Peter Ellenshaw Dies at 93 Years Old
Peter Ellenshaw

Peter Ellenshaw, whose artistic career spanned more than seven decades as a renowned landscape artist, motion picture art director, Academy Award® winning special effects artist and official Disney Legend passed away at his home in Santa Barbara, California, on Monday (2/12/07) at the age of 93. Considered the premier seascape and landscape artist in America today Ellenshaw’s original canvasses have graced the walls of numerous galleries around the world while his motion picture credits include some of the most beloved films of all time.

Commenting on Ellenshaw’s passing, Michael Young, president of Collectors Editions Fine Art Publishers said, “Peter Ellenshaw epitomized the role of gentleman painter in all regards.

Not only was his work visually breathtaking, whether created for galleries, private collections or for use in a motion picture, his art represents a true immersive experience for any admirer of the visual medium. Speaking on behalf of everyone at Collectors Editions we are saddened by his passing but are thankful for knowing him and the way he enriched our lives with his friendship and artistry.”

Ellenshaw was born in Great Britain in 1913. As a child, Ellenshaw wanted nothing to do but draw. He dropped out of school at age 14 and lived for six years "in Dickensian misery”, as he once described it, on the outskirts of London in Essex, copying Old Masters in watercolors while working as a mechanic during the day.

A neighbor, Walter Percy Day, O.B.E., a famous matte artist of his time, discovered Ellenshaw’s talent and took him on as an assistant. Mattes are realistic paintings done on glass, against which films of actors and other parts of the set are projected; then both painting and film are re-photographed to create a new, realistic image.

Day was associated with Alexander Korda, one of Europe’s leading film producers and founder of Deham Studios. While under apprenticeship with Day, Ellenshaw contributed his painting skills to such well-known British films as Things to Come, The Four Feathers, and The Thief of Baghdad.

Ellenshaw worked with Day until 1941, when he decided to join the Royal Air Force and become a flying instructor during World War II. During his training in the United States, Ellenshaw met and married his wife, Bobbie Palmer. Their son Harrison was born in 1945, followed by their daughter Lynda in 1958.

Following the war, Ellenshaw moved back to Great Britain with his wife and son, briefly re-teaming with Day before striking out on his own in 1946 as a full-fledged matte artist. In 1947, his work caught the attention of an art director for the Disney Studios. Walt 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," recalls 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."
Throughout the early 50s, more work followed on Disney’s British-themed films including The Story of Robin Hood and His Merrie Men (1952), The Sword and the Rose (1953), and Rob Roy, the Highland Rogue (1954). In 1953 

Peter Ellenshaw

the Ellenshaws moved from Great Britain to the United States where Peter began working full-time for the Walt Disney Studios. Ellenshaw maintained his identity as a traditional landscape artist during his Disney years and always found time in the evenings and on the weekends to work on his own canvases.

One of Ellenshaw’s first Disney projects upon his arrival at the Studio was to create a conceptual rendering of something called “Disneyland.” Ellenshaw went to work painting an aerial view of the proposed park on a 4’ x 8’ piece of fiberboard. The painting was then used by Walt Disney to help introduce television audiences to his new project, while simultaneously using the painting to attract backers on this exciting new concept in outdoor entertainment. This priceless piece of Disney history was lost for many years and was eventually found in the early 1980s in a shed at the Walt Disney Studios. It was fully restored and now hangs proudly in The Disney Gallery at Disneyland in California.

In 1954, Ellenshaw lent his considerable talents to one of Walt Disney’s most ambitious live-action films, 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. The film, starring Kirk Douglas and James Mason, featured impressive special effects and matte paintings, including a ferocious battle with a giant squid and wide vistas of the island of Vulcania. The film won an Academy Award® for Best Special Effects.

Ellenshaw elevated the boundaries of special effects and the use of matte paintings to even greater heights in Walt Disney’s live-action fantasy Darby O’Gill and the Little People (1959).

In addition to creating fanciful Irish locales (both realistic and imaginary), Ellenshaw helped perfect a split-focus technique, which helped to realistically marry the varying heights of the mortals and leprechauns. The film is made all the more amazing because all of it was shot on the backlot of the Disney Studios in California.

Other popular Disney films to receive Ellenshaw’s special attention in the 1950s included Davy Crockett, King of the Wild Frontier (1955), Johnny Tremain (1957) and Old Yeller (1957). His Disney films of the 1960s include Pollyanna (1960), Swiss Family Robinson (1960), The Absent-Minded Professor (1961), In Search of the Castways (1962), The Gnome-Mobile (1967) and The Happiest Millionaire (1967).

In 1964, Ellenshaw won the Best Special Visual Effects Academy Award? for his astounding matte work in Walt Disney’s beloved live-action musical-fantasy Mary Poppins. Not only did Ellenshaw create the beautiful vistas of Victorian London, he was also responsible for giving inspiration to the creation of the rousing rooftop dance of the chimney sweeps in the lively “Step in Time” sequence.

Peter Ellenshaw

Ellenshaw’s imprint continued to be seen in the Disney films of the 1970s including Bedknobs and Broomsticks (1971), The Island at the Top of the World (1974), Pete’s Dragon (1977) and The Black Hole (1979). Ellenshaw received an Academy Award? nomination for his impressive special effects work on The Black Hole, which proved to be his last Disney film project.

His works were shown at a special exhibition at the American Embassy in Dublin. Today a number of his paintings can be seen in collections throughout Ireland including Adare Manor, Dromoland Castle, Waterville House and Ashford Castle.

 Continued travels took the Ellenshaws to many spectacular locales where he expanded his subjects to include the Himalayas, Monet's garden at Giverny, the Mojave desert, San Francisco and New York cityscapes, America's Cup yachting, and famous golf courses throughout the world.

In 1979, the American Film Institute honored Ellenshaw with a retrospective exhibition of his work that was shown at the Museum of Modern Art, New York; the American Film Institute, Washington, D.C.; the Film Institute, Chicago; and the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences in Los Angeles. The exhibition included concept paintings, production designs and matte paintings from his 45-year career in motion pictures.
In 1993, Ellenshaw was officially designated a "Disney Legend" by The Walt Disney Company during a ceremony at The Walt Disney Studios officiated by Michael D. Eisner and Roy E. Disney. He spent his “retirement” years as a highly respected landscape artist. His original works can be found in public and private collections around the world and are highly sought after. He was the subject of many one-man exhibitions, along with being showcased in the books The Garden Within: The Art of Peter Ellenshaw (published in 1996 by Mill Pond Press, Inc.) and Ellenshaw Under Glass: Going to the Matte for Disney (published in 2003 by Camphor Tree Publishers).

In recent years Ellenshaw created original canvasses that depict his interpretive vision of imagery from such classic Disney films as Mary Poppins, Sleeping Beauty, Cinderella and Beauty and the Beast. The artwork has been reproduced as limited edition, signed, giclee prints and is available at fine art galleries around the world.

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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