Painters of Fantastic Films
August 28, 2012 5:18 PM   Subscribe

Matte World Digital, the visual effects studio founded in 1988 (as Matte World) by Craig Barron, Mike Pangrazio, and Krys Demkowicz, created fantastic movie environments through matte painting. A victim of the contracting visual effects industry, Matte World Digital announced their demise with a thoughtful post on their web site.
posted by Chinese Jet Pilot (17 comments total) 15 users marked this as a favorite
posted by brundlefly at 5:21 PM on August 28, 2012

posted by dhartung at 5:53 PM on August 28, 2012

The fourth link alone is fantastic. I'm really enjoying looking at and reading about these masterpieces of an art-form I was only vaguely aware of, previously. Just wanted to call that link out to people in particular.

posted by gilrain at 6:41 PM on August 28, 2012 [1 favorite]

posted by safetyfork at 6:54 PM on August 28, 2012

What a shame that they have to close down. VFX is such a competitive business. The Matte world post is inspiring, in the awesome work they have done, and sad, the end of that company. It's also interesting to hear their description of the shift to digital - that must have been a crazy time. Digital is great to use, the way it can be layered, and altered, and finessed to be so lifelike, but there is a joy in using actually painting on glass too. I was fortunate enough to be hired once to do a matte painting the old fashioned way. For the film Fido, they wanted a retro feel to the effects, so they had me paint a full moon on glass, and it was amazing. Being paid to paint... heaven. It's at 0:54 here
posted by 5_13_23_42_69_666 at 6:59 PM on August 28, 2012 [1 favorite]

A victim of the contracting visual effects industry,

WTF are you crazy? There are more people working in VFX than ever. Budgets for VFX alone on single films are larger than what most major Hollywood studios used to spend in a whole year. Or years.

What you are hearing is typical industry bullshit. "A raise? You're lucky to have a job at all. If you don't want to do this work at substandard wages, there is a line of people waiting to take your job. We can export your work to Korea and have a dozen guys working for what we pay you." That is one of the horrors of trade jobs in the film industry. That is how the studios exploit people who compete for jobs, to make them feel grateful to have a job at all.

Moreover, this is typical management union-busting behavior. And the movie industry is heavily unionized. Its history is legendary. Just look at the history of one of the unions mentioned in that article, IATSE Local 839, The Animation Guild. Their blog is full of stories of studios complaining they can't pay union wages, while making hundreds of millions of bucks on big budget VFX movies. And yet, more and more people are needed to keep up with all the VFX work, and the studios keep pretending they have no budget.

Well look what happens when you push too hard. You exploit your workers and then when you get into a crunch, when budgets are tight and deadlines short (like always) then the workers can rise up and fight back.

This is the fulcrum of power in Hollywood today. VFX workers are the core of the industry, they just haven't yet realized they have the power. So the studios are trying to keep them down with ridiculous stories about the "dwindling effects industry." VFX developed spontaneously as a new work category that didn't fall under existing unions, so the studios cracked the whip and exploited the hell out of them. That is what the Variety article is about.

What the Matte World stuff is about, is just plain old obsolescence. The one part of the VFX industry that is dwindling is their specialty, like model making and matte painting. They will join other obsolete technologies, like manufacturing film cameras, or even manufacturing film.
posted by charlie don't surf at 7:13 PM on August 28, 2012 [4 favorites]

I think that the issue is the VFX industry is dwindling in the US - since it's so easy to communicate globally these days, production doesn't have to keep the work in hollywood, so there is that much more competition. The lowering of hardware and software costs also means that smaller companies and independent contractors can compete as well, which is also hard on the big companies.
posted by 5_13_23_42_69_666 at 7:39 PM on August 28, 2012

From Matte World's farewell announcement:
...The company, based in Marin County, California, and formed in 1988 as Matte World by visual effects supervisor Craig Barron, matte painter Michael Pangrazio, and effects producer Krys Demkowicz, literally shut down on August 8, 2012, when the studio's main computer servers were turned off. Barron likened what happened next to the death throes of the talking HAL computer in 2001: A Space Odyssey.

"Just like HAL, it audibly protested with warnings, announced the starting of backups and even made calls to my cell phone asking for help. Its final words, seemingly accepting its fate, were, 'Have a nice day. Goodbye.'
And so could many data Daisy-based companies end, not with a bang, but with an electronic whimper. It's hard to hold onto electrons for very long.
posted by cenoxo at 7:57 PM on August 28, 2012

The top 50 list is an intriguing article that could benefit from some better hi-res versions of the paintings; but considering so few of them exist anymore, or were properly archived, then we should be lucky with what we have.
posted by John Shaft at 7:59 PM on August 28, 2012

"A raise? You're lucky to have a job at all. If you don't want to do this work at substandard wages, there is a line of people waiting to take your job. We can export your work to Korea and have a dozen guys working for what we pay you."

The way around that is to be absolutely the best in whatever niche in which you excel. Prisms artists doing natural phenomenon are still highly valued as are the fantastically good Nuke artists and colorists but, more and more, even those are getting edges out by the folks in India. If you are young, a great FX supervisor and don't mind living in India, you can, as an American, make a great living but if you are a 55 year old master, you are done.
posted by bz at 8:05 PM on August 28, 2012

The shame is that the better you are at effects work, then the public won't demand to see more of your work, because they won't be able to tell you worked on it at all. The best visual effects are the ones that don't look like effects at all.
posted by CarlRossi at 8:49 PM on August 28, 2012 [1 favorite]

exactly CarlRossi! welcome to my life...
posted by 5_13_23_42_69_666 at 9:10 PM on August 28, 2012

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posted by w0mbat at 9:35 PM on August 28, 2012

5_13_23_42_69_666: is there another Flame artist on here?!
posted by higginba at 9:40 PM on August 28, 2012

The best visual effects are the ones that don't look like effects at all.

Depends on what you consider "best." Ray Harryhausen's stop-motion beasties don't look "real," but I could watch them all day.

Special effects makeup seems to be suffering too. I have a friend of a friend in the business, and it sounds like they're hurting for work as the studios increasingly opt for CGI monsters over the classic latex makeup jobs.
posted by Ursula Hitler at 10:12 PM on August 28, 2012 [1 favorite]

posted by 5_13_23_42_69_666 at 1:31 AM on August 29, 2012

It's always interesting to be reminded how many FX there are in movies you don't think of as "effects movies". Like the mention of Gone With The Wind in this article, or Roger Ebert's Citizen Kane commentary where he points out that there are special effects in about 3/4 of the shots in that film.
posted by ThatFuzzyBastard at 8:17 PM on August 29, 2012

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