They used to be called SPECIAL effects, and thats what matte paintings were — alchemy. What else would you call a mixture of paint, glass, and photography with magic as the result?
A few years back I slammed together an outline of a book, and invited several matte painters from the Glass pane days to consider documenting the craft for a generation who is rarely taught any art technique, but surviving on raw talent. There was sluggish response at first, thinking that digital artists have little desire to learn the old ways — no longer deemed relevant. I disagree with that opinion, as the problem solving involved is still relevant, as you learn to work in limitations of physical media.
Eventually a rousing discussion ensued, and at one point the health of renowned matte painter Matthew Yuricich was brought up — he was not well. We had already lost Peter Ellenshaw, and Albert Whitlock a few years earlier, and one of my main motivations was to find a way to save their knowledge by recording technique from those who were taught directly. Sadly, that book remains unwritten as life gets in the way. But this discussion may have born fruit.
Some of those involved in our discussion quietly started an interview process. Whether this was inspired by our discussion is unknown, but the result is awe inspiring.
Sadly, Matthew passed away, but the work presented on the page should humble most visual effects artists, and hopefully inspire them to learn more of this era of visual effects. We are in a headlong effort to throw away the past in the industry, but despite all our clever thinking machines, it’s hard to beat an artist that can create such beauty with a stick and bristle.
We used to have apprentice matte painters in the industry. Due to time pressures and new business models, that institutional knowledge is being lost. Find time in your life to research this, and learn from masters.
Pictured above, Matthew Yuricich’s brilliant matte painting from Ben Hur.(credit: http://nzpetesmatteshot.blogspot.co.uk)