Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea
Photographer and special effects master L.B. Abbott  

(Lenwood Ballard Abbott)
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In 1961, when photographer L.B.
Abbott joined forces with Irwin
Allen to create the feature-film
Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea,
he brought to the project 35 years
of experience in the film industry.
The odyssey began in 1926, when
just weeks before entering Cal-
Tech, his date's girl friend's escort,
a secretary to the head of the
camera department at Fox Studios
asked him if he wanted to become
an assistant cameraman.  His answer
was yes, his first film assignment was
 "What Price Glory", and a career
was off and rolling.  In the ensuing
years, he learned the art of creating
special effects using miniature sets
 and in-the-camera tricks.  He learned
how to make things look real
without the use of a computer.



Model shot from 1930's Just Imagine.
"Just Imagine"

Though not directly involved 
 with the miniature photography 
 in "Just Imagine", that 1930
silent film gave L.B. Abbot
early exposure to some of the
best model work being done
at the time.

     Continuing into the 1930s, Abbott cut his teeth as an assistant with a number of talented directors and photographers, including Ernest Palmer, John Seitz, Henry Hathaway, George Stevens and John Ford.  But in 1937, Fox was making the film In Old Chicago, and the special effects department was overloaded with work.  Abbot spent three months there helping out, his first official responsibilities in the effects department.  In the years that followed, Abbot worked occasional in effects, meeting the right people and learning the craft, becoming familiar with matte paintings, multiple exposure techniques, glass shots, rear screen projection and more. 

L.B. Abbot circa 1932
 Left,  L.B. Abbot.  
 In the early days of sound, because 
 of the noise it generated, the camera 
 had to be isolated from the set.  The 
 primitive sound isolation booth be-
 hind Abbott in this photo is an 
 example of such a housing.  They 
 were stifling and totally uncomfor-
 table to work in.  The camera 
 photographed through a heavy 
 sheet of glass on the side of the 

FX shot from 1938's SUEZ
By 1938, Abbott was deeply involved with
miniature visual effects, having been the
special effects cameraman on Fox's "Suez".

Right, another photo of L.B. 
Abbott from the 30s.  Note 
that his camera, rather than 
being housed in a huge sound 
isolation booth, now has it's 
own built-in sound deadening 
"blimp".  These housings 
were still cumber-some, but 
a vast improvement over the 
older shed-style booth. 

   L.B.Abbott in staged photo.

     In 1943, Fred Serson, legendary head of Fox's effects department, asked Abbott to come aboard full time.  He agreed, joined the team, and really began honing the skills and talent of a true special effects master.  In 1957, L.B. Abbott was named head of what was now know as 20th Century Fox's special photographic effects department.  During the 60s, the demand for photographic effects mushroomed along with the popularity of science-fiction and, yes, disaster movies.  L.B. Abbott was in the right place at the right time. But, oh my goodness, he didn't even have a computer!  How did he direct the creation of all those really nifty special effects?  The old fashioned way, as is implied by the title of a book on Abbott issued by the American Society of Cinematographers.  The title of the book:  Special effects--Wire, Tape and Rubber Band Style.

FX shot from Tora Tora Tora 
       Above, yet another example of the kind of work that could be accomplished with miniature sets and models, from the Abbott supervised Tora! Tora! Tora!  Find out about the Voyage miniatures and more about the effects techniques used in the movie and TV series' production in the next update.  

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