Ellenshaw is best known for his incredible matte paintings in Disney live action films ranging from The Story of Robin Hood through 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea and Mary Poppins (above). His work can also be seen in Spartacus, Superman IV and The Black Hole. He is the father of Harrison Ellenshaw (Star Wars).
He also worked on TRON. Before there was CGI there was matte painting, usually done on glass. These paintings would be painstakingly composited with live action film. There are some great memories of Ellenshaw’s work in the comments section of Cartoon Brew which remind us, that, for instance, everything in Mary Poppins was a matte painting. The effect seems a bit artificial to modern standards, but the magic these paintings created is eternal
All of these places exist in Disney films because Peter Ellenshaw was an absolute master of matte painting. He could take these rough bits of film that Walt or Bill Walsh or Robert Stevenson would hand him and then — with just a few flicks of a brush — extend a half-built set. Or make a miniature seem downright enormous. That way, Mary Poppins would then have a proper looking English park to take Jane & Michael Banks to. Or Eglantine Price would then have a properly moody English moor on which to battle Nazis.
So much of the magic that we took for granted in those Walt Disney Productions of the 1950s, 1960s & 1970s was a direct result of Ellenshaw’s talent & artistry. His ability to take those blank bits of screen and make them seem real. Which is why we believed that Jim Douglas & Tennessee Steinmetz actually did live in an old San Francisco firehouse with Herbie the Love Bug. Or that Jim Hawkins & Long John Silver really did drop anchor at Treasure Island.
[Above photo taken from the Dave Land blog, a vintage Disney site.]
PS: Cartoon Brew has a new, remodeled site, now with comments, and it looks swell.