Craig Barron

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Craig Barron
Barron photo.jpeg
Born April 6, 1961
Berkeley, California, US
Occupation Creative Director/Film Historian
Years active 1979 – present
Website Magnopus

Craig Barron (born April 6, 1961)[1] is an American creative director and film historian who specializes in seamless matte painting effects.


Early career[edit]

Craig Barron was born in Berkeley, California. He began working at Industrial Light & Magic (ILM) in 1979 at age 18—then the youngest person at ILM—assisting with the matte-effects photography for George Lucas' Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back.[2] At ILM Barron would continue to composite matte-painting scenes on such landmark productions as Raiders of the Lost Ark (including the last shot of the secret government warehouse)[3] and E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial. From 1984 to 1988 he was supervisor of photography at ILM’s matte department.[4]

Matte World Digital[edit]

In 1988, Barron co-founded Matte World with matte painter Michael Pangrazio[5] and executive producer Krystyna Demkowicz. The company provided realistic matte-painting effects to clients in the entertainment industry. 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.[6] 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 directors including as Martin Scorsese, Francis Ford Coppola, James Cameron, and David Fincher. Its feature-film work ranged from the traditional painted-on-glass matte work of Batman Returns,[7] to the digital effects of Hugo, Captain America: The First Avenger, Zodiac, and The Curious Case of Benjamin Button.

During MWD's nearly 25-year run, Barron contributed to the visual effects of more than 100 films. Some of these VFX scenes include 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.[8][9]

In 2012, MWD closed after 24 years of service.[10] The company's last project was a series of shots 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 best special effects at the Chicago International Film Festival.[11]

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.[12]


Early in his career at ILM, Barron's interest in traditional matte-painting techniques led him to interview retired matte painters and technicians, who for the first time in their careers revealed the secrets of their visual-effects shots in studio-production films. 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.[13] 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 called the book eye-opening in that it "increases our wonder at this heretofore 'invisible art.'"[14]

Academia and presentations[edit]

Barron is an ongoing lecturer for the AMPAS Theater Programs. Since 2006, he's 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.[15][16][17][18] The duo have hosted Academy programs on the TCM Network.[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 in the gallery show included the original Robby the Robot.[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, making flight-action sequences popular in film ever since. The rarely screened 1928 WWI film, Lilac Time, with Colleen Moore and Gary Cooper, was screened, featuring Grace's stunt work, crashing the plane on cue and on mark for the camera.[23][24]

Barron teaches "The World of VFX" course at the USC School Of Cinematic Arts.[25] He is co-chair of the AMPAS Science & Technology Council.[26]

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.[27][28][29]

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.[30]

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.[31]

Barron is creative director at Magnopus, a visual research and development company, started in 2014 and based in downtown Los Angeles.[32] 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.[33] 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.[34] Significantly, radiosity rendering provided a true simulation of bounce-light in a computer-generated environment.[35]

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. Barron researched archival photographs and architectural drawings for the shot.[36]

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. MWD revamped the software to mimic real-world lighting as seen from multiple angles and light sources.[37]

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


  • Honorary Doctoral of letters, Ph.D, Academy of Art College, San Francisco, 1979
  • Member of the American Society of Cinematographers
  • Founding member of the Visual Effects Society
  • Nine years as Academy Board of Governors member, representing the visual effects branch[38]
  • Co-chair (with Paul Debevec) of AMPAS Science & Technology Council


  • 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. ^ Cotta Vaz, Mark; Barron, Craig (2002). The Invisible Art: The Legends of Movie Matte Painting. Chronicle Books. p. 197. ISBN 0-8118-4515-X. 
  3. ^ Rickitt, Richard; Special Effects: The History and Technique, Billboard Books; 2nd edition, 2007; pp. 202–203 ISBN 0-8230-7733-0
  4. ^ Biography for Craig Barron at the Internet Movie Database
  5. ^ Cotta Vaz and Barron, p. 212
  6. ^ Cotta Vaz and Barron, p. 213
  7. ^ Academy Awards Database
  8. ^ 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”)
  9. ^ British Academy of Film and Television Awards – Film Winners in 2009
  10. ^ Matte World Digital Farewell
  11. ^ Awards for Craig Barron at the Internet Movie Database
  12. ^ VES Board of Directors
  13. ^ Braun, Cassandra (March 2, 2002) "In the spotlight – Book explores movie magic," Contra Costa Times
  14. ^ Benfey, Christopher (December 8, 2002) "Art" New York Times
  15. ^ Soares, Andrew (October 23, 2012) "Fantastic Reality: The Magic and Mystery of Movie Matte Painting" Alt Film Guide
  16. ^ CGSociety | The Rains Came - Special Screening
  17. ^ AMPAS | The Adventures of Robin Hood hosted by Craig Barron and Ben Burtt
  18. ^ AMPAS | Techno Chaplin: Modern Times
  19. ^ "The Science of Movie Making" Hosted by Ben Burtt & Craig Barron. Retrieved August 31, 2015
  20. ^ Maltin, Leonard (October 26, 2010) "Tarzan Swings Again" Indie Wire
  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. ^ Craig Barron, Adjunct Faculty, USC School of Cinematic Arts
  26. ^ AMPAS Sci-Tech Council - Council Members
  27. ^ Galloway, Chris (November 25, 2010) "Modern Times Blu-ray" Criterion Forum
  28. ^ Galloway, Chris (November 28, 2013) "City Lights Dual-Format Edition Review", Chaplin Studios: Creative Freedom by Design, featuring Craig Barron Criterion Forum
  29. ^ Galloway, Chris (June 9, 2013) "Safety Last! Review" Criterion Forum
  30. ^ Maltin, Leonard (February 26, 2014) "Underrated Hitchcock" Indie Wire
  31. ^ Roman, Jules (January 31, 2013) "Barron Meets The Tippett" Tippett Studio Newsletter
  32. ^ Abramian, Alexandria (January 23, 2014) "New VFX Firm Magnopus Sets Up in Downtown L.A." "The Hollywood Reporter"
  33. ^ Rickitt, Richard, p. 209
  34. ^ Barron, Craig (1998) SIGGRAPH "Matte Painting in the Digital Age - 3-D Lighting Techniques"
  35. ^ Cotta Vaz and Barron, pp. 244–248
  36. ^ Robertson, Barbara (March 15, 2007),"Memories of Murder: VFX for Zodiac – Recreating 1970s San Francisco for Director David Fincher" Studio Daily
  37. ^ Duncan, Jody (January, 2009) "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button,", Cinefex No. 116, pgs. 94–96
  38. ^ Robinson, Anna (October 26, 2010) "Caleb Deschanel, Craig Barron, Randal Kleiser Join Academy’s Science and Technology Council" Alt Film Guide

External links[edit]