Peter Ellenshaw

We have recently discussed on here the incredible talent of the matte artist Peter Ellenshaw (1913-2007).

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 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.

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.

Quite a while ago Neil wrote to me about a documentary called Ellenshaw Under Glass. which was available on YouTube that not only described the fascinating life and breath taking talent of Peter Ellenshaw, but showed the technique of matte painting.

Below are the clips from Youtube; I am sure you will find it very interesting.


Clement Glen said...

Peter Ellenshaw (1913-2007)
Ellenshaw Under Glass
Matte Painting
Walt Disney

Special thanks to Neil.

Neil said...

It is certainly a very interesting and entertaining documentary on Peter Ellenshaw and the fascinating art of glass matte painting of which he was a master -as Ken Annakin says he was able to create a scene that looked 'even realer than real'. In this film it shows the scene from this film with Robin and his father and Nottingham Castle in the background as a 'before and after' shot and we are then able to see where the real picture ends and the matte shot begins which is just not possible when viewing this breathtaking scene. The large matte of Rome for Quo Vadis is another great one - but then again there are so many. I always think some of the best are in Rob Roy and Davy Crockett when the process was able to give the films a visual scale not otherwise possible. The later Robin Hood films to my mind are unable to come near this one in authenticity mainly because Peter Ellenshaw was able to give us exactly what our imaginations would or perhaps should have given us.

Mike Giddens said...

Neil , you've said it all ,a truly amazing artist.

Clement Glen said...

Neil summed it up perfectly. Ellenshaw's artwork added a storybook quality that somehow blended in with our imagination.