Ray Harryhausen
August 11, 2002 12:28 AM   Subscribe

Ray Harryhausen brought wonder to my childhood, with the painstaking process of stop-motion animation. In these days of CGI special effects, perhaps a look back to the days of the Hydra and the wondrous skeleton army would not be amiss. There was a real humanity to Harryhausen's creations, as detailed on this nice site. Perhaps even more interesting are the films that never were, like his Baron Munchausen, The Tortoise and the Hare and his vision of War of the Worlds. Also, criticism of Harryhausen. Last link: a chat with Harryhausen.
posted by Kafkaesque (26 comments total) 2 users marked this as a favorite

 
Apologies, btw, for popups.
posted by Kafkaesque at 12:29 AM on August 11, 2002


Eeeeek, skeleton army. You can keep your T-Rex from Jurassic Park, that's the scariest thing I've seen on film. It will stay with me forever. That and the strange metal bull thing from Sinbad and the Eye of the Tiger. And the Kraken from Clash of the Titans. I have that and Jason and the Argonauts to thank for my love of Greek myths. Well, it has to start somewhere.
posted by Summer at 1:14 AM on August 11, 2002


Thank you for that, Kafkaesque. The irony is you could probably mimic the effect quite easily with a computer. Though, like attempts to make images look scratchy and silent-filmish, they'd never really get it right. Which is satisfying.
posted by MiguelCardoso at 1:27 AM on August 11, 2002


Wow. Thanks, Kafkaesque.

Sinbad is one of those movies thats stuck in my mind, an early childhood impression that I cannot unglue.

This is eerily appropriate. I just saw Jan Svankmajer's masterpiece 'Alice' this Thursday at the SFMOMA*. Gorgeous, creepy, surreal - one of my favorite films. And yes, stop-motion animates this world, introduces a human, stuttered life that modern effects cannot possibly achieve.

*if you're in SF you missed it sorry. It only played one night.
posted by vacapinta at 1:35 AM on August 11, 2002


Yeah those fortune and geo cities sites are a killers with all the pop-up, unders and gator-grabbers (just say no).

As a youth in the 1960's I was under the spell of Harryhausen and his predecessor Willis O'brien of King Kong fame. I made many stop-motion films with my father's wind-up 8mm camera in the basement of our row house in Philly. Hours and hours of mind numbing meticulous work would go into just seconds of film. And then I'd have to wait a week for the film to make it back from Kodak in Rochester NY, only to find that the lighting was crappy, or some prop in the background fell over.

I still have the kind response received from Ray Harryhausen to my fan letter detailing my technique for blurring fast moving limbs in stop motion. (an impractical labor intensive technique involving backcranking and multiple exposures). He's a class guy.

That lavender site has great collections of images. As a kid I would have been left drooling to have had access to them, for their clues as to techniques. As it was I spent one memorable afternoon into evening back then watching One Million Years BC over and over, even through attracting the attention of a prowling creep who must have thought I was a run-away seeking shelter in the theater.

The Seventh Voyage of Sinbad is still my favorite, the Cyclops scenes and the skeleton swordfight are classic.
posted by gametone at 2:28 AM on August 11, 2002


A lot of stop-frame animation seems horribly dated nowadays (Clash of the Titans was a bit cringe-inducing even when released), but Jason and the Argonauts has to be one of the best films of its kind and still very watchable. I must've seen it half a dozen times on TV yet still bought the DVD. Curling up on the sofa to watch it on a rainy afternoon is highly recommended.
posted by malevolent at 4:29 AM on August 11, 2002


The time that Harryhausen retired is about the time that Phil Tippet came up with what he called "go-motion", which is stop-motion combined with a technique for adding motion blur to make it more realistic. Just compare the animation in Clash of the Titans (done by Harryhausen) with that in Dragonslayer (done by Tippet). Both were made the same year, but represent totally different levels of realism.

Not to say that I don't appreciate Harryhausen. I loved "Clash of the Titans", and all of his earlier work, too. The battle in "Jason and the Argonauts" is definitely an amazing piece of work.

It's too bad that version of "War of the Worlds" never got made. I love the George Pal version, but I am really impressed by the artwork linked above. That would have been something.

Be sure to catch Harryhausen's cameo in the remake "Mighty Joe Young".
posted by Potsy at 5:51 AM on August 11, 2002


for me, a large part of enjoying stop-motion lies in the fact that it asks you to accept a convention that most CGI likes to pretend doesn't exist. Stop-motion says 'ok-so we made all this up and built these crazy models from wire and latex, and it took us days to recreate this skeleton army, but so what? it was never real in the first place. doesn't it look great!'. Most CGI just tries to pretend it's real when it so obviously isn't.

Stop frame seems to be enjoying something of a renaissance at present for exactly this reason I think.

if you haven't seen it, fans of the darker side of stop-motion such as Svankmajer and the skeleton army (wooooo!) should try the Bolex Brothers Tom Thumb
posted by gravelshoes at 7:05 AM on August 11, 2002


After years of only having watched it on tv and video, I finally had the good fortune to see Jason and the Argonauts on the big screen in a restored movie palace, it was stunning.

I work in CG and most animators that I know have nothing but the greatest of reverence for stop-action in general, and Harryhausen in particular. He's like a benevolent grandfather to the industry.
posted by MrBaliHai at 7:14 AM on August 11, 2002


For a very nice tribute to the skeleton army, see the movie "Spy Kids 2," which is, unfortunately, one of the better movies in the theatres right now. Also keep an eye on the monsters in the Island of Dr. Moreau bits.
posted by Mo Nickels at 7:17 AM on August 11, 2002


if you haven't seen it, fans of the darker side of stop-motion such as Svankmajer and the skeleton army (wooooo!) should try the Bolex Brothers Tom Thumb

Its worth noting here that stop-motion using live actors and shooting them frame-by-frame is known as Pixilation - a term I lazily assumed was derived from the word 'Pixels'.

The etymologies however are distinct. 'Pixilation' comes from 'Pixie-led', 'led by Pixies' with its connotation of enchantment. 'Pixel' is I believe derived from the more prosaic compund 'Picture Element.'
posted by vacapinta at 7:43 AM on August 11, 2002


ohhhh, a golden thread. I have spent the last 4 months scouring michigan so i could have the sinbads on tape. The 7th voyage is good. i liked Golden voyage and the eye of the tiger, clash of titans, oh man, get out the 'Village of Hommlet folks', hands of the 20 sided.
posted by clavdivs at 9:04 AM on August 11, 2002




oops, i didn't see gametone's comment! - /me ashamed :(
posted by kliuless at 9:53 AM on August 11, 2002


And if you're into friendly and sweet stop-motion I think you should try to check out Flåklypa Grand Prix, one of the best norwegian films ever.

Thanks fore the links Kafkaesque. Pure gold.
posted by soundofsuburbia at 12:53 PM on August 11, 2002


Oooh! Bjergkøbing Grand Prix? You don't get to be a kid in Scandinavia and not like that movie. It's a gem.

*whistles main theme*
posted by cx at 6:40 PM on August 11, 2002


Sweet and friendly stop motion? That would be Wallace and Gromit.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 7:40 PM on August 11, 2002


Jason and the Argonauts is one of my fondest childhood memories, oft revisited on video (in fact, I'm off to search out the DVD.)

Call me a Luddite, but CG will never hold the same charm stop-motion has for me.

Sam Raimi put an homage to Harryhausen in Army of Darkness , and a similar tribute showed up in an episode ("Once A Hero," not written by Raimi) of the often-camp, Raimi-produced Hercules TV series. Can anyone think of other works that give a wink-n-nod to The Man Harryhausen, or show his obvious influence?
posted by argybarple at 7:13 AM on August 12, 2002


A recent interview with Guillermo del Toro, Mike Mignola, and Ron Perlman, implies that Harryhausen has been consulted regarding the upcoming Hellboy film. Presumably, he would have a hand in the creation of what del Toro called, "huge, fucking Lovecraft monsters."
posted by mikrophon at 8:11 AM on August 12, 2002


This thread inspired me to rent "The 7th Voyage of Sindbad" yesterday, and it proved to be a perfect choice for a very hung over Sunday. The dragon fighting the cyclops was badass, and there's something buoyant and joyful about the whole film that helped me deal with a bad case of absinthe headache.

I used to hate CGI, but since "Attack of the Clones" I've changed my mind. The irrepressible visual razzle dazzle of that film is just as shameless and lovable as the Harryhausen creatures (and I'm sure Ray would have loved the arena monsters). In other news, there's a scene in "7th Voyage" that's clearly quoted in the original "Star Wars" -- Sinbad and his girl swing over a chasm just like Luke and Leia on the Death Star. I didn't have both films at hand to confirm, but I'm almost certain Lucas even uses the same angles. Definitely a wink-and-nod.
posted by muckster at 8:48 AM on August 12, 2002


mikrophon: what del Toro called, "huge, fucking Lovecraft monsters."

I'm there, LOL!

Not sure what I thought of del Toro's Devil's Backbone (requires Quicktime) , though. Might have made a killer short-story, maybe by Jorge Luis Borges.

And Perlman, despite his involvment in classics like La Cite Des Enfents Perdu (Jeunet of Amelie fame), might end up on my list here.

Um, does MeFi frown heavily on off-topic?
posted by argybarple at 9:17 AM on August 12, 2002


Um, does MeFi frown heavily on off-topic?

So... How about those Tool videos? ;)
posted by soundofsuburbia at 9:39 AM on August 12, 2002


I used to hate CGI, but since "Attack of the Clones" I've changed my mind. The irrepressible visual razzle dazzle of that film is just as shameless and lovable as the Harryhausen creatures . . .

Well, at least you got one thing (shameless) right!

The Valley of Gwangi was cool. Cowboys vs. purple dinosaur. I saw Harryhausen on TechTV's horribly lame "Extended Play" recently hawking brass skeletons from Jason and the Argonauts.

My reaction? Holy Shit! That guy's still alive?

Not that it should in any way take from his stop motion animation genius.
posted by mark13 at 10:13 AM on August 12, 2002


Well, at least you got one thing (shameless) right!

Yeah yeah yeah. I knew I'd get flak for liking AOTC...but I stand by it: it's a perfect movie. I'm tempted to accuse anybody who doesn't see that of losing track of their inner child. The Star Wars films (all of them) are the most direct descendants of Harryhausen we have: pure matinee bliss.

Does anybody know how the master himself feels about CGI? My guess is he'd embrace it.
posted by muckster at 10:31 AM on August 12, 2002


Does anybody know how the master himself feels about CGI? My guess is he'd embrace it.

I attended a speech about the history of animation by Phil Tippett during a past Siggraph. He was pretty depressed about CGI and thought it was the end of his career. I can imagine Ray may have been less concerned.

Phil related a story about the orgin of the Dinosaurs Disney movie. I believe it came about in conversation with Kubrick on the set of Robocop. I would have loved to see Kubrick's version.
posted by john at 7:29 PM on August 12, 2002


i liked AotC, can't wait for the DVD! (same day as special ed. LotR :)
posted by kliuless at 6:50 AM on August 13, 2002


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