007 MAGAZINE - The world's foremost James Bond resource

From the Archive
(March 2008)



TERRY ADLAM in conversation in 1999 with the man whose magical touch with paint on glass added effects so special to the Bond movies they remain invisible to the untutored eye.

In the world of special effects, matte artist Cliff Culley is an unsung hero. If the name doesn’t mean anything to you, then it isn’t really any surprise, as Cliff is a very modest man and any lack of publicity on his part is made up in abundance with a very impressive track record. If you can’t recall seeing any of Cliff’s optical work on screen, then that’s just the way he wants it. There cannot be many films made at Pinewood Studios over the last five decades that haven’t been enhanced by this talented matte artist, including some of the early James Bond films.

Westbury Design & Optical business card

Dr. No (1962)

Retired some years ago, and now content to swap his paint brushes for golf clubs, the man who put the laser between 007’s legs in Goldfinger and created the avalanche in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service is happy to reminisce.

“It was great working on the early Bonds,” says Cliff. “Sean, the directors, the crew, everyone seemed to be enjoying themselves. It was fun.”

Cliff’s first Bond film was, well, the first Bond film, Dr. No. He was a member of a team of talented matte artists in the then special effects department at Pinewood Studios, and like all those who remember those early days of bondage, was quick to refer to the budget, or the lack of one.

“Of course they had no money in those days. In fact they were skint.” Cliff was of course referring to producers Cubby Broccoli and Harry Saltzman, and a budget that in today’s terms would have a job covering a TV episode of The Teletubbies. Without prompting him, Cliff gave an example of the thrift employed.

“We had to blow up of the bauxite site works at the end of the film. Well, that was done at Pinewood on the back-lot tank. Frank George, the special effects supervisor built the model factory. I assisted the cameraman and the assistant studio manager directed it, and all we were given to do it with was £1,000.”

Cliff admits that it wasn’t really until Goldfinger that messrs Broccoli & Saltzman started issuing more sizeable budgets. He also revealed that during the production of the first few films, especially Dr. No, Bond was looked upon within the industry as a non-starter. A nice idea, but not much of a future. Cliff was as surprised as the next technician at the phenomenal success of the series. He personally put the early success of the films down to one man.

“In my opinion the bloke who really made them what they were was Peter Hunt, the editor. It was he who, when he realised that what he had in Dr. No was a straight thriller that wasn’t really working, had enough sense to suggest a re-cut of the picture and the inclusion of some one-liners. And sure enough he soon had people laughing with Bond as opposed to at him. I think Peter was a saviour to the films in those early days.”

Cliff Culley at work on the matte painting seen in From Russia With Love | Five-time James Bond film editor Peter Hunt at work in the cutting room at Pinewood Studios.

ABOVE: (left) Cliff Culley at work on the matte painting seen in From Russia With Love. (right) Five-time James Bond film editor Peter Hunt at work in the cutting room at Pinewood Studios.

When asked if he remembered any of the matte paintings he did on Dr. No, Cliff is quick to point out that it is over 40 years ago and many, many mattes have passed under his brushes since then. But he did remember the mattes he created for From Russia With Love, which included the sequence where Krilencu climbs out of Anita Ekberg’s mouth and the ornate ceiling of the hall where Kronsteen wins the chess tournament.

ABOVE: Cliff Culley’s highly detailed matte painting seen in From Russia With Love hides the fact that the set at Pinewood Studios did not have a ceiling. The set was designed by Production Designer Syd Cain so that the lights needed to illuminate the scene would be later hidden by the matte painting. (Right) Director Terence Young shoots the chess tournament with Vladek Sheybal as Kronsteen.

Behind-the-scenes Goldfinger (1964)

Director Guy Hamilton rehearses the laser beam sequence in Goldfinger (1964).

Laser Beam added optically by Cliff Culley

The red laser beam effect was added optically by Cliff Culley during post-production.

Matte Artist Albert Whitlcock

Matte Painting: Before the advent of digital technology matte paintings were used to enhance (or hide) portions of an existing set. Painted on glass, the image is then composited with existing footage using an optical printer. Click on the image (left) to see examples from Alfred Hitchcock's The Birds (1963) by matte artist Albert Whitlock.

It wasn’t only mattes Cliff created; he was also heavily involved in a number of optical shots including Goldfinger's infamous laser. Not that this was down as an optical shot initially.

“They brought in this prop laser originally saying that they didn’t want trick shots or opticals. I must say it looked quite nice. The model-maker that had made it had done a good job. There was a hot wire from the nozzle to the bench, which glowed, and it did look good ….in an ordinary room. As soon as we took it on to the set and Ted Moore, the director of photography, put some lights on it, you couldn’t see a thing. So in the end they shot it bare and I put the red laser on optically afterwards. Bert Luxford, a special effects technician under the table, provided the flame with an acetylene torch. Sean was very nervous that day.”

I’m not surprised, one slip and it could have been ‘Jane Bond, licence to shrill’. Cliff continued, “We did a lot of optical work on that film including the laser cutting around the door to Fort Knox. I enjoyed that picture. We had a lot of fun.”