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          the art of the hollywood backdrop
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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.

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KAREN L. MANESS

Artist, Educator & Author


Standing in front of a backdrop for "Gut Girls" Painted at Texas Performing Arts. 


“To see all my heroes in one book and look inside this enchanting world is extraordinary. A truly inspiring book.” 

JESS GONCHOR

Production Designer of True Grit, No Country for Old Men, and Hail, Caesar!


"The fascinating scenic work documented so gorgeously here is vivid testimony to the critical role of the artist in the creation of expressive, immersive narrative environments throughout the history of cinema. We can begin to appreciate perhaps what we are now losing: the hand of the artist illuminated by the cinematographer’s light and captured on camera at the moment of performance."

RICK HEINRICHS

Academy Award–winning production designer of Sleepy Hollow 


"What an astonishing achievement this spectacular volume is! It’s an amazing treat that we, who love the movies, are being presented with. Massive congratulations are due to all who contributed to making this 'dream-work' such a totally absorbing reality.”

 TONY WALTON

Academy Award–winning production designer of All That Jazz

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