by Robert Wilkinson
Today we celebrate Ray Harryhausen, THE movie animator that began it all!
Ray Harryhausen made some very cheesy B movies into very exciting sci-fi through his special effects. They definitely set the standard for animation in the 50s and early 60s! If you’ve ever been into those funny looking sci-fi movies from back then, you’ve seen Ray’s work. From Wikipedia:
Raymond Frederick "Ray" Harryhausen (June 29, 1920 – May 7, 2013) was an American visual effects creator, writer, and producer who created a form of stop-motion animation known as "Dynamation."
His most memorable works include the animation on Mighty Joe Young (1949), with his mentor Willis O’Brian, which won the Academy Award for special effects; The 7th Voyage of Sinbad (1958), his first color film; and Jason and the Argonauts (1963), featuring a famous sword fight against seven skeleton warriors. His last film was Clash of the Titans (1981), after which he retired....
Harryhausen .... met and began a fruitful partnership with producer Charles Schneer, who was working with the Sam Katzman B-picture unit of Columbia Pictures. Their first tandem project was It Came from Beneath the Sea (aka Monster from Beneath the Sea, 1955), about a giant octopus attacking San Francisco. It was a box-office success, quickly followed by Earth vs. the Flying Saucers (1956), set in Washington D.C. – one of the best of the alien invasion films of the 1950s, and also a box office hit.
In 1954, Irwin Allen had started work on a second feature-length documentary film, this one about animal life on land called The Animal World (completed in 1956). Needing an opening sequence about dinosaurs, Allen hired premier model animator Willis O'Brien to animate the dinosaurs, but then gave him an impossibly short production schedule. O'Brien again hired Harryhausen to help with animation to complete the 8-minute sequence. It was Harryhausen's and O'Brien's first professional color work. Most viewers agree that the dinosaur sequence of Animal World was the best part of the entire movie….
Harryhausen then returned to Columbia and Charles Schneer to make 20 Million Miles to Earth (1957), about an American spaceship returning from Venus. The spaceship crashes into the ocean near Italy, releasing an on-board alien egg specimen which washes up on shore. The egg soon hatches a creature that, in Earth's atmosphere, rapidly grows to gigantic size and terrifies Rome. Harryhausen refined and improved his already-considerable ability at establishing emotional characterizations in the face of his Venusian Ymir model, creating yet another international box-office hit film.
Schneer was eager to graduate to color films. Reluctant at first, Harryhausen managed to develop the systems necessary to maintain proper color balances for his DynaMation process, resulting in his biggest hit of the 1950s, The 7th voyage of Sinbad (1958).
After The Three Worlds of Gulliver (1960) and Mysterious Island (1961), both great artistic and technical successes, his next film is considered by film historians and fans as Harryhausen's masterwork, Jason and the Argonauts (1963). Among the film's several celebrated animation sequences is an extended fight between three actors and seven living skeletons, a considerable advance on the single-skeleton fight scene in Sinbad. This stop-motion sequence took over four months to complete ....
Back in the day, Ray’s work was THE standard to aspire to. Stop-action animation was state of the art, and as a kid, his special effects were part of the movie magic of the era and blew my mind. Of course techniques got more sophisticated as the years rolled on, but without Ray leading the way, there’s no calculating his impact on all the special effects we now take for granted as part of making movies. The was the first, and the best of his times.
Here are a couple of scenes of his genius. While they look cheesy from the perspective of 2014, this was very exciting stuff in the late 50s and early 60s!
From The 7th Voyage of Sinbad,” the great scene when the Cyclops emerges from the cave and chases the voyagers down the beach, complete with a genii appearing from a lamp and turning into a ball of fire that erects an invisible barrier against the Cyclops!
Here’s 4 minutes and 44 seconds of pure gold! It’s Ray Harryhausen commenting on the special effects on Jason and the Argonauts, considered a masterpiece of special effects at the time. The narrative is fascinating for those who love how movie magic is made! Enjoy Ray describing his process of creating the scenes with the Metal Colossus, the 7-Headed Hydra, and the 7 Skeleton Warriors rising from the dead to do battle as these came to life on the screen! This one is really worth watching!!
I also found a 10 minute clip of his dinosaur animation in The Animal World. Remember this was 1956!! Ray Harryhausen’s Dinosaur Sequence from “The Animal World.”
For the cherry on top of this birthday cake, I found a full one hour documentary on Ray and his work! The Harryhausen Chronicles
Thanks for everything, Ray! Your scenes made the movies less boring and much more exciting for this kid and millions more. In fact, I remember your scenes as the only ones worth watching in all those B movies….
© Copyright 2014 Robert Wilkinson