Ellenshaw Worked his Magic on Such Classic Disney Live-Action Films as Mary Poppins, 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, Darby O'Gill and the Little People, Treasure Island, and The Black Hole.
Film critic and historian Leonard Maltin added, "Long before the era of modern special effects, Peter was working his magic in Disney films. People never knew how he accomplished his visual feats. Darby O'Gill and the Little People remains one of the most amazing, eye-popping achievements in all of film history. And when you think that Mary Poppins was made without anyone ever setting foot outside a soundstage ‘ let alone visiting London ‘ you get some idea of what he was able to pull off."
Craig Barron, president of Matte World Digital and co-author of the book The Invisible Art: The Legends of Movie Matte Paintings, observed, "Ellenshaw's matte work was truly the stuff that movie magic dreams were made of. He took audiences on cinematic journeys to the most incredible places like Captain Nemo's volcanic island from 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, or the fairy mountain cave of Darby O'Gill and the Little People, or a tour of London's magical rooftops for Mary Poppins. His matte-painting work belongs to that unsung craft that's now virtually disappeared. With only a small crew, he created, almost single-handedly, incredible moviemaking locations with just the sublime artistry of brush strokes – literally the 'art' in movies that generations of audiences have appreciated unawares, thanks to the skill of this great-departed movie artist."
Born in Great Britain in 1913, Ellenshaw began his film career in the early 1930s, when he apprenticed for visual effects pioneer W. Percy (Pop) Day, O.B.E. He worked on such productions as Things to Come, Rembrandt, Elephant Boy, The Thief of Bagdad, Sixty Glorious Years, A Matter of Life and Death, and the Michael Powell-Emeric Pressburger classic Black Narcissus.
After a stint as a pilot in the RAF during World War II, Ellenshaw created matte paintings for MGM's Quo Vadis. In 1947, his work caught the attention of an art director for the Walt Disney Studios. Disney was in the pre-planning stages of his very first live-action film, Treasure Island, which would be produced in Great Britain, and the art director inquired if Ellenshaw would be interested in the project. Thus began a professional collaboration and friendship with Walt Disney that would span over 30 years and 34 films.
Ellenshaw regarded Walt Disney as a source of inspiration, a wonderful executive, and over the years, a good friend. "Walt had the ability to communicate with artists," observed Ellenshaw. "He'd talk to you on your level ‘ artist to artist. He used to say, 'I can't draw, Peter.' But he had the soul of an artist, and he had a wonderful way of transferring his enthusiasm to you."
Among his many projects at Disney, Ellenshaw made major artistic contributions to the television shows Davy Crockett and Zorro, and such classic feature films as The Sword in the Rose, The Story of Robin Hood and his Merrie Men, Darby O'Gill and the Little People, Third Man on the Mountain, Swiss Family Robinson, The Love Bug, Bedknobs and Broomsticks, and The Black Hole. He officially retired from the Studio in 1979 but returned years later to paint several matte paintings for the 1990 film, Dick Tracy. He was designated a "Disney Legend" in 1993.
Ellenshaw's beloved wife of 58 years, Bobbie, passed away in 2000. He is survived by his two children, Lynda Ellenshaw Thompson (an industry veteran visual effects producer), and Harrison Ellenshaw (a visual effects artist who was an Oscar nominee for The Black Hole, matte supervisor on Star Wars: Episodes IV and V and visual effects supervisor for Tron), as well as his two grandchildren, Michael and Hilary.
Funeral services will be private. In lieu of flowers, donations can be made to Direct Relief International, Santa Barbara, California.
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