The Shot Behind the Shot: A glass matte painting from Escape From New York (1981)
Before the days of digital set extensions and computerized world building, movies pulled off the same tricks with brush strokes and paint. Here’s a breakdown of how glass matte paintings were done in the pre-digital age with a look at a shot from Escape From New York (1981). The two behind the scenes images come from the book On Set with John Carpenter and were taken by photographer Kim Gottlieb-Walker, who we interviewed earlier this week.
(Above) A young James Cameron, who served as a matte painter and special effects artist on the film, paints a cityscape on a sheet of glass affixed to a wooden frame.
(Below) That sheet of glass is lined up with the live action foreground elements. When the camera shoots through the sheet of glass, the matte painting and live action portions of the frame are combined into a single image. The result can be seen in the final pic below.