Peter Ellenshaw was an art director and matte painter at the Disney Studios and worked on many of the major live action films during Walt’s lifetime. His matte paintings set a new standard in Hollywood, and Peter was generally considered to be the best in the business. More than that, he came up with many innovations and special effects, like the smoky set of steps in Mary Poppins. After retirement he continued to paint, and even did additional fine art for Disney to sell in its stores and galleries.
His artwork has been profiled in two obscure books, one that features his life, times, and work for Disney and the other on his Winnie the Pooh art from his later years. More about them in future essays. Here is a short excerpt from an interview with Peter, describing his thoughts on his former boss. As with many of the Disney old-timers, there is a mention of Walt’s famous eyebrow–to see an old-timer artistic interpretation of the “eyebrow” go to my blog entry on Ken Anderson at: The Eyebrow.
Now, Peter on Walt:
“What was Walt Disney like? That’s what we’d all like to know, isn’t it? Walt was the only person who was not an artist who could talk to you like an artist. The only problem you would have had with Walt was if you were not as enthusiastic about a project as he was.
“I would remember him coming by and talking to me about something and would get me all stirred up with enthusiasm and I would start work on the project. Then about three weeks or later I might get discouraged and think ‘Why did I get involved with this? It won’t work!’ and then Walt would come by and talk and get me all enthusiastic again. It wasn’t a false enthusiasm. He really believed it could be done and he was able to make you believe it.
“Great man. Wonderful man. Loved him. Missed him. Missed him terribly. Missed him so much that I’d wake up in the middle of the night and wonder why I was weeping. It was because I’d lost him. It was wonderful knowing him. The men who were really privileged were those animators who knew him many years before that. They were wonderful people who really knew him. I was privileged to know them.
“I was just one of the people who knew Walt just from live action. I’m not boasting about that. I’m very humble about that. I used to sit around with these men who and worked with him in animation and we’d ask, ‘What makes this ordinary man so extraordinary?’ Because he seems so normal. He seems so common in his thinking. He has no taste. Suddenly, you realize he has exquisite taste. He had a certain way of thinking and looking at problems from over there. We were all looking at it the same way from the common view and he’d say something and we thought he hadn’t been listening to what we were saying at all. Actually, he had seen it from another view.
“In meetings, I felt obligated to come up with something so I’d come up with some stupid thing. ‘Peter, what are you talking about?’ he’d say and lift that eyebrow.”
Endnotes and Citations can be seen at: endnotes.