Disney Legend Ellenshaw Dies at 93

Oscar-winning matte painter and visual effects pioneer Peter Ellenshaw passed away at his home in Santa Barbara on Monday at the age of 93. Known for his work on such classic Disney films as Mary Poppins, 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea and Darby O'Gill and the Little People, he joined the Disney team in 1947 to contribute to the studio's first live-action film, Treasure Island, and continued working for the studio until 1979.

Ellenshaw retired from Disney after completing effects for the sci-fi thriller The Black Hole, but later returned to produce several matte paintings for the 1990 film Dick Tracy. He was designated a "Disney Legend" in 1993 and was recognized for his achievements at the Visual Effects Society’s inaugural VES Awards in 2003.

"Peter was a Disney legend in every sense of the word and played a vital role in the creation of many of the Studio's greatest live-action films from the very beginning,” says Roy E. Disney. “He was a brilliant and innovative visual effects pioneer who was able to consistently please my Uncle Walt, and push the boundaries of the medium to fantastic new heights. Outside of the Studio, he was a fantastic painter in his own right, and I always loved his Irish paintings and felt that he did the best seascapes in the world."

Film critic and historian Leonard Maltin adds, "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."

Born in Great Britain in 1913, Ellenshaw began his film career in the early 1930s when he apprenticed for visual effects pioneer W. Percy Day, O.B.E. He worked on such productions as Things to Come, Rembrandt, Elephant Boy, Sixty Glorious Years, A Matter of Life and Death, and the Michael Powell-Emeric Pressburger classic Black Narcissus. After serving his country as a pilot in the RAF during World War II, he created matte paintings for MGM's Quo Vadis and soon after caught the attention of an art director for the Walt Disney Studios.

"Walt had the ability to communicate with artists," Ellenshaw once commented. "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."

Ellenshaw’s other projects at Disney include 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, Third Man on the Mountain, Swiss Family Robinson, The Love BugBedknobs and Broomsticks. He also painted the iconic first map of Disneyland that was featured on all the early amusement park postcards and souvenir booklets. and

Ellenshaw's wife of 58 years, Bobbie, passed away in 2000. He is survived by his two children, Lynda Ellenshaw Thompson and Harrison Ellenshaw, as well as his two grandchildren, Michael and Hilary. Daughter Lynda is a veteran visual effects producer and son Harrison is a visual effects artist who received an Oscar nomination for The Black Hole and was matte supervisor on Star Wars and The Empire Strikes Back, and visual effects supervisor for Tron. Funeral services will be private. In lieu of flowers, donations can be made to Direct Relief International, Santa Barbara, Calif.


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