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Evolution & Creation
June 8, 2011 4:48 PM   Subscribe

Some early test shots from legendary filmmaker and animator Ray Harryhausen's unfinished film, Evolution.

Harryhausen's mentor, Willis O'Brien, had his own unfinished, dinosaur-themed film. Here's a scene.

Previously.
posted by brundlefly (29 comments total) 19 users marked this as a favorite

 
Via @Laelaps
posted by brundlefly at 4:50 PM on June 8, 2011


I have the DVD that this is excerpted from, it's called Ray Harryhausen: The Early Years Collection. Highly recommended for Harryhausen fans! Some of the fairy tale stuff is really trippy.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 4:54 PM on June 8, 2011 [2 favorites]


I would happily offer to send Willis O'Brien completion funds if it meant we could see the parental Triceratops turn Mr. Great White Hunter into a hood ornament.
posted by ShutterBun at 5:11 PM on June 8, 2011 [3 favorites]


Needs more Nazi.
posted by stbalbach at 5:38 PM on June 8, 2011 [1 favorite]


I am entertained and I like Harryhausen and I appreciate how much he innovated technically in the field of stop motion animation...

...but I've always found his actual animation style and aesthetic to be wooden and strangely static, and it just shatters any potential realism for me. It screws with my disbelief-suspending if you will. Even during high action scenes and later, more modern work like Clash of The Titans the characters never quite breath or come to life like some of the cel/2D animation of the same eras.

Or to make an unfair comparison, look at Spielberg's raptors in Jurrassic Park. There's even some really bad frames where it's obviously a big silly rubber prop - but those raptors came alive. I think if you gave Harryhausen's models and state-of-the-art tools to Spielberg in the same year he'd do a better job of making those dinosaurs more believable.

And, you know, that's ok. It's still great, fun stuff, but I've never quite put my finger on what bothered me about Harryhausen's animation until just now.
posted by loquacious at 5:38 PM on June 8, 2011 [2 favorites]


I can kinda see what you're getting at, loquacious. To me, Harryhausen was always at his best when he was working with non-organic (or at least non-fleshy) characters. The skeletons in "Jason and the Argonauts", the giant bronze statue of Talos (from the same film), the animated wooden figurehad from "Golden Voyage of Sinbad" all worked well for Harryhausen's somewhat static style. When things got too busy (they hydra, for example) it started to look much more unconvincing.

That being said, the model-building was ALWAYS top notch. The giant bumblebee in Mysterious Island is genuinely creepy looking, Medusa from Clash of the Titans (along with the whole vibe of the entire scene) was unbelievably menacing, and the cyclops (while falling FAR short of King Kong as far as personality and expression) was always a terrific archetype.
posted by ShutterBun at 6:08 PM on June 8, 2011 [3 favorites]


I have to agree about the staticicity. That said, the standout thing for me here is how incredibly modern that Allosaurus is. It leaps out and lands like a bird, balancing itself fore and aft as in the modern view, not up and down like the old-timey one. And it doesn't just bite, it leaps onto the Triceratops.
posted by DU at 6:08 PM on June 8, 2011 [2 favorites]


There are a few mystery novels by Ray Bradbury - A Graveyard For Lunatics and Death Is A Lonely Business - that have Harryhausen as a character. He's written so touchingly....

the fight at the end of this is awesome
posted by Lovecraft In Brooklyn at 6:12 PM on June 8, 2011


....but I've always found his actual animation style and aesthetic to be wooden and strangely static

Funny, that weird herky-jerky quality is something that I always liked about Harryhausen! It gave his characters a certain other-worldliness that added to their mystery. they seemed to inhabit another kind of air.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 6:15 PM on June 8, 2011 [4 favorites]


The lipcurl at approximately 2:16 is priceless.
posted by Gator at 6:16 PM on June 8, 2011 [2 favorites]


....but I've always found his actual animation style and aesthetic to be wooden and strangely static

I think the comparison with O'Brien's animation might have highlighted that - the motion of his figures is much more fluid and naturalistic.

That said, I also kind of dig Harryhausen's jerk, probably because I associate it with the inventiveness of his figures. In my mind, it's more of a trademark than a detriment, and I don't find it distracting.
posted by louche mustachio at 6:21 PM on June 8, 2011 [1 favorite]


The jerkiness also reminds me of Ladislaw Starewicz, and again, I forgive it fully.

Actually, some of the facial expressions Harryhausen uses remind me of Starewicz (like the lip curl.)
posted by louche mustachio at 6:24 PM on June 8, 2011


Needs more Nazi.

You know who else...
posted by louche mustachio at 6:25 PM on June 8, 2011


balancing itself fore and aft as in the modern view, not up and down like the old-timey one

I wonder if that was simply a product of the animators working with the model and saying "hmmm...he seems to balance much better in this position, let's go with it!" Hence, they arrived at the (correct) conclusion simply by discovering that it couldn't have worked any other way.
posted by ShutterBun at 6:27 PM on June 8, 2011 [1 favorite]


DU: "It leaps out and lands like a bird, balancing itself fore and aft as in the modern view, not up and down like the old-timey one. And it doesn't just bite, it leaps onto the Triceratops."

Harryhausen was heavily influenced by Charles R. Knight, who painted this in 1897. Very ahead of its time.
posted by brundlefly at 6:48 PM on June 8, 2011 [4 favorites]


Gator: "The lipcurl at approximately 2:16 is priceless."

Yeah - i thought "Billy Idol T-Rex" :D

And... JAZZ CLAWS! LOL...
posted by symbioid at 7:20 PM on June 8, 2011


A lot of the wooden quality is due to the incredible difficulty of stop motion movement. Each foot has a peg that must go into a hole in the base of the set, and then the animator must figure out how to transfer the weight without disturbing the overall movement. There used to be little tools that you could use to guage just how much movement had occurred. Stop motion now is comparatively easy, with the ability to onion-skin frames on a computer. In any case, this was the best stop-motion of its time. It doesn't work to compare it to anything else, because it was absolutely state-of-the-art.
posted by gorgor_balabala at 7:34 PM on June 8, 2011


I admire so much about this ambitious project by Ray Harryhausen.

Before I can even appreciate the stop-motion animation, I'm taken by the technical complexity of the piece. The range of techniques used to render the environment -- including miniature sets, paintings, and mattes -- permit extraordinary effects like deep backgrounds, tracking shots, and water effects. Each shot is masterfully composed and perfectly exposed. That it was accomplished on the highly variable color stock available at the time makes the results even more impressive.

I can see the indelible influences of Willis O'Brien on young Mr. Harryhausen. Backgrounds and middlegrounds are punctuated by abundant flying birds. (Reptiles?) I'm impressed by the glass painting foregrounds, a technique mastered by O'Brien that lends wonderful depth to a miniature set. The terrifying arrival of T-Rex stands favorably to its genesis, O'Brien's exceptional (and arguably unmatched) Kong/T-Rex battle from King Kong. (Here's another clear Kong/T-Rex reference; how many times did young Mr. Harryhausen see King Kong at the cinema to have been left with such a frame-accurate impression?)

Where Evolution shines is Mr. Harryhausen's commanding character animation. Did you catch the Brontosaurus carelessly knocking boulders into the water with her tail? Ray Harryhausen's gifts are most evident in the gruesome Triceratops vs. T-Rex battle. Rex, fast, feline, and futilely attacking Triceratops' armor, shows how carefully Mr. Harryhausen researched dinosaur anatomy to animate a battle both accurate and dramatic. His dinosaurs are massive and purposeful, exemplified by the posture and attitude of Rex as it stands triumphant over its prey in Evolution's final seconds. The performances of Mr. Harryhausen's animated creatures far surpass the flailing of lumbering suited actors or the dizzying hyperactivity of contemporary CGI.

Most impressive to me, with the hindsight of Ray Harryhausen's entire career, is that the techniques demonstrated in this work of art were refined to create an entire catalog of feature films that possess rare fragments of pure imagination.

Complaints that Ray Harryhausen's techniques for realizing his vision are "wooden" or "static" are beside the point. It's what he accomplished within the obvious limitations of those techniques that makes his work worth watching.

Thanks for an inspiring post that kept me up too late!

(Disclaimer: I am guilty of www.harryhausen.com, a site linked in this post.)
posted by Chinese Jet Pilot at 10:50 PM on June 8, 2011 [5 favorites]


Holy cow, Chinese Jet Pilot! I didn't realize you were responsible for that site. Great work! And great comment!
posted by brundlefly at 11:17 PM on June 8, 2011


Or to make an unfair comparison, look at Spielberg's raptors in Jurrassic Park. There's even some really bad frames where it's obviously a big silly rubber prop - but those raptors came alive.

I don't know if the comparison is unfair so much as not really significant, as far as the engineering genius, attention to detail, and artisanship on display in Harryhausen's work. The digital modelers and animators of Jurassic Park and Ray Harryhausen were working within utterly different sets of physical constraints because of their completely different tool sets, and the results are, naturally, different.

I think if you gave Harryhausen's models and state-of-the-art tools to Spielberg in the same year he'd do a better job of making those dinosaurs more believable.

Well, Spielberg's a director and Harryhausen is a special effects animator, and neither would probably do the other's job better -- but even the gist of this still doesn't ring true to me. The creatures of Jurassic Park owe more to Harryhausen than to Spielberg, and I think Spielberg would agree. The groundwork Harryhausen laid in creating convincing creatures with incredible attention to detail within the means available -- starting by mapping complex skeleton/joint systems, developing a functional musculature that informed a creature's range and style of movement -- is intrinsic stuff that any convincing CG creature animation builds on today. That's what Harryhausen represents, and to my eye that's a hugely striking difference between the two videos in this post (Harryhausen's "Evolution" clip and mentor O'Brien's "Creation" clip).

But I think I get what you're saying insofar as suspension of disbelief. With the best of modern movie effects, it's easy to forget you're even watching a special effect, and the stop-motion effects of 50-60 years ago will never blur that line. Speaking for myself, though, I absolutely find the same kind of wonderment, and of scale and physical presence, and the same kind of "how'd they do that" response to great work of that era as I do with great work of our era, and that can always be captivating and engaging experience regardless.

Thanks for the post!
posted by churl at 1:48 AM on June 9, 2011 [3 favorites]


For me, Jason and the Argonauts is the high point of Harryhausen's work; not only have you got the gleefully bloodthirsty skeletons (relevant self-link), but there's the wonderful Talos, whose death scene always feels slightly cruel and sad.

20-odd years ago, some of my university lectures were cancelled on a cold, dreary day. I went back to my warm room, made a coffee, and put on the TV. Argonauts was just starting. I've never felt so relaxed and cosy as I did during that film.
posted by malevolent at 2:18 AM on June 9, 2011 [2 favorites]


Pearls Jam's animated Do the Evolution music video by legendary filmmakers ! Kevin Altieri and Todd McFarlane.
posted by uncanny hengeman at 6:07 AM on June 9, 2011


>The creatures of Jurassic Park owe more to Harryhausen than to Spielberg, and I think Spielberg would agree.

If Stan Winston, Dennis Murren and Phil Tippet don't count Harryhausen as one of their major influences, I'll eat a VHS tape of "7th Voyage of Sinbad".
posted by Enron Hubbard at 6:36 AM on June 9, 2011


I think the wooden style some of you mention is due to the lack of blur. In many cases live action happens too fast for the relatively slow shutter speeds of film cameras. This introduces blur that helps the eye distinguish continuous motion. It wasn't perfected until Go Motion was co-developed by Industrial Light & Magic and Phil Tippett and was used for some shots of the tauntaun creatures and AT-AT walkers in the 1980 Star Wars film.
posted by Gungho at 8:50 AM on June 9, 2011


But I think I get what you're saying insofar as suspension of disbelief. With the best of modern movie effects, it's easy to forget you're even watching a special effect, and the stop-motion effects of 50-60 years ago will never blur that line.

Ahem (emphasis mine):

"In 1922, [Arthur] Conan Doyle showed O'Brien's test reel to a meeting of the Society of American Magicians, which included Harry Houdini. The astounded audience watched footage of a Triceratops family, an attack by an Allosaurus and some Stegosaurus footage. Doyle refused to discuss the film's origins. On the next day, the New York Times ran a front page article about it, saying "(Conan Doyle’s) monsters of the ancient world, or of the new world which he has discovered in the ether, were extraordinarily lifelike. If fakes, they were masterpieces."
posted by zombieflanders at 9:06 AM on June 9, 2011 [2 favorites]


Enron Hubbard: "If Stan Winston, Dennis Murren and Phil Tippet don't count Harryhausen as one of their major influences, I'll eat a VHS tape of "7th Voyage of Sinbad"."

Yep. I'll extend that to just about anybody in the effects business.
posted by brundlefly at 9:17 AM on June 9, 2011


Gungho: "It wasn't perfected until Go Motion was co-developed by Industrial Light & Magic and Phil Tippett and was used for some shots of the tauntaun creatures and AT-AT walkers in the 1980 Star Wars film."

Oh, and I meant to post this before: Tippett also used the technique in his short film, "Prehistoric Beast". Can you tell I love stop motion dinosaurs?
posted by brundlefly at 2:07 PM on June 9, 2011


Fatboy Slim, Right Here Right Now seems to be based on this.
posted by effugas at 3:55 PM on June 9, 2011


those tiny dinosaurs are adorable! I think it's probably because you can see the actual scale of the models, that they aren't huge beast but rather table-top sized.
posted by 2Krogh at 5:38 AM on June 10, 2011


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