Peter Ellenshaw Master of 'Matte'

Above is an example of the beautiful ‘matte’ work that was used by Peter Ellenshaw for Walt Disney’s Story of Robin Hood (1952). The image was kindly sent in by Neil, from his copy of ‘Ellenshaw Under Glass’ and shows how the master of matte painting created his illusions. In the picture above from ‘Robin Hood’ (wrongly described in the book as from The Sword and The Rose) we see Queen Eleanor, Maid Marian and the Archbishop of Canterbury ride alongside the River Thames and into the Tower of London. In reality the only part of the set used, was the road in which the horses had to gallop along and some reflections in the water. The entire castle, the bridge, and the typical British sky were all painted into the final scene by Peter Ellenshaw.

An interesting article recently in The Daily Mail described the art of matte painting:

“Before computer-generated special effects, film-makers relied on ‘matte painting’ as a cheap substitute for building sets or filming on location. Matte paintings were made by artists using paints or pastels on large sheets of glass or integrating with the live-action footage via a double exposure.

Its foremost practitioner was Peter Ellenshaw (1913-2007), who joined Denham Studios in 1935 as an uncredited assistant to his stepfather, W. Percy Day, the inventor of matte painting on such things as Things To Come (1936) and The Thief Of Bagdad (1940).

In 1947, he created the wonderful mountain scenery for Michael Powell’s and Emeric Pressburger’s Black Narcissus. Martin Scorsese, a big fan, said that watching it was ‘like being bathed in colour.’”

After Black Narcissus, Ellenshaw worked on more than 30 films for Walt Disney Studios. 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 and his Merrie Men’ in 1952.

“Peter Ellenshaw is a clever young painter,” Dillon 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, ‘The 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. Ellenshaw was officially designated a ‘Disney Legend' in 1993.

 To read more about Peter Ellenshaw, Denham Studios, Carmen Dillon, Behind The Camera on this blog, please click on the relevant Label below.


Clement of the Glen said...

Peter Ellenshaw Master of Matte

Walt Disney's Story of Robin Hood and his Merrie Men (1952)

Matte Painting
Peter Ellenshaw (1913-2007)

Herns son said...

Wonderful work, its is very very hard trying to paint on glass, i have created a church on glass for a film i am making, i used acrilics to paint the mission then on the reverse side i painted thick black so that no light would show through, it worked, but my admaration for Peter Elenshaws work grew immensely, the master.

Neil said...

I agree totally with Mike regarding Peter Ellenshaw's stunning work in films. Some of the shots are mind blowing. I cant work out the scene where Robin and his father walk through the forest with Nottingham Castle on a hill behind them. I know it must be a matte shot but where would the 'join' come ? I also have tried this technique by using our window as the glass and lining that up with the top of the end fence thus changing the whole view and then have people moving around in the garden to give the effect of realism in the scene. My attempt was not impressive though. With Peter Ellenshaw's work you just cant see anything but absolute realism. As someone commented about this technique - the better you are the less people know you exist.

Clement of the Glen said...

I have painted on canvas etc. but never on glass. It must be extremely difficult.

I have just seen your matte work Mike. You did a very good job. When will your movie be finished?

Neil, that is an ingenious idea you had with your window!

There was a quality to Peter Ellenshaws work that is lacking in modern day computer work. His painting has often been described as 'picture book art work.' And I think it lended itself pretty well to the Disney magic.