The Journal Herald from Dayton, Ohio on December 15, 1979 · 25
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The Journal Herald from Dayton, Ohio · 25

Dayton, Ohio
Issue Date:
Saturday, December 15, 1979
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oeeert Don't know what to give' a special cook for Christmas? Ann Heller tells what's u hat with ne w cook books, Page 27 A muckraking look inside the highest court in the land Trudy Krisher reviews much discussedThe Brethren, Page 28 Movie touted as a blockbuster closer to being a bust , Terry Lawson is disappointed with Spielberg's 1941, Page 30 Sot., Dec. 15, 1979 JOURNAL HERALD 25 300d hipisny rockets inlo the space war f 1 i 1 man Si I . If .1 J. life ..'it. i '4 - 'r-V - 7. ;r -.V 11,7 P? I i urn i ua , Ir kfci -- Ill r ll 1 " - " it BT-Mr" : i.-. ,; "WvqiMmMnMmiiu iimiihiiuiii mi im n m iiMMmMwnmMMMMiPHWW(rwMipriiiiiiHiM j n.pi w I -x-.'.' r.-y - t t . E " :.-. .. " is. By Terry Lawson Journal Herald SIH Writer LOS ANGELES Disney Studios is definitely not Disneyland. The guard at the gate, whom one might reasonably expect to be dressed as Goofy or the Sorcerer, instead checks your name with at least two employees to make sure you're allowed on the lot. A guide then escorts you to your appointment, and one is not allowed, as he is at other studios, to wander around freely and explore the famous soundstages. If all this sounds a wee bit paranoid and a lot more secretive to one who has literally grown up on the sweet-tempered attitudes perpetuated by Walt Disney and all his helpers, there are reasons that Dopey Drive and -Snow White Lane are off limits to all but authorized personnel: $26 million worth of reasons, to be precise. Next Friday, Disney Studios will unveil it's most expensive live-action film ever, a futuristic fantasy called TAe Black Hole. In Ohio, The Black Hole will debut the same day as Star Trek: The Motion Picture, one of the most eagerly-anticipated films of the decade. Star Trek cost at least $35 million ("Closer to $45 million," whispers an "insider") and the two films will be competing for the same audience and the same Christmas dollars. If successful, The Black Hole could lift Disney Studios out of its late-70's doldrums and re-establish the company as a major film force. If It flops, it could mean that the fantasy factory will retreat to re-releasing its animated classics twice a year and churning out forgettable, shoddily-made Don Knotts vehicles. For Industry-watchers, the space battle promises to be much more entertaining than the fracas between the Imperial star fleet and Vader's Raiders. Fantasy most crucial element Surprisingly, the fellow one might expect to be the most nervous about this situation seems to be almost trnascendentally calm and composed. Peter Ellenshaw, a dapper, soft-spoken man of 66 years, is the production designer and director of special effects for The Black Hole. And while Ellenshaw maintains that "human values are extremely important to this picture," no one is being coy about the unalterable fact that the special effects "the realization of the fantasy," as he calls it are the most crucial element In the film's ultimate success or failure. "It sounds cliched, but I truly work the best under pressure," says Ellenshaw. "For example, I came into work yesterday (this interview was done in September) and there was one scene we decided to have done outside the studio, that we contracted out. And it was unacceptable by the standards of the rest of the picture. So now we're going to redo the scene here. It was done by some sort of a computer process, and we've really known all along that that sort of computerized magic doesn't work for us. The imagination required to visualize something that is inside a black hole is really beyond a computer. Computers lack the ability to test ideas, you see. Of course, the ACES (Automated Camera Effects System) we've developed is run by computers, but it is programmed to our visions. This is going to be a spectacular piece of film, and it requires a human vision." What's a matte painter? It is evident from Ellenshaw's prior accomplishments that he has an abundance of human vision. Born in London in 1913, Ellenshaw began to paint when he was 20, falling under the spell of W. Percy Day, an artist at the Royal Academy. "I knew he was a matte painter, but I didn't know what that was," Ellenshaw remembers. "I persuaded him I should be his assistant anyway." Ellenshaw soon discovered that a matte was a painting that was used in a film to illustrate things that couldn't be filmed: An ancient city, a dried-up river, a temple that never existed. Together, the two men began working creating mattes for Alexander Korda epics, like Things to Come (one of the earliest sci-fi films, made in 1936), The Thief of Bagdad, and Victoria the Great Then came World War II, and Ellenshaw was sent to this country to train as a flying instructor. When he returned, he again worked for Day, who had by now married Ellenshaw's widowed mother. But competition . between the two was great, and Ellenshaw struck out . own his own, earning a deserved reputation for his spectacular mattes for the Roman epic Quo Vadis, and even creating a vision of the great beyond in Stairway to Heaven. Walt Disney liked to tell people he discovered Ellenshaw painting on the sidewalks of London; actually, Ellenshaw was Disney's first choice to paint the mattes for his English-made films like Treasure Island and The Sword and the Rose. When Disnev decided to fill 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea in Hollywood, he 3 persuaded Ellenshaw to move to America. Ellenshaw's 3 work on that film won him his "team" Academy J Award, and after working on various Disney films and television shows for the next five years, he returned $ independent work in 1959 to do the special photographic! effects for Darby O'Cill and the Little People. He picked 2 up another Academy Award for those efforts, 4 sequences that directors Steven Spielberg and John I.andiJ, both of whom have experimented in miniature wdrk, f call "the best ever done." But Ellenshaw says his "heart was always at Disney," and his respect for Walt led him to return to Disney to supervise the fantasy scenes for Afary Poppins. Again, the result was an Oscar. m Disney would have loved it "I'm sure everyone who ever worked closely with him says this," Ellenshaw muses, "But Walt and I did enjo; a rather special relationship. He was more than a guiding force, he was as creative as anyone else who walked round hpre, so there was no sense of forced respect, It was all very honest, very warm. The Oscar for Mary Poppins belonged to him as much as it did us." When Disney became ill in 1966, Ellenshaw painted one of Walt's favorite subjects, the smoke tree, and sent : the painting to his hospital room. It was hanging on the wall when Disney died. ' "Walt would have loved this film," says Ellenshaw, bringing the conversation back to the project at hand. "It is fantastic, and yet it has very human elements. It is definitely spectacular, yet it isn't gaudy. : It's in the true Disney tradition." - ; Ellenshaw is unwilling to relate much of the ' story, saying he thinks "it's better for everyone if they go in r.nA " hot thi .. - Lnmnn. TV,,. ,.t UA , lulu, uui mis muni la nuuvvii. i ur ucn ui luc a spaceship Palomino, which includes Joseph Bottoms, Tony Perkins, Ernest Borgnine and Yvette Mimieux as wll as the pxnprt.ihl? cute little robot, is hpaded In earth after in lR-mnnfh mictinn whpn thpv Hi:rnvpr a rraft. the fvpnns. that has been missinn for 20 vears. The Cvenus i 9 is perched on the edge of a black hole, and the ship's commander, played by Maximilian Schell, is hardl interested In a conventional rescue. Eventually, the crew j is faced with the power of the hole itself. 3 "I was happy living in retirement, painting my V, little seascapes in Ireland, when my friend (producer) , 1 Winston Hibler asked me to come back and work on this idea for an outer space movie called Space Station ti One," says Ellenshaw. "It started as a disaster picture, actually, and black holes were just a minor element to the story." You can't explain magic ,2 I "I've been working on this for four years now,' Ellensahw says. "At first I was just doing the matte supervision, and then the story got bogged down and I did some design revision to make up for the chanees that were made' Then tlinrp was the inherent problem of Inventing new hardware in order to ' S render the visuals the way we saw them, and then ..." " J In the end, Ellenshaw had supervised 1 50 , . jj j different matte shots the most ever used in any picture' i of any kind the development of the ACES " camera system, the mattescan ("For the first time, we can I show an infinite number of objects moving independently and dimensional!)': A true breakthrough.") and various m I other pieces of wizardry that Ellenshaw hopes "will never I 2 be truly explained. I subscribe to Walt's view that the , magic should all be hidden." Upstairs in Ellenshaw's cluttered office, he (j displays pictures of his St. Finian's bay home, and a f 3 program from his recent exhibition at the New York g Musuem of Modern Art. ("Sort of embarrassing, i 5 actually. But still thrilling.") A retrospective of his work P was recently screened at the American Film Institute Theater, and says he has done mure interviews in ' fj the past month than he has done in his life. It all, of S course, is deserved. If there is a star In The Black Hole, it in 5 not Tony Perkins; it is Ellenshaw. IJ g "Sequels? I will never make another movie, much lesj" another space movie. He stares intently at the gorgeous detailed rendering of the Cygnus that sits on his easel, and chuckles, "this is my swansong, if you'll , allow me to be maudlin. Right now everyone's saying awfully nice things about me. I don't really want to push my luck." 1 1 73 j 5.1 1 31 I I L. ti J5 i

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