Lenwood Ballard 'L.B.' Abbott, A.S.C., was a Special Effects expert, cinematographer and cameraman. There are 82 movies in Abbott's work library including M*A*S*H*, Patton, Valley of the Dolls, Our Man Flint, The Towering Inferno and many, many more. He was responsible for the Special Photographic Effects on Planet of the Apes (1968) and its sequel, Beneath the Planet of the Apes (1970). He is also frequently reported as having contributed (uncredited) Special Effects to further sequels Escape from the Planet of the Apes (1971), Conquest of the Planet of the Apes (1972), Battle for the Planet of the Apes (1973) and the Planet of the Apes TV Series (1974).

The son of Lenwood Abbott, a cinematographer on silent films, he began his career with Twentieth Century Fox at the age of 18 (four months after graduating from Hollywood High School) in 1926 as an assistant cameraman on What Price Glory. As an assistant, he learned from master cameramen such as John Seitz, Ernest Palmer, John Ford, George Stevens and Henry Hathaway. He stayed with Fox, becoming Director of Photography in 1943 - in charge of the Special Effects Camera Department under the supervision of Fred Sersen - and finally becoming head of the Special Effects Department in 1957. Abbott provided the effects for many Irwin Allen TV productions, including Voyage To The Bottom Of The Sea, Lost In Space and Time Tunnel. Voyage was Allen’s first big success, and included many excellent effects including the flaming Van Allen radiation belt. To create this effect in Technicolor and Cinemascope, a flame thrower was used that shot flame twenty feet. This was filmed, and run through the optical printer some fifty-seven times until the effect was achieved. In the final film, the sky seemed engulfed in flame. The film opened with a shot of the Seaview surfacing at the polar cap. To produce this Abbott and his team built a scale model submarine and launched it in the studio tank on the back lot. The craft was carefully positioned below water at the right trajectory, then by means of a trip release and winch with a line on the tail of the sub, the craft's natural buoyancy was accelerated for the jump-up effect. Within the model itself high-pressure water hoses were connected to ballast portholes to produce the effect of water ballast issuing forth from the submarine. A detergent was added to the water to give the effect of turbulence.[1]

Abbott learned that by filming the explosions of miniatures at an extremely fast speed, the size and power look to be magnified. He first used this technique in Tora, Tora, Tora (1970), which dramatized the attack on Pearl Harbor, for which he won an Academy Award. To achieve as much realism as possible, the size of the ships, by model standards, were huge. The Japanese ships were built at a scale of 1/2 inch to the foot, while the American ships were 3/4 inch to the foot. The average length of the model ships was forty feet. The American ships were built at a larger scale because they were to be shown blowing up and explosions look more realistic if the scale of the models is larger. The models were photographed at the Fox Serson tank, which measured 360 feet square. For this film Abbott supervised the front projection and travelling matte shots. According to Abbott (from John Brosnan’s Movie Magic) “We used front projection quite extensively on this picture. For example all of the Japanese air sequences in which you see the other planes involved with the foreground characters were done with front projection.”[1]

Abbott officially "retired" from his post as head of Fox’s Special Effects Department in 1970, but for the next decade he was frequently called out of retirement to make film the medium of the fantastic on large-scale projects, including working on the TV series M*A*S*H in 1972 (Abbott had worked on the film on which the series was based). He worked on two classics of disaster cinema, The Poseidon Adventure (1972) and The Towering Inferno (1974). The Towering Inferno was a special effects dream; just about every scene in the film required an effect. The miniature of the Glass Tower, which was eventually set on fire, was in itself two stories high. Some miniature! Abbott worked on the special photographic effects, including the painting in the film’s opening of the Tower. A.D. Flowers handled the mechanical effects. The most impressive set in Inferno was the skyscraper’s roof garden area, the Promenade deck, which was entirely destroyed before filming of the action sequences was completed. The set covered more than 11,000 square feet of sound stage area, its many levels raised from six to twelve feet above the stage floor and towering an additional 25 feet upward. A 340-feet cyclorama showing the San Francisco skyline encircled the set - truly impressive.[1] L.B. Abbott earned four Academy Awards for visual effects, having been nominated for Journey to the Center of the Earth (1959). He won for Doctor Dolittle (1967, produced by Arthur P. Jacobs), Tora, Tora, Tora, The Poseidon Adventure and Logan's Run (1976). His book 'Special Effects - Wire, Tape and Rubber Band Style' was published less than a year before his death in 1985.

External LinksEdit


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 SFX on the Planet of the Apes, by Tom Sciacca - 'Planet of the Apes' UK #96 (18 August 1976)