Many sons growing up in the shadow of a famous
father feel that they want to carve their own paths in life.
That was me, says Harrison Ellenshaw, son of Disney Legend and
master painter Peter Ellenshaw, who won an Oscar for his visual
effects work on "Mary Poppins and was nominated a total
of five times for the Academy Award. I had grown up fascinated
by my father's painting." Harrison says. He would sometimes
give me canvas and paints. I have photographs of me painting
when I was a small boy. My father's life was painting, even
during meals he would bring the canvases he was working on into
the kitchen and sit and eat and look, criticizing his own work.
My mother was not always pleased that this was how the family
spent mealtime, but she understood his passion. But I found
both this passion and his incredible talent intimidating. I
was convinced I could never live up to any of it.
Harrison graduated from
Whittier College with a BA in psychology. By then, in the early
70s, the country was in the throes of a recession and Harrison
found it difficult to find a job. I remember driving with my
father one day, he recalls, and he said, Well, you know, just
for the time being, if you're interested, the matte department
at Disney is looking for apprentices. The department head at
that time was Alan Maley, who had worked as a matte artist with
Harrison's father in years past. So I went and talked to Alan,
and we agreed that we'd give it six months.
Alan became my mentor, Harrison
says, and it was due to his enthusiasm and encouragement that
I really got bitten by the film bug. It had been very unique
growing up having a father who knew and worked for Walt Disney
-- he was a living legend, an icon. But in a sense I took being
in a 'show business family' for granted. It was Alan who showed
me what was so special about film -- about matte paintings;
how your work on shots could be an integral part of telling
a story." After about four years, Alan Maley retired. "He
told me I could take over as department head," Harrison
remembers. It usually takes twelve years as a journeyman to
become a department head. The studio was a little hesitant and
I was scared to death. Maley offered to return to give Harrison
a hand if necessary, so he took the job.
Then, Harrison got a phenomenal
break. Fate smiled on me, as it had for my father, he says humbly.
I got a chance to do some work on Star Wars. At this point,
a tale of two Ellenshaws becomes the tale of two separate Ellenshaws,
as this is where Harrison begins to really strike out on his
own, away from his father's legacy. His work on Star Wars was
so well received that he was asked to return to work on The
Empire Strikes Back. By this time, having clearly carved a niche
for himself, Harrison had no problem working with his father
on Disney's The Black Hole in 1979. Harrison then went solo
again to add his unforgettable touch to Tron, one of the most
unique and visually stunning films ever, now a cult classic.
After work on "Captain
Eo," "Superman IV," "Ghost" and other
films, a memorable year for Harrison was 1989, when he worked
on Dick Tracy. The matte paintings were visually the star of
that film, he recalls. And by then I was doing some fine art
painting on my own. But it was around that time when I was working
on this incredibly colorful film that an exhibition of Fauve
artists came to the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. Fauve,
which in French means wild beasts, was a name given to a group
of up and coming rebel French artists in the 1900s, who included
among their ranks Henri Matisse and Andre Derain. The Fauve
painters took a traditional art form and began using forms and
colors which were not found in nature, painting familiar objects
with startlingly wrong colors, in an attempt to liberate color.
Up until this point I had been
painting trees with black, gray and brown trunks and green leaves,
he points out. And then I came across the Fauves, who were only
in existence a few years, and their intense use of color. They
had done something I really enjoyed and appreciated. So I began
to paint far more colorfully than I had in the past. Today,
I enjoy painting as much as ever and I enjoy doing things that
are really colorful. The great thing is that now with the giclée
process of making prints, you can match the colors perfectly.
Harrison's work has been exhibited at the prestigious Hammer
Galleries in New York, as well as galleries in London and San
Francisco. Collectors Editions is proud to publish the works
of Harrison Ellenshaw, in all their true, vivid color.