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May 24

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May 24, 1913 – Birth of Disney Legend and Matte Painter Peter Ellenshaw

“[Ellenshaw’s] a pretty unique man. He had a sense of style and fantasy to his paintings that was extraordinary. If you were to look at a Peter Ellenshaw painting from Mary Poppins, it has an impressionistic quality to it.”

Peter Ellenshaw, best known as the matte painter on Mary Poppins, was born in London in 1913 and raised in Essex. His father died in World War I, and Ellenshaw left school at the age of 14 to support his family, but he kept up his passion for drawing. After meeting and being offered a job by matte painter Walter Percy Day, Ellenshaw worked as a painter on such films as The Thief of Baghdad, The Red Shoes, and Spartacus.

When Walt Disney set to work on making live-action films in England, he personally chose Ellenshaw to create the scenes of England during the days of Treasure Island. Disney then brought Ellenshaw to work on the production of 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, which led to his best-known work of the background paintings in Mary Poppins, for which he won an Academy Award for Best Visual Effects.

Ellenshaw explaining the special effects behind one of his matte paintings for Mary Poppins

Ellenshaw continued to contribute to Disney films as a matte artist, including Pollyanna and Swiss Family Robinson; in addition to his matte art, Ellenshaw contributed to the photographic effects on Darby O’Gill and the Little People, worked as a production designer on Island at the Top of the World and The Black Hole, and was the art director of Bedknobs and Broomsticks. Ellenshaw retired after his work on The Black Hole in 1979; however, he contributed to the matte paintings in the 1990 film Dick Tracy. He was named a Disney Legend in 2003, and passed away in 2007.

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