Craig Barron

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Craig Barron
Barron photo.jpeg
Born April 6, 1961
Berkeley, California, US
Occupation Visual effects supervisor
Years active 1979 – present
Matte World Digital

Craig Barron (born April 6, 1961)[1] is an American visual-effects supervisor who specializes in seamless matte painting effects. He is also a filmmaker, entrepreneur, and film historian. Barron is a member of the Academy Board of Governors, representing the visual effects branch.[2]


Craig Barron was born in Berkeley, California in 1961. He's been creating cinematic illusions for more than 25 years, contributing to the visual effects of more than 100 films. Some of these VFX scenes include the secret government warehouse at the end of Raiders of the Lost Ark,[3] the Gotham City skyline of Batman Returns, the 1970s-era Las Vegas strip in Casino, the Carpathia rescue ship at the end of Titanic, and 1970s-era San Francisco in Zodiac. In 2009, Barron won Academy and BAFTA Awards for achievement in visual effects for his work on The Curious Case of Benjamin Button.[4][5]

Early career[edit]

Barron started working at Industrial Light & Magic (ILM) at age 18--then the youngest person at ILM--to work on the matte-effects photography for George Lucas' Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back.[6] At ILM Barron would continue to composite matte-painting scenes on such landmark productions as Raiders of the Lost Ark and E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial. From 1984 to 1988 he was supervisor of photography at ILM’s matte department.[7]

Matte World Digital[edit]

In 1988, Barron co-founded Matte World with matte painter Michael Pangrazio[8] and executive producer Krystyna Demkowicz. The company provided realistic matte-painting effects to clients in the entertainment industry. Barron renamed the company Matte World Digital in 1992 to reflect the new technological tools available to matte painters. MWD created digital-matte environments for feature films, television, electronic games, and IMAX large-format productions.

Matte World Digital served the visions of such filmmakers as Martin Scorsese, Francis Ford Coppola, James Cameron, and David Fincher. In 1990, Barron and members of the MWD crew won an Emmy for Outstanding Visual Effects for the HBO production By Dawn’s Early Light.[9] Its feature-film work ranged from the traditional painted-on-glass matte work of Batman Returns,[10] to the digital effects of Hugo, Captain America: The First Avenger, Zodiac, and The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, which won the Academy Award for achievement in visual effects in 2009.

In 2012, MWD closed after 24 years of service.[11] The last shots worked on at MWD were for Martin Scorsese's Hugo.

Independent film work[edit]

Barron directed the science-fiction short, The Utilizer and a companion "making of" documentary, both of which were broadcast on the Sci-Fi Channel in 1996. The Utilizer won a number of film-festival awards, including best special effects at the Chicago International Film Festival.[12]

Barron is a founding member of the Visual Effects Society (VES), formed in 1997 to represent VFX producers in film, television and video games. In 2013, he received the VES Founders Award. He serves on the VES Board for 2014/15.[13]


Early in his career at ILM, Barron's interest in traditional matte-painting techniques led him to interview retired matte painters and technicians, who revealed the secrets of their visual-effects shots in studio-production films for the first time. Barron's interviews focused on the art and craft of this until-then hidden technology in such classic films as Citizen Kane, Gone With the Wind, and The Wizard of Oz.[14] His oral history of movie-making, along with a growing collection of VFX film clips, movie stills, and behind-the-scenes photographs, led Barron to co-write with Mark Cotta Vaz the first comprehensive film history book of matte painting, The Invisible Art: The Legends of Movie Matte Painting, published by Chronicle Books in 2002. Christopher Benfey's New York Times' review calls the book eye-opening, saying it "increases our wonder at this heretofore 'invisible art.'"[15]

Lectures and presentations[edit]

Barron is an ongoing lecturer for the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences Theater Programs. Since 2006, he has presented public screenings, often partnering with sound designer Ben Burtt, demonstrating the art of matte painting and VFX techniques of classic films such as Modern Times, The Rains Came, The Adventures of Robin Hood, and Gunga Din.[16][17][18][19]

In the 2010 Academy screening of "Me Tarzan, You Technology," Barron demonstrated how the MGM visual effects crews of the 1930s Tarzan films used rear-projection and matte paintings to create what film critic Leonard Maltin describes as a vivid atmosphere with majestic settings.[20][21]

Barron and Burtt teamed up again in 2011 in Los Angeles for an Academy screening of Forbidden Planet, the 1956 science-fiction film known for its groundbreaking visual effects and sound design. Barron and Burtt rediscovered and presented rare miniatures, production designs, props and analog source tapes from the electronic soundtrack of the film. This collection was included in an exhibit entitled, "Mysteries of the Krell" in conjunction with the movie presentation. Artifacts from the movie in the gallery show included the original Robby the Robot prop.[22]

Aviation enthusiasts Barron and Burtt (Barron has done acrobatic flying) spent three years unearthing airplane miniatures, soundtracks and rare 1920s flight-footage compiled by stunt flier and "crack-up artist" Dick Grace for "Hollywood Takes to the Air," a four-day Academy presentation in August, 2014. The first recorded flight by the Wright Brothers coincided with Edwin S. Porter's 1903 film, The Great Train Robbery and flight action sequences have been popular in film ever since. The presentation included the rarely screened 1928 WWI film, Lilac Time, with Colleen Moore and Gary Cooper, featuring Grace's stunt work, crashing the plane on cue and on mark for the camera.[23][24]

VFX Documentaries[edit]

Barron provides interviews and 3D effects demonstrations in a number of Criterion's Blu-ray documentary supplements for classic silent comedies. In A Bucket of Water and a Glass Matte, on the 2010 release of Charlie Chaplin's Modern Times, he and Ben Burtt demonstrate Chaplin's use of miniatures and sound effects in the film's factory and roller-skating scenes. The 2013 release of Chaplin's City Lights features an interview with Barron, who talks about Chaplin's studio and the large sets he created to give the illusion of outdoor locations. In Locations and Effects on the 2013 release of Harold Lloyd's Safety Last!, Barron and film writer John Bengtson examine the illusion of height in Lloyd's famous "building climb" scene. They visit the location of the original film-shoot and Barron demonstrates the effect with computer-animation.[25][26][27]

The 2014 Criterion Blu-ray release of Alfred Hitchcock's Foreign Correspondent, features Barron in a supplemental film illustrating the techniques used for the Oscar-nominated visual effects by Paul Eagler and Thomas T. Moulton. Several scenes are explored including the climactic airplane-over-the-sea sequence.[28]

Current VFX work[edit]

In 2013, Barron worked at Tippett Studio, developing digital matte painting environments for film and commercial productions, alongside his former co-worker on earlier Star Wars films, Phil Tippett.[29]

Barron is creative director at Magnopus, a visual research and development company that was started in 2014 and is based in downtown Los Angeles.[30] The company name is a consolidation of "Magnum Opus" ("Great Work" in Latin).


Matte World Digital was the first in the industry to apply radiosity rendering to film in Martin Scorsese’s Casino.[31] Barron's VFX crew collaborated with software company, LightScape, to simulate the indirect bounce-light effect of millions of neon lights of the 1970s-era Las Vegas strip.[32] Significantly, radiosity rendering provided a true simulation of bounce-light in a computer-generated environment.[33]

To recreate 1970s-era San Francisco in David Fincher's Zodiac, MWD shot digital images of existing city-building textures, then added painted period details for establishing shots. One such shot includes the Embarcadero Freeway alongside the Ferry Building and San Francisco Bay. The freeway had been demolished after the 1989 Loma Prieta Earthquake but was digitally "rebuilt" to visually set the time-frame for the film. To show time passing within the era, CG lighting techniques were applied for an animated sequence showing the Transamerica Pyramid being built. The shot was based on research Barron had done using historical photographs and architectural drawings.[34]

Barron worked with Fincher again, creating several digital matte-painting environments at MWD for the 2008 film, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button. The interior of the film's New Orleans train station would change and deteriorate throughout 29 shots representing different eras. MWD built one 3D station model and aged it using Next Limit's Maxwell rendering software. The software is generally an architectural visualization and product-design tool. The software was revamped by MWD to mimic real-world lighting as seen from multiple angles and light sources.[35]

Awards and honors[edit]

Film and television awards

  • Emmy for outstanding visual effects - By Dawn’s Early Light, 1990.
  • Nominated for Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences and BAFTA Awards for achievement in visual effects - Batman Returns, 1992.
  • Gold Plaque for best special effects, Chicago International Film Festival - The Utilizer, 1996.
  • Nominated for BAFTA for achievement in special visual effects for The Truman Show, 1999.
  • Nominated for VES Award for outstanding visual effects in a special venue project for Greece: Secrets of the Past, 2006.
  • Nominated for VES Award for outstanding visual effects in a motion picture for Zodiac, 2007.
  • Oscar and BAFTA Awards for achievement in visual effects - The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, 2009.
  • Visual Effects Society Founders Award, 2013


  • Outstanding Book on Film award from the Theatre Library Association of New York - The Invisible Art: The Legends of Movie Matte Painting, co-authored with Mark Cotta Vaz, 2002.
  • Golden Pen book award from Theatre Technology – The Invisible Art, 2002.



  • The Invisible Art: The Legends of Movie Matte Painting by Craig Barron and Mark Cotta Vaz, Chronicle Books, 2002; ISBN 0-8118-4515-X
  • Matte Painting in the Digital Age – transcript from Craig Barron's speech for SIGGRAPH's "Invisible Effects" series, July 23, 1998

Selected filmography[edit]


  1. ^ According to the State of California. California Birth Index, 1905–1995. Center for Health Statistics, California Department of Health Services, Sacramento, California. Searchable at
  2. ^ Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences Board of Governors 2008–2009
  3. ^ Rickitt, Richard; Special Effects: The History and Technique, Billboard Books; 2nd edition, 2007; pp. 202–203 ISBN 0-8230-7733-0
  4. ^ The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences achievement in visual effects – Eric Barba, Steve Preeg, Burt Dalton and Craig Barron (“The Curious Case of Benjamin Button”)
  5. ^ British Academy of Film and Television Awards – Film Winners in 2009
  6. ^ Cotta Vaz, Mark and Barron, Craig (2002) The Invisible Art: The Legends of Movie Matte Painting, Chronicle Books, p. 197 ISBN 0-8118-4515-X
  7. ^ Biography for Craig Barron at the Internet Movie Database
  8. ^ Cotta Vaz and Barron, p. 212
  9. ^ Cotta Vaz and Barron, p. 213
  10. ^ Academy Awards Database
  11. ^ Matte World Digital Farewell
  12. ^ Awards for Craig Barron at the Internet Movie Database
  13. ^ VES Board of Directors
  14. ^ Braun, Cassandra (March 2, 2002) Contra Costa Times "In the spotlight – Book explores movie magic"
  15. ^ Benfey, Christopher (December 8, 2002) New York Times "Art"
  16. ^ Soares, Andrew (October 23, 2012) Alt Film Guide "Fantastic Reality: The Magic and Mystery of Movie Matte Painting"
  17. ^ CGSociety | The Rains Came - Special Screening
  18. ^ AMPAS | The Adventures of Robin Hood hosted by Craig Barron and Ben Burtt
  19. ^ AMPAS | Techno Chaplin: Modern Times
  20. ^ Maltin, Leonard (October 26, 2010) Indie Wire "Tarzan Swings Again"
  21. ^ AMPAS | Me Tarzan, You Technology: The Magic of Tarzan in the Movies
  22. ^ AMPAS | Mysteries of the Krell: Making the Sci-Fi Epic "Forbidden Planet"
  23. ^ King, Susan (August 14, 2014) "'Hollywood Takes to the Air' explores aviation's long history in film", Los Angeles Times
  24. ^ Giardina, Carolyn (August 15, 2014) "'Star Wars' Visual Storyboard Highlights Academy Program", The Hollywood Reporter
  25. ^ Galloway, Chris (November 25, 2010) Criterion Forum "Modern Times Blu-ray"
  26. ^ Galloway, Chris (November 28, 2013) Criterion Forum "City Lights Dual-Format Edition Review" Chaplin Studios: Creative Freedom by Design, featuring Craig Barron
  27. ^ Galloway, Chris (June 9, 2013) Criterion Forum "Safety Last! Review"
  28. ^ Maltin, Leonard (February 26, 2014) Indie Wire "Underrated Hitchcock"
  29. ^ Roman, Jules (January 31, 2013) Tippett Studio Newsletter "Barron Meets The Tippett"
  30. ^ Abramian, Alexandria (January 23, 2014) "The Hollywood Reporter" "New VFX Firm Magnopus Sets Up in Downtown L.A."
  31. ^ Rickitt, Richard, p. 209
  32. ^ Barron, Craig (1998) SIGGRAPH "Matte Painting in the Digital Age - 3-D Lighting Techniques"
  33. ^ Cotta Vaz and Barron, pp. 244–248
  34. ^ Robertson, Barbara (March 15, 2007), Studio Daily "Memories of Murder: VFX for Zodiac – Recreating 1970s San Francisco for Director David Fincher"
  35. ^ Duncan, Jody (January, 2009) Cinefex No. 116 "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button,", pgs. 94–96
  36. ^ Robinson, Anna (October 26, 2010) Alt Film Guide "Caleb Deschanel, Craig Barron, Randal Kleiser Join Academy’s Science and Technology Council"

External links[edit]