Visual effects pioneer and matte artist Peter Ellenshaw, who won an Oscar for “Mary Poppins,” died Monday in Santa Barbara, Calif. He was 93.
Designated a Disney legend in 1993, Ellenshaw was Oscar-nommed for visual effects for “The Black Hole” and for art direction for “Bedknobs and Broomsticks” and “The Island at the Top of the World.”
“Peter played a vital role in the creation of many of the studio’s greatest live-action films from the very beginning,” said 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.”
Film critic and historian Leonard Maltin said, “Long before the era of modern special effects, Peter was working his magic in Disney films. ‘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 worked on features including “20,000 Leagues Under the Sea,” “The Story of Robin Hood and His Merrie Men,” “Swiss Family Robinson” and “The Love Bug” and on TV shows “Davy Crockett” and “Zorro.”
Born in England, Ellenshaw began his film career in the early 1930s as an apprentice to visual effects pioneer W. Percy (Pop) Day. He worked on such productions as “Things to Come,” “Rembrandt,” “Elephant Boy” and the Michael Powell-Emeric Pressburger classic “Black Narcissus.”
After a stint as a pilot in the RAF during World War II, he created matte paintings for MGM’s “Quo Vadis.”
In 1947, his work caught the attention of an art director for the Walt Disney Studios. Disney was in the pre-planning stages of his first live-action film, “Treasure Island,” which would be produced in England. Ellenshaw signed on for the project, beginning a collaboration with Disney that spanned more than 30 years and 34 films.
He officially retired from the studio in 1979, but returned years later to do several matte paintings for the 1990 film “Dick Tracy.”
In addition to his work on Disney features and TV shows, Ellenshaw painted the first map of Disneyland, which was featured on early postcards and souvenir booklets.
He is survived by a daughter, visual effects producer Lynda Ellenshaw Thompson; a son, visual effects artist Harrison Ellenshaw; and two grandchildren.
Donations may be made to Direct Relief Intl. in Santa Barbara.