The Magic of Ellenshaw

Walt Disney with Peter Ellenshaw

Amongst the credits for Walt Disney’s ‘Story of Robin Hood’ is the name of Peter Ellenshaw, Matte Artist. So what is a Matte Artist?

Born in Britain in 1913 Peter Ellenshaw’s artistic talents were discovered by Percy Day, a pioneering visual effects

specialist and ingenious trick photographer. 'Poppa’ Day had learned his trade and magic from the great French illusionist George Melies. Poppa took Ellenshaw under his wing and guided him not only with his painting on canvas but also on glass, for creating matte background for film.

Matte paintings are usually paintings made on glass, fixed to the camera. There are certain holes left in the painting so the camera can see through the glass and into the set, thus creating the illusion that the set and the painting are one and the same.

After a brief period with MGM, Ellenshaw was noticed by an Art Director involved in the pre-planning stages of ‘Treasure Island’ for Walt Disney. So in 1947 Ellenshaw began a partnership with the Disney organisation that would last over thirty years. He painted twelve matte shots for Robin Hood and went on to create seventy-five for Disney’s ‘Sword and the Rose.’

Peter Ellenshaw has left us with a legacy of memorable images from those Live-action films. Apart from his work in ‘The Story of Robin Hood’, who can forget the beginning of Mary Poppins as the camera pans over London at dusk and then zooms onto Mary sitting on a cloud? The atmospheric image of the masts of the ships in the harbour, from '20,000 Leagues Under the Sea’ or even his earlier work, creating the Roman cities in ‘Spartacus’.

For his 102 different evocative mattes of Edwardian London in Disney’s groundbreaking ‘Mary Poppins,’ Ellenshaw won a well deserved Academy Award and Walt Disney became a close personal friend.

“Walt,” he said,” was the dominant figure in my life for all those years. He talked to me as a father would, I cherished our relationship.”
When Disney died in 1968, Ellenshaw said that, “making movies wasn’t the same any more. I ceased to be interested in film making.”

© Clement of the Glen 2006-2007


robin hood said...

A link to this site is now in place on my main Robin Hood blog.

Best wishes from Sherwood Forest.


Clement of the Glen said...

Thanks Robin!