Saturday, 26 March 2016

THE WONDERFUL WORLD OF DISNEY MATTE ART - Part One



Pete's Editorial:

It's time for another extensively illustrated and informative journey into the long lost world of traditional matte painting photographic effects.  I have a vast archive of mattes as you may already know, with just the Disney file being one hefty, bulging vault all of it's own.  Speaking of Disney, is it just me, or are those US Presidential Primaries more and more resembling a certain tea party from ALICE IN WONDERLAND?  Just an observation, though as usual, I digress.

A Jim Fetherolf multi-plane matte painting of Washington DC for the film SON OF FLUBBER (1963).  The clouds drift by as a separate painted layer.


Just before we take a look at The Wonderful World of Disney Matte Art, I have a couple of excellent additions that surfaced too late for last month's Mattes in Musicals blog post.  A friend in Italy is forever a source of wonder in regard to the facts and pictorial matter he uncovers and shares with me - a veritable Roman Sherlock Holmes is my pal Federico!  I'm thrilled to include here two wonderful behind the scenes matte shot set ups from the esteemed 20th Century Fox matte department, under Fred Sersen, which appeared in ancient issues of the in-house Fox news magazine 'Action'.  First up we have a revealing glass shot in the final stages of preparation for the 1945 film STATE FAIR where we can appreciate the massive dual glass in camera set up that I described as being a staple Fox visual effects technique for decades.  Here we can see Sersen matte painter, Swiss born Christian von Schneidau - an artist I was completely unaware of till now - with the sweeping panoramic fairground glass painting.


STATE FAIR's sweeping panorama created on glass by Chris von Schneidau

Also, from a later issue of 'Action' is this excellent behind the scenes photo of a very young Matthew Yuricich posing with the ballroom matte for Ethel Merman's CALL ME MADAM (1953). Matt started at the studio in 1950 in the mailroom and graduated toward matte work the following year as an assistant in the department recently headed by Ray Kellogg.  In my 2012 Yuricich - In His Own Words Oral History blog, Matt described painting his first ever complete matte for this film, though I don't think this particular shot was the matte he painted, rather the wine cellar shot with the winding staircase and giant vats.  Matthew mentioned Ralph Hammeras as being another painter on the film so maybe this picture was just a publicity photo. I think the mattes at Fox (as elsewhere) were passed around from artist to artist anyway.  No matter, a great artist and a great matte from the Golden Era.
A youthful Matthew Yuricich in Ray Kellogg's matte department painting a key shot for CALL ME MADAM (1953)

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THE WONDERFUL WORLD OF DISNEY MATTE ART - Part One

I am always grateful to those in the special effects community who reach out to help me with this blog (you all know who you are), and none more so than my friend Harrison Ellenshaw who never hesitates in sharing photos, anecdotes, technical data and occasionally hilariously unpublishable "I was there" reminiscences.  Hollywood..... oh, boy!  I wish to acknowledge both Harrison and his sister Lynda (herself a veteran VFX producer of many a big production) for giving their valuable time to get this published.
As a key creative partner from the Disney Studio for some two decades - not to mention being the son of one of the absolute 100% Disney icons Peter Ellenshaw - in addition to having had the extreme good fortune to be around the studio on a regular basis since he was a child, I thought it essential that Harrison provide an introduction for today's blog by way of a preface.

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Harrison Ellenshaw reflects on Disney's matte department:

Harrison Ellenshaw in his office at Disney, circa 1990.  Note the wonderful Alan Maley matte painting on the wall behind Harrison from the 1974 effects laden adventure ISLAND AT THE TOP OF THE WORLD.

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During a five decade span the Disney Matte Department(s) owed their legacy and iconic status to the esteemed artists and technicians who embraced the personal philosophy of Walt Disney, a man who preached that perfection only comes with imagination and dedication.




To work in the matte department at Walt Disney Productions was a hard earned privilege. There an artist not only had to paint “matte shots” for dozens of movies including: Treasure Island (1950), The Sword and the Rose (1953), Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea (1954), Westward Ho the Wagons (1956), The Great Locomotive Chase (1956), Johnny Tremain (1957), Third Man on the Mountain (1959), Darby O’Gill and the Little People (1959), Swiss Family Robinson (1960), The Absent Minded Professor (1961), Mary Poppins (1964), The Love Bug (1968), but also for television series such as Davy Crockett (1954-1955), Zorro (1957-1959), The Nine Lives of Elfego Baca (1958), Texas John Slaughter (1958-1961), The Scarecrow of Romney Marsh (1963), and Sunday nights’ Wonderful World of Disney.


Disney matte departments were also responsible for directing background sequences for main titles, creating backings for small sets, photographing miniatures, and working on attractions for Disneyland and the other Disney Theme Parks.



Walt and Roy Disney considered that creativity and technical innovation was a collaborative process. Ub Iwerks, Eustace Lycett, Don Iwerks were just a few of the geniuses that enabled the studio to excel in every aspect of special/visual effects. The multiple Oscars (including 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea and Mary Poppins), the ambitious achievement of Darby O’Gill and the Little People (1959), and the stunning cityscapes in Dick Tracy (1980) are a testament to that excellence.

I was fortunate enough to be the head of the Disney matte department from 1975 to 1979 following in the footsteps of my father Peter Ellenshaw, Albert Whitlock, Jim Fetherolf, and my mentor Alan Maley. Ten years later, in 1989 I returned to Disney as head of Buena Visual Visual Effects (BVVE); my responsibilities included overall supervision of nine departments including the matte department. Sadly, in 1996 the Walt Disney Company decided to rid itself (without explanation) of the highly successful BVVE and with that, the tenure of one of the greatest matte departments in the history of film came to an ignominious end.


But thanks to the passion and diligence of NZPete we can once again see the magic of the Disney mattes in all their glory.



                                                                        ~Harrison Ellenshaw,  March 2016



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While I'd always prefer to be as complete as possible with these tributes, some Disney shows have alluded me, some are impossible to track down (try and find any print of WESTWARD HO, THE WAGONS aside from the insultingly unwatchable one on YouTube!).  However it's not all bad news.  There are a number of what might be termed 'lesser' shows in the blog that have never revealed their matte trickery until now, and as a bonus, a healthy number of high resolution BluRay and HDTV matte shots are scattered throughout the article from classic Disney films as TREASURE ISLAND, DAVY CROCKETT, OLD YELLER and the HERBIE movies to name but a few that are a marked improvement over the frequently poor quality DVD transfers of past years, where it always looked as if the studio put little or no effort into home video remastering, and couldn't care less how they looked.


I, like many of my readers I'm sure, grew up at a time when going to see a new Walt Disney film was always something special.  I still vividly remember being captivated by shows like THE LOVE BUG, MARY POPPINS and even LT. ROBINSON CRUSOE, U.S.N and many others on their initial release on the big cinema screen.  Sunday night's Wonderful World of Disney tv series was always much cherished, and I always liked Walt's little introductory segments where he would really 'get into it' as he introduced things like ZORRO, DAVY CROCKETT, JOHNNY TREMAIN and THE SCARECROW OF ROMNEY MARSH (which actually scared the hell out of me!).  Folks, those were the good old days, and sadly there will never be another 'era' like it... so sit back and enjoy this tribute, as I know there are a lot of old time Disney fans out there.

Disney Matte Department heads - by year:

1953-1966  Peter Ellenshaw
1966-1974  Alan Maley
1974-1979  Harrison (P.S) Ellenshaw
1979-1983  David Mattingly
1983-1990  Michael Lloyd
1990-1994  Paul Lasaine
1994-1996  Allen Gonzales

Peter Ellenshaw seen here in Denham Studios Matte Department paints one of some 62 mattes for the British production SWORD AND THE ROSE (1953)
Denham Studios outside London.  Matte dept. door at left.
MATTE PAINTING AT DISNEY

The initial use of matte paintings in Disney films began in the late 1940's with the studio's first forays into live action features that were produced in England.  Over 200 matte shots were painted by Peter Ellenshaw for the initial quartet of Disney period adventure films; TREASURE ISLAND (1950), THE STORY OF ROBIN HOOD AND HIS MERRIE MEN (1952), SWORD AND THE ROSE (1953) and ROB ROY-THE HIGHLAND ROGUE (1954).  Matte work for these films was carried out at the vast Denham Studios using the tried and true equipment and workspaces established decades earlier by Britain's own father of photographic effects and matte painting, Walter Percy 'Pop' Day.
Photographing a dupe matte for ROBIN HOOD.
Ellenshaw himself had in fact learned the art of matte painting as apprentice of some seven years under Pop Day in the mid 1930's in that very effects studio.  Painted matte shots continued to play an important and significant role in a great many Disney films that from 1954 onward would largely be made in the Disney Studios in Burbank, California, though with occasional returns across the Atlantic for several features and tv specials such as THE PRINCE AND THE PAUPER (1962), CANDLESHOE (1976) and ONE OF OUR DINOSAURS IS MISSING (1975) among others.



Disney Later UK Based Matte Artists/Photographic Effects:

1962  Shepperton Studios:  Wally Veevers, George Samuels, Bob Cuff,  Doug Ferris
1962  Pinewood Studios:     Cliff Culley,  Alan Maley
1975  Pinewood Studios:     Cliff Culley 
1980  Pinewood Studios:     Leigh Took

In the temporary matte department/corridor/thoroughfare, Disney's Special Processes chief, Ub Iwerks, looks on as Peter Ellenshaw paints the beautiful busy waterfront glass shot for 20'000 LEAGUES UNDER THE SEA (1954) in this rare photo.

THE ADVENTURES OF BULLWHIP GRIFFIN (1967)
A rudimentary matte painting department was created on the Disney Burbank lot in 1953 in time for the effects heavy 20'000 LEAGUES UNDER THE SEA (1954).  Peter Ellenshaw initially never had a proper studio space to paint his mattes, with the matte department (as it was) set up in a corridor in the Inking & Painting building (incorrectly now known as just 'Ink and Paint').  Since Peter's department took up space that connected two sides of the building, people would have to wait to transit the corridor while matte photography was under way!  This arrangement was set up by Ub Iwerks, though it didn't take long until they moved into a larger space.  Peter's son Harrison told me that the corridor is still there as is the building, but there's not much in the way of inking and painting going on there anymore. This department remained at Burbank until 1996.  Many illustrious artists painted mattes at different times during this 43 year period, including Peter Ellenshaw, Albert Whitlock, Alan Maley, Jim Fetherolf, Harrison Ellenshaw, David Mattingly, Michael Lloyd, Bob Scifo, J.P Trevor,  Michele Moen, Paul Lasaine and others.
 
Walt and Peter discuss a ROBIN HOOD matte with the Art Director-1952
In the beginning, matte paintings were primarily combined with live action plates as optical composites. In the late 1950's a method of rear projecting live action with matte artwork was refined.  This technique of using black & white separation masters (or sometimes low contrast colour prints) as projection elements remained in use up until 1993 when digital compositing made it no longer necessary to produce the paintings on glass.  The era of traditional paintings would see most mattes done on glass measuring 30x40".  
Oil paints had been the established medium up until about 1963-64 where Ellenshaw, reluctantly at first, adopted acrylic paints that once he mastered he just loved and the department stayed with thenceforth.


Albert Whitlock
Under the leadership of founding studio matte artist, Peter Ellenshaw, the department contributed heavily to Disney films and television up until Walt Disney's death in 1966. As the department and demands grew, Peter quickly enlisted other talent in his department, beginning with Albert Whitlock, whom Peter knew from his UK Disney days and had worked with Peter on SWORD AND THE ROSE at Denham.  Whitlock had been a scenic artist, title artist, miniatures assistant and Schufftan Process practitioner at Gaumont Studios and eventually became matte painter at Rank under Les Bowie. Whitlock would stay at Disney for just over five years before going freelance for a year painting shots for Howard A. Anderson and Butler-Glouner and various others before then becoming head of Universal Studio's matte department.  Although Whitlock's split from Disney was abrupt, Al would frequently acknowledge that Peter's influence and methodology had done wonders for him in expanding his matte approach and painting style and broke him free of what Albert admitted was: ..." a style so tight I was tied up in knots all the time."


Jim Fetherolf
American painter Jim Fetherolf was another important member of Ellenshaw's tight knit matte unit at Burbank. Jim started off in the movie business as an actor and later became one of Emil Kosa jr's stable of matte painters at 20th Century Fox in the early 1950's and in fact started in the Fox matte department the very same day as fellow artist Matthew Yuricich.  According to Yuricich, Jim was enormously talented but had a hard time of it, being frequently at odds with chief matte painter Emil Kosa - a tough boss -  where things would sometimes come down to fisticuffs and general aggravation. It was not a happy time and both Matthew and Jim happily moved on to greener pastures within a few years - Matt went to MGM and Jim moved over to Disney where he and Albert would assist Peter on many shows such as THIRD MAN ON THE MOUNTAIN, DAVY CROCKETT, JOHNNY TREMAIN and POLLYANNA to name but a few and would eventually get solo screen credit on a number of shows.  Harrison Ellenshaw remarked to me how fine an artist Fetherolf was, with a particular affinity for mountains and clouds - an aspect that would feature very prominently in Jim's successful gallery art career.


Alan Maley
British artist Alan Maley was an extraordinary talent who had been one of Wally Veevers' team of matte painters at Shepperton Studios under George Samuels, probably from the late 1950's, painting beautiful mattes for films such as the wonderful BECKETT and would also paint mattes and backings at Pinewood with Cliff Culley where he and Peter's paths would cross with the massive effects workload that was IN SEARCH OF THE CASTAWAYS in 1962.  Peter instantly recognised Alan's talent and the pair immediately struck up a friendship which would see Maley relocate to California a few years later as one of the Disney matte artists and eventually head of the matte department once Peter stepped down and pursued Production Design and his own fine art.

Constantine 'Deno' Ganakes was another longtime member of Peter's department, joining around the time of POLLYANNA in the early sixties and assisting on mattes for many films such as MARY POPPINS and THE LOVE BUG through to ISLAND AT THE TOP OF THE WORLD and THE BLACK HOLE.   In the mid eighties, Deno assisted Matthew Yuricich and Michele Moen on the mattes for GHOSTBUSTERS.

It was not uncommon at Disney to have many dozens of matte paintings in a given movie.  Many remarkable shots can be seen in such films as DAVY CROCKETT, THE GREAT LOCOMOTIVE CHASE, WESTWARD HO THE WAGONS,  JOHNNY TREMAIN, DARBY O'GILL AND THE LITTLE PEOPLE,  THIRD MAN ON THE MOUNTAIN, KIDNAPPED, POLLYANNA, SWISS FAMILY ROBINSON, IN SEARCH OF THE CASTAWAYS, SON OF FLUBBER and SUMMER MAGIC.  However, the high point for the department came in 1964 with the work done for MARY POPPINS.  The film won a number of Academy Awards, including an Oscar for it's special photographic effects. 
Jim Fetherolf's large matte painting of Edwardian London for MARY POPPINS (1964).  While Jim concentrated on the complicated architecture and perspective, Peter would bring the whole thing to life with the painted addition of beautifully hued mist and atmospheric phenomena to quite magical effect.

THE PRINCE AND THE PAUPER (1962) made in England.
It was often the case that more than one artist would work on a matte painting, with paintings often moved from artist to artist.  Albert Whitlock worked in Peter's department for around five years and stated in the book The Invisible Art that while working some of the paintings on the effects heavy DARBY O'GILL  Peter would often come by Whitlock's easel and, in just a few minutes, improve things with his brush.  According to Peter's son Harrison, there probably weren't that many mattes that would pass from the easels to the camera room without Peter's contribution in some form or other, be it a minor touch up or something more creative.
  
By the 1990's though it wasn't uncommon for an artist such as Paul Lasaine to do all of the matte work for a film, such as films like DAVE and THE SANTA CLAUSE, with the former bringing an astonishingly photo-real quality to an entire roster of invisible mattes, and the latter film benefiting greatly from Lasaine's ability to add scope and a sense of grandeur and fantasy to a relatively low budget enterprise.  Paul would prove to be one of the finest matte talents of his generation, with Harrison telling me he would be frequently in awe of Paul's ability, speed and thorough understanding of just how a matte shot should be constructed.
Traditional matte art- THE FIGHTING PRINCE OF DONEGAL
In 1993 with the advent of digital technology, paintings were still often begun in the time tested traditional way, i.e, painted by hand, however now done on hardboard or masonite rather than on glass.  After photographing the painting and scanning it digitally, final enhancements and touch ups were accomplished via the digital system for final compositing with the scanned live action plates. Today the trend has been completely removed from any actual painting, with mattes created entirely in digital using much cutting and pasting of scanned photographs.

Unfortunately, almost all of the literally thousands of matte paintings done prior to the 1980's were destroyed.  In those days the paintings were removed from the glasses by scraping the glass clean (!)  This was done because storage for so many paintings on glass with their big, bulky frames was considered impractical, plus it was believed that this artwork had no real significant artistic or lasting value, therefore the panes of glass were used over and over for many different paintings and films.  


It's now well known that in 1976 the department contributed a number of mattes to an outside production (a first for the studio, unless you count SPARTACUS back in 1960 where Ellenshaw was called upon to urgently render a magnificent matte on Ancient Rome).  The film was George Lucas' STAR WARS.  From this point on, the Disney matte department would occasionally paint mattes for other non-Disney productions such as THE MAN WHO FELL TO EARTH, BIG WEDNESDAY, DAVE, WILDER NAPALM, ESCAPE FROM L.A and others.
Paul Lasaine's amazing boardwalk for 1930's period Atlantic City from WILD HEARTS CAN'T BE BROKEN (1991)

Many consider the 1990 Disney picture DICK TRACY as being the most impressive (and biggest) assignment in decades. With a total of eight matte artists working on the film, it will remain a milestone in visual effects for years to come. As the studio's last really big matte showcase I couldn't think of a more fitting bookend to a long and impressive history of movie matte magic, where all those individuals who have painted, photographed, composited and assisted in general should be proud.

For those interested in the Disney Film Factory and the colourful characters and films therein, I would highly recommend the thick 2003 coffee table book Ellenshaw Under Glass, which details Peter's fascinating life and career in both cinematic magic and his personal fine art. A superb read and filled with illustrations and told with a very British sensitivity. 


One of the sixty odd matte paintings from DICK TRACY, with this one being especially long to permit an extended 'fly over' camera move.

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THE FILMS...


Peter Ellenshaw's first screen shown matte for Disney was this extensive view for TREASURE ISLAND (1950) - a film directed by Byron Haskin, the noted visual effects cinematographer who ran Warner's effects department for years before embarking on a very successful career as a feature director.

A closer look at the above matte shot.
Two more painted shots which 'top up' the frame, with the dramatic sky at left being classic Ellenshaw all the way.
Rare behind the scenes illustration of the black & white Mitchell camera fitted for the bipack process with duping board and black blind employed at Denham Studios by effects cameraman Doug Hague to shoot and composite Peter's painting in Technicolor.  Hague, whom I think is in the upper right photo, would explain the matte process used here in detail in a 1951 issue of British Kinematograpy.
The finished composite.  A second similar matte was also completed but dropped from the final film.
A full painting with no actual 'live action' as seen in TREASURE ISLAND.  According to Ellenshaw:  "I always kept to a restricted palette because it's been found that the more colours you use, the more garish and horrible the painting can look.  If you keep a small range on a restricted palette you will be able to reproduce anything, if you know how."

One of the other completed but ultimately unused Ellenshaw mattes from the same film.

Before and after matte.
A full look at the final shot.
Close up detail of Ellenshaw's painting skills and blending of painted ocean with real.

TREASURE ISLAND matte shots.  According to effects cinematographer Doug Hague, some twenty mattes in total were completed in just twenty weeks, with the average cost per shot being around 250 Pounds Sterling - somewhat more when finishing problematic mattes.  Hague stated that the average time to complete a dupe matte shot is from two to three weeks.  It normally takes Peter a week to finish the painting, and another week is needed for the photographic tests to see if the matte fits, and when necessary to modify the painting to better blend with the live action.

TREASURE ISLAND shot that most people miss.

Classic before and after matte magic by Peter Ellenshaw demonstrates just how much a great matte artist can add to a modestly budgeted film. Note even the foreground bridge and tree is painted in too.  From ROBIN HOOD (1953)

More ROBIN HOOD mattes which came to some 35 mattes in total.
ROBIN HOOD - all painted except for a patch of grass!  At lower right is the still surviving original Ellenshaw painting where Peter had 'filled in' the initially unpainted black matted portion in order to give it to a friend - something he would do with a number of finished with movie mattes painted in England.

A staggering before and after from ROBIN HOOD.  Studio accountants must have loved guys like Ellenshaw, Whitlock and Newcombe for all the money that could be saved, yet a film never lost it's grandeur.
Invisible before and after that is so perfectly blended and composited in a completely natural, unassuming manner.

Another excellent before and after from ROBIN HOOD, with the final composite shown below...

Final comp, with foreground actor added into the shot via travelling matte.
More Ellenshaw matte art from same film.

A beautiful full painted tilt down from ROBIN HOOD.

Before and after castle and moody sky.

Stock standard backlot sets at Denham transformed quite wonderfully into a Medieval town of some size.
One of a number of Ellenshaw 'fix up' mattes.  In this shot a modern property is matted out and replaced by a painted glade.  Astonishingly well done and so bold!

Another of those 'fix it' trick shots where Peter has matted out the uninspiring bushes and painted in a more aesthetically pleasing forest.  One of those 'blink and you'll miss it' moments of cinematic sleight of hand.  Today of course, the CGI jockeys do this sort of thing all the time with their mouse and a Mac, but it's so gratifying to know that the traditional exponents were doing this stuff back in 1952 with paint and a steady camera.

ROBIN HOOD - set extension.

I never knew this to be a trick shot until Harrison Ellenshaw kindly sent me a DVD of his father's before and after mattes.  Brilliant!
According to Harrison Ellenshaw this was a ROBIN HOOD matte painting that Peter gave to a friend after painting in the blacked out area.  Might have been a shot cut from the film, though there were a number of completely undetectable small mattes that blew my mind involving altering river banks, bits of foliage and removal of a modern property. Minor stuff, but incredibly well integrated and tricks I'd never have suspected had I not been privy to Peter's show reel.
Peter even painted the Medieval tapestry art under the titles and it's quite possible that Albert Whitlock lettered the titles on glass - a specialty of his.
SWORD AND THE ROSE is literally stacked with matte shots, right the way from the main title card through to the last fade out.  Something of a miracle with the workload Peter was faced with, though I have read that both Al Whitlock and Cliff Culley were involved as assistants.  The director was affectionately known as 'Panic'n Annakin'.
Completely storybook matte shot here... and a beauty at that.  Below is the same painting as it survives to this day.
The original matte that is now in a private collection.

Words fail me (which is really saying something...)

All you need are a couple of 'flats', a horse or two and the services of a master painter and the result can be totally convincing.

More of the scores of SWORD AND THE ROSE matte painted shots.

A limited back lot set to say the least.....
For all that Peter Ellenshaw could achieve on film with apparent ease, it's always been these evening, moonlit scenics that I've loved the most.  The cloud work and feeling of soft, blue backlight gets me every time.

The subtitle speaks for itself in this full painting.

Close up detail...

More detail from the Tower of London matte.

SWORD AND THE ROSE matte.  The director described these shots to Leonard Maltin's book The Disney Films; "Much of the atmosphere was created by Peter Ellenshaw's remarkable matte work.  Walt specifically had the picture designed in such a way as to use the maximum number of matte shots;  in fact we used 62 painted mattes in all, and it allowed us to give the picture a much broader sweep visually than it ever could have had.  It resulted in Peter being given a life contract by Walt Disney."  Annakin continued; "I got very taken up with this technique and continued to use it on later pictures, but I almost had to train new artists myself, and pass on to them the sort of tricks I thought Ellenshaw relied on.  But Peter just knew how to modify reality to make it look even realer than real."
I get the feeling that the studio's carpenters and plasterers didn't have a hell of a lot to do on SWORD AND THE ROSE.

Mood a plenty.
Wish this one would get a BluRay make over and remaster.... Come on Disney.... pull finger!

Shame about the video transfer quality...

Lower left frame exemplifies my admiration for Ellenshaw's 'eye' and ability.  I am convinced that noted matte exponent Albert Whitlock must have been heavily influenced by Peter's style, in particular his skies and sense of backlit 'depth'. In fact, according to Bill Taylor, Albert readily acknowledged Peter's influence whereby Al's matte style took on a whole new direction quite looser than his own former admittedly 'tight' style.

SWORD AND THE ROSE atmospheric matte does wonders.
Peter finishing the painting at Denham which would result in the composite shown below.  I believe esteemed lighting cameraman, the late Alan Hume, BSC was Peters effects cinematographer on this film and would work shooting mattes for around two years before embarking on First Cameraman type assignments.
Those skies again...



ROB ROY-THE HIGHLAND ROGUE (1954) would be the last Disney film to be made at England's Denham Studios (and possibly the last film ever??)

Matte shots from ROB ROY.  Albert Whitlock was apparently on board too from what I've read.

Ya' just gotta love Peter's painted light here... it has a life of it's own.  A true master of the artform!
Another one of those classics long overdue for a decent release on BluRay.... please.

One of my all time faves is this Ellenshaw matte.  Forboding to the max!

ROB ROY

I asked Harrison about this film and he clearly remembered it:  "I would go over with my father on Saturdays - I was at school the rest of the week - because the production would shoot on Saturdays back then. It was the 1950's and you could shoot six days a week then.  So, I just loved going with my father over to the grand 20th Century Fox lot, and you could run around in the back and look at all the  sets and props where all this fun stuff was going on.  It was so remarkable to see it all.  I enjoyed it immensely - it was like being a kid in a candy store, watching actual movies being made, seeing real movie stars.  If I got bored, I'd just run around the back lot with all the one-sided larger than life outdoor sets.  I clearly remember seeing James Mason and the full scale Nautilus in the huge water tank at Fox.  Even at just 8 years of age I knew I was getting a rare glimpse of how magic was made."
Disney really came of age with this film, which is one of their best live action features and succeeds in all departments.  Great cast, script, art direction, action and tremendous Oscar winning visual effects.  BTW - As part of his first job at Disney Burbank, Albert Whitlock hand lettered this and all of the other titles on large sheets of glass.

Another fave matte of mine is this magnificent, busy waterfront shot which is substantially painted with just a small area of live action shot on the back lot at Universal I believe.
Peter painting in his corridor/temporary matte department in the Inking & Painting building at Disney.  Although a certain number of old Disney mattes still survive in the archives, this one sadly does not.
Detail from the above matte art.  Tall ships were a specialty of Peter and many of his gallery pieces of the period were such, not to mention similar shots in a dozen different movies such as CAPTAIN HORATIO HORNBLOWER etc.
A pair of the less noticeable mattes from 20'000 LEAGUES.

The slave encampment, shot in a quarry and augmented with the matted in ship and partial scenery on the left.

A beautiful high def view of the famous slave camp matte shot.  Almost all painted, with a small area of extras photographed and matted some three times over into parts of the shot to bulk up the apparent crowd.  All done in camera on original negative with multiple exposures, supervised by Ub Iwerks.
Inside the purpose built 'matte shack' on location are Peter and Ub.  Note the specially cut masking (one of three pieces) in place to only expose a specific area of the live action.  Also seen are the effects camera crew and grips.  The Oscar notice from Variety is as close as the actual technicians got to actually taking home a reward, as the statue went to Walt, as producer of the film.  BTW, Bob Mattey's name is mis-spelled.

Close up detail from the above masterpiece of matte-ness.
Miniatures shot in the Sersen tank at Fox combined with Peter's painted island, sky and sun.  Shot in camera on the lot I understand.

From what Harrison told me all of the mattes for the film were either original negative composites or in camera foreground mattes done in the way of the old 'glass shots', though rendered on masonite rather than glass for practical reasons.

The birds eye view of the volcanic crater lake.
Star James Mason (so good in this, and every film he did) looks on in admiration as Peter plods along with this large painting which was actually rendered outdoors on the 20th Century Fox lot, near the large tank where Ralph Hammeras was doing the miniature work.  The rigid masonite board was essential as the painting would eventually be raised up to a height and secured on an oblique angle in order to shoot the miniature sub and water through a carefully precut hole in the board.  Harrison stated to me that: ..."although I wasn't on set when they filmed the matte shot shown here, it must have been quite a rig with the camera up high looking down onto the tank. They may have shot it with a mirror, but somehow, I doubt it."

The painting as it looks today in the Disney archives. The centre portion of the matte painting is actually a removable  'plugged in' section prepared by Peter once the film had wrapped in order that the matte could be exhibited at Disneyland.

Close up detail of the matte.  The paintings for 20'000 LEAGUES were quite huge by Disney standards, primarily because the film was being shot in the new anamorphic process, CinemaScope.  The massive, bulky Bausch & Lomb scope lenses had relatively shallow depth of field (not to mention peculiar optics) - so the matte painting needed to be set up some distance away from the camera than had the shot been made with standard (flat) spherical lenses which always had far better depth of field and optics.
A nice 1080p HDTV frame grab here of the power plant matte shot.  As CinemaScope was new at the time, it wasn't unusual for some matte artists to work out strategies whereby they would need to paint to accomodate the peculiar squeeze inherent on the left and right edges of the frame - something that in due course would be corrected with a new range of lenses and others such as Panavision getting their systems out.  Both Fox and MGM used CinemaScope often and  artists such as Lee LeBlanc and Matt Yuricich had to paint awkward looking mattes to fit the anamorphic process.  Yuricich said that on BEN HUR matte supervisor Lee LeBlanc had a hell of a time painting the reverse arena mattes for the chariot race with those huge horse statues as the scope process would make, as Matthew delicately put it, the horse's asses look all bent out of shape and a great deal of testing and correction was required to re-paint and sell the shots!  Harrison Ellenshaw told me:  "I don't think my father painted any squeeze or distortion to accomodate the anamorphic lens.  Disney only ever made a few scope films as Walt preferred the look of non-wide screen (flat) for the type of films they were doing.  Fox had the only anamorphic lense(s) and they were expensive to rent."

Peter painting out in the Californian sunlight at Fox.
Two of the mattes on display at a special Disney-ana exhibition.

The completed painting resting on a work bench.
While not a matte shot it's worth noting that Walt insisted that Peter oversee all of the underwater miniature shots as the rushes thus far had proved unsatisfactory.  This didn't go down well at all with miniatures cameraman Ralph Hammeras (he was a multi-talented matte painter and cameraman in his own right), though Peter's ideas for composition and undersea lighting schemes were without question, just the ticket.
In Jim Danforth's recent memoir, Jim regaled a wonderful anecdote about 20'000 LEAGUES and how optical cinematographer Art Cruickshank produced a flat, tv ready version:  "Art Cruickshank was an extremely knowledgeable and dedicated effects man whose animation camera experience had made him comfortable with procedures which would probably terrify some of today's visual effects workers.  Art told me that when Disney decided to make a TV-compatible 'pan and scan' non-anamorphic negative of 20'000 LEAGUES (originally filmed in 2.55:1 CinemaScope), Art had personally printed the dupe negative on the optical printer, animating all of the 'pans' across the scope frame manually, one frame at a time.  Because the dupe negative was printed from black & white three-colour separation masters, Art had to repeat all of these 'moves' and positions three times, and to an accuracy of about .0001.  The running time of the film is 127 minutes, so Art had to correctly expose about 548'000 frames of film!  In those days some cameras still had wooden bodies, but the men who ran them were made of steel"
Isn't that an utterly wonderful piece of hithertoo unknown and unrewarded Hollywood history?
"Pete...could you put that 8 year old son of yours on some sort of a leash... he just knocked over Henry Fonda, pulled faces at Clifton Webb and asked Darryl F. Zanuck  'so, what the hell do you do around here then?"

Matte from a 1956 Disney short titled A DAY IN THE LIFE OF DONALD DUCK - or so I vaguely recall.
Now, although this isn't matte related, I still wanted to include it as the principles are the same.  This is a wonderful still of the behind the scenes effects camera set up for a multi-layered push in shot for the animated feature SLEEPING BEAUTY (1959).  That's long time optical cameraman, British born Eustace Lycette above the Technirama camera.

The second of a mere handful of CinemaScope pictures from Disney, with this one from 1956.

Period Washington DC, with the Capitol Dome under repair (or construction?).  A magnificent full painting by Peter Ellenshaw that was completed in only a few days.  This is an excellent frame which did NOT come from the abysmal DVD release where all of the colour grading is to buggery!  A good film and worthy of a BluRay....please!
Walt with Peter looking over tests for the JOHNNY TREMAIN.  Note the DC matte on the wall behind Peter.

Also from THE GREAT LOCOMOTIVE CHASE is this in-camera foreground matte painted shot of a trestle bridge.
Ellenshaw on location in Georgia with the huge masonite panel set up with a partially completed painting of the bridge which will invisibly merge with the shallow recess that is actually on view.
Albert Whitlock received his first screen credit at Disney on this film as 'First Assistant' to Peter.

The prison from GREAT LOCOMOTIVE CHASE is 90% painted, with just the people and a doorway being actual.  This painting still survives in the Disney archive... or at least it did when Buena Vista Visual Effects had it up on their wall along with several others.
Disney pioneer and chief collaborator Ub Iwerks who would develop much in the way of special processes, sodium vapour matting and other methods.  I'm not sure, but this may be the Sodium Travelling Matte camera with that magical prism, and it was reportedly the world's most difficult camera to thread.


Not a bad film but impossible to find a decent copy of.  The best I could do is this jaw droppingly abysmal YouTube print -  not even letterboxed and sabotaged throughout by that weird YouTube 'hot spot' thing that they employ on many movies just to piss people off!  Fuck 'em!

WESTWARD HO (1956) has a lot of matte shots in it by Peter and Albert, and probably Jim as well, but this is the only decent one I could retrieve from that God-awful print I alluded to.  Lots of canyons, deserts, mountains and forts matte shots.
Publicity painting for WESTWARD HO, THE WAGONS (1956)


Actually made as three immensely popular one-hour television episodes, Walt thought it a good idea to re-cut the 1955 episodes into a feature film.  The film was a hit (even though it's hero and around 100 cast and extras die violently!) with series two of the show was also re-cut for a movie length sequel.
Once a dreadful DVD, the newly re-mastered BluRay is quite another story, and the film has never looked so good.  This is a full painting of Davy Crockett's cabin, which Walt's wife loved so much that she asked Peter Ellenshaw to re-paint it all over just for her, where it would hang proudly over her fireplace for many years.

Davy heads for Nashville in this full painted shot without a live action element, which wasn't needed and would have dropped the image quality a step, unnecessarily.

The original matte painting framed and donated to a public collection.  Shown here from left; Peter, Walt, co-star Buddy Ebsen, star Fess Parker and director Norman Foster.  I would love to see this in person some day.
Davy rides to the Capitol in one of the sequences lifted from the TV episode DAVY CROCKETT GOES TO CONGRESS.  Both Whitlock and Fetherolf assisted Peter on the many mattes and I think the work still looks terrific even after all these years.

More of the DAVY mattes.  Note the upper right frame of them leaving Washington, I suspect Peter just painted a big shadow over the central cityscape on a separate glass in front of the previously illustrated matte shown above.  The frame at lower left is one of those little patch jobs that nobody ever notices.  Peter has quickly painted a small, dried out creek bed for the horses to jump over.
More beautifully rendered DAVY CROCKETT matte magic.

What I have always loved about Peter's approach has been his avoidance of 'fiddly' mix and match work with needlessly convoluted composites.  Peter, as with Albert after him, would master the art of just painting the whole shot - or as much as practicable - with an always astonishing confidence in knowing it would sell as convincing.  Here, only the tiny strip of grass under the horsemen is real, while everything else is oil paint!  Blows my mind every time I see it.

Another of those 'paint it all' matte shots, with just the riders being real and even the foreground bushes being artwork!

Harrison commented; "My father was very prolific, very quick and very good.  In general he could do something like this in less than a week, but he never liked to say that, because it would startle people - 'really?...less than a week?  They would be shocked.

The mighty Mississippi and river paddle steamer.  ALL painted except the water and canoe.  Once again Ellenshaw pulls the matte art all the way around up close to the viewer rather than just topping up a set as many others might do.

And they just keep coming... yet another Ellenshaw masterpiece as seen in DAVY CROCKETT.  Jaw dropping in every respect with the entire screen being painted with just a small slot gag for the cannon fire.  Just love this matte art!

Daytime view of The Alamo is once again a full painting.

After the film wrapped, Peter 'filled in' the Alamo matte painting with some action characters and Walt then gave it to the Governor of Texas where it was publicly displayed.
Decades later the very same painting, still in pristine condition,  fell back into the hands of the Ellenshaw family, and here it is in all it's magnificence.
Close up detail of Peter's brushwork and the added figures.  Love the light.
Sky detail

Extensive DAVY CROCKETT matte art.  Incidentally, I don't know of any Disney film, or other 'G' rated picture for that matter where so God-damned many people get slaughtered!  Years later, John Wayne's version of THE ALAMO probably usurped the tally.


I am lost for words...
Last batch of DAVY CROCKETT matte shots where not only was the outside of The Alamo painted, but the interior views were significantly expanded  through matte art.


...and the inevitable sequel, long before we were battered to death by sequels, prequels, reboots and franchises (gee, I hate that phrase!).  I'm probably wrong here, but I read somewhere that the original DAVY episodes were broadcast in black & white, even though they were shot in colour???

Great before and after DAVY CROCKETT AND THE RIVER PIRATES (1956) matte shot.
Period western settlement that is in fact a completely painted visual effect.

More interesting vistas are able to be added via matte painting.

High production value for low cost.  All painted here except river and boats.


Before and after matte set up from DAVY CROCKETT AND THE RIVER PIRATES

An excellent detailed look at Ellenshaw's painting style which is very loose and impressionistic, with the most important aspect being in the effect of light upon the chosen object or setting.  Drawing out of detailed architecture simply wasn't important as major matte exponents such as Ellenshaw and Whitlock knew well.  Once the artist has correctly established the 'temperature' of the light source it was largely a matter of understanding and interpreting just how that light source and colour values would touch and reflect from those various surfaces.  To paint everything in highly organised, methodical detail was what Whitlock termed as 'painting with a dead hand.'
Another matte which is interesting.  A soft zig-zag split runs vertically up near the centre of the frame with not only the Indian hut being painted but everything on the right side of the frame, all the way up through the trees.

Detail of above

The moonlit town by the river is entirely the result of the matte artist's brush and succeeds through perfect merging of the painted with the real areas of the frame.  The matte cameraman deserves much credit for this and most of the other great shots.

Close up of the above matte painting.

In the late 1950's Disney produced a popular tv series, ZORRO (which like DAVY CROCKETT would be re-cut and released a few years later as a feature).  Peter, along with Jim and Albert, painted a number of mattes for various episodes


More mattes from ZORRO which would resurface in 1960 as THE SIGN OF ZORRO

Albert Whitlock provided these mattes for the episode ZORRO'S RIDE INTO TERROR Mattes for black and white productions were always painted with just black and white pigments, and according to Jim Danforth, Whitlock grew tired of the trying to figure out the gray values of all the real life colours, mix black with white into various tones of gray and transpose these to the matte. So on ZORRO, Al began to paint by using green and white as a break from black and white, just to relieve the monotony.
Originally filmed as a two part tv special, JOHNNY TREMAIN (1957) was actually released theatrically as a feature. On the left Walt is shown posing with one of the many evocative matte paintings used in the film.

JOHNNY TREMAIN is a rare beast where no technician is credited for matte work, even though the film is loaded with excellent matte painted shots.  Peter Ellenshaw took a break from mattes to work as Production Designer on the project, though he may have participated in the mattes to some lesser extent than normal.  From what I've gleaned, Albert Whitlock painted some of the mattes as he mentioned to his Universal cameraman, Bill Taylor, just how tiny the actual sets were in comparison to the massive, sprawling matte paintings to which they were combined.  I'm assuming too that Jim Fetherolf played an important part in this work as well.  As Harrison told me, even though Peter was concentrating on art direction it's quite likely he still oversaw the matte work and no doubt had input into many of the mattes.

Disney had a habit of utilising the same small chunk of backlot space as live action plates for subsequent matte shots in the same film, none more so than in JOHNNY TREMAIN where the huge town square matte (shown previously) uses the exact same back lot slice of space for another sprawling matte (shown below).  Check out the puddles of water... they're identical.  DARBY O'GILL did the same thing with a number of shots involving a dirt road that is distinct in not just one but four different matte shots!   I know, I know...I need to get a life.

Same puddle and roadway used in a different composite.  But, still great matte work none the less.

Tall ships from the era of The Revolutionary War.

More fine examples of the absolutely first rate matte work carried out at Disney.

If it's not Ellenshaw, it certainly has many of his hallmarks of style and composition.

All matte art except the section of road with the rider on horseback.
You can just detect the soft matte split joining the upper and lower elements as one.

At left is the final scene with the painting that Walt is shown holding further up the blog, with fire elements added in.
Another popular, though sad family film was this 1957 picture.

A frame from an elaborate night through to sunrise continuous trick shot utilising Peter's full matte art.  It looks great here in high definition too!

Also from OLD YELLER

EYES IN OUTER SPACE (1959) was a live action Disney short of which I know nothing other than this nifty matte.
THE LIGHT IN THE FOREST  (1958)
The matte camera with masked off upper frame, supervised on location by Ellenshaw (seated on ladder).  Actors Fess Parker and James MacArthur are shown preparing for action.

Many subtle painted set extensions and sky replacements in LIGHT IN THE FOREST.

LIGHT IN THE FOREST.

Released in 1958, TONKA was a solid, well acted and intelligently written drama.


TONKA
Invisible matte art expands the scenery and locale for TONKA.

Disney realised that with the success of DAVY CROCKETT the same sort of iconic American pioneering spirit could be exploited with a television series about DANIEL BOONE.  This shot is an Albert Whitlock matte from an episode titled 'The Warrior's Path', though Peter's influence is obvious with the play of light and sky.

Peter in discussions with Walt.

Here is one of Disney's best films that's an utter delight from start to finish.


DARBY O'GILL AND THE LITTLE PEOPLE (1959) was an all out, 100% field day for the Disney special effects department with the resulting material being among the very best trick work ever produced by the studio.  Filled with matte shots, perspective gags, Schufftan process, cel animated fx and scary solarisation opticals. 

You'd not know it, but this is mostly painted.  The buildings, trees, mountain, sky and rock wall are all just matte art.  Just the patch of dirt road nearest to the camera is real.  That same stretch of dirt is also used in three other matte composites with completely different painted elements.
Peter Ellenshaw had an enormous workload on DARBY, with the entire matte department busy with the dozens of mattes and other miscellaneous gags.
Before and after wizardry.
All painted except central portion of that same bit of dirt road again.

Before and after for the above shot.
Amazingly, DARBY was never even considered for a visual effects Oscar, which is appalling, as the sheer quality, not to mention quantity of the craft is so damned good.  For a more complete run down of DARBY's effects, check out my article on the film here.
One of Albert Whitlock's matte shots from DARBY.  Whitlock called DARBY a "tour-de-force for Peter", and I'd have to agree wholeheartedly.

All of the miniaturisation/giant shots in DARBY were achieved by careful planning and superbly executed actual practical set ups involving forced perspective rather than optical effects, with the results being staggering to say the least.  This before and after shows how Ellenshaw's matte art was used  not only for artistic value but also to block out the vast areas of the soundstage which were unavoidable due to the extreme distance required often between camera rostrum and the action.
Another (of many) matted in cave interiors and so forth, though as mentioned, the actors, both big and small were all shot 'as one' by way of meticulously conceived Schufftan shots sometimes involving mirrors and more often than not just concealing rostrums and rigs that placed our leading character amid the 'little people'.
One of Peter's flawless matte composites that one just takes for granted.  That's a young Sean Connery there by the way.
DARBY's mattes practically ooze atmosphere, as do the later ghoulish horse effects that must have scared kids.
There are many more mattes in DARBY, so get the DVD and check it out.  Hopefully a BluRay will eventually show up.




The 1959 picture THIRD MAN ON THE MOUNTAIN is a great film and another big matte assignment.  Director Ken Annakin was gung-ho on the matte process and was always game to utilise Peter Ellenshaw's talents to open up the narrative, with some beautiful work.

Excellent matte art and composites throughout.  Peter was assisted by both Whitlock and Fetherolf on this project.


I'm a sucker for these extreme downview perspective mattes, which never fail to grab me.
Ken Annakin was interviewed by Leonard Maltin and stated; "In spite of all the real life locations, some trickery was still necessary.  It was felt that one of Peter Ellenshaw's painted mattes could show the depth of fall in so many cases more convincingly than the real view, obscured by clouds, shadows, intervening ledges, etc."
Death defying matte art.
Great concept, great execution.
THIRD MAN ON THE MOUNTAIN (1959)




Budding visual effects artist and matte painter Jim Danforth cold called Peter Ellenshaw in 1960 and was granted a personal guided tour of Disney's matte department.  "I accompanied Peter into the screening room while he viewed tests of a painting composite for TOBY TYLER (1960).  One of the tests had been filmed with diffusion over the painted area of the scene to 'soften' the painting.  I was amazed by this test because, to me, the painting looked the same with, or without the diffusion.  The other viewers in the room were able to discern the merits of the variations and quickly make choices.  I realised that I needed to sharpen my perceptions."

A TOBY TYLER matte shot.  In his memoir, Jim Danforth also wrote; "Ellenshaw was not only a department head, he was one of the finest matte painters working anywhere in the world at the time.  I had become aware of him by reading the credits on Disney films such as 20'000 LEAGUES and from an interesting episode of the Walt Disney Presents TV show in which Peter was shown at work on the Georgia locations for THE GREAT LOCOMOTIVE CHASE."


At the time KIDNAPPED was in post production in 1960, future effects wizard Jim Danforth was a visitor to the Disney matte department and in his recent memoir described his first impression of the use of VistaVision process projection;  "I could see that peter was a direct, no-nonsense sort of a person, and I liked that.  Next Peter took me downstairs from the painting studio to the small 'stage' where the paintings were photographed.  Here I saw two rear projection machines that were used to project VistaVision live action plates or scenes onto translucent screens behind the sheets of glass on which the paintings had been rendered.  As I learned later, this method of compositing the live action with the matte paintings had been championed by Ellenshaw and Disney's technical wizard, Ub Iwerks as a technical refinement of the system invented by Willis O'Brien back in 1928.  I was amazed at the quality of the projected images.  Compared to my own crude 8mm and 16mm attempts, the VistaVision images were like looking out a window at reality."
A typical set top up with matte art is as old as the motion picture medium.  From KIDNAPPED.


More matte work from KIDNAPPED.
A behind the scenes look at an on location glass shot being photographed for a scene in KIDNAPPED.
Hayley Mills is delightful and Karl Malden chews the scenery even more than usual in this 1960 film.
Not a big effects film but POLLYANNA had some exquisite matte shots such as this Albert Whitlock establishing shot of the Victorian mansion.  A young Jim Danforth clearly remembered seeing Albert at work on this matte at Disney during his visit as a freshman into the world of trick photography.
The actual low rise homestead prior to Whitlock's significant matte painted additions.
A superbly rendered matte with a tilt up from Hayley Mills in the car.  In the DVD documentary Peter Ellenshaw only mentions having worked on the central tree sequences (shown below), so I've no idea who painted this.  Both Jim Fetherolf and newcomer assistant Deno Ganakes were also in the matte department at the time, but it's a great shot for sure.
One of Peter's mattes from POLLYANNA.  The tree is central to the plot.
A sensational matte shot where a camera move tracks across the tree and rests on the house upstairs window.
Full matte painting peering down on the same tree from the window - from POLLYANNA.


I saw this way, way back in the late 60's and would like to catch it again, though it's universally trashed as one of the worst Disney pictures by most critics.
Whitlock was assigned to do all of the mattes for TEN WHO DARED (1960), though he inadvertently received a severe 'telling off' by Walt for his initial matte shots that, by his own admission, completely missed the point by being seriously 'over' worked and too detailed when such would never be visible to the naked eye in real life whereas little or no detail was needed.  Whitlock remarked to Craig Barron in an interview that "Walt was so down on me for making that awful matte shot, so I got a new glass and I started blocking in shapes, receding into the distance and within an hour I had all that was required for the shot to work. The finished composited shot looked a million dollars though I hardly put any work into it, so I learned an important lesson of just what to paint and where"
Another of Albert's TEN WHO DARED mattes.  Incidentally, upon Whitlock's suggestion, Ellenshaw okayed the use of the original negative technique for this film, which apparently delighted Walt when viewing tests in the projection room, and there was some thought as to staying with the original negative method for other shows but this didn't happen and Disney reverted to the RP method.

Another of Whitlock's TEN WHO DARED matte shots.


The still entertaining and immensely popular adventure SWISS FAMILY ROBINSON (1960) was entirely shot on location on the island of Tobago, requiring Peter Ellenshaw to make all of the, relatively few in number, matte shots right there on location as in camera foreground glass shots.  The scene above actually only had one full sized pirate junk at anchor so Peter was tasked with painting in the second as a cost cutting measure (see below).
The large plates of specially prepared and framed glass were initially shipped out to Tobago from Hollywood, though naturally they all broke in transit, so Ellenshaw had to secure replacement glasses from some supplier nearer to the location.  Here we can see Peter carefully painting the other pirate junk, which would be used as a glass shot for two different cuts.
The second cut with the painted ship nearer the beach.

Another of the few glass shots in the film, with Peter painting in the headland, the island and the other British Naval ship.  Muzzle flashes from the British ship were added later by Peter.
Ellenshaw's glass shot set up, while the 2nd unit cameraman readies himself for the physical effects shot of the pirate boat getting blown up.
A closer look at the glass painting in progress.
The final glass shot is that of the British ship in the distance.
There is also a dreadful 'colourised' version of this film, but I've stuck with the true black & white print guys!
Lots of lovely cloud matte art throughout this film, and some good optical work by Eustace Lycette which earned the show an Oscar nomination for visual effects in 1961.
I'm told by Whitlock's old friend, Rolf Giesen, that Albert painted a number of the sky mattes for this film.
A full painting, street, cars, bicycle, trees, sky, the lot.  The car was added optically later.
THE ABSENT MINDED PROFESSOR.  I formally worked in an academic environment and I can attest to knowing a lot of absent minded Professors.... true story!
Fred MacMurray buzzes the Capitol Dome.
Such wonderful moonlit skyscapes... always an artform that I love, both in matte work and fine art.


Disney's 1961 GREYFRIAR'S BOBBY, set in Edinburgh, Scotland in 1865.

This film was another solo matte assignment for Albert Whitlock, who painted in a suitable period feel and some broad cityscape views of the era.

A superb Whitlock matte of the castle, which is a full painting.

1865 Edinburgh - all oil painted by Al Whitlock, with only a small area near the foreground where the people are being real.

Another full painting and I seem to recall a cannon flash taking place too.

GREYFRIAR'S BOBBY  (1961)



Here's one that not many people remember.  It was produced entirely in England at Shepperton Studios in 1962 as a three part television special for The Wonderful World of Disney.

All of the matte work was carried out by the Shepperton special effects department, under Wally Veevers' supervision.  Chief matte artist was George Samuels, though he did pass away around this time.  Other painters under Veevers were Bob Cuff, Doug Ferris and maybe Alan Maley who was with the department for a time.  Peter Harman was effects cameraman.
Artist Gerald Larn in the Shepperton matte department in 1964 where we can see two of the PRINCE AND THE PAUPER mattes on the wall.

THE PRINCE AND THE PAUPER (1962).  I think it had an alternate title in some territories?

Some excellent interiors here courtesy of Shepperton's matte department, with some of them being foreground glass shots.  Old pictures I have of the matte room in 1964 still show one or two of these mattes up on the wall.
Matte artist Doug Ferris with a PRINCE AND THE PAUPER matte behind him on the easel.  Note the formality of being an effects man back then, with suit and tie etc.

Another angle of one of the P&tP mattes behind artist Gerald Larn.

The grand banquet hall was largely the work of the matte painters at Shepperton, with an unidentfied artist shown painting the ceiling, windows and walls onto a huge plate of glass for an 'in camera' effects shot.

A close look at the glass shot in progress.

The not terribly good BABES IN TOYLAND (1961) did at least have one real babe - the delightful Annette Funicello.

The mattes were fun though, with long time Ellenshaw assistant, Jim Fetherolf getting the gig, and screen credit too!

It was one hell of a wacky place, that Toyland, where spirit levels were apparently banned, and builders' 'plum lines' were seen as the Devil's tool!

Still, visually the film was just swell - the sort of thing that Tim Burton must have seen as a kid and was profoundly 'touched' by it all.

A dazzling daylight into night transformation matte shot.  Jim Fetherolf was a very good painter and admired by other notables such as Whitlock, Yuricich and Harrison Ellenshaw.

It all has a sort of Dr Seuss meets Willy Wonka vibe to it (I nearly typed in 'Walter White' instead of Willy Wonka.... now that would be just damn weird!!  Breaking Bad fans will get it, the rest of you,  probably not)
Ahh, now I reckon this is one of Disney's best visual effects films of the lot. IN SEARCH OF THE CASTAWAYS (1962) was a fabulously entertaining, rollicking adventure that had sooooo many trick shots that I lost count.  Tons of great mattes, miniatures, optical combinations and so forth... and none of it done at Disney!!  the whole thing was made at Pinewood Studios, England and their matte department, under a relocated Peter Ellenshaw, managed to turn out some extraordinary work.


You always know that any film with a title card like 'Glasgow 1858' is going to be a matte shot treat, and CASTAWAYS is no disappointment on that front.  I did an entire, comprehensive blog article on this film in 2012, and you can read it by clicking here.
Peter Ellenshaw, back in his birth country, at work on a massive glass painting for an in camera foreground glass shot in a major action sequence (see below).  Harrison mentioned that his father was never happy with this matte, though I think it looked great.
Ellenshaw's massive painted foreground glass combined live with the actors and drama on a sound stage in this b&w publicity still.  The use of such a large glass was so that the camera could pan across and follow the action.


This is a very rare surviving Ellenshaw matte painting where Peter has 'filled in' the blank area around the small hut in order to complete the art as a gift for Jimmy Chipperfield, who was Peter's friend and in charge of all the wild animals on the film.  Jimmy's son still has the magnificent painting and he kindly sent me photos of it.

The Pinewood matte department contributed to the success of the mattes, with veteran artist Cliff Culley, as well as Alan Maley assisting Peter with the scores of mattes.


Some of the action set pieces have end to end matte shots, with painted elements used in cut after cut... a really mammoth workload for all concerned.

Grandeur and spectacle possibly only through well planned and executed matte photography.
What totally impressed me with the shots was the superb quality of the composites.  Little or no grain, no giveaway contrast issues associated with dupe matte shots, though I don't know what process they used on CASTAWAYS to marry the paintings with the plates, but they look sensational!  Pinewood's Martin Shorthall was matte cinematographer and possibly Roy Field might have been on board too?

An extensive painting with just a small pair of live action areas within the tree branches.

Our plucky adventurers even manage to reach good ole' New Zealand and are taken captive by a tribe of suspiciously British looking Maori warriors in strange fortifications that aren't for a minute based on anything real.... but what the hey, the mattes look great and that's all the matters.

One of the few mattes in CASTAWAYS that for me totally doesn't work and screams out 'bad matte'.  The colour 'daylight' temperature, or kelvin, of the setting is completely off for one thing, with it all resembling some tungsten lit indoor harbour!  Never liked this one.

Now, this one's a keeper.  Stunning composition and integration of the live action plate where the matte join would have been so hard to disguise.  Must have taken a few tests to get this one looking as perfect as this.  Love it!

A terrific erupting volcano in NZ is so well done, combining matte art, live action, actual real life lava flows - flawlessly added in - plus actors matted in later.  Really bloody good work here!  The lower left frame is interesting, as it's a rare case of a tilt down shot where the bottom of the painting and part of the matte stand come into shot! Wow!  The lower right just has to be Peter's work with skies like that.  Ellenshaw through and through.

CASTAWAYS' Pinewood based matte and special effects crew.  Peter Ellenshaw stands in the middle while Alan Maley can be seen crouched down just behind Peter.  Cliff Culley is standing at the far left (with striped tie) and I'm pretty sure that's Roy Field directly behind Culley.

SON OF FLUBBER (1963) was the sequel to ABSENT MINDED PROFESSOR

A fairly amusing follow up, with some first rate Jim Fetherolf painted mattes such as this beauty above.

I'm not sure, but this aerial view of The Pentagon looks like it could be a matte painting to me.

Fred MacMurray tests his new fangled contraption at a rain cloud in what is a completely painted view.

As previously mentioned, I do love moonlit painted skies, both in film and in gallery art such as the British Victorian painter J. Atkinson Grimshaw for example.

The 1963 sequel to OLD YELLER had Jim Fetherolf providing mattes.

Jim painted quite a number of expansive western landscapes, both in his private gallery career and in SAVAGE SAM.  Jim used to be an actor long ago before joining the 20th Century Fox matte department run by Ray Kellogg where he would learn the discipline of matte painting alongside fellow newcomer Matthew Yuricich under the talented, but difficult chief matte artist, Emil Kosa jr.  Years later Yuricich himself would briefly work at Disney when the workload got too much on ISLAND AT THE TOP OF THE WORLD (1974).

Some more of Fetherolf's excellent mattes from SAVAGE SAM (1963)

Now I've illustrated the same Jim Fetherolf matte twice here, as it appears in two different sequences in the film.  If you click on this and then the shot below you might be amazed at just how much the matte line jumps out of whack.

*see above caption

A massive tornado strikes home in an effective and very well assembled visual effects sequence

SAVAGE SAM matte

A glorious matte painted vista by Jim Fetherolf.

I include this frame because I'm very fond of old hand lettered title cards, or glasses as they usually were.

SUMMER MAGIC (1963) is another in a long line of Disney's charming, bouncy, sing-along family entertainments. The special photographic effects were handled by Peter Ellenshaw, no doubt with assistance from Jim Fetherolf and Deno Ganakes.  Al Whitlock had departed Disney in 1961 and I don't think Alan Maley had joined the studio yet.  This opening shot is a winner.  The frame starts on stormy clouds and tilts down through the sky revealing the sprawling skyline of period Boston before moving in on the street action.  Great work Disney.

SUMMER MAGIC is a most pleasant little film, thanks to an engaging cast and some nice tunes.  Peter's mattes are just wonderful, and in typical Ellenshaw style, Peter not only paints wide expanses of scenery, but also boldly takes his brush right up close to the viewer with matte art that swings around in front of the live action plate as well as in the back of it. Note how the house, tree and boardwalk nearest us is flawlessly painted. 
Top half of frame painted.
Great blending between the real and the painted.
Dramatic painted view looking up through the trees.
Love this shot... massive amount of painted frame, with, in true Ellenshaw style, only a small slot for live action in the middle where the car approaches a partial facade of the house.  Magnificent.
A wonderfully rendered full painting of the house at night in SUMMER MAGIC.  Sublime.
A second matte painted shot of the county church.

Another of those extensively painted views with just a small amount of actual setting very nicely blended in.  Pretty much everything aside from the near dirt road with car was painted.
A frame from the massive pullback that ends SUMMER MAGIC, where the camera starts on a close view of the family in the barn area and pulls way out to reveal the setting in it's entirety.
and here's that pull back matte....


I'll be back with many more great mattes from Disney's imaginative and skilled artisans with so many shows this will likely be a three part special...




TO BE CONTINUED...

20 comments:

  1. Pete- wonderful stuff! Being a fan of Disney Live action films since early childhood in the 1950's and a lover of Special Effects, especially Matte Paintings, this is a perfect entry. Many Thanks. mg

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  2. What a great blog! I'm not a fan of what passes for Disney movies these days, but what you have posted here brings back memories of when the Disney studio was making movies that really were fun, even if some of them were a bit formulaic.

    Glad to see the images from Third Man On The Mountain. Even knowing that many of those images were painted mattes, I still felt uneasy watching those characters climbing.

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    1. Hi Oscar & Michael

      Many thanks guys - it's always so pleasing to get positive feedback, and like you both, these shots bring back so many memories of, admittedly simplistic, yet highly entertaining Disney shows of old.
      Some great stuff still to come here with beautiful mattes from things like NEVER A DULL MOMENT, THE SNOWBALL EXPRESS and THE HAPPIEST MILLIONAIRE among many more.

      Pete

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    2. "admittedly simplistic, yet highly entertaining". Those words sum it up. Nothing wrong with simplistic. In fact, the older I get the more tired I've become of the films, with some exceptions, that come out every year. I find myself searching back to enjoy what was, not out of nostalgia, but because the entertainment value really was there for the most part.

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  3. Great stuff, as always Pete. I enjoy spending parts on a Sunday afternoon with one of these long blogs and a cup of coffee, going through it slowly, image by image, while adding to that ever-growing list of films I need to acquire.

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    1. Yeah David, there's a sort of 'safe nostalgia' associated with these kind natured old Disney flicks that is often a welcome relief from the sensory battering stuff on screen nowadays.

      Pete

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  4. Awesome work as always, Pete!

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    1. Thanks for that Roger. It's always good to hear from you my friend.

      Pete

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  5. What movie is the picture from near the top with the red globe and half blue globe?

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  6. Beautiful stuff. What movie is the space-like scene from near the top with the large red planet and half blue planet?

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    1. Hi Matthew

      If it's the frame I think you are referring to it's THE BLACK HOLE (1979) which is packed with great mattes and will feature in the next part of the Disney story.

      Peter

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  7. "some Disney shows have alluded me"

    The word you're looking for here is "eluded," unless the shows were making literary allusions...

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  8. What movie is the shot of the protesters in front of the gated mansion (just below the Black Hole pic) ? Always looking forward to your next entry !

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    1. Hi Steve

      A film called A TIGER WALKS (1964) which was Sabu's last movie.

      Pete

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  9. great blog and great work as always.

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  10. As an amateur photographer, and a fair amount of darkroom experience, I had what I thought of a some understanding of matte work. I now realize how little I appreciated the unbelievable amount of skill, knowledge,artistic ability,and sheer magic were involved. Truly awe inspiring!

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  11. Pete: I have to say I've been following your blog for several years now, and I absolutely anticipate and love each posting, with art work from films that I never imagined had so much matte work. Now, a Disney retrospective! All I can say is: please, please continue. Your expertise and passion for this late great form inspires us all. Thank you so much. And, I'll try to dig up a few movies with expansive scenes that *must* be matte art work, and I'll forward them to you for your expert analysis. We've lost something moving to CGI.

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    1. I'll keep writing these blogs as long as the blogger/platform thing cooperates (which almost had me throw in the towel when I did that triple parter on Ken Marschall & Bruce Block, where everything went wrong and I couldn't make it even look as good as those gentlemen REALLY deserved).

      I am always welcoming of any matte submissions,frames etc from readers. You never know... it might be a shot or two I've never seen! Send away!

      Pete

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  12. Great post! All of these movies are before my time (and I've never even heard of a bunch of them), but this makes me want to see, if only for the mattes.

    Looking forward to the Black Hole images!

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  13. What a great read! Eagerly wairing for part 2.

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