Friday, 5 November 2021


Harrison Ellenshaw at ILM with his Bespin core matte painting.

Luke's suicidal fall soon takes him to a point where he is sucked into another type of air shaft and a further rapid descent towards an unknown destination...

Harrison Ellenshaw talks about his involvement on Empire...

"I finished working on 'The Black Hole' on a Friday, and Monday I was here, ready to begin on 'The Empire Strikes Back'"

Star Wars had a small budget, so George had to be very concerned where every dollar went; that, more than anything else explains the small number of matte shots." 

"Empire' is far more ambitious visually than 'Star Wars,' which means about 50 matte shots this time around. Much of the shooting was done on location to simulate the snow planet. Only a small percentage of the film takes place in space, with most of it in 'familiar' surroundings. 'Empire' is a completely different departure for me; It has it's own unique look to it. I'm scared, because I'm afraid many of the matte shots will look like matte shots because you'll know what we've done can't be done any other way. I fear they will be evident. Fortunately, there is a tone established very early in the film which will cause a suspension of disbelief; hopefully, believing in the fantasy of it all will make the mattes less noticeable, or at least less bothersome."

Luke's eventual suicide fall, as captured in storyboard by Ivor Beddoes.

"Matte painting is a tedious business, often taking up to 50 man-hours to complete a single matte; I will often work on ten, fifteen, as many as 20 paintings at one time, constantly improving, changing... preparing the work for film use. Ralph (McQuarrie)
 who hasn't previously preparing the work for film use. Ralph (McQuarrie) who hasn't previously worked a lot on mattes, takes a different approach with 'Empire', his are of such detail and complexity that he is forced to work through from beginning to end on each individual matte. Without him, I don't think we could have made the deadlines"

'The Empire Strikes Back' is one of the most fully documented films ever made; records are kept of every step of the operation, and each matte (which would ordinarily be scraped clean for use on the next picture) is preserved. 

"It's a pain in the ass, but you accept it for 2 reasons; one, it's a bit of an ego trip, because someone's taking a picture of something you're doing and it's always nice to know that someone is taking an interest in what you do... two, you know it's good for the film."

"Something different is being done in the case of 'Empire'. Four-by-Five transparencies are being shot of the paintings, and then being composited with the live-action, so the quality is much better than what you'd ordinarily get from a frame blow-up; It's not as grainy, and it really looks slick."

"I like to work with George, and I hope to continue to do so."

Questor magazine - August 1980

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