Special Effects Technician. Nationality: British. Born: London, England, 1915. Family: Married; two sons. Career: 1930s—worked at a variety of jobs in British film industry; then painted backdrops
and designed titles until 1954; 1954–61—worked at Disney studios, Hollywood; 1961–63—freelance designer; 1963—designer for Universal; TV work includes special effects for the miniseries A.D., 1985. Awards: Academy Award for Earthquake, 1974; Special Achievement Award, 1975. Died: 17 October 1982.
Films as Special Effects Technician:
The Man Who Knew Too Much (Hitchcock)
Greyfriars Bobby (Chaffey)
Captain Newman, M.D. (Miller)
I'd Rather Be Rich (Smight); Island of the Blue Dolphins (Clark)
Mirage (Dmytryk); Shenandoah (McLaglen); Ship of Fools (Kramer); That Funny Feeling (Thorpe); The War Lord (Schaffner)
Beau Geste (Heyes); Blindfold (Dunne); Munster, Go Home! (Bellamy); The Rare Breed (McLaglen)
The King's Pirate (Weis); The Reluctant Astronaut (Montagne); Rough Night in Jericho (Laven); Tobruk (Hiller); Thoroughly Modern Millie (Hill); The War Wagon (Kennedy)
The Ballad of Josie (McLaglen); Counterpoint (Nelson); Hellfighters (McLaglen); In Enemy Country (Keller); P.J. (Guillermin); The Shakiest Gun in the West (Rafkin)
The Learning Tree (Parks); Topaz (Hitchcock)
Catch-22 (Nichols); The Forbin Project (Sargent); Skullduggery (Douglas and Wilson)
Diamonds Are Forever (Hamilton) (co)
Short Walk to Daylight (Shear)
The Sting (Hill)
The Questor Tapes (Colla); Killdozer (London); Earthquake (Robson)
Day of the Locust (Schlesinger); The Hindenburg (Wise); The Man Who Would Be King (Huston)
Bound for Glory (Ashby)
The Car (Silverstein); MacArthur (Sargent); High Anxiety (Brooks); Airport '77 (Jameson); Exorcist II: The Heretic (Boorman)
Dracula (Badham); The Prisoner of Zenda (Quine); The Wiz (Lumet)
Cheech and Chong's Next Movie (High Encounters of the Ultimate Kind) (Chong); The Blues Brothers (Landis)
Ghost Story (Irvin); Heartbeeps (Arkush); History of the World, Part I (Brooks)
Missing (Costa Gavras); The Thing (Carpenter); Cat People (Schrader); The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas (Higgins)
Psycho II (Franklin)
The Lonely Guy (Hiller); Dune (Lynch); Greystoke: The Legend of Tarzan (Hudson)
Red Sonja (Fleischer)
The Birds (Hitchcock) (design)
Marnie (Hitchcock) (design)
Torn Curtain (Hitchcock) (design)
Clue (Lynn) (consultant)
By WHITLOCK: articles—
Filmmakers Newsletter (Ward Hill, Massachusetts), October 1974.
Cinefantastique (New York), February 1982.
Cahiers du Cinéma (Paris), June 1982.
On WHITLOCK: articles—
Fry, Ron, and Pamela Fourson, in The Saga of Special Effects, Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey, 1977.
National Film Theatre booklet (London), October-December 1982. Starburst (London), no. 56, 1983.
American Cinematographer (Hollywood), January 1986.
Variety (New York), 1 November 1999.
* * *
As one of Hollywood's leading special effects artists, Albert Whitlock was in the unusual position of being most successful when he was least recognized. He was a master of matte painting, and often his work is on the screen for only a few seconds. Through his art, he was able to create for the screen images that are impossible to achieve realistically, whether they be from periods of the past, such as 1930s Chicago (The Sting) or Los Angeles (Day of the Locust), or disasters, such as two for which his illusions won Academy Awards, Earthquake and The Hindenburg.
The space and science-fiction films of the late 1970s and 1980s focused attention on special effects artists in Hollywood. Generally, these effects were obvious ones, involving other planets, prehistoric times, fantastic robots, or organic creatures. These kind of effects did not interest Whitlock, whose idea of a great effect was one that the public does not recognize as one. Whitlock's art furthers the illusion that what is seen on the screen is "real" and causes the thrill that often accompanies such illusionism. Whitlock was an artist of the natural world, creating images of things that cannot be filmed realistically because of their violent nature, such as an earthquake or a dust-storm (Bound for Glory), or because of their cost to build, such as an entire castle (Dracula and The Prisoner of Zenda) or a mountaintop city (The Man Who Would Be King).
Whitlock's art made movies cheaper to produce. His was a world of matte paintings, models, and filming at different speeds. In his emphasis on illusionism, Whitlock can be seen as part of an artistic tradition going back to the Italian Renaissance and the invention of perspective to make two-dimensional pictures appear to be windows on the world. In his painting style, however, he considered himself closer to Impressionism, than to academic painting because he was more interested in the study of phenomena and the effects of light than in objects themselves.
In the late 1950s, Whitlock was influenced by working under Peter Ellenshaw, an effects supervisor for Disney studios. He was associated with Universal from 1963 and worked with a number of art directors, including Robert Boyle (The Birds). Though his work may go unrecognized because it is so convincing, Whitlock's artistry with special effects is important in understanding three concepts: the collaboration necessary in movie-making, the need to use effects for budgetary reasons, and the fact that film is a two-dimensional illusionistic medium.
—Floyd W. Martin