The Screening Room
THE STUDIO GATE
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
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.
Special thanks to Harrison Ellenshaw and the
Photos: © Bill Kallay. All rights reserved.
Photos of "Island at the Top of the World:" ©
Disney. All rights reserved.
(Left-to-right) Harrison Ellenshaw and John Muto
Ellenshaw explains the fine points of miniatures and
The movie may not have been all that great,
but the poster sure sold an adventure!
This beautiful dog would've fit
right into the Viking storyline of
The marquee at the Aero