The Screening Room
island at the top of the world screening
It's always a pleasure listening to Harrison Ellenshaw talk about Disney films. Having grown up and worked at the Disney studio, he's perhaps one of the most knowledgeable experts on all things Disney. On June 28, 2009 at the American Cinematheque's Aero Theatre, Ellenshaw and John Muto spoke about the film, "Island at the Top of the World." This was a presentation on art direction called "Designing for Adventure."

I remember my father taking me to see the film. It was released in theaters during the Christmas season in 1974. Honestly I don't remember much of the movie, other than falling asleep midway. What did stick with me were the fantastic visual effects and the Hyperion airship featured in the film. All these years later the visual effects, supervised by Peter Ellenshaw, are amazing.

Harrison Ellenshaw spoke to the audience about how many of the visual effects were done. The film was shot on the Disney lot in Burbank, California, but the production design by Peter Ellenshaw makes the film more believable that we're up in frozen wasteland at the top of the world. It should be also noted that the matte paintings were done by Alan Maley. Harrison did work on the movie, but as an assistant in the matte department. He didn't receive a screen credit, though.

Harrison, whose credits include "Tron" and "Dick Tracy," also showed some his own work from the underrated "The Black Hole" (1979). He worked with his father Peter on that film, which not only brought together two generations of visual effects icons together, but it also melded in many of the visual effects techniques they honed their skills on over the years.  

Although "Island" isn't one of Disney's best efforts, upcoming visual effects artists should check it out. With what was probably a low budget, and without the aid of computers, Ellenshaw and his team created some fantastic  visual effects. The team used a mixture of miniature models, matte paintings, and animation to bring the world of the turn-of-the-century alive.

And how's this for some Disney trivia. What element of "Island at the Top of the World" made it into a Disney theme park? Even though the film wasn't a box office hit, it did encourage Imagineer Tony Baxter to create a new theme section for Disneyland (Anaheim) called Discovery Bay. One of the signature elements of that concept was the Hyperion airship. The themed area was never built in Anaheim, but the Hyperion can be seen at Disneyland Paris in Discoveryland at Videopolis.
Bill Kallay
Special thanks to Harrison Ellenshaw and the American Cinematheque
Photos: Bill Kallay. All rights reserved.
Photos of "Island at the Top of the World:" Disney. All rights reserved.
Photo Gallery
(Left-to-right) Harrison Ellenshaw and John Muto
harrison ellenshaw
Ellenshaw explains the fine points of miniatures and matte paintings
harrison ellenshaw and john muto
The movie may not have been all that great, but the poster sure sold an adventure!
furry dog
This beautiful dog would've fit right into the Viking storyline of "Island"
The marquee at the Aero
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