My childhood Saturdays were spent at the cinema enchanted by the fluttering beauty of the images on the screen. It wasn’t just the story, or the acting, but the sets, the costumes, the props, the number of scales scored on the back of a Harryhausen dinosaur, the special effects that made Dracula vanish into dust, the superimposition, the incredible backdrops and painted mattes.
One Christmas, I received Denis Gifford’s classic book A Pictorial History of Horror Movies, which I read and studied more assiduously than my schoolbooks, and learnt almost by heart. Indeed, there was once a time when I could recount with ease all of the casts and crews of Universal and Hammer horror films—what strange portfolios we invest in our childhood knowledge. One of the names I noted was Bob Cuff, a matte painter, and model maker, whose name appeared on several of my then-favorite films: The Day of the Triffids, The First Men on the Moon, The Masque of Red Death, and One Million Years BC.
As you no doubt know, a matte painter creates painted representations of a landscape, set, or distant location, which allows the filmmaker to create wonderful illusions of real or fantasy environments that are usually far too expensive to build. It’s a technique that’s been used since Norman Dawn painted crumbling mansions on glass for Missions of California in 1907, and has been used extensively in cinema ever since.
Today, it’s all cold clunky digital, which for me lacks the beauty and craft of the matte paintings by artists like Bob Cuff. I was, therefore, delighted to discover a site dedicated to Cuff’s long career in film with examples of his work from Dr.Strangelove, 2001: A Space Odyssey, Monty Python’s Life of Brian, The Princess Bride, right up to his last film before retirement,Terry Jones’ Erik the Viking.
Cuff’s work is beautiful, painterly and seamlessly adds an incredible richness to all of the films he worked on. Alas, Cuff died in 2010, but at least his wonderful artwork lives on.
Check here to view a gallery of Bob Cuff’s work.
‘Richard III’ (1955) Director: Laurence Olivier, Matte painting: Bob Cuff.
‘Alexander the Great’ (1956) Director: Robert Rossen, Matte painting: Bob Cuff.
‘I’m Alright Jack’ (1959) Director: Roy Boulting, Matte painting: Bob Cuff.
‘First Men on the Moon’ (1964) Director: Nathan Juran, Matte painting: Les Bowie Co. with Ray Caple and Bob Cuff.
‘Monty Python’s The Life of Brian’ (1979) Director: Terry Jones, Matte painting: Bob Cuff.
Posted by Paul Gallagher |