Gone With the Wind’s Special Effects

A book to celebrate GWTW's 75th Anniversary!

A book to celebrate GWTW’s 75th Anniversary!

During August 1939, special-photographic-effects artist Jack Cosgrove and the assistants he supervised at Selznick International Pictures worked day and night to create a virtual reality for Gone With the Wind.

The movie magic that Cosgrove conjured for producer David O. Selznick materialized through matte painting. Any visual elements needed for the film that were too costly or too difficult to build or photograph or that did not exist in real life were painted on 30-inch by 40-inch glass panels. These matte-painted images, called “Cosgrove shots,” were then combined with the footage shot by the director on the set or on location.

Cosgrove produced hundreds of these special effects for Gone With the Wind. Here are samples of his work related to three significant Gone With the Wind residences:

Tara.  The O’Hara homestead was built on the back lot, with visible views of Culver City and other movie sets in the background. Matte paintings of the sky and trees were combined with a process shot of the house for the first glimpse of Tara and for the scene in which Scarlett abandons the Tarletons to meet her father on his return from Twelve Oaks.  

In the “Land’s the Only Thing That Lasts” sequence, Scarlett and Gerald O’Hara gaze at Tara in the distance. This pull-back shot incorporated three matte paintings – one of the house, one of the sky and one of the tree – combined with a process shot of Vivien Leigh and Thomas Mitchell in silhouette.

Twelve Oaks. The long shot of the mounted riders and the carriages entering the gates of Twelve Oaks was a combination of matte paintings of the house, the driveway, the trees and other surroundings plus a process shot of the riders and the carriages. Cosgrove ran out of time and couldn’t go back to perfect this sequence by having shade fall on the guests as they enter the tree-shadowed area of the driveway.

The arrival of guests at the Twelve Oaks porch was filmed using the entrance to Stage 11 as the backdrop for the Wilkes family home. Everything else – landscaping, massive white columns, vine-covered facade, windows – were rendered in matte paintings.  

In the scene during which Scarlett whispers for Ashley to join her in the Twelve Oaks library for her declaration of love, observe the hallway through which the elegant Mr. Wilkes walks. The ceiling and the crystal chandelier were matte paintings.  

Scarlett and Rhett’s Atlanta House. The sequence in which Pork, Prissy and Mammy arrive at Butler mansion was filmed at the entrance way to the Selznick International Pictures’ studio. The stone wall, landscaping and the mansion were matte paintings.

Happy 75th Anniversary, Gone With the Wind!

Blog Bio: Pauline Bartel is the author of The Complete GONE WITH THE WIND Trivia Book (2nd edition) and an expert on the film and its history. Visit the website (www.paulinebartel.com/resources/books/books-available) for further information. Follow her on Twitter @PaulineBartel and “like” her on Facebook (www.facebook.com/TheCompleteGWTWTriviaBook).

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