The Boca Raton Museum of Art reveals one of Hollywood's most well-kept secrets for the first time—Hollywood’s painted backdrops

The most beautiful illusions ever created for films will make their world premiere in South Florida from April 20, 2022, until Jan. 22, 2023, showcasing the artists that were the backbone of the film industry. 

The show’s immersive experience highlights 22 scenic backdrops, made for the movies between 1938 and 1968, and will include interactive video reels that will tell the artist stories behind each backdrop. Soundscapes have been engineered to surround visitors in the museum, including atmospheric sound effects related to the backdrops of the original movie. 

“These monumental paintings were essential to moviemaking for almost a century, and were never meant to be seen by the public with a naked eye,” Leonard Maltin, renowned film critic, said in a statement. “Having this rare opportunity to experience these American masterpieces up close is long overdue.” 

What is a 'Rigger' in Film and TV?One of Hollywood's greatest creative secrets is finally on displayCredit: Jen Reel, University of Texas at Austin, College of Fine Arts

This is a well-deserved moment for the dozens of unidentified studio artists whose uncredited craftsmanship made scenes of Mount Rushmore, Ben Hur’s Rome, the von Trapp Family’s Austrian Alps, and Gene Kelly’s Paris street dance possible. 

These backdrops were created for the camera lens itself and not for the human eyes. The impressionistic style of the painting known as photo-realistic looks very different when viewed through a camera lens. Visitors are encouraged to take photos with their cameras to see the level of artistry that these uncredited artists have achieved. 

“This show is about the joy of reliving something you grew up with, that you always thought was real,” curator Thomas A. Walsh said in a statement. “It’s about getting as close to that magical moment in time as you can. […] It is difficult for people to get their minds around the awesome size of these magical spaces until they see them in person.” 

These backdrops were first saved by Lynne Coakley or the J.C. Backings Corporation, which acquired over two thousand backdrops from MGM storage in the 70s. In 2012, The Art Directors Guild Archives launched the Backdrop Recovery Project to preserve the backings and make them available for study.

Karen L. Maness, a professor at the University of Texas at Austin, saw an amazing opportunity to use the artifacts as a part of a learning lab in which students could use the high-realism scenic paintings as inspirations for their work. 

The_art_of_hollywood_backdropThe Art of Hollywood's Backdrop

Maness also conducted extensive oral history interviews with the last surviving artists, their family members, and their acolytes to record and preserve their previously unacknowledged histories. Visitors to the exhibit will be able to listen to “these artists’ stories before they disappeared,” Maness said. 

Many of these artists came from a family tradition of the craft, with lineages spanning three generations of painters. Most were trained artists, yet they remained uncredited because the studios wanted to keep their secret techniques under wraps. 

These are some of the largest paintings ever created in the world, and they will be available for you to see one of Hollywood’s most guarded creative secrets unveiled for the first time on April 20. Let us know if you visit the Boca Raton Museum of Art and which backdrop is your favorite!