Friday, February 16, 2007

Peter Ellenshaw

If you think the image above is a photograph, you've been fooled by the prodigious talent of Peter Ellenshaw, who I am sad to learn has died at the age of 93. Mr. Ellenshaw was a master of the nearly lost art of matte painting, the movie special effects process in which live-action film footage is projected onto or composited into a photo-realistic landscape painted on glass, combining them into one. It's a terrific combination of artistry and technology that, when done right, goes unnoticed. I was a great admirer of his work years before I knew it. These days those types of effects are mostly computer-generated, and while much has been gained by that advance I think quite a bit of style, vision, and artistry have been lost.
Mr. Ellenshaw was born in Britain and began working for Walt Disney in the 1950s on movies such as "Treasure Island," "20,000 Leagues Under the Sea," "Mary Poppins," "The Love Bug," "Bedknobs and Broomsticks," "The Black Hole," and (years after his official retirement) "Dick Tracy," creating bustling seaports, London parks, San Francisco streetscapes, and entire universes with paint. He also worked for Stanley Kubrick on "Spartacus" and produced artwork for Disneyland. In addition, Mr. Ellenshaw did the movie-going world a great service by teaching the ropes to his son Harrison, who made his own mark in matte painting, notably with "Star Wars" and "The Empire Strikes Back."
Mary Poppins portrayed by Julie Andrews;
everything else portrayed by Peter Ellenshaw.
Winner of an Oscar for "Mary Poppins" and named a "Disney Legend" in 1993, Mr. Ellenshaw was also reportedly one of the kindest, humblest, most generous people in the business. A better tribute with more examples of Mr. Ellenshaw's artwork can be found on writer Brian Sibley's blog, and the Ellenshaw family has its own website with a tribute and samples of his work as well. You can't feel too bad when someone passes away after a long life well-lived, but Mr. Ellenshaw will be appreciated and missed.


Andrew Glazebrook said...

That was a sad day !! He was a true genius !

Brian Fies said...

Thanks, Andrew. I agree.