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"The Forbidden Planet" came out in 1956, and there is a particular visual effects shot in the movie that was ground breaking at the time. Projecting live action onto a painted background, and I've always thought this was the first usage of this VFX technique in a motion picture. Particularly the way it was done, which I'm not sure how it was done, but I think it involved filming the live action with a painted glass plate as the background.

Here are the shots I'm referring to:

screen capture from The Forbidden Planet

screen capture from The Forbidden Planet

I found an interesting blog on the matte paints done for The Forbidden Planet. With some amazing work in progress shots of those scenes. I hadn't seen these before.

That article does point out on interesting point about one of those shots, and that was a MOVING CAMERA. I think this is what I was looking for, and might be the first time a moving camera was integrated with a live action matte painting effect.

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I had to watch Forbidden Planet again, and the mattes you reference are indeed combined with moving, live-action shots and enhanced with animated effects. I know that The Wizard of Oz predates Forbidden Planet by 17 years - and Metropolis predates it by 30 years.

Your link (and several others I followed) turned out to be quite fascinating and enlightening.

Ultimately though, I think the first use of rear projected matte paintings was by Georges Melies in his films from 1902 - 1904.

You can read more about his techniques here.

That said, if you are specifically looking for a film that includes a moving matte combined with live-action, then The Prodigal was released a year earlier in 1955.

One particular shot involves a large matte painting that is combined with a slow pan right to left and ends up in the bedroom of Lana Turner, all the while including live action plates that have been rear-projected into the scene.

enter image description here

  • I remember watching a documentary on the history of visual effects, and in it, I thought it mentioned that The Forbidden Planet used a new type of matte painting that was developed by Disney. This new technique would become mainstream well into the late 1980's, as it solved a lot of the problems associated with the techniques used in the films you stated. Sadly, that's all I remember. I have tried to google more about it but can't find any clear answer. – Reactgular Apr 1 '12 at 2:03
  • I think I recall that same documentary - it also went on to describe how the Disney animators created the 'ID' monster and added all the other effects like the rocket engines etc. perhaps I am barking up the wrong tree - I'll dig around... – Nobby Apr 1 '12 at 2:17
  • Although not the earliest I thought the use of rear projection for the plane crash into ocean in Hitchcock's Foreign Correspondent was very clever: hitchcockwiki.com/blog/?cat=101 – EdChum Apr 1 '12 at 19:46
  • I think the 1920s Ben Hur used a traveling matte effect to overlay live actors on footage of the collapsing Senate model. – supercat Sep 8 '16 at 15:57

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