Visual pioneer on Dis classics


Peter Ellenshaw, the visual effects pioneer and matte artist who won an Oscar for "Mary Poppins" and provided wonders on such other live-action Walt Disney Co. classics as "20,000 Leagues Under the Sea" and "Treasure Island," has died. He was 93.

He died Monday at his home in Santa Barbara.

Ellenshaw, a painter known for his dramatic seascapes and elegant Irish landscapes, was handpicked by Walt Disney to serve on the studio's creative team in the late 1940s. He painted the iconic first map of Disneyland that was featured on all the early postcards and souvenir booklets.

The London native began as an apprentice for visual effects pioneer W. Percy "Pop" Day ("The Red Shoes") in the early 1930s and worked on another Michael Powell-Emeric Pressburger classic, 1947's "Black Narcissus."

Ellenshaw, a four-time Oscar nominee, began his association with Disney in 1947 when he was tapped to work on the studio's first live-action film, "Treasure Island" (1950), and he continued working there until his retirement in 1979 following the release of "The Black Hole."

Ellenshaw came out of retirement to work on Warner Bros. Pictures' "Superman IV: The Quest for Peace" (1987), then did several matte paintings for "Dick Tracy," Disney's pastel feast from 1990.

It's hard to find a live-action Disney in the 1950s and '60s to which Ellenshaw didn't contribute visual or special effects (his work went uncredited on many films): "The Story of Robin Hood and his Merrie Men" (1952), "The Sword in the Rose" (1953), "Old Yeller" (1957), "Darby O'Gill and the Little People" (1959), "Swiss Family Robinson" (1960), "Son of Flubber" (1963), "The Love Bug" (1968), "Bedknobs and Broomsticks" (1971) and "The Island on Top of the World" (1974).

He earned Oscar nominations for the latter two films in addition to "Black Hole" and "Mary Poppins" (1964). (Visual effects became an Academy Award category in 1963).

In all, Ellenshaw worked on 34 Disney films in more than 30 years.

"People never knew how he accomplished his visual feats," film critic and historian Leonard Maltin said in a statement released by the studio. " '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."

Ellenshaw also made major artistic contributions to Disney's 1950s television shows "Davy Crockett," "Zorro" and "Walt Disney's Wonderful World of Color."

"Peter was a Disney legend in every sense of the word," Roy E. Disney said. "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."

Craig Barron, president of effects house Matte World Digital and co-author of the book "The Invisible Art: The Legends of Movie Matte Paintings," said Ellenshaw's expertise is evident when seeing Captain Nemo's volcanic island from 1954's "20,000 Leagues," the fairy mountain cave of "Darby O'Gill" and the tour of London's magical rooftops in "Mary Poppins."

It's "the stuff that movie magic dreams were made of," Barron said.

"His matte painting work belongs to that unsung craft that's now virtually disappeared," he said. "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."

Ellenshaw is survived by his two children, Lynda Ellenshaw Thompson (a veteran visual effects producer), and Harrison Ellenshaw (a visual effects artist who was an Oscar nominee for "The Black Hole," matte supervisor on two "Star Wars" films and visual effects supervisor for landmark 1982 effects film "Tron"), as well as two grandchildren, Michael and Hilary. His wife of 58 years, Bobbie, died in 2000.

Funeral services will be private. In lieu of flowers, the family asks that any donations be made to Direct Relief International in Santa Barbara.