depth (and humour) to the shot.
The Emperor arrives on the new Death Star - a massive shot that looks very impressive on screen
An AT-AT Walker (a model, naturally) animated against a matte painting (detail shown)
Darth Vader (the only live element in the entire shot) arrives on Endor by Shuttle
Frank Ordaz at work on a matte painting of the hanger
Michael Pangrazio at work on the rebel hanger painting
Chris Evans working on the Death Star painting
Whilst researching this article - and wanting to see what the key players were doing now - I discovered that Barron & Pangrazio set up a company called Matte World when they left ILM, which thrived until last year when it closed down (a similar situation to many visual effects companies these days). The website has a "final farewell" screen which is worth a read, for the history if nothing else. It can be found here.
* Michael Pangrazio continues to work as a matte painter and he is now a senior art director at Peter Jackson's Weta Digital
* Frank Ordaz's last film was "All I Want For Christmas" (1991) and he is a renowned portait artist now.
* Chris Evans' last film was the Tim Burton directed "Alice In Wonderland" (2010), though he's a much in-demand fine art painter.
with thanks to NZ Pete, for his superby researched and lavishly illustrated blog Matte Shot - a tribute to Golden Era special fx and the ASC site.