Matte Painting – TimeLine

The Early Years

1902 – Georges Méliès films A Trip to the Moon, using actors in front of painted backdrops to create a fanciful journey.

1903 – Edwin S. Porter directs The Great Train Robbery. Porter creates some of the first matte composites by rewinding the film in camera.

1905 – Norman Dawn, commercial artist and photographer for the Thorpe Engraving Company, experiments with the glass paintings on still photographs on advice of his boss, Max Handschiegl.

1907 – With The Missions of California, Norman Dawn produces the first known example of the glass shot. Using the technique to “restore” damage caused by weather to the neglected missions, he places a glass with the painted corrections between the camera and existing buildings.

1912 – Edward Rogers produces what is possibly the first glass shot in England.

1913 – Norman Dawn employs one of the first known uses of “rear projection” by projecting a still film image on a frosted glass plate behind an actor during photography for his western, The Drifter.

1914 – Norman Dawn purchases the new Bell & Howell 2709 camera that is precise enough to do convincing multiple exposures. The camera helps Dawn to develop original negative matte painting technique.

1916 – Walter Hall, the English art director of D. W. Griffith’s Intolerance, develops his own method of creating the glass shot. He paints the additions to the scene on composition board, cuts them out with a beveled edge, and mounts them in front of the camera. He patented this variation of the glass shot technique, known as “The Hall Process” in 1921.


1921 – Ferdinand Pinney Earle directs and paints mattes for The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam. Paul Detlefsen assists.

1922 – Walter Percy (“Pop”) Day introduces the “The Hall Process” to the French film industry in Les Opprimés.

1925 – Warren Newcombe becomes head of the MGM matte department.Ralph Hammeras paints mattes for The Lost World. Ferdinand P. Earle paints mattes, which include a shooting star over Bethlehem in Ben-Hur.

1927 – Clarence Slifer arrives in Hollywood to become an assistant cameraman after winning a contest in Screenland magazine. Still in Paris, Percy Day uses the “The Hall Process” for Napoleon.

1928 – Linwood G. Dunn joins the visual effects department at RKO.

1929 – Bud Thackery and Paul Grimm paint glass shots of the ark, photographed at the Iverson Ranch for Noah’s Ark.


1930 – Percy Day develops his version of the latent image technique and applies it in Au Bonheur des Dames.

1933 – Mario and Juan Larrinaga, Byron L. Crabbe, and Henri Hillinck paint the ominous Skull Island and views of New York City for King Kong.

1934 – Returning to England, Percy Day and his assistant and stepson Peter Ellenshaw paint mattes for producer Alexander Korda. Day will head the visual effects departments at Denham Studio and later at the Shepperton Studio. Jack Cosgrove and Russell Lawson paint mattes for The Black Cat. They team up at the beginning of the 1930s, establishing headquarters at Universal, among other studios.

1935 – Director Alfred Hitchcock has illustrator Fortunino Matania create a matte painting for the trap sequence at the Royal Albert Hall in The Man Who Knew Too Much.

1936 – Clarence Slifer and Jack Cosgrove paint mattes for Garden of Allah the first Technicolor film to use original negative matte paintings.
Jack Cosgrove becomes head of the Selznick International visual effects department.
Ray Kellogg becomes the chief matte painter at Twentieth Century Fox. Emil Kosa, Jr., is his assistant.
Percy Day and assistant Peter Ellenshaw paint mattes for Things to Come.

1937 – Albert Maxwell Simpson and Byron Crabbe paint mattes for The Prisoner of Zenda.

1939 – Jack Cosgrove supervises and paints mattes along with Albert Maxwell Simpson, Jack Shaw, and Fitch Fulton to create the establishing shots of Scarlett’s Tara and views of Atlanta under siege in Gone With the Wind. Clarence Slifer supervises matte camera effects and opticals.
Chesley Bonestell paints mattes for The Hunchback of Notre Dame and Only Angels Have Wings.
Fred Sersen supervises and paints mattes along with Ray Kellogg on The Rains Came.
Warren Newcombe and his department paint mattes for The Wizard of Oz, including one of the most famous matte shots the Emerald City.