That’s precisely the lesson of Peter Ellenshaw, one of the leading matte artists for Walt Disney. Ellenshaw brought to life the backgrounds for Mary Poppins, Spartacus and 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea.
“My father would say things like, ‘Don’t fall in love with it,’ ” says son Harrison Ellenshaw, himself known for his matte artistry on The Empire Strikes Back, The Man Who Fell to Earth and Tron. “That meant, ‘Remember what the point of the shot is: It’s about the story.’ … Matte paintings, like all the elements that go into making a movie, need to help keep the story on track. As simple as that sounds, it’s very easy to forget.”
The younger Ellenshaw says his father, who died last year, always emphasized the ends over the means.
“Many people today, when they’re compositing shots, it’s all about the details,” he says. “My father would say, ‘Don’t get bitty. Keep it big, keep it loose. You are the master of it. If that island is too small, get the big brush and make it bigger.’”
Lesson: It’s the outcome that really matters.
—Adapted from “The Man Behind the Glass: Peter Ellenshaw,” Dan Blank, Stop Smiling.