Walter Percy Day

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Walter Percy Day O.B.E. (1878–1965) was a British painter best remembered for his work as a matte artist and special effects technician in the film industry. Professional names include W. Percy Day; Percy Day; “Pop” or “Poppa” Day, owing to his collaboration with sons Arthur George Day (1909–1952) draughtsman, Thomas Sydney Day (1912–1985), stills photographer and cameraman, and stepson, Peter Ellenshaw, who also worked in this field.

Early life[edit]

Walter Percy Day was born in Luton (Bedfordshire) to Eli Day and Lucy Day, née Crawley, the second of three children. From 1908 to 1912, he resided in Tunisia, at Sidi Bou Saïd and Tunis, where he pursued a career as a painter of portraits and Orientalist scenes. The dramatic consequences of the “affaire du Jellaz” uprising obliged the family to return to Britain early in 1912.

The silent film era[edit]

In 1919, at Ideal Films Studios in Borehamwood, near Elstree Day mastered the art of illusionist techniques. Special effects such as those produced by Day enabled directors to enlarge their repertoire and to tackle subjects which might otherwise have been too costly to produce. In 1922, he relocated to France to its more vibrant cinema. There he introduced the use of the glass shot into French cinema. Used for the first time in Henry Roussell's Les Opprimés, released in 1923, the process was hailed by a critic as a revolution in cinematography.[1] Among the directors with whom Day collaborated during the twenties were Jean Renoir, Raymond Bernard, Julien Duvivier, and Abel Gance. In addition to creating visual effects for Napoléon vu par Abel Gance, Day also played the role of the British general Admiral Hood in the film. From 1928, Day's studio became a team, when sons Arthur George Day (1909–1912) and Thomas Sydney Day (1912–1985) began to work for their father, the former as draughtsman and the latter as cameraman and stills photographer, starting with Léon Poirier's Verdun, visions d'histoire.

In the late 1920s, he learned a new technique while working at the Elstree studio on Alfred Hitchcock's The Ring, that used mirrors and angling to superimpose a miniature over a scene. The inventor, Eugen Shüfftan, whose office was opposite the studios, taught him the process directly.

When shooting the façade of the department store in Julien Duvivier's film, Au Bonheur des Dames (1929) proved to be an insurmountable difficulty, Day utilised the stationary matte, a process similar to that patented by Norman Dawn on 11 June 1918.[2]

In the British film industry[edit]

A meeting with Alexander Korda opened up new perspectives for the Day studio. Day worked with Korda on The Private Life of Henry VIII (1933) a film starring Charles Laughton. Day accordingly established a studio in Iver (Buckinghamshire) and from 1936, directed the matte department at Denham Studios. The artist painted mattes and created trick shots for numerous films by Korda and his stable of directors, who included his brother Zoltan Korda, Anthony Asquith, William Cameron Menzies (Things to Come, 1936), Michael Powell, Lothar Mendes and David Lean. In 1946 Day joined the Korda group as Director of Special Effects at Korda's new premises at Shepperton Studios where he remained until his retirement in 1954.

Poppa Day's team disbanded once World War II began as all three sons enlisted. Pop Day trained some promising young matte painters, including Wally Veevers, who took over the matte department at Shepperton Studios when Pop Day retired in 1952.

During the war, the film studios made a series of heroic war films, aimed at boosting the morale of the beleaguered British, including Powell and Pressburger's 49th Parallel (US: The Invaders, 1941), Noël Coward and David Lean's In Which We Serve (1942) and Leslie Howard's The First of the Few (US: Spitfire, also 1942]. In addition to designing special effects for these films, Day created trick photography for many other British classics released during the forties, including The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp (1943), A Matter of Life and Death [US: Stairway to Heaven, 1946], Anna Karenina (1948), and The Third Man (1949). In Laurence Olivier's production of Henry V (1944), many of the Agincourt battle scenes were painted on glass by Day, who contrived to make the horses' heads move, the pennants flutter and whirring motion of a flight of arrows in the completed shots. The Powell and Pressburger production of I Know Where I'm Going! (1945) contains a sequence in which the hero and heroine's boat gets sucked into the Corryvreckan whirlapool. Black Narcissus (1947) was shot entirely on the Pinewood Studios back lot with matte of the Himalayan mountain range painted by Day and his assistants.

In 1948, Day was awarded the O.B.E. for his services to British cinema. Cameraman Christopher Challis, has rendered homage to Percy Day's achievements: "Being able to marry painted backgrounds on glass to real action foregrounds opened up a new world to film makers… To appreciate the magnitude of his achievement, one has to understand the complexity of the work. Hours of painstaking labour with many retakes to obtain perfection. Now it is all too easy with computers and electronics and few people remain who can understand just how complicated it was. [Day’s] name should certainly be numbered among the great film pioneers, alongside Gaumont, Lumière, etc".[3] Michael Powell, for his part, hailed Percy Day as "the greatest trick-man and film wizard that I have ever known…"[4] Percy Day’s legacy was ranked by the British daily The Independent in 2008 as on a par with the great French special effects pioneer Georges Méliès.[5]


Day died in Los Angeles.

W. Percy Day filmography[edit]

Date of shooting followed by date of release

  • 1922 (1924) L’Arriviste/André Hugon
  • 1922 (1923) Les Opprimés/Henri Roussell
  • 1924 (1925) La terre promise/Henry Roussell
  • 1925 La princesse aux clowns/André Hugon
  • 1925 Destinée/Henry Roussell
  • 1925 Le bossu ou le petit parisien/Jean Kemm
  • 1925 La flamme/René Hervil
  • 1925 Salammbô/Pierre Maradon
  • 1925 (1926) Nana/Jean Renoir ; art direction Claude Autant-Lara
  • 1925 (1927) Napoléon vu par Abel Gance/Abel Gance
  • 1925 (1927) Autour de Napoléon. Abel Gance et son Napoléon (documentary)
  • 1926 Michel Strogoff/Viatcheslav Tourjansky ; Alexandre Lochakoff; Pierre Schildknecht
  • 1926 Le joueur d’échecs/Raymond Bernard
  • 1926 (1927) Belphégor/Henri Desfontaines
  • 1926 (1927) L’homme à l’Hispano/Julien Duvivier
  • 1927 Casanova/Alexander Volkoff
  • 1927 Croquette. Une histoire de cirque/Louis Mercanton
  • 1927 Le martyre de Saint-Maxence/E.B. Donatien
  • 1927 Le mystère de la Tour Eiffel/Julien Duvivier
  • 1927 La merveilleuse vie de Jeanne d’Arc, fille de Lorraine/Marc de Gastyne
  • 1927 The Ring/Alfred Hitchcock
  • 1927 (1928) Le tourbillon de Paris/Julien Duvivier
  • 1928 Verdun, visions d’histoire/Léon Poirier
  • 1928 La divine croisière/Julien Duvivier
  • 1928 Vivre/Robert Boudrioz
  • 1928 (1929) Maman Colibri/Julien Duvivier
  • 1929 La vie merveilleuse de Thérèse Martin/Julien Duvivier
  • 1929 Cagliostro/Richard Oswald
  • 1929 Au Bonheur des Dames/Julien Duvivier
  • 1929 Les Trois Masques/André Hugon
  • 1930 Le roi des Aulnes/ Marie-Louise Iribe
  • 1930 La Fin du monde/Abel Gance
  • 1930 Autour de la fin du monde/Eugène Deslaw (documentary)
  • 1930 La Bodega/Benito Perojo; Lucien Aguerrand; Eugène Carré
  • 1931 La fée du logis/Germaine Dulac (publicity spot for Gaumont films)
  • 1932 Les Trois Mousquetaires/Henry Diament-Berger
  • 1932 Le Crime du Bouif/André Berthomieu
  • 1933 The Private Life of Henry VIII/Alexander Korda
  • 1934 The Private Life of Don Juan/Alexander Korda
  • 1934 The Scarlet Pimpernel/Alexander Korda
  • 1935 Scrooge/Henry Edwards
  • 1935 Moscow Nights/Anthony Asquith
  • 1935 (1937) Elephant Boy/Robert J. Flaherty; Zoltan Korda
  • 1935 Sanders of the River/Zoltan Korda; Alexander Korda
  • 1935 A Tale of Two Cities/Alexander Korda (GB); David Selznik (USA); directed by Jack Conway
  • 1935 (1936) The Ghost Goes West/René Clair
  • 1936 The Man Who Could Work Miracles/Alexander Korda; Lothar Mendes
  • 1936 Things to Come/William Cameron Menzies
  • 1936 Rembrandt/Alexander Korda
  • 1936 (1937) Fire over England. The Invincible Armada/Alexander Korda
  • 1936 (1937) Forget-me-not/Zoltan Korda; Alexander Korda
  • 1936 (1938) The Drum/Zoltan Korda
  • 1937 Action for Slander/Victor Saville; Alexander Korda
  • 1937 South Riding/Victor Saville/Alexander Korda
  • 1937 Dark Journey/Victor Saville; Alexander Korda
  • 1937 I Claudius/Josef von Sternberg; Alexander Korda
  • 1938 Paradise for Two/Thornton Freeland; Alexander Korda
  • 1937 Storm in a Teacup/Victor Saville; Alexander Korda
  • 1937 Victoria the Great/Herbert Wilcox
  • 1937 Chevalier sans armure/Knight Without Armour/Jacques Feyder
  • 1937 (1938) The Return of the Scarlet Pimpernel/Hans Schwarts; Alexander Korda
  • 1938 Sixty Glorious Years/Herbert Wilcox
  • 1938 Divorce of Lady X/Tim Whelan; Alexander Korda
  • 1938 Prison without Bars/Brian Desmond Hurst; Alexander Korda:
  • 1939 The Four Feathers/Zoltan Korda; Alexander Korda
  • 1938 Wuthering Heights/William Wyler
  • 1939 The Spy in Black/Powell & Pressburger
  • 1939 Q Planes. Clouds over Europe [Fr: Armes secrètes]/Tim Whelan; Alexander Korda
  • 1939 The Hunchback of Notre Dame [Fr. Quasimodo]/William Dieterle
  • 1939 Jamaica Inn/Albert Hitchcock
  • 1939 The Mikado/Victor Scherzinger
  • 1939 (1940) Over the Moon/Thornton Freeland; Alexander Korda
  • 1940 Major Barbara/Gabriel Pascal; David Lean
  • 1940 Conquest of the Air/Zoltan Korda; Alexander Korda (scrapped before release)
  • 1940 The Thief of Bagdad/Ludwig Berger, Tim Whelan & Michael Powell
  • 1941 Lydia/Julian Duvivier; Alexander Korda
  • 1941 49th Parallel/Michael Powell
  • 1941 That Hamilton Woman/Alexander Korda, Walter Mayo
  • 1942 Secret Mission/H. French
  • 1942 The First of the Few [US Spitfire] Leslie Howard
  • 1942 In Which We Serve/Noël Coward, David Lean
  • 1942 Jungle Book/Zoltan Korda; Alexander Korda
  • 1943 The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp/Powell & Pressburger
  • 1943 The Demi-Paradise [US Adventure for two]/Anthony Asquith
  • 1944 This Happy Breed/David Lean, Noël Coward
  • 1944 A Canterbury Tale/Powell & Pressburger
  • 1944 Henry V/Laurence Olivier
  • 1945 Blithe Spirit/David Lean; Noël Coward
  • 1945 Brief Encounter/David Lean
  • 1945 I Know Where I'm Going!/Powell & Pressburger
  • 1945 Caesar and Cleopatra/Gabriel Pascal
  • 1945 Perfect Strangers [US Vacation from Mariage]/Alexander Korda
  • 1946 A Matter of Life and Death [US Stairway to Heaven]/Powell & Pressburger
  • 1946 Panique/Julien Duvivier
  • 1946 Great Expectations/David Lean
  • 1946 Men of Two Worlds/Thorold Dickinson
  • 1946 (1947) Black Narcissus/Powell & Pressburger
  • 1947 A Man About the House/Alexander Korda; Leslie Arliss
  • 1947 An Ideal Husband/Alexander Korda
  • 1947 (1948) Mine own Executioner/Anthony Kimmins
  • 1947 Anna Karenina/Julien Duvivier
  • 1948 The Fallen Idol/Carol Reed
  • 1948 The Winslow Boy/Anthony Asquith
  • 1948 Oliver Twist/David Lean
  • 1948 Bonnie Prince Charlie/Anthony Kimmins
  • 1949 The Third Man/Carol Reed, Alexander Korda
  • 1949 The Last Days of Dolwyn [US Woman of Dolwyn]/Emlyn Williams
  • 1950 The Mudlark/Jean Negulesco
  • 1950 The Elusive Pimpernel [US The Fighting Pimpernel]/Powell & Pressburger
  • 1950 The Cure for Love/Robert Donat
  • 1950 (1951) Pandora and the Flying Dutchman/Albert Lewin
  • 1950 The Black Rose/Henry Hathaway
  • 1950 Gone to Earth/Powell & Pressburger
  • 1951 An Outcast of the Islands/Carol Reed
  • 1952 The Wild Heart (a.k.a. Gypsy Blood)/Rouben Mamoulian; Powell and Pressburger


  1. ^ Georges Baye, A propos du film Les Opprimés. Une Révolution dans le décor cinématographique. Ciné Miroir, 15 March 1923.
  2. ^ Cotta Vaz, Mark; Barron, Craig (2002). The Invisible Art: The Legends of Movie Matte Painting. San Francisco California: Chronicle Books. pp. 54–57. ISBN 978-0-8118-4515-1. 
  3. ^ Quoted from a letter to Susan Day dated 14 January 1999
  4. ^ Michael Powell, A Life in Movies: an autobiography. London: Mandarin (pbk), 1986, p. 311, 239
  5. ^ Geoffrey MacNab, "He Made Monsters", The Independent, 20 June 2008


Reference works[edit]

  • British Film Yearbook, London, 1949–1950, p. 520
  • Royal Academy Exhibitions 1905–1970. A Dictionary of Artists and their Work in the Summer Exhibitions of the Royal Academy of Arts. London: E. P. Publishing, 1977, vol. II, p. 138.
  • Brian McFarlane. The Encyclopedia of British Film. London: Methuen, 2003, p. 166
  • Maurice Bessy; Jean-Louis Chardans. Dictionnaire du cinéma et de la television. Paris : Pauvert, 1966, Tome 2 p. 21 [Attention, CONFUSION with Will Day]
  • Susan Day. "Walter Percy Day". Allegemeines Künstlerlexikon. Munich; Leipzig: K.G. Saur Vg., 2000, vol. 24, pp. 581–582


  • Linda d’Agostino Clinger, The Garden Within. The Art of Peter Ellenshaw. Venice, Mill Pond Press, 1996
  • British Film Institute presents… Napoléon vu par Abel Gance, Presentation programme, Festival Hall, London, 2000
  • Kenneth Brownlow, Napoléon, Abel Gance’s Classic Film. London 1983, p. 118–119
  • Ivan Butler, Cinema in Britain. An Illustrated History. London, 1973, p. 75, 153.
  • Jack Cardiff, Magic Hour. London: Faber & Faber, 1996
  • The Chess Player, (The Joueur d’échecs) Thames Television and National Film Archive Presentation Programme, London, 1990
  • Ian Christie, Arrows of Desire. The Films of Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger, London, 1985
  • Cotta Vaz, Mark; Barron, Craig (2002). The Invisible Art: The Legends of Movie Matte Painting. San Francisco California: Chronicle Books. p. 27. ISBN 978-0-8118-4515-1. 
  • John Culhane, Special Effects in the Movies. How they do it. New York: Ballantine Books, 1981, p. 45, 50–52, 155–156
  • Maurice Culot. Le temps des boutiques. De l’échoppe à eBay. Brussels: A.A.M., s.d., p. 10–11
  • Max Douy, Jacques Douy, Décors de Cinéma. Les Studios français de Mélès à nos jours. Paris, 1993, p. 45
  • Charles Drazin, In Search of the Third Man. London: Methuen, 1999
  • Peter Ellenshaw, Ellenshaw under Glass. Going to the Matte for Disney. Santa Clarita: Camphor Tree Publishers, 2003
  • Karol Kulik, Alexander Korda. The Man Who Could Work Miracles. Lond, 1975 (reimpr 1990)
  • Philip Leibfried; Malcolm Willits; Jim Danforth. Alexander Korda’s The Thief of Bagdad. An Arabian Fantasy. Pasadena : Castle Press, 2003
  • Rachel Low. Film Making in 1930’s Britain. London: Allen & Unwin, 1985, p. 250
  • Michael Powell, A Life in Movies: An Autobiography. London : Mandarin, 1986
  • Michael Powell. Million-Dollar Movie. New York: Random House, 1995
  • Christopher Finch, Special Effects. Creating Movie Magic. New York: Abbeville Press, 1984, p. 68
  • Rolf Giesen, Special Effects. King Kong, Orphée und die Reise zum Mond. Ebersberg: Edition Achteinhalb, 1985, p. 159
  • Alan McKenzie; Derek Ware. Hollywood Tricks of the Trade. London: Multimedia Publications, 1986, pp. 19–20


  • J.-Nicolas Gung’L, « Chronique artistique. Percy Day, peintre de portraits », La Tunisie Illustrée, April 1910.
  • « Picture with a Story. Mr. Percy Day Explains his Academic Painting”. Daily Chronicle, 12 May 1919.
  • Georges Baye, « A propos du film Les Opprimés. Révolution dans le décor cinématographique », Ciné Miroir, 15 March 1923
  • « En marge du Joueur d’échecs », Cinémagazine, n° 2, 14 January 1927, special issue
  • La Petite Illustration Cinématographique, n° 8, 5 February 1927, special issue
  • “La prise de vues”, Le courrier cinématographique, 29 mars 1929, p. 18–19
  • Le Courrier cinématographique, March 1929 “Special Effects Teams Save Time and Money”, Kinematograph Weekly, 2 October 1947 Kinematograph Weekly, 24 October 1946, p. 15
  • Walter Percy Day.“The Origin and Development of the Matte Shot”. Fourth Newman Memorial Lecture”, The Photographic Journal, October 1948.
  • Egon Larsen, "Here is the Inside Story of the Magician of British Films", Cavalcade, 21 May 1949
  • Douglas Hague, “Painted Matte Shots”, British Kinematographic Society Magazine, vol. 19, n° 6, 1951, p. 166
  • “Pop Day, 75, goes back to college”. Kent Messenger, 30 April 1954
  • “Trauner au naturel”, Libération, 13 March 1984, p. 24
  • Edouard Waintrop, “Blimp Blimp Hourrah”, Libération, 2 April 1992, p. 42
  • Gilbert Adair, “The Other Side of Harry Lime”, Evening Standard, 23 August 1999, p. 42
  • James Christopher, “Britain’s best bar nun?”, The Times, 4 August 2005, p. T2
  • Geoffrey MacNab, “He Made Monsters”, The Independent, 20 June 2008.

External links[edit]