Matt Yuricich: Visual effects artist who won an Oscar for 'Logan's Run'

 

Working on more than 200 films from the 1950s through to the 1980s, Matt Yuricich was one Hollywood's finest and most prolific visual effects artists, specialising in matte painting on glass to create the dramatic backdrops for live action scenes in the days before CGI. He was one of the last surviving matte artists of the Golden Era of Hollywood but gained international recognition only in 1976 when he won a Special Achievement Oscar for his art on the futuristic movie Logan's Run.

Yuricich and his team created the 23rd-century dome-enclosed city which stole the show while Michael York's 29-year-old character Logan tried to escape an ageist society where death by the age of 30 was obligatory. Accepting the Oscar from the actor Roy Scheider, Yuricich famously told the Academy, and the world, after thanking his wife Clotilde: "... and I'd like to thank myself. I think I deserve it."

Yuricich, of Croatian origin, was also an Academy Award nominee for his work on Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977) and the futuristic backdrops which gave a unique ambience to Bladerunner (1982). He was part of the visual effects teams nominated for Mutiny on the Bounty (1962) and Steven Spielberg's 1941 (released in 1979 and beaten in the visual effects category by Ridley Scott's Alien). You may hardly have noticed it – you were not meant to, the overall effect is meant to be seamless – but Yuricich's glass-painted backdrops featured in such box office successes as Ben-Hur (1959, including the chariot race), Hitchcock's North by Northwest (1959, in which Yuricich created the external views of the James Mason character 's famous modernist house on Mount Rushmore), The Greatest Story Ever Told (1965), Young Frankenstein (1974, notably the spooky castle), the Planet of the Apes series in the 1970s), China Syndrome (1978), Ghostbusters (1984), Die Hard (1988), Dances with Wolves (1990) and Field of Dreams (1989, in which he helped to create the illusion of a baseball stadium emerging from a cornfield).

Before computer enhancement made it easier, though perhaps no less creative, matte painting was a backbone of movie-making, saving many thousands of dollars, even millions, in location costs. Why should Hitchcock have a Frank Lloyd Wright-style house built on top of Mount Rushmore for North by Northwest? He tried but wasn't allowed to, but he could build a mock-up in the studio and have someone like Yuricich paint an external view of one.

In Ben-Hur, although almost 8,000 extras were used, Yuricich made them look like tens of thousands through his matte paintings, creating the illusion of Rome's vias stretching for miles to the mountains, which he also painted. His peers called Yuricich's work "money shots," which helped give the movie its grand scale despite being shot in studios or back lots. Whether in Ben-Hur, or in Ghostbusters, Yuricich had to match his matte paintings to scale according to the lens and film being used. He would paint his backdrop leaving a space in the glass where the live action would be superimposed but soon found that wind or other elements on location could put the whole thing out of synch. "We had to take out that movement frame by frame and plot it," he recalled of Ben-Hur. "Then when we photographed the painting, we had to move it to those corresponding numbers, vertically and horizontally, for each frame. They save a thousand dollars not having anyone on location, and spend a hundred thousand dollars trying to fix it at the other end (post-production)."

Recognition for Yuricich and his fellow matte artists came slowly – in his case, more than halfway through his career – largely due to the fact that the old-fashioned studio bosses deliberately tried to conceal the trickery that brought magic to the Silver Screen.

Matthew John Juricic (US Customs changed the spelling when his parents arrived as immigrants at Ellis Island, New York) was born in the small town of Lorain, Ohio, on Lake Eerie west of Cleveland, in 1923, one of six siblings. Seeking work, and peace, his parents Anthony and Anna Yuricich (née Plesivac) had fled the turmoil in Croatia, at the time part of the uneasy kingdom of the Serbs, Croats and Slovenes later to be renamed Yugoslavia. When young Matthew started school, he spoke no English, only Serbo-Croat, but graduated from High School in 1941 and joined the US Navy the following July. While training in California he met the actress and wartime forces' pin-up girl Betty Grable, and they became close friends before he set sail for the South Pacific as an Ordnanceman First Class aboard the aircraft carrier USS Nassau. His job was to load the guns, bombs and ammunition on the carriers' warplanes before their raids to support Marines fighting the Japanese on the islands. After leaving the Navy in December 1945, he wrote that the Battles of Tarawa in November 1943 and of Kwajalein in January/February 1944, were "forever etched in my mind."

After the war, Yuricich studied Fine Arts at Miami University, starring for the football team – one of the best colleague teams in the country – and graduating in 1950. He was also an avid archer and went on to win several national US titles and set many long-lasting records. After hitchhiking to Los Angeles to see his old friend Betty Grable, who was working at the 20th Century Fox studios, he got a job as an assistant in the renowned Fred Sersen's visual effects department, also meeting Marilyn Monroe and playing in her winning softball team in 1952. He later sent a photograph of himself with Monroe, in a white dress with polka dots, to a protégé of his, Rocco Gioffre, which he signed: "Eat your heart out!"

From Fox, having married his childhood sweetheart Clotilde Robison, a girl of Scottish parentage, Yuricich moved to MGM, where Ben-Hur, with its stunning special effects, was among his first films.

Yuricich formally retired in 1990 to Henderson, Nevada, but continued to do some freelance matte painting work for the Hollywood studios before moving to Washington State to be closer to his children and grandchildren. He died in the Motion Picture Home for ex-Hollywood personnel in Woodland Hills, California. He is survived by his five children and eight grandchildren and his brothers Frank, Joe and Richard, the latter a renowned special effects cinematographer.

Matthew John Juricic (Yuricich), special effects matte artist: born Lorain, Ohio 19 January 1923; married Clotilde Robison (divorced 1976; five children); died Woodland Hills, California 28 May 2012.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

The Richmond Fellowship Scotland: Executive Director

£66,192 per annum including car allowance of £5,700): The Richmond Fellowship ...

Recruitment Genius: Customer Service Advisor

£16575 - £19000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An excellent opportunity is ava...

Recruitment Genius: Office Junior

£18000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Assistant Site Agent

£22000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This traditional family company...

Day In a Page

Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea
Tunisia fears its Arab Spring could be reversed as the new regime becomes as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor

The Arab Spring reversed

Tunisian protesters fear that a new law will whitewash corrupt businessmen and officials, but they are finding that the new regime is becoming as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor
King Arthur: Legendary figure was real and lived most of his life in Strathclyde, academic claims

Academic claims King Arthur was real - and reveals where he lived

Dr Andrew Breeze says the legendary figure did exist – but was a general, not a king
Who is Oliver Bonas and how has he captured middle-class hearts?

Who is Oliver Bonas?

It's the first high-street store to pay its staff the living wage, and it saw out the recession in style
Earth has 'lost more than half its trees' since humans first started cutting them down

Axe-wielding Man fells half the world’s trees – leaving us just 422 each

However, the number of trees may be eight times higher than previously thought
60 years of Scalextric: Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones

60 years of Scalextric

Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones
Theme parks continue to draw in thrill-seekers despite the risks - so why are we so addicted?

Why are we addicted to theme parks?

Now that Banksy has unveiled his own dystopian version, Christopher Beanland considers the ups and downs of our endless quest for amusement
Tourism in Iran: The country will soon be opening up again after years of isolation

Iran is opening up again to tourists

After years of isolation, Iran is reopening its embassies abroad. Soon, there'll be the chance for the adventurous to holiday there
10 best PS4 games

10 best PS4 games

Can’t wait for the new round of blockbusters due out this autumn? We played through last year’s offering
Transfer window: Ten things we learnt

Ten things we learnt from the transfer window

Record-breaking spending shows FFP restraint no longer applies
Migrant crisis: UN official Philippe Douste-Blazy reveals the harrowing sights he encountered among refugees arriving on Lampedusa

‘Can we really just turn away?’

Dead bodies, men drowning, women miscarrying – a senior UN figure on the horrors he has witnessed among migrants arriving on Lampedusa, and urges politicians not to underestimate our caring nature
Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger as Isis ravages centuries of history

Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger...

... and not just because of Isis vandalism
Girl on a Plane: An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack

Girl on a Plane

An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack
Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

The author of 'The Day of the Jackal' has revealed he spied for MI6 while a foreign correspondent