Dirk’s Five – Ray Harryhausen Creature Preacher

So, farewell then Ray Harryhaussen,

Your stop motion effects were inspiring.

It’s been touch and go, touch and go,

Touch and go, touch and go,

For ages. Rest in Peace.

Dirk J. Thribb

medusa08

Ray Harryhausen’s animation is as much a part of my childhood as spangles, Bay City Rollers and having my head systematically flushed down the toilet every day (it was a tough school). I have written here before about how my school holidays were spent trying to convince my dad to see the Sinbad films at the cinema. I was convinced that there was a new one just around the corner. We saw THE 7TH VOYAGE OF SINBAD countless times in the hope that it was going to be THE GOLDEN VOYAGE … again. The characters he created had such a hold on my childhood imagination that I would dream of being on his team, painting the models for him.

Back in 2006, I went to see a special exhibition at the NATIONAL MEDIA MUSEUM in Bradford. Many of the models were on display and there was something special about seeing the characters up close that I’ll never forget. It was like meeting your childhood heroes. He subsequently bequeathed his entire collection of models and archive to the museum on his 90th birthday. They are working on documenting the collection and I am looking forward to the prospect of future exhibitions exploring interesting corners of his working methods.

The medusa from THE CLASH OF THE TITANS was a particularly impressive figure when seen up close. The confrontation between Perseus and the woman with the hissing bouffant was Harryhausen’s favourite sequence due to the pacing and how the lighting worked with the miniature. The sheer artistry of the storyboard art that he produced are magnificent pieces of work in their own right.

Many film-makers have been lining up to pay their respects to his contribution to the art. He is a technician who became an auteur in his own right bringing his own stylistic flourishes to the films that he created. My dream of being on his team would have been impossible as, for the most part, he created all of the models and the animation sequences on his own (and I am rubbish with a tin of humbrel)

This is Dirk’s two minutes silence, but a two minutes silence that has been painstakingly constructed over two days then speeded up to feel like two minutes.

SUPER-DYNAMINATION

THE RHEDOSAURUS from THE BEAST FROM 20,000 FATHOMS (1953)

To differentiate his style of animation from straight-forward cartoons, he and his producer Charles Schneer, coined the phrase ‘Dynamination’ to describe his technique of blending animation with live-action characters. He would ‘sandwich’ the animation figure between images in the background and foreground to give the illusion of interaction between the live elements. The phrase was inspired by an inscription on the dashboard of a Buick.

THE BEAST …  was the first film to feature the technique and it is particularly well executed here as it is in black and white. It became more tricky in later films as the colour-matching between the two processes sometimes revealed the joins.

Putting aside the background matching, I think that all of these creatures are still credible as it is the characterful animation that stands out. In this film, there is great pathos generated by the death of the creature. It is the unfortunate victim of circumstance. It never wanted to crash through the streets of New York, it didn’t mean to inspire dozens of inferior copies either.

CYCLOPS from 7th VOYAGE OF SINBAD (1958)

Thanks to the plethora of Godzilla-like creatures rampaging through the cities across the globe, he knew that he would have to look elsewhere for inspiration. The swords and sandals fad was on the wane when this film was released, but it turned out to be an enduring success.

Budget restrictions meant that he could only imply that the Island of Colossa was the home of a colony of the monsters. It is a brilliantly designed creature with great movement on its furry legs with cloven hooves. Harryhausen wanted to ensure that the audience were aware that this wasn’t just a man in a monster suit.

In the original UK release, the censor removed elements of a great scene where the monster is roasting the sailors on a spit. They thought it looked like he was enjoying it too much. Can you imagine spending months of your life on a scene that is cut by some Soho jobsworth?

THE CHILDREN OF THE HYDRA’S TEETH from JASON AND THE ARGONAUTS (1963)

I love the scene featuring Talos – there is something utterly convincing about its movement and the scene where he straddles the bay as the ship passes through his legs is spectacular, however the final scene is the most celebrated because of its sheer audacity.

There are three men fighting 7 skeletons which meant that there were 35 animations for every animation movement. Some days he was producing 13 -14 frames. Less than a second of film. There’s a sense that Harryhausen never really recovered from the anguish of the experience. He liked the sequence, but could only ever see the faults and was resolute that he would never do anything like it again.

KALI from THE GOLDEN VOYAGE OF SINBAD (1973)

A personal favourite. Tom Baker animates the Indian goddess (who has an extra pair of limbs to make things really difficult), while the Dirk goddess (Caroline Munro) looks on.

THE WRONG TROUSERS 

BUBO from CLASH OF THE TITANS (1981)

Strictly speaking this character was animated by Steven Archer. CLASH OF THE TITANS had some hired help in order to meet the demanding production schedule in the 80s, when time was money. He can’t be let off the hook that easily. This is a character that was introduced to meet the demands of an audience who wanted space opera (thanks to STAR WARS (1977)). It turned out to be the most ill-judged comedy character in a film, until Jar Jar Binks came along and stole his crown.

11 responses to “Dirk’s Five – Ray Harryhausen Creature Preacher

  1. I thought his best was Might Joe Young, but there you go, I was 4 when Star Wars came out and so wanted space, 50s Sci-Fi was more my thing and got quite excited when Invaders From Mars was shown on BBC2. Cult Movies made me reassess Jason And The Argonauts and I enjoyed seeing the models in Bradford, but my dad is a big fan.

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