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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 The 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, in collaboration with the Art Directors Guild, 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.
Filled cover to cover with over 300 images,The Art of the Hollywood Backdrop is beautifully packaged as a hardcover book with slipcase.
Karen Maness is the principal instructor of scenic art, figurative painting, and costume rendering for the University of Texas at Austin, Department of Theatre & Dance, and Charge Scenic Artist at Texas Performing Arts. Maness studied studio art and set design at Whittier College in Los Angeles, California and continued her studies at Cobalt Studios in White Lake, New York, and The Florence Academy of Art in Italy. Her career as a scenic artist and practicing studio artist spanned more than twenty-five years.
Richard Isackes is currently a professor of theater at the University of Texas at Austin. 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. Formerly a member of the faculties of Bucknell University, Boston University and the University of Illinois, he currently holds the Joanne Sharpe Crosby Chair in Design and Technology at the University of Texas where he served as Chair of the Department of Theatre and Dance from 1998 to 2006.