Your eyes — and Hollywood — have been deceiving you.
The picture-perfect backgrounds in some of Hollywood’s biggest hits look convincingly real — but they’re actually paintings.
Before movie directors began using green screens and high-tech special effects to bring viewers to new locations, they relied on artists to paint elaborate, and convincing, backdrops.
In a new book, two UT Austin faculty members look at this rich, previously undiscovered part of Hollywood history. Take a look at The Art of the HollyWood Backdrop:
Have you ever thought the background of a movie looked like a picture? It might have been.
In almost every feature film of Hollywood’s golden age, large-scale, meticulously rendered, hand-painted scenic backdrops transported moviegoers to imagined lands. These remarkable paintings blended into the scene unnoticed, convincing viewers that what they were seeing were absolutely real.
Before green screens, artists painted backdrops for some of Hollywood’s biggest hits…
These artists brought a unique intensity and fine-arts sensibility to the film industry while painting colossal panoramas at record speeds in spite of dangerous physical challenges. Amazingly, though, the paintings’ artists were never credited on screen, and there has never been an award at the Academy Awards to honor their achievement.
…and they still do today.
Despite the continued use of hand-painted backings in today’s films — including big-budget movies Interstellar, Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events, and Hail Caesar!, among many others — digital technology is beginning to supplant this art form, and many of the master scenic artists are no longer working.
Two UT Austin faculty members researched The Art of the Hollywood Backdrop.
Richard M. Isackes, a professor of theater, and Karen L. Maness, the principal instructor of scenic art and figurative painting for the Department of Theatre and Dance, wrote a book about the artistic masterpieces behind iconic movies. Isackes has designed extensively in both regional theater and opera and has twice been the recipient of the Boston Circle Critics award for best scene design. Maness, who is also Scenic Art Supervisor at Texas Performing Arts, has worked as a scenic artist and practicing studio artist for more than 25 years, and her works are held in private collections worldwide.
Their new book shows movie lovers how these backdrops help set the scene…
The Art of the Hollywood Backdrop reveals, for the first time, the creators and hidden world of these unacknowledged masterpieces. The book pays homage to the scenic artists who helped bring magic to the big screen while also providing a priceless look at a rich, undiscovered part of Hollywood history—a history replete with competing studio art departments, dynastic scenic families.
…and honors the artists who created the masterpieces.
This book includes oral histories from the surviving artists or their family members in an attempt to unveil and preserve these artists’ stories and their irreplaceable knowledge of an extraordinary craft. Filled cover to cover with over 300 enchanting images of the painted backings, archival behind-the-scenes photographs of some of Hollywood’s greatest films, as well as original photos from the artists themselves.