Jun 23, 2009

PETER ELLENSHAW – Art Director/Visual Effects Artist – to be Honored

Peter Ellenshaw had a very long and productive career, especially in his association with the Walt Disney Company.

Working as an Art Director and Production Designer as well as in special effects, miniature effects and as a Matte Artist, his extensive and impressive career spanned from 1935 as an (uncredited) assistant on THE GHOST GOES WEST, all the way through until 1990 with DICK TRACY (also uncredited).

Peter Ellenshaw was responsible for the effects in some of my favorite films from the Walt Disney Company including: TREASURE ISLAND (1950), 20,000 LEAGUES UNDER THE SEA (1954), OLD YELLER (1957), THE ABSENT MINDED PROFESSOR (1961), IN SEARCH OF THE CASTAWAYS (1962), THE LOVE BUG (1968), BEDKNOBS AND BROOMSTICKS (1971), THE ISLAND AT THE TOP OF THE WORLD (1974), THE BLACK HOLE (1979) and most importantly the Disney masterpiece MARY POPPINS (1964). Oh yes and did I mention that he also drew the first map and the initial plans for Disneyland!

Peter Ellenshaw maps Disneyland

Who can forget such great moments as the flubber enhanced basketball game in THE ABSENT MINDED PROFESSOR (or the bouncing up and down shot from Keenan Wynn’s point-of-view as he converses with Fred MacMurray near the end), the great matte work in 20,000 LEAGUES UNDER THE SEA or pretty much any moment from MARY POPPINS which is pure magic in every frame. Mr. Ellenshaw also brought Volkswagen Herbie to life in THE LOVE BUG (a movie which I happen to absolutely love).

The Black Hole - 1979
Meteor Walkway

Born in London in 1913, he served in the RAF during WWII, and started his career as an assistant matte artist – which included (uncredited) Powell & Pressberger classics BLACK NARCISSUS and THE RED SHOES, 2 of the most beautiful looking films ever made – and eventually found his way to the Disney studios where his career flourished for many years. He was so well admired there that they begged him out of retirement to work on THE BLACK HOLE for which he was nominated for a 1979 Academy Award. Mr. Ellenshaw passed away in 2007.

Mary Poppins - 1964
Academy Award For Special Effects

With a movie like MARY POPPINS (which Mr. Ellenshaw won a 1964 Academy Award for) on your résuméyou know you’ve had a fantastic career. MARY POPPINS on top of being my favorite musical of all time is truly one of the great works to ever come out of the Disney studio if not any Hollywood studio. How can you argue with a movie that romps through animated chalk paintings, has Dick Van Dyke dancing with penguins and features laughing parties on ceilings. MARY POPPINS is the epitome of Disney magic, and I doubt there is anyone on this planet that can watch the film and not have a smile on their face. Most of that magic of course is thanks to Mr. Ellenshaw’s work. His matte painting of London as Julie Andrews, Dick Van Dyke and the two children look over the city in all its glory still gives me goose bumps (greatly aided by the outstanding musical score by Richard M. and Robert B. Sherman). I always wanted to be up there dancing with the chimney sweeps – step in time!

Movie Poster - 1974

2 Disney films that have stuck with me since childhood and aren’t as well known as they should be were IN SEARCH OF THE CASTAWAYS (1962) and THE ISLAND AT THE TOP OF THE WORLD (1974). Both are similar in look and tone and have everything that a young boy wants in a movie – action, earthquakes, fires, cannibals, Vikings and a dirigible-like airship. I remember being transfixed to the screen when first seeing them, and I don’t think even think the theater going up in flames or the most urgent bathroom necessity could have dragged me away. I still get those chills now watching them on DVD, instantly transported back to my childhood to a time and place where everything and anything could happen and grand adventure waited beyond every turn.

The Island At The Top Of The
- Viking City

IN SEARCH OF THE CASTAWAYS features George Sanders, Maurice Chevalier (yes, he sings) and Disneyite Hayley Mills (in a way, the Miley Cyrus of the time – the names are almost eerily similar) and was based on a novel by Jules Verne about a family in search of their shipwrecked father. THE ISLAND AT THE TOP OF THE WORLD stars David Hartman, Donald Sinden and Mako and was a grand tale of 4 adventurers traveling to the arctic in the aforementioned dirigible-like airship (dirigibles are cool) to the Arctic in search of a lost Viking tribe. Both films were directed with great finesse by another Disney great, Robert Stevenson, who also was responsible for many classics such as THE LOVE BUG, THE ABSENT-MINDED PROFESSOR, BEDKNOBS AND BROOMSTICKS, OLD YELLER, THAT DARN CAT (1965) and of course MARY POPPINS. I believe that half the directors in Hollywood today would be lucky to have a résumé that even comes close to having as many great and memorable films on it as this list.

The Island At The Top Of The
- Temple Interior

Both IN SEARCH OF THE CASTAWAYS and THE ISLAND AT THE TOP OF THE WORLD are movies that are meant as a big screen spectacle – to be experienced with an audience – and are films that both children and adults can enjoy and be sucked into the magic that makes movie watching the great fascination that it is. Now thanks to the American Cinematheque in association with the Art Director’s Guild, movie lovers in Los Angeles will get their chance to experience 1 of these – THE ISLAND AT THE TOP OF THE WORLD – in all its glory on the cinema screen.

This coming Sunday (June 28, 2009) at the Aero Theater in Santa Monica, the American Cinematheque and Art Director’s Guild will be honoring Peter Ellenshaw with a screening of THE ISLAND AT THE TOP OF THE WORLD in a program entitled DESIGNING FOR ADVENTURE. The film will be accompanied by a discussion moderated by Mr. Ellenshaw’s son Harrison Ellenshaw, who was an assistant Matte Artist on this film and is an accomplished effects artist in his own right (his work also includes a lot of Disney titles such as TRON and PETE’S DRAGON, as well as at other studios with STAR WARS, THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK and GHOST).

The adventure begins at 5:30, and tickets are only $10 and $7 for Students/Seniors with a valid I.D.

The American Cinematheque go out of their way – and are always successful – in creating the perfect atmosphere to enjoy big screen movies (with beautifully restored prints) the way they are meant to be enjoyed. If you’re a movie lover and live in Los Angeles, you owe it to yourself to become a member. I guarantee that you will be at one of their 2 theaters – the Egyptian in Hollywood and the Aero in Santa Monica – several times a month, and even a week in some cases. Their website can be accessed HERE.

Below is the official press release from the Art Director’s Guild and American Cinematheque.

This is one show you won’t want to miss!


The Art Directors Guild (ADG) Film Society and American Cinematheque (AC) will honor Production Designer and Special Effects Designer
Peter Ellenshawwith a screening of Disney's


Sunday, June 28, at 5:30 pm at the Aero Theatre, 1328 Montana Avenue, Santa Monica.

This is the fourth of this year's screening series focusing on specific genres of narrative storytelling. Academy Award® nominated Visual Effects specialist Harrison Ellenshaw, son of Peter, who was an assistant Matte Artist on the film, will participate in a discussion
to be moderated by John Muto.

The Island at the Top of the World, which was nominated for an Academy Award® for Art Direction, will be shown from a "Designing for Adventure" perspective. Starring David Hartman and Donald Sinden, the film tells the story of a father who puts together an expedition team to find his son, who vanished while searching for a long-lost Viking community somewhere in uncharted Arctic regions. Peter Ellenshaw served as both Production Designer and Visual Effects designer on the film, a rare occurrence.

Ellenshaw won an Academy Award® in 1964 for his Special Effects work on Mary Poppins (shared with Eustace Lycett and Hamilton Luske), and was nominated for his work on Bedknobs and Broomsticks (1971) and The Black Hole (1979).

Like his son Harrison, Peter Ellenshaw followed his stepfather Percy Day, who is considered one of the greatest of all British matte artists, into the business. He was handpicked by Walt Disney to be a part of the studio's creative team and painted the first map of Disneyland that was featured on all the early postcards and souvenir booklets. Ellenshaw started his career at Disney in 1947 where he worked on the studio's first live-action film, Treasure Island, and continued there until his retirement in 1979


Tickets will be distributed at the door on a first come, first served basis. If you would like additional tickets please email your request to Marjo Bernay at

General Admission $10, American Cinematheque members: $7. Students/Seniors with valid ID: $8. Tickets are available for purchase at Fandango or by visiting the Aero Theatre box office.

All screenings start at 5:30 p.m. 24-hour ticket information is available at 323-466-FILM (3456)
For more information about the American Cinematheque and the Aero Theatre go to
or call 323 461 2020.

Spartacus - 1960
Matte Painting by Peter Ellenshaw

Art Directors Guild 11969 Ventura Blvd. 2nd Floor Studio City CA 91604818 762 9995 tel 818 762 9997 fax

Most images and press release courtesy of the Art Director’s Guild and the American Cinematheque.