Thursday, February 15, 2007

Peter Ellenshaw, RIP

Let's note here -- a trifle belatedly -- that one of the giants of matte painting has left us: visual effects wizard Peter Ellenshaw:

The British-born Ellenshaw's more than 30-year association with Walt Disney Studios began in 1947 when he was hired in London to do matte paintings for Disney's first live-action film, "Treasure Island" (1950).

In 1953, he was brought to California to work on "20,000 Leagues Under the Sea," for which he created several matte paintings of Capt. Nemo's secret island base of Vulcania.

He went on to do matte paintings and other special effects for more than 30 other Disney films, including "The AbsentMinded Professor," "Pollyanna," "Swiss Family Robinson," "The Happiest Millionaire," "The Love Bug" and "The Black Hole." He also did matte paintings for Disney TV fare, such as "Davy Crockett, King of the Wild Frontier," "Zorro" and "Texas John Slaughter."

I got to know Peter when he came out of retirement to art direct the Disney space opera entitled The Black Hole. He was always dapper, resembling a British major with his carefully trimmed moustache. His art work for the movie was spectacular. As always.

The last time I saw Peter Ellenshaw was during lunch at the tennis club behind Warner Bros. He was retired again and painting landscapes, still dapper, and that day ebullient. He related how he had just made a killing in the then-recent gold and silver run-up. (This was at the time Bunker Hunt tried to corner the silver market...and failed. Gold and silver had risen 800 or 900 percent before crashing. Mr. Ellenshaw had gotten out at the top. I had a little money in precious metals, and managed to bail at the bottom with my usual fabulous timing.)

I remember I wasn't nearly as jovial as he was.

Mr. Ellenshaw spent the last quarter century of his life happily painting in Santa Barbera, after a lifetime of stellar film work. We should all be so blessed.


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