Magazine article American Cinematographer

Linwood Dunn, ASC, Named for Special Award

Magazine article American Cinematographer

Linwood Dunn, ASC, Named for Special Award

Article excerpt

Linwood G. Dunn, ASC, has been named to receive the Honorary Award of the ASC in recognition of his pioneering contributions to the art of special visual effects. The presentation will be made at the Fourth Annual ASC Awards program at the Beverly Hilton on February 25. Dunn will be the first recipient of this newly created accolade.

Dunn's first work in motion pictures was as a projectionist in his native New York City in 1923. He was also pursuing a second career as a saxophonist in dance bands, but in 1925 his musical activities were pushed into the background when he took a job as assistant cameraman on The Green Archer, one of the popular Pathé serials then being made in New York and New Jersey. He came west when Pathé moved its serial unit to Hollywood, assisting Eddie Snyder, ASC, and Frank Redman, ASC, on four ÉÏ-episode serials. The first, Snowed In, had to be photographed in Idaho because California proved to lack the requisite snow.

He became second cameraman on Hawk of the Hills in 1927. The duty of the second cameraman was to photograph a separate negative of the entire 20-reel show. This negative was sent overseas and used to make British and foreign language prints. In 1929 he was graduated to first cameraman (parlance of the time for director of photography) on the last Pathé serial, Queen of the Northwoods. A victim of the Great Depression, Pathé then went into receivership while a legion of serial fans mourned.

Grabbing whatever jobs for extra cameramen came his way, Dunn managed to survive by playing saxophone in a six-piece jazz band in a basement nightclub. A short time later, he took a temporary job as a cameraman in the special effects department of the new RKO Radio Pictures, Inc. He remained with the company for 28 years, during which he worked as an effects cameraman, as a director of photography, as head of the optical camera department, and as head of the photographic effects department.

Working with artist Paul Detlefsen, Dunn made his first matte shots for Ringside in 1929. Thereafter, he created visual effects for virtually all of the studio's productions, including such milestones as Flying Down to Rio, Cimarron, King Kong, The Last Days of Pompeii, She, Gunga Din, The Hunchback of Notre Dame, Citizen Kane, Mighty Joe Young (which brought RKO an Academy Award for Special Effects) and The Thing. Although he was involved in all aspects of effects cinematography, he soon began to specialize in optical effects. For most of his work he utilized optical printers of his own design, pieced together from production cameras and other equipment and mounted in heavy lathe beds for stability.

Much of the distinctive "RKO look" can be attributed to Dunn, even including the company's screen trademark-the big miniature of the top of the world with a radio tower beeping and throwing bolts of electricity among glass-painted clouds. The elaborate, theme-related transitional wipes for several high-style musicals of 1933 - So This is Harris, Melody Cruise, Hips Hips Hooray and the fantastical Flying Down to Rio - started a trend often imitated. …

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