Craig Barron

Craig Barron (born April 6, 1961)[1] is an American visual effects artist and creative director at Magnopus, a media company that produces visual development and virtual production services for motion pictures, television, museums and multimedia platforms.[2][3]

Craig Barron
Barron photo.jpeg
Born (1961-04-06) April 6, 1961 (age 60)
Berkeley, California, United States
OccupationCreative director
Visual effects supervisor
Film historian
Years active1979 – present
AwardsAcademy Award, BAFTA Award, Emmy, VES Founders Award, Doctorate of Letters

Working at Industrial Light & Magic, Barron contributed to the visual effects on such films as The Empire Strikes Back, Raiders of the Lost Ark, and E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial. At his own VFX studio, Matte World Digital, he produced visual effects on Zodiac, Alice in Wonderland and Hugo. Over the course of his VFX career, Barron contributed to the visual effects on more than 100 films. He is an Emmy Award recipient for By Dawn's Early Light and he received an Oscar nomination for Best Visual Effects on Batman Returns. In 2009, he won an Oscar for Best Visual Effects on The Curious Case of Benjamin Button.

Barron is a film historian, museum exhibit curator, and educator with a focus on the history of visual effects in classic films, before and after the digital age. He hosts presentations and lectures on the visual effects from Hollywood’s studio age. He produces short documentaries that reveal the formerly secret history of how visual effects pioneers created seamless visuals using matte paintings, miniatures and optical effects.


Visual effects supervisorEdit

Industrial Light & MagicEdit

Hired at age 18 by VFX cinematographer Richard Edlund in 1979, Barron was then the youngest person working at ILM. Starting out in the matte painting department with VFX photographer Neil Krepela and painter Ralph McQuarrie, Barron eventually moved to the camera department, compositing matte-painted effects for scenes in landmark visual-effects films including The Empire Strikes Back, Raiders of the Lost Ark, and E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial.[4][5] Accompanied by matte painters Michael Pangrazio and Chris Evans, at times on international location shoots, Barron and crew designed and photographed matte shots for feature films. From 1984 to 1988 he was matte photography supervisor, working to combine matte paintings and miniatures with live-action photography. He is credited as director of matte photography on Willow (1988), his last film at ILM, before leaving to start his own company Matte World.[6]

Matte World DigitalEdit

Co-founded by Barron, Pangrazio and executive producer Krystyna Demkowicz in 1988, Matte World produced seamless matte-painting effects for film and television productions from its Novato, California studio.[6] Soon after formation, Barron's work for HBO's By Dawn's Early Light won an Emmy for Outstanding Visual Effects.[6][7] Throughout the 1980s, Barron and his crew produced traditional effects shots with glass matte paintings and miniature models. Their work received an Academy Award nomination for Best Visual Effects for Batman Returns in 1992.[8]

That same year, the company was renamed Matte World Digital (MWD) to reflect the new technological tools available to matte painters. MWD produced digital environments for feature films, commercials, cable television, computer games and IMAX projects, serving the artistic visions of directors Martin Scorsese, Francis Ford Coppola, James Cameron, Alfonso Cuaron, Gore Verbinski, Ron Howard, Tim Burton and David Fincher, among others. Barron contributed to the visual effects of more than 100 films at MWD, innovating digital-effects techniques for Zodiac, Alice in Wonderland, and The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, which won the Academy Award for Best Visual Effects in 2009.[9] MWD closed in 2012 after 24 years of service. The company's last project was creating stereo CGI matte paintings of 1930s-era Paris and Georges Méliès' glass studio for Martin Scorsese's Hugo.[10]


Matte World Digital was the first company to apply radiosity rendering to film, for Martin Scorsese's Casino.[4] Collaborating with software company LightScape, the MWD crew was able to simulate the reflective effect of millions of neon lights from the 1970s-era Las Vegas strip.[11] Radiosity rendering provided a true simulation of bounce-light reflectivity in a computer-generated environment.[6]

For David Fincher's Zodiac, another film mainly set in the 1970s, shots were needed to establish the grittier San Francisco of that era. Barron shot digital images of existing city-building textures, then added painted period details in the computer. One such shot features the Embarcadero Freeway alongside the Ferry Building and San Francisco Bay. The freeway had been demolished after the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake so MWD digitally rebuilt the structure, viewed from an overhead computer-generated "helicopter-shot" to introduce San Francisco in 1969. CG lighting techniques were applied for a sped-up animated sequence showing the Transamerica Pyramid being built, extablishing the passage of time. Barron researched archival photographs and architectural drawings for the shot.[12][13]

Barron worked with Fincher again in 2008 to build several digital matte and CGI environments for The Curious Case of Benjamin Button. The interior of the film's New Orleans train station had to change and deteriorate, representing different eras. MWD built the CGI station interiors using Next Limit's Maxwell rendering software—software that was generally used as an architectural visualization and product-design tool. MWD revamped it to mimic real-world lighting as seen from multiple angles and light sources.[14]

Other visual effects workEdit

While heading Matte World Digital, Barron co-produced and directed the science-fiction short, The Utilizer, broadcast on Syfy (then called the Sci-Fi Channel) in 1996. The film won the best special effects award at the Chicago International Film Festival.[15]

Barron was a visual effects supervisor at Tippett Studio in 2013, where he developed digital environments for film and commercial productions alongside his former ILM co-worker Phil Tippett.[16]

Film historianEdit


Growing up watching classic films, Barron was inspired by and curious about how special effects were created. He sought out and interviewed retired Hollywood studio-era cameramen and matte painters who revealed the formerly secretive world of visual effects techniques that were used in films such as King Kong, The Wizard of Oz, and Citizen Kane.[17] This oral history of movie-making, along with a growing collection of behind-the-scenes photographs, were the basis of Barron's book, The Invisible Art: The Legends of Movie Matte Painting. The Invisible Art..., co-wrriten with Mark Cotta Vaz, is the first comprehensive book on the history of matte painting and its transition into the digital age.[18] The New York Times called it "Eye-opening…increas[ing] our wonder at this heretofore 'invisible art.'"[19]


As a public-programs lecturer for the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (AMPAS), Barron presents public screenings showcasing the art and technique of visual effects in classic studio films. Often partnering with sound designer Ben Burtt, the duo have also guest-hosted on the TCM Network.[20] The pair do extensive research to find the hidden history of classic film production. For a presentation on Gunga Din, they visited the Lone Pine, California Alabama Hills location where the film was shot in 1938, and found pieces of the set buried there. Using camera drones, they then recreated the film's locations as CGI environments.[21]

Barron has been an adjunct associate professor at the USC School of Cinematic Arts since 2015.[22] His "World of Visual Effects" course focuses on the history of visual effects in film and how visual effects have influenced narratives in filmmaking from its inception to today.[23]

Selected presentations

  • Techno Chaplin – Modern Times (1936) with Ben Burtt and John Bengstson – Digitally restored 35mm print with behind-the-scenes photos and multimedia tour explaining how Chaplin used mattes, process shots, miniatures and rear projection within industrial settings of 1930s Los Angeles. 2008, Hollywood/San Rafael, CA[24][25]
  • Mysteries of the Krell: Making Forbidden Planet (1956) with Ben Burtt – Breakdown of the film's visual effects and innovative sound design alongside collection of rare miniatures, production designs, props and analog source tapes from the electronic soundtrack, featuring the original Robby the Robot. 2011-2012, Hollywood/San Rafael, CA[26]
  • The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938) with Ben Burtt – Matte paintings and sound design with recreation of archery tests from the film. 2012, New York, NY[27]
  • TCM Classic Film Festival 2016 featured Barron and Burtt demonstrating George Pal's Oscar-winning visual effects in The War of the Worlds.[28]


Barron produces and is featured in a number of documentary supplements for DVD and Blu-ray editions from [The Criterion Collection], Turner Classic Movies. The documentary shorts, often in conjunction with Ben Burtt, explain with interviews, animated sequences and reenactments, how 3D effects were produced in classic Hollywood films, such as Citizen Kane, It’s a Wonderful Life, and The Incredible Shrinking Man.[29][30][31][32]

Selected documentary filmography

  • Modern Times (1936) / A Bucket of Water and a Glass Matte (2010) – Barron and Burtt demonstrate Chaplin's use of miniatures and sound effects in the film's factory and roller-skating scenes.[33][34]
  • Rebecca (1940) / Constructing the Eerie World of Rebecca (2017) – Barron demonstrates the large-scale Manderlay miniature that Hitchcock’s crew built and filmed onset, which included a miniature car and destruction by fire.[35]
  • A Matter of Life and Death (1946) / Documentary supplement (2018) – A detailed account and 3D rendering of how Michael Powell conceived of and carried out the seemingly endless “stairway to heaven” scene with the use of set design, miniatures and camera angles.[36]
  • Bringing up Baby (1938), But What About My Leopard? The Magic of Optical Effects Pioneer Linwood Dunn – Interview with Linwood Dunn and demonstration on how a live leopard was safely shot on set with actors.[37][38]
  • Chain Lightning (1950), Jet Jockeys in Love: The Making of Chain Lightning – Aired for TCM Film Festival on HBOMax. Barron and Burtt explain the film’s visual effects and sound-design while “piloting” a vintage fighter jet in this Vitaphone-parody short.[39]


Barron is on the planning committee for the Academy Museum of Motion Pictures.[2] For the Museum’s inaugural exhibit on Citizen Kane, he co-produced videos honoring effects master Linwood Dunn and his use of mattes, miniatures and the optical printer to create Kane’s iconic visuals.[40] Painted mattes and the Wayne Manor model for Batman Returns from the Matte World Digital archive were on display at the Academy Museum of Motion Pictures' inaugural opening in 2021.[41]

Creative directorEdit

Since 2014, Barron has been creative director at Magnopus, a Los Angeles-based media company that provides visual development and virtual production services for motion pictures and television. Barron specializes in interactive and immersive virtual-reality experiences that put filmmakers "inside the movie" during production. Other projects include remote education with augmented virtual-reality experiences for museums and other multimedia platforms.[42][43]

At Magnopus, Barron directed the VR tie-in to 2017's Blade Runner 2049. Entitled Blade Runner 2049: Memory Lab, the 30-minute VR production is set in the world of the film where users act as replicant android hunters. A review in UploadVR said the experience, "...manages to contribute somewhat to 2049's story without stepping on it, shedding more light on one of the film's central characters that gives the entire piece an even deeper sense of purpose."[44][45] Memory Lab was nominated for an Emmy for Outstanding Original Interactive Program in 2018.[46]

In partnership with Television City and Holocaust Museum LA, Magnopus, directed by Barron, developed a virtual museum experience, allowing viewers to partake in the Holocaust Museum’s educational exhibits. The immersive-technology tool expands the range of the museum, worldwide.[47]

Awards, honors and affiliationsEdit

Awards and nominationsEdit

  • By Dawn's Early Light – Emmy for Outstanding Visual Effects, 1990
  • Batman Returns – Academy and BAFTA Award nominations for Achievement in Visual Effects, 1992[48]
  • The Utilizer – Gold Plaque for Best Special Effects, Chicago International Film Festival, 1996
  • The Truman Show – BAFTA Award nomination for Achievement in Special Visual Effects, 1999[49]
  • The Invisible Art: The Legends of Movie Matte Painting, with Mark Cotta Vaz – Theatre Library Association of New York Outstanding Book on Film Award, 2003;[50] Theatre Technology Golden Pen Book Award, 2004[51]
  • Greece: Secrets of the PastVES Award nomination for Outstanding Visual Effects in a special venue project, 2006[52]
  • Zodiac – VES Award nomination for Outstanding Visual Effects in a Motion Picture, 2007[53]
  • The Curious Case of Benjamin Button – Academy and BAFTA Awards for Achievement in Visual Effects, 2009[54]
  • VES Founders Award, 2013[55]
  • Blade Runner 2049: Memory Lab – Emmy nomination for Outstanding Original Interactive Program, 2018, Clio Entertainment Bronze Winner for Virtual/Augmented Reality, 2018[56]
  • VES Fellows Award, 2018[57]

Honors and affiliationsEdit

  • Honorary Doctorate of Letters, Ph.D, Academy of Art College, San Francisco, 1979
  • Associate member of the American Society of Cinematographers
  • Founding member of the Visual Effects Society
  • Academy Board of Governors member, representing the visual effects branch[58][59]
  • Co-chair of the AMPAS Science & Technology Council.[60]

Selected filmographyEdit


  • Barron, Craig and Cotta Vaz, Mark (2002). The Invisible Art: The Legends of Movie Matte Painting. San Francisco: Chronicle Books. ISBN 0-8118-4515-X.
  • Barron, Craig (July 23, 1998). Matte Painting in the Digital Age. "Invisible Effects" series transcript. Orlando, FL: SIGGRAPH 98.[61]


  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 MyHeritage
  2. ^ a b Craig Barron. Magnopus. Retrieved November 26, 2018.
  3. ^ What We Do. Magnopus. Retrieved December 22, 2021.
  4. ^ a b Rickitt, Richard. 2007. "Special Effects: The History and Technique," pp. 202-203, 209. Billboard Books, New York, New York. ISBN 0823077330.
  5. ^ May 17, 2017. "Star Wars 40th with Craig Barron," Athena Studios. Retrieved November 26, 2018.
  6. ^ a b c d Cotta Vaz, Mark & Barron, Craig. 2002. "The Invisible Art: The Legends of Movie Matte Painting," pp. 197, 207, 209-213, 244-248. Chronicle Books, San Francisco. ISBN 081184515X
  7. ^ Outstanding Achievement In SPECIAL VISUAL EFFECTS - 1990, By Dawn's Early Light HBO. Emmys. Retrieved November 26, 2018.
  8. ^ 1992. Nomination for Visual Effects: Michael Fink, Craig Barron, John Bruno, Dennis Skotak -- Batman Returns. Archived 2012-02-16 at WebCite The Official Academy Awards Database. Retrieved in search on November 26, 2018.
  9. ^ 2008. VISUAL EFFECTS: The Curious Case of Benjamin Button -- Eric Barba, Steve Preeg, Burt Dalton and Craig Barron. Archived 2012-02-16 at WebCite The Official Academy Awards Database. Retrieved in search on November 26, 2018.
  10. ^ Failes, Ian. August 27, 2012. “End of an era: Matte World Digital and Fuel,” fxguide. Retrieved November 13, 2018.
  11. ^ Barron, Craig. 1998. SIGGRAPH "Matte Painting in the Digital Age - 3-D Lighting Techniques."
  12. ^ Wainerdi, Brandon. November 27, 2019 “Craig Barron: Academy Award-winning VFX Artist and Film Historian." Talking Bay 94. Retrieved November 11, 2021.
  13. ^ Robertson, Barbara. March 15, 2007. "Memories of Murder: VFX for Zodiac – Recreating 1970s San Francisco for Director David Fincher." Archived 2008-06-22 at the Wayback Machine Studio Daily. Retrieved November 30, 2018.
  14. ^ Duncan, Jody. January, 2009. "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button." Cinefex No. 116, pgs. 94–96.
  15. ^ 1996 Awards. Winner - Best Special Effects, The Utilizer. Chicago International Film Festival. Retrieved November 26, 2018.
  16. ^ Roman, Jules. January 31, 2013. "Barron Meets The Tippett." Tippett Studio Newsletter. Retrieved November 26, 2018.
  17. ^ Braun, Cassandra. March 2, 2002. "In the spotlight – Book explores movie magic," Contra Costa Times. Walnut Creek, California.
  18. ^ "Nonfiction Book Review - The Invisible Art: The Legends of Movie Matte Painting. Publishers Weekly. Retrieved November 29, 2018.
  19. ^ Benfey, Christopher. December 8, 2002. "Art." The New York Times. Retrieved November 29, 2018.
  20. ^ "The Science of Movie Co-hosted by Ben Burtt & Craig Barron," TCM Academy Conversations. Retrieved November 16, 2018.
  21. ^ King, Susan. "TCM Classic Film Festival: Oscar winners discuss making of Gunga Din," Los Angeles Times, March 27, 2015. Retrieved December 20, 2015.
  22. ^ Craig Barron, USC School of Cinematic Arts Directory Profile
  23. ^ Wolff, Ellen. February 10, 2019. "Learning from the Masters: Must-Take US Animation & VFX Classes." Animation Magazine. Retrieved February 15, 2019.
  24. ^ "Techno Chaplin: Modern Times." AMPAS Events. Retrieved November 15, 2018.
  25. ^ June 30, 2008. "Academy to Visit Modern Times with Techno Chaplin." Webwire. Retrieved November 15, 2018.
  26. ^ "Mysteries of the Krell: Making of Forbidden Planet." AMPAS Events. Retrieved November 15, 2017.
  27. ^ May 20, 2017. "The Adventures of Robin Hood with Oscar winners Ben Burtt & Craig Barron." Film Forum. Retrieved November 15, 2018.
  28. ^ "Academy Conversation: The War of the Worlds (1953)." TCM Classic Film Festival, Hollywood, 2016. April 28 - May 1, 2016. Retrieved June 27, 2016.
  29. ^ Information for Craig Barron, Supplement Participant. Criterion Forum. Retrieved October 20, 2021.
  30. ^ Citizen Kane, Edition no. 1104. The Criterion Collection. Retrieved October 21, 2021.]
  31. ^ Cook, Brad. November 17, 2020.4K Ultra HD Review – It’s a Wonderful Life (1946) Flickering Myth. Retrieved October 21, 2021.]
  32. ^ Atanasov, Dr. Svet. October 16, 2021. The Incredible Shrinking Man Blue-ray Review. Retrieved October 21, 2021.
  33. ^ Galloway, Chris. November 25, 2010. "Modern Times Blu-ray" Criterion Forum. Retrieved November 29, 2018.
  34. ^ Weber, Bill. November 24, 2010. Modern Times DVD Review. Slant Magazine. Retrieved November 29, 2018.
  35. ^ September 6, 2017. "Constructing the Eerie World of Rebecca." Inside Criterion / Sneak Peeks. Retrieved November 16, 2018.
  36. ^ July 27, 2018. "Across the Great Divide: Creating Powell and Pressburger’s Stairway to Heaven." Inside Criterion / Sneak Peeks. Retrieved November 16, 2018.
  37. ^ Bringing Up Baby, Edition no. 1085. Criterion Film Forum, The Criterion Collection. Retrieved October 20, 2021.
  38. ^ McClannahan, Sean. July 14, 2021. "Fistful of Features investigates new Criterion Collection release Bringing Up Baby," Elements of Madness (EOM). Retrieved on October 20, 2021.
  39. ^ Mallory, Mary. May 10, 2021. "Hollywood Heights: TCM Classic Film Festival 2021." The Daily Mirror. Retrieved October 21, 2021.
  40. ^ Significant Movies and Moviemakers: Citizen Kane. Academy Museum. Retrieved October 21, 2021.
  41. ^ Yamaot, Jen. September 9, 2021. "Inside the Academy Museum room where you'll meet R2-D2, E.T. and more icons of movie magic. The Los Angeles Times. Retrieved October 21, 2021.
  42. ^ 2018. Grand CLIO – Disney-PIXAR’s Coco VR. CLIO Awards. Retrieved November 16, 2018.
  43. ^ Abramian, Alexandria. January 23, 2014. "New VFX Firm Magnopus Sets Up in Downtown L.A." The Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved November 26, 2018.
  44. ^ Feltham, Jamie. October 25, 2017. "Blade Runner 2049: Memory Lab Is A VR Tie-In That Does The Series Proud." UploadVR. Retrieved November 16, 2018.
  45. ^ Blade Runner 2049: Memory Lab. Magnopus. Retrieved November 16, 2018.
  46. ^ Awards & Nominations 2018. Emmys. Retrieved November 16, 2018.
  47. ^ Ben-Moche, Erin. February 9, 2021. "Holocaust Museum LA, Television City, Magnopus Team up to Develop Virtual Immersive Experience." Jewish Journal. Retrieved October 21, 2021.
  48. ^ Awards Database. BAFTA. Retrieved November 30, 2018.
  49. ^ Awards Database. BAFTA. Retrieved November 30, 2018.
  50. ^ Wall Award Winners, 1974-Present. Theatre Library Association. Retrieved November 30, 2018.
  51. ^ Oscar G. Brockett Golden Pen Award Past Winners. Association for Performing Arts & Entertainment Professionals. Retrieved November 30, 2018.
  52. ^ 5th Annual VES Awards. Visual Effects Society. Retrieved November 30, 2018.
  53. ^ 6th Annual VES Awards. Visual Effects Society. Retrieved November 30, 2018.
  54. ^ Awards Database. BAFTA. Retrieved November 30, 2018.
  55. ^ VES Honors. Visual Effects Society. Retrieved November 30, 2018.
  56. ^ Clio Entertainment. Retrieved October 19, 2021.
  57. ^ Giardina, Carolyn. September 26, 2018. "Oscar Winners Craig Barron, Mike Fink Among New Visual Effects Society Members." The Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved November 14, 2018.
  58. ^ Robinson, Anna. October 26, 2010. "Caleb Deschanel & Randal Kleiser Join Academy's Science and Technology Council." Alt Film Guide. Retrieved November 30, 2018.
  59. ^ Wolfe, Jennifer. May 2, 2013. "Academy Honors Matte Painting and Digital Environments." Animation World Network. Retrieved December 3, 2015.
  60. ^ 2015-16 Council Members, Sci-Tech Council, AMPAS. Retrieved December 3, 2015.
  61. ^ SIGGRAPH 98 Animation Sketches - Invisible Effects. Archived 2008-11-22 at the Wayback Machine Retrieved November 29, 2018.

External linksEdit