Warner Brothers special effects, Stage 5.

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The Warner effects facility was a proud one, though it’s not a facility that is ever really discussed or given a ‘pat on the back’.  It’s really only when one studies the back catalogue and realises not just the pictures they worked on but the often amazing visual effects which were created for these acclaimed shows and on the lesser productions.  Cinematographer Byron Haskin had a long association with Warner Brothers right back to the early twenties on many silent pictures. Among his film credits was visual effects cameraman on THE ADVENTURES OF ROBIN HOOD and many, many more, Haskin assumed directorship of the effects unit in 1937, taking over the reins from Fred Jackman.  In an interview Haskin wrote that …”almost every department in the studio had it’s counterpart in the special effects unit.  We had our own designers, art directors, set building facilities and our own camera and electrical crews.  The department also had its own film laboratory, cutting facilities, business office and even its own writers”. Of course pirate films were the bread and butter of Jack Warner, and the studio produced a number of these, all with great miniature work and matte shots.  Titles such as CAPTAIN BLOOD and THE SEA HAWK being the most popular. Anton Grot Art Direction at Warner Bros. “Anton Grot was a gifted and talented artist who made beautiful charcoal drawings…of the set before it was completed. All his compositions showed a full shot of each set, with all the delicate tones and shadings that suggested ideas for lighting and, in general, were of great help to me as a cameraman.” One of my first jobs was with Anton Grot’s it was on the film set of Mildred Pierce, as a set stills photographer. It was Anton Grot’s that called me over and introduces me to Hurrell I never got to know Hurrell he left Hollywood briefly to make training films for the First Motion Picture Unit of the United States Army Air Forces. When he returned to Hollywood in the mid-1950s his old style of glamour had fallen from favour and it was stills photographers like me that had taken over the work. This was a Curtiz movie, the outstanding film noir with Joan Crawford; MILDRED PIERCE is a striking example of mid-forties matte design and effects work.

Matte artist Paul Detlefsen painted the glass shots on this picture – and a large number of them there were at that.  A few of them are shown here though the film has many more.  Detlefsen was a highly productive matte artist, and from my count of his partial filmography he painted on no less than fourteen shows at Warners in 1945 alone – and some of these were big effects shows, such as MILDRED PIERCE. Again Detlefsen credits his cameraman John Crouse for such shots “John was the great unsung hero of our department who loved every challenge and never failed to find a way of doing the impossible…a flawless technician and inventor, loved by all who knew him”. I first made the acquaintance of Ann Blyth on the film set of the filming of  Mildred Pierce, (1945). Warner Bros had borrowed Ann for this film.

It was Anton Grot’s that called Ann over and introduce me. It was later that year filming Danger Signal , (1945). But burring filming, Ann Blyth suffered a broken back whiles sledding, this all happed while she was on a briefly vacationing in Snow Valley 14 miles from Lake Arrowhead.

It was Joan Crawford that let Ann swim in her pool. Ann and I would go there all the time swimming, exercising. She said Crawford was always gracious, generous, a supportive actress who understood that this was a big change for Ann Blyth, a big opportunity for her, and she wanted the film to work and she wanted Ann to do well. I would push her around in that wheelchair day after day I would take Ann over in my car. It was also at that time I made the acquaintance of Charlie Marie Gordon we also have been friends for a very long time.

Consolidated Film Industries

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Cellulose nitrate film, more familiarly known as nitrocellulose, became popular in the late 1880’s because its physical properties made it ideal for photography.  At first, cellulose nitrate film was used mostly for still photography, but it was also used for x-ray film and motion picture film into the early 1950’s.  Museums and photographic archives are often faced with the problem of safety in handling and storage of nitrate film.  Cellulose nitrate film is highly unstable and presents a very serious fire risk.  It burns quickly with an intense flame.  The rate of combustion for cellulose nitrate film is about 15 times that of wood.  In the early days of the motion picture industry, movie houses and even film studios had devastating fires with many fatalities.  Dry cellulose nitrate can explode when subjected to heat or shock.  While decomposing motion picture film has been known to self-combust, still-camera negatives. Has not Cellulose nitrate contains chemically combined oxygen in sufficient amounts to allow burning and decomposition without the presence of air. Toxic and flammable gases formed during burning or decomposition may be produced so rapidly that dangerous pressures may occur in building structures.  The burning of cellulose nitrate film releases highly toxic gases, including nitrogen oxides and carbon monoxide.  In one fire, these toxic gases were responsible for the deaths of 125 people not directly exposed to the fire.  Since 1951, motion picture film has been produced with a “safety” base of cellulose acetate or other slow burning esters or polyesters.  The fire hazards of these materials are similar to those of thick paper.  When these films burn, there is no release of toxic nitrogen oxides. Lower levels of heat will result in damage to “safety” film than paper records, therefore special protection is needed to prevent fire damage.

CFI studiosreelsCONSOLIDATED FILM INDUSTRIES AT SEWARD & ROMAINE STREETSfilm lab

In a big building between the studios of Famous Players and R-K-0 in Hollywood a man was running a spool of film through a polishing machine. Something went wrong with the machine. A spark flew from a whirling gear and set the film on fire. A few seconds later every film in the room was on fire. Burning gas exploded and blew out the door, the flame rushed into other rooms. People staggered out of blazing doorways. Some were taken away in ambulances. One man died of his burns.

The use of nitrocellulose film for motion pictures led to the requirement for fireproof projection rooms with wall coverings made of asbestos. The US Navy shot a training film for projectionists that included footage of a controlled ignition of a reel of nitrate film, which continued to burn when fully submerged in water. Unlike many other flammable materials, nitrocellulose does not need air to keep burning as the reaction produces oxygen. Once burning, it is extremely difficult to extinguish. Immersing burning film in water may not extinguish it, and could actually increase the amount of smoke produced.

All day the building—a laboratory of Consolidated Film Industries, Since bringing colour to motion pictures 90 years ago, Technicolor has evolved into a global and diversified corporation that is now considered the preeminent worldwide provider of services to the media and entertainment industries. Headquartered in Camarillo, California, Technicolor is part of the Services division of Thomson (Euronext Paris: 18453; NYSE: TMS). In addition to being the world’s most prolific processor of motion picture film,

I was also fortunate enough to land a part time job working as a darkroom accent for, Consolidated Film Industries. Consolidated Film Industries was a film laboratory and film processing company, and was one of the leading film laboratories in the Los Angeles area for many decades. CFI processed negatives and made prints for motion pictures industry, where I worked for four years. I was just 16 years old went I started.

www.magesCE991SJXwww.images08OKITJ7www.T1smklp5o1_1280www.what car - 3www.m-m statwww. Marilyn Monroe (1926 - 1962) _

Gladys Baker, the mother of Marilyn Monroe, worked for Consolidated as a negative film cutter; Marilyn Monroe’s biological father is believed to have been fellow consolidated employee Charles Stanley Gifford. I would see Norma Jeane Mortenson at the gate of the film laboratory waiting for her mother sometimes we would site down on the kerbstone and she would talk all the time never stopped talking. She was just 18 years old.

Consolidated Film Industries film laboratory on 959 Seward St, my old company. The original CFI building at 959 Seward Street in Hollywood had been the company’s home for more than 60 years. The structure was demolished and lay vacant until 2014.

 

the very best of friends

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Blyth suffered a “compressed fracture” of the spine on April 22, 1945 per newspaper reports via. Google News Archive. She was tobaggoning at Snow Valley, 14 miles east of Lake Arrowhead, when she hit a rock concealed in the snow and fell on the small of her back fracturing her spine. By the following Thursday she was in satisfactory condition although she was set to be confined to the hospital “for some time.”

That’s Blyth’s singing voice in her MGM musicals. She also released an album called “Hail, Mary” on the Everest labei in 1960. “Ann Blyth reverently sings and narrates an original Christmas musical written for records by Jerry Livingston and Lenny Adlson.”

“while on vacation at Lake Arrowhead, she is hurled from a toboggan and breaks her back. Doctors suspect she may never walk again, but she recovers after 14 months.” This is from a timeline on her life from an online fan site. I don’t know how accurate it is.

What was so special about Ann? Well, she was just a nice person who always had a warm smile and a pleasant word for she exuded maternal compassion and was ever willing to listen to anyone’s tales of woe (including mine). One day she gave me her number she had written down… she placed it in my hand. She smiled and said to phone this number when you get to Lake Arrowhead.

I really couldn’t wait for Saturday to come that week – On that morning I was get ready , the phone  rang Hi John it’s Ann I was just checking that you remembered . Ann had go her driving license, and she what’d to drive  down scenic route down CA-243 abounds with mountain vistas and fire-following spring flowers. From Redlands, the CA-38 meanders northeast through an impressive rocky landscape that modulates into conifer territory as one climbs toward Big Bear Dubbed “Southern California’s only four-season resort,” Big Bear Lake nevertheless has an off-season in spring. After the skiers have departed and before the summer crowd has arrived, accommodations are plentiful and cheaper than at other times, although both weather and sightseeing are at their best in spring.

Did I mind if she picked me up at my house. When she arrived at my door there were two friends with her she introduced them too me and we started off, she was ok her driving was good she was a little on the slow side but she kept up with traffic ok. When we arrived I got dropped off at my Uncles house, at 27423 North Bay Road, Lakefront – Zip Code: 92352. It’s still there to this day, it has been rebuilt and it’s a bit bigger now I still have great memory of that day’s. I got it off my Uncle in the late 60’s.I always try to go up there in the early spring  I like to go sailing on the Lake.

That night when I called to pick her up my eyes began to pop to see her in this evening dress – with curves that wouldn’t stop. The dress was flared, but short enough to show a lovely pair of shapely legs in nylon hose. I tried hard not to stare. The top was snug, not cut too low, I actually had a date! The four of us Joan McCarthy, Jimmy Gerharty, Ann Blyth and me. From that first vocation at Lake Arrowhead we have always been friends.

George Hurrell

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Hurrell’s studio was in Suite Number Nine from January 1928 through December 1929. I’m upstairs in Suite 48, but I do use his camera. What’s it like? I have the satisfaction of maintaining a tradition. I can make the subject look better with this technique than if I were shooting, say, with a digital camera and available light. Hurrell wanted his subjects to look their best; so do I. What would his work have been if he had been shooting exclusively for RKO Radio Pictures instead of for M-G-M or Warners? Who knows? I do think that the continuity of working in one location and having a simultaneous improvement in technology (film, paper, lighting implements) fired his imagination and propelled his growth as an artist. The one constant in the Hurrell story is that he could not stand doing the same thing or being in the same place for more than a few years. Richard Settle rented his Santa Monica Boulevard studio to Hurrell in the 80s. One story really hit me. Hurrell romanced a starlet in his darkroom at the studio on Sunset Boulevard in the late 30s.

As the head portrait photographer for MGM, Hurrell could command a $1,000 sitting fee, and his eye for the perfect shot had everyone from Greta Garbo to Clark Gable clamoring for his services.

George Hurrell made his name as the foremost portrait photographer of his time by photographing movie stars. His work during the 1930s and 40s are especially inspiring. Hurrell used a large format 10″x8″ camera, but the most notable and innovative techniques was with lighting and retouching of negatives – Hurrell often preferring his sitters not to wear make-up. Lighting was created by using spotlights attached to microphone boom stands to create harsh, dramatic lighting with strong shadows. This was used to accentuate features – eye lashes cast long shadows, cheekbones bought into relief. Softboxes where used if the effect needed to be to be softened.

This technique of using harsh spotlights is the opposite of what more conventional portrait lighting seems to be about, i.e. soft, diffused lighting using umbrellas and large soft-boxes to eliminate harsh shadows.

George Hurrell started work at MGM at the beginning of 1930 and almost immediately tranformed Hollywod photography. Brought to MGM at the insistence of Norma Shearer, his task was to make his subjects, especially women, sexy. Not only did he succeed but his work, in this respect, has never been bettered. Norma Shearer was an attractive and talented actress, who through determination and fortitude, not to mention marriage to MGM’s top producer Irving Thalberg, managed to secure most of the studio’s choicest femail roles. But she found herself increaslingly cast as the nice girl or sophisticated matron when she wanted the racier roles given to Joan Crwford and Greta Garbo. Hurrell changed Shearer’s appearace, at least in the portrait gallery, and there is no question that the lovely lady portrayed by Ruth Harriet Louise took on a new smoldering guise when seen through Hurrell’s lens. Hurrell’s very best work was saved for Joan Crawford who probably enjoyed being photographed more than any actress before Marilyn Monnroe. Of the approximately 100,000 photographs that were coded by MGM’s publicity department between 1924 and 1942, Crawford’s face appears more often than that of any other star. Hurrell and Crawford enjoyed an extraordinary collaboration, beginninng at MGM and continuing after he went independent in late 1932. Hurrell could be almost brutal with his sitters, subjecting them variously to strong lights, extreme close-ups, and complicated positions. Crawford survived all of Hurrell’s antics and her allure was only heightedned by his inventive camerawork.
 

 

NO PHOTOS

There is “one” rule on any movie set in the world – NO PHOTOS.  

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If you are a movie Extra DO NOT bring a camera onset and do not take out your mobile phone and start snapping photos.  

In America I have heard stories of the Director storming up to the movie extra taking the camera and smashing it on the ground – then telling the Extra to get off the set and reinforcing this by having security escort the movie Extra out, without pay. Extras are the main photo snapper with there mobile or small digital camera. 

You never get the film crew or any member of the production staff taken any photos. There could quite easily but they know if they are caught they will get fired on the spot. 

I was a motion picture stills photographer and even then you could only take the shot when the Director was there or a off the film set, photo section was set up by a production member of staff working under the supervision of the director and in coordination with the art director and the publicist, the publicity designer develops, coordinates, facilitates, and oversees the design of publicity materials including posters, promo shots etc.

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