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Warren Newcombe

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Warren A. Newcombe (28 April 1894 – August 1960) provided special effects and visual effects for more than 200 Hollywood films between 1924 and 1957 — including the 1939 MGM production of The Wizard of Oz.

Born in Massachusetts, Newcombe studied at the Boston Normal Art School in 1914. He moved to New York City in 1918 and made his living as a commercial artist and portraitist. In Hollywood in the early 1920s, he produced and directed two movies before settling into the cinematic specialty of visual effects. (His film The Enchanted City, 1922, was an innovative blend of live action and animation.)[1] After a short period working with D. W. Griffith, he took a job with MGM in 1925.

On the Oz film as for many other MGM projects, Newcombe worked under Buddy Gillespie, the studio's special effects supervisor. Newcombe headed the Matte Department; his specialty was matte painting, a technique that provided backgrounds to scenes and shots that could not be economically accomplished with any other technique. A famous example is when the four protagonists in the Oz film leave the deadly poppy field and march down the Yellow Brick Road toward the Emerald City, which is seen towering and gleaming in the distance. In that double-exposure composite shot, the City on the horizon was a matte painting. Newcombe supervised a staff of painters who produced a host of mattes for The Wizard of Oz. The castle of the Wicked Witch of the West, and several scenes within the Emerald City, also involved matte paintings.

Newcombe developed his own special technique for making matte paintings. Standard mattes were painted on pieces of glass; Newcombe's innovation involved creating mattes with crayon pastels on sheets of black cardboard. The mattes for Oz were done on large panels, four feet wide.[2] Shots involving Newcombe's mattes came to be called "Newcombe shots." For a time the technique was regarded as "top secret" at the MGM studio.

Newcombe worked on a wide variety of noteworthy movies, from Tarzan the Ape Man (1932) and National Velvet (1944) to Brigadoon (1954) and Forbidden Planet (1956). He shared in the Academy Awards for special effects given to Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo (1944) and Green Dolphin Street (1947).

Newcombe painted in his spare time, and had several one-man shows in the 1920s and '30s. He retired from MGM in 1957, and died mysteriously in Mexico in 1960.[3]

References

  1. Wheeler Winston-Dixon and Gwendolyn Audrey Foster, eds., Experimental Cinema: The Film Reader, Routledge, 2002; p. 33.
  2. Aljean Harmetz, The Making of the Wizard of Oz, New York, Delta edition, 1989; p. 255.
  3. Mark Cotta Vaz and Craig Barron, The Invisible Art: The Legends of Movie Matte Painting, San Francisco, Chronicle Books, 2002; pp. 80-1.

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