As the leather bound story book opens, at the start of Walt Disney’s ‘Story of Robin Hood’, we see a sketch of Huntingdon Manor. The home of the Earl of Huntingdon and his beautiful daughter, Maid Marian. The drawing then magically dissolves into what we are led to believe is the ‘real manor’. A clever device which gives us our first introduction to the work of the British ‘matte’ artist Peter Ellenshaw.
I had intended to begin this post with a description of the first scene of Disney’s ‘Story of Robin Hood’. But I then discovered the sad news of the death of the man who made the opening of this wonderful film possible, someone I greatly admired, Peter Ellenshaw. Peter sadly passed away in Santa Barbara on the 12th February 2007 aged 93.
Before film companies were able to use computers to generate their special effects, it was the movie pioneers like Peter Ellenshaw, whose artistic talent was used to create the fantastic backdrops for the studios, saving film producers the major headache of travelling around the globe, searching for exotic locations or creating impossibly huge and expensive sets.
With his paintbrush and the illusion of the matte process, Peter Ellenshaw was able to create for film production with his art work, the fantastic ‘sets’ they required. Any lover of the classic Walt Disney movies, such as Mary Poppins, Bedknobs and Broomsticks, 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea, The Love Bug and Swiss Family Robinson, or even the Disney TV shows, Davy Crockett and Zorro, will have witnessed, possibly without even realising it, the magic of Ellenshaw.
He began working as a freelancer for Walt Disney in 1947 and became involved in the making of Treasure Island, the studios first live-action movie. It was the great art director Carmen Dillon, that recommended Peter’s work to Walt Disney, for his next project in England, ‘The Story of Robin Hood’ in 1952.
“Peter Ellenshaw is a clever young painter,” she said, “and has the backing of his father-in-law, Poppa Day, who has been doing optical tricks and mattes with Korda for many years.”
Walt Disney was interested and replied, “Good! We’ll paint all the long shots of medieval Nottingham, the castle, Richard going to the Crusades, etc. on glass. They’ll be much more fun than the real thing.”
On ‘Robin Hood’, Peter Ellenshaw eventually painted twelve matte shots. A technique that impressed the film’s producer, Ken Annakin so much, that in his next picture for Disney, ‘Sword and the Rose’, he used seventy five of Ellenshaw’s fine matte work.
So began Peter’s long career with the Disney Studios and a 30 year friendship with Walt Disney himself, of whom he regarded as a wonderful inspiration. Culminating with over 34 films, designing and painting the very first map of Disneyland and being officially designated a ‘Disney Legend' in 1993.
THANK YOU FOR THE MAGIC, PETER!
© Clement of the Glen 2006-2007