– 2000 word Text –

“The use of a physical set extension in a pre 1989 movie or genre, how it was done and how it might be done today” 

During the early years of film and visual effects , there was a limit to what one could achieve due to the lack of key inventions (known of now) and skills needed to pursue the art. To present day, media has expanded in the most pivotal ways, influencing the likes of Melies and Hitchcock, allowing them to create the work that we still see around. Going back to basics, focusing on set extensions, I will be looking into examples of various key points throughout Films history.  Set extensions are a form/way of one creating elements of a scene using a range of different techniques and tools . Within the Film Industry there has been a large integration through the years, with the development of different technology and tools to alter the way in which we are able construct the media. Over the past 100 years we’ve seen film and productions go from physical 2D elements to having almost entirely CG aspects built up to give the same illusion. Cinema has come far from its past, beginning in early 1890’s – shortly after ward flooding into peoples daily lives as the Industry broadened, boosting its success as an art form.

Over the years a big part of film in which has changed to a vast extent is the introduction to a number of different softwares and development within technology, suiting a more practical solution to most Directors ideas. This has provided the industry with a more practical and more assessable why to achieve certain content, taking off from older methods which have been used over the years – deriving from historical figures such as George Méliès “The Father of Special Effects” who introduced the idea of illusion and special effects within film, pushing this form of art to flourish within todays society.

Set Extensions within films have been achieved in a number of different ways throughout the years, becoming more and more digital in more recent times. This plays a vital part within films, the only thing that has not changed about it; artists have considered different methods of pursuing set ideas, focusing on creating more accessible means – as Set extensions are what provide you with the basic image and are a starting position within films that intends to draw your audiences attention. Due to the cost of such set extensions, most studios, especially independent spaces, have no means of funding a project on that scale nor might they have the contacts or skill to compute this method.

Following the 80’s, the digital aspect alongside set design has grown its own strengths and has boosted us to present day with the same opportunities, although technology will continue to grow and we will be able to format even more creative sketches, we are still reliant on aspects that I have covered, technology cannot recreate and have the same effect and appearance as a Matte Painting, however, we can create clear cut CGI and Visual effects now and should continue to do so.

A classic and well used method of set extensions are matte paintings, still occasionally used and put into practice by artists, having evolved themselves from painted glass panels to 3D digitals. “A matte painting is often a painted glass pane that is used to show a landscape or large set piece. Matte paintings are either filmed on set, where they are framed to look like a physical set piece, or they are combined with live footage in post production.” Méliès was known to use this technique throughout his career, introducing it to many of his productions post set extension, for example, in his 1898 film Four Heads Are Better Than One, Méliès used a glass pane in order to create a matte, allowing the black matte which he previously made to keep the light from reaching the camera, leaving some of the frame empty due to light not being expose. using another matte, Méliès would blank out the remaining elements of the film. This technique astonished his audience and allowed his work to become even more admirable. In 1902, Méliès moved on to use this method as a form of set extension, again influencing a new era of filmmaking. The famous film, ‘A Trip to the Moon’ put this into practice, with George using this grievously within the shots.

Matte Painting has been used in countless blockbusters from before ’89, however, a particular genre that I want to focus on is Action/adventure, specifically on the 3 Indiana Jones films that were done before this year, Raiders of The Lost Ark (1981) is a memorable film for the industry with its use of a particular matte painting which took around 3 months to produce, by Micheal Pangrazio – using a sheet of glass, painted on by Pangrazio, which was then positioned in front of the camera, extending the set far into the distance as an illusion. This is done really well – however with todays technology,  I would assume a similar scene would be set up and would consist of some 3D modelling, in order to recreate the boxes in the scene, as well as some tracking once the modelling is complete. This seems to me as if it would not be as much of a complex scene to put together, so particularly with the softwares that we do have access to nowadays, it would be pretty straight forward.


Pangrazio, an award winning Art Director is also well known for his work on the well known Star Wars film ‘The Empire Strikes Back’ (1980) alongside work on the second film in the Indiana Jones series, ‘Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom’ (1984). With the Indiana Jones film, again, Pangrazio painted a large piece onto glass of Cliffs/a canyon – were a select piece was cut from the middle of the painting, left for it to later be bluescreened , alongside a cut out within the cliff of which is meant to show the mine from the film, the bottom, much larger section of this example. If this particular scene was set to be reconstructed it would most likely come up from being computer generated imagery as well as the use of some tracking, with the bluescreen – although there would definitely be other methods to what I have already said.

matte painting

Within the final Indiana Jones film to be released post ’89, ‘The Last Crusador’, the work that was put into this part of the series of films was done by Yusei Uesugi – where he was responsible for the painting of a cavern scene within the film showing a realistic drop to a bottomless pit – he had to paint it in a specific way in which gave the illusion that allowed the audience to believe that a character had fallen. Using this alongside elements such as bluescreen which is of a technological advance puts in creative challenges for the artists and I feel would work really well, seeing this in the most practical way, combining two very different media formats in order to achieve the final scene. This shows how artists would’ve worked collaboratively to allow illusions to take place and entrance their audiences.

Over the years it is weird to believe the contrast within the film industry, thinking of a whole different area where technology was barely heard of and the amount of reliance there was for artists to achieve the extent of detail that is included within various set extensions. In today’s industry we would get hold of a green screen and digitally create a variety of different scenes that may otherwise of been impossible or at least very challenging to create. Throughout the years Matte Painting as a skill and dependent art form had already expanded within itself, starting with plates being painted onto walls, moving on to matte paintings being composited onto glass surfaces – allowing teams to then place the work between the camera and subject in question. For obvious reasons, painting onto the glass surfaces provides some more leeway with creativity as you are able to place the surface wherever due to the material.

Another good example to talk about is one that we observed together, Alfred Hitchcock s film, The Birds (1963) during this time period, the industry was reeling over the prospect of rotoscoping as a form of tracing moving images in detail, changing the way in which artists can put together more media, as it allows a more practical solution to certain elements of cinematography and works well, moving away from Matte painting. Within the film this was used throughout in order to animate the birds (and there are a lot) alongside matte paintings of course, where Hitchcock’s team of artists went and created a city, ensuring they brought in as much detail to the film. Having seen the film, I would see that element of meida as important within the success of the film as it is such a large aspect throughout.

rearfront pro

Rear projection was introduced within the 1930’s, late after its development, this came around after cameras and projectors had been welcomed into industry, this accompanied ‘talking’ movies. This was a great point in the artform as you could expose the background  more than before, giving you a balance within your work, being able to alter viewpoints and control them as you progress worked very well. Alfred Hitchcock made use of this new coming technology, using it successfully within his film ‘North by Northwest’ (1959) – being praised for his feature, however, Hitchcock was soon after ridiculed for his over use of the media in his other film, ‘Marnie’ (1964).


Front Projection, in contrast to rear projection, projects the background image onto both the background and the performer, resulting in the image bouncing back into the camera lens. This process is still used now within visual effects, combining foreground performance with pre-filmed footage of backgrounds, this technology also consists of two way mirrors that are angled in order to reflect the footage in a complex way.

To conclude this text, I admire the work put in by artists, allowing these developments in industry to happen, boosting its success. The art form has come so far from basic supplies to all of the technology that has recently been introduced to us, where we are able to create a broad spectrum of ideas, with ourselves being the only (current) limitations. Looking back on work such as Melies, particularly with his attitude toward his career and film as a whole is eye opening, his work projected this art to a first small, now vast audience.



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