To create the film illusion of an imaginary landscape or city, nowadays moviemakers create 3D digital environments, generally by replacing the greenscreen behind the action with a layered virtual environment.
But in the early days of film, the art of matte painting was the province of oil painters with traditional skills. Their scenic paintings had to seamlessly match the photographed action, but they also had to convey the emotional spirit of the scene.
(Video Link) One of the most remarkable pioneers in this field was a British-born painter named Peter Ellenshaw (1913-2007). In this video, he tells his story: how he started painting scene extensions for Thief of Baghdad (1940) and how he got some dream jobs for Walt Disney on Treasure Island, Mary Poppins, Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea, and Darby O'Gill and the Little People.
The hour-long video is broken into six chunks of 10 minutes each.
Previously on GJ:
Digital Matte Painting
Blending into the Background
Book: The Digital Matte Painting Handbook