The Art of the Hollywood Backdrop
The definitive behind-the-scenes history of one of Hollywood’s most closely guarded cinematic secrets finally revealed—painted backdrops and the scenic artists who brought them to the big screen.
In almost every feature film of Hollywood’s golden age, from Wizard of Oz to North by Northwest to Cleopatra to The Sound of Music, painted backings have convinced moviegoers that what they are seeing—whether the fantastic roads of Oz, the presidents of Mount Rushmore, or ancient Egyptian kingdoms—is absolutely real. These backings are at once intended to transport the audience and yet remain unseen for what they really are. The Art of the Hollywood Backdrop reveals the hidden world and creators of these masterpieces, long-guarded as a special effects secret by the major studios such as MGM, Warner Brothers, Universal, Columbia, 20th Century Fox, and Paramount.
Despite the continued use of hand-painted backings in today’s films, including the big-budget Interstellar and Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events among many others, digital technology is beginning to supplant the art form. In an effort to preserve the irreplaceable knowledge of scenic masters, Karen Maness and Richard Isackes have compiled a definitive history of the craft, complete with interviews of the surviving artists. This is a rich undiscovered history—a history replete with competing art departments, dynastic scenic families, and origins stretching back to the films of Méliès, Edison, Sennett, Chaplin, and Fairbanks.
Behind The Scenes
The Art of the Hollywood Backdrop
Oscars weekend at the Getty
Join me in celebrating Academy Awards weekend at The Getty. Come for an in-depth look into the research from The Art of the Hollywood Backdrop, and an introduction to the scenic art masters responsible for some of cinematic history's most iconic images. Saturday February 25th at 1:00pm.Free and open to the public. Event is ticketed. Book today! Please plan ahead for traffic and the wait time for the tram ride up to the museum.
GOOD MORNING AMERICA-2016 Must Read
We are beyond thrilled that Good Morning America Anchor Lara Spencer selected The Art of the Hollywood Backdrop as one of her 2016 GMA Holiday "Must Reads"A huge holiday gift. So grateful.
Austin Chronicle Gift LIST 2016
Painters are responsible for many of film's most iconic scenes: the soft fog behind Maria and Captain Von Trapp in The Sound of Music, the New York City skyline behind the Ghostbusters, and even the out-of-this-world atmospheres in Interstellar. The artistry of large-scale backdrop paintings has been overshadowed by the glow of digital imaging, but a renewed appreciation for artisanal creations has spurred their use again. In partnership with the Art Directors Guild, co-authors and UT professors Richard M. Isackes and Karen L. Maness celebrate the legacy by creating the first, and what will likely be the major, archival document of Hollywood scene paintings. "It's very exciting to have the opportunity to correct this vacuum in the history of cinema in Hollywood," says Maness. See full article here
Great Article by Hyperallergic
Thank you Hyperallergic for the great article! "When backdrop painters were successful at their jobs, the filmgoing audience didn’t notice their work at all. From the 1930s, up to the emergence of CGI and higher quality photography, painted backings were an essential part of the cinema industry. However, the artists were barely credited, no matter how important their transformation of reality was to a film — whether a colossal painting that transported the viewer to an exotic locale or a fantastic mural for an entirely fictional realm. ..." Read the whole article here.
Karen L. Maness
Artist, Educator & Author
Standing in front of a backdrop for
"Gut Girls" painted at Texas Performing Arts.