Frank D. Williams (cinematographer)

Frank D. Williams (March 21, 1893 – October 15, 1961) was a pioneering cinematographer who was active in the early days of the motion picture industry. He developed and patented the traveling matte shot.[1]

Frank D. Williams
Still from The Isle of Destiny (1920) with Hazel Hudson, Paul Gilmore, and Frank D. Williams.
Born(1893-03-21)March 21, 1893
DiedOctober 16, 1961(1961-10-16) (aged 68)
Resting placeHollywood Forever Cemetery
Years active1912–1955
Known forInvention of traveling matte shot

Early life

Frank D. Williams was born March 21, 1893, to James and Lucinda Williams in the small community of Nashville, Missouri.


In 1912, Williams became a cameraman at Keystone Studios. There, in 1914, he was the photographer for many of Charlie Chaplin's first-year pictures, including Kid Auto Races at Venice which was the first film released in which The Tramp appeared.[2][lower-alpha 1] Williams is credited as appearing in Kid Auto Races at Venice, playing a cameraman, but his appearance is in doubt.[3]:290 For a time he was chief cinematographer at Keystone, and a large number of the studio's 1914 films are credited to him as photographer. He defected to work for the short-lived Sterling Motion Pictures, but returned to Keystone when Sterling closed in 1915.[3] He also worked a camera for Henry Lehrman's L-Ko Kompany, Reliance-Majestic Studios, and Bluebird Photoplays.

When Roscoe Arbuckle formed a new motion picture company, Comique, in 1917, he hired Williams to be his cameraman. At Comique, Williams also shot Buster Keaton's first film appearance, The Butcher Boy (1917). His tenure there was also short; he shot three films for Arbuckle (Butcher Boy, A Reckless Romeo, and The Rough House) before departing to start his own lab.[4] His business did not get off the ground quickly, and he supplemented his income by continuing to work as a cameraman. He was director of photography at Sessue Hayakawa's Haworth Pictures Corporation and is credited with 15 pictures that came out of that studio between 1919 and 1921.

While he was working as a cameraman at various studios, Williams worked on his idea for a traveling matte in which the actions of actors would be combined with a filmed moving background. Available technology prevented him from achieving the effect he envisioned until he built a printer himself to his own specification.[4] He filed for a patent in May 1916, and it was granted in July 1918.[5] The process was first used in a motion picture in 1922's Wild Honey.[6]

Partial filmography


  1. It was not the first time The Tramp was filmed, however; that was in Mabel's Strange Predicament, shot by H.F. Koenekamp, released after Kid Auto Races.[2]:21


  1. Fielding, Raymond (2013). Techniques of Special Effects of Cinematography. CRC Press. p. 192. ISBN 978-1-136-05554-6.
  2. Neibaur, James L. (2012). Early Charlie Chaplin: The Artist as Apprentice at Keystone Studios. Scarecrow Press. pp. 18–19, 21. ISBN 978-0-8108-8242-3.
  3. Walker, Brent E. (2013). Mack Sennett's Fun Factory: A History and Filmography of His Studio and His Keystone and Mack Sennett Comedies. McFarland. p. 265. ISBN 978-0-7864-7711-1.
  4. Foote, Lisle (2014). "Frank D. Williams". Buster Keaton's Crew: The Team Behind His Silent Films. McFarland. ISBN 978-0-7864-9683-9.
  5. US patent 1273435, Williams, Frank D., "Method of taking motion pictures", issued 1918-July-23
  6. York, Cal (April 1926). "How They Do It!". Photoplay. XXIX (5): 28–31, 114–115. Retrieved 2015-03-18.
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