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The pavement art of Mary Poppins
I’m sure everybody remembers the “Jolly Holiday” sequence, in which Mary, Bert and the children jump into the chalk pavement drawing.
People have often asked me who did the chalk pavement drawings for MARY POPPINS. Some have assumed that the director just ordered a bunch of low level animators to come along on set and start chalking away; the truth is far more interesting.
Bert’s pavement art scene was shot entirely on a man-made set at Warner Brothers Studio, Burbank, California; and contrary to popular belief, the pavement drawings where not done in chalk at all, but painted directly onto the set floor by Disney matte-artist Peter Ellenshaw. Under the direction of set decorator, Hal Gausman.
Walt Disney used to tell a story of how he met the British artist; “You know how I met Peter? I was walking around Trafalgar Square and there was this guy doing some drawings on the pavement. He was painting a loaf of bread on the sidewalk. He’d written ‘Easy to draw, hard to earn.’ And I thought the drawing was pretty good so I said, ‘They’re pretty good. How would you like to come to America and work for me?’ and he said, ‘Yes, I would, guv’nor!’ and that was Peter!”
Of course it was a complete myth; Walt loved to tell stories and have fun with the media, and the press would print it as if it were the absolutely truth.
The pavement art as it appeared in the film was well researched, featuring subjects and styles that would quite possibly have appeared on London streets around 1912; even the use of a single flagstone for each drawing, with a written description and decorative border.
Peter Ellenshaw was born in Essex, England on the 24th of May, 1913
After serving with the RAF during WWII, late in 1947, Peter’s art caught the attention of the Walt Disney Studios.
Thus began a professional collaboration and friendship with Walt Disney that would span over 30 years and 34 films.
Ellenshaw was one of the last great practioners of the now-lost art of matte painting – a special effects technique which involved making highly realistic paintings on plates of glass that, when placed in front of the camera while filming a scene in a movie, extended the physical settings in which the actors were filming to create elaborate interiors or dramatic and fantastic landscapes.
Ellenshaw’s matte paintings saved Walt the cost of expensive location trips and elaborate settings. When Mary Poppins flew over the rooftops of London — that was the magic of Peter Ellenshaw.
Continuity mistake: Bert, when adding the road to the fair on his pavement art does so with his right hand (this is Peter Ellenshaw’s left-hand, and not Dick Van Dyke’s right-hand). In the next shot when withdrawing his hand, the chalk is in his left hand.
Continuity mistake: When the kids meet Bert as a pavement artist, he draws a road with a single-arched bridge on his drawing. When they jump into the drawing, the bridge is double arched.
Continuity mistake: When Bert is showing Jane and Michael his chalk sketches and doing his tightrope demonstration, you can see the pigeons in the corner on the far side of the bench. In the next shot when Jane points out the English countryside, the pigeons are right behind Bert again and walking away.
Peter Ellenshaw was one of the artists responsible for the special effects, including the jumping into the chalk drawing scene. Along with Eustace Lycett and Hamilton Luske, he won an Oscar in 1965, for BEST SPECIAL EFFECTS on Mary Poppins.
Researched by Philip Battle
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