The Truest Rendering Of Merrie Old England

The picture shows Richard Todd, Lawrence Watkin (script writer), Perce Pearce (producer) and Dr Charles Beard (research advisor) during the planning stages of the film, ‘Story of Robin Hood and his Merrie Men,’ visiting Ye Olde Trip To Jerusalem, in Nottingham.

In March 1952 Walt Disney spent three days with Ken Annakin, visiting Sherwood Forest and looking over a number of castles in the Midlands. But Disney was disappointed to see that most of them were ruined by Cromwell’s cannons centuries ago. He liked perfection in the realisation of his dreams.

So after leaving Nottingham, he said to Carmen Dillon, the art director and Perce Pearce, “I want this movie to be the truest rendering of ‘merrie old England’ to date. But I think shooting up here on location is a sheer waste of money. Ken (Annakin) says he can find a forest of oaks, within five miles of the studio and your castle set Carmen, can be much more impressive and realistic than any of these ruins we’ve seen. Is there such a thing as a good matte painter in England?”

It was Carman who suggested Peter Ellenshaw, “he is a clever young painter,” he said, “and has the backing of his father-in-law, Poppa Day, who has been doing optical tricks and matte’s with Korda for many years.”

“Sounds good,” said Walt, “we’ll paint all the long shots of medieval Nottingham, the castle, Richard going to the Crusades etc etc on glass. They’ll be much more fun than the real thing.”

Poppa Day had passed on his knowledge to Peter Ellenshaw, he had taught him how to give depth to a painting, the illusion of movement in a glass shot and how to marry special effects with painted mattes. But it was Walt Disney himself who taught Ellenshaw the use of false perspective and the importance of atmosphere in a painting.

This resulted in Peter Ellenshaw painting twelve matte shots for the movie and later becoming the matte genius of the world. He eventually moved from London to Burbank and was given a life long contract by Walt Disney.

© Clement of the Glen 2006-2007

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