A matte painting is a painted representation of a landscape, set, or distant location that allows filmmakers to create the illusion of an environment that is nonexistent in real life or would otherwise be too expensive or impossible to build or visit. The technique became a lost art as CGI came into vogue. Matte paintings were used to depict the skyline and part of the neighborhood in the first 90 seconds of Fright Night, as well as to obscure exterior sets on the lot where the movie was filmed.
The film begins with a shot of the full moon and the camera gradually pans down through the clouds and into the bedroom window of Charley Brewster. Although it appears to be a natural environment, this was primarily a matte shot composed by effects director of photography Neil Krepela and matte artist Matthew Yuricich. The shot ran approximately 150 feet, "which is the longest one I've ever done," commented Krepela during production.
The moon was a hi-res photograph printed on a plate from a telescope at The Griffith Observatory in Los Angeles (the same observatory featured in Rebel without a Cause). The shot was achieved using the multiplane camera technique, with the moon on the bottom plane and clouds being slowly manipulated on a pane of glass above it. "We had to illuminate the clouds very carefully so they looked as if they were being lit by the moon," commented Krepela. The camera then tilts into the blackness of the skyline, which is where it cuts to a matte painting.
The 5 and a half foot painting was designed to create a large view of Charley's neighborhood before cutting to Charley's bedroom set. "The main problem we had was being able to tie the move used for the live-action footage in with the move done on the matte painting," said Krepela. "I painted and changed things a number of times. It was almost a 'design-as-you-go' matte painting." To mask the transition from the painting to live-action, Krepela shot footage of a tree blowing in the breeze and then composited it into the foreground. Instead of shooting the scene in three passes, Krepela shot six, composing three additional dark contrast matte shots in order to blend the footage together and create a photo-realism.
Although not as extensive as the opening shot, similar techniques were employed for daytime scenes of Charley's neighborhood. A small portion of the cul-de-sac on the Disney backlot was replaced with a matte painting which obfuscated a building and created the illusion of an expansive town beyond Charley's neighborhood. Once again, trees were utilized to mask the seams in the shot (see comparison photo above).