Wonder of Dawn

16mm + 35mm slides, color, sound | variable length |  2021

In 1907, at the age of 21, Norman O. Dawn created the first known matte painting shot for motion pictures. A methodical filmmaker, he kept copious notebooks with detailed notes of his techniques and experiments. On the margins of one of these notebooks a series of unrelated annotations can be found. When put together they form a set of instructions. Inspired by this peculiar text and his pioneering work we have created an homage to Dawn and his wonder.


Wonder of Dawn is an installation that comprises a custom-built room and 16mm film and 35mm slide projection. The 16mm film projection is a loop of matte paintings culled from the backgrounds of commercial sci-fi and fantasy films. It is a continuous panning shot that simulates depth by means of an artificial parallax effect. The 16mm projector is modified to run at 15 fps. A motorized color wheel (with 4 different colors) in front of the 16mm projector simulates changes in daylight. The 35mm slides provide viewing instructions. Both sets of images are projected from the outside of the room onto two rear projection screens. Inside the room visitors will find the two projections along with a custom-built chair and a decorative artificial plant. The sound for the piece comes from a speaker built into the chair. Visitors are welcome to sit on the chair.

In addition to the room there is a printed handout. It tells the story of Norman O. Dawn, who was a pioneer of optical effects and the creator of the first matte painting ever used in film. The handout is displayed in a custom-built stand.

Room design: Ivan Kiss

Backstory (PDF)