At the magnificent age of 92, stop-animation maestro Ray Harryhausen passed away on 07 May 2013. With so many film animation created by CGI blending to live-action these days, he is probably the last link to this traditional technique. Even he thought he could never compete with it and retired effectively after completing ‘Clash Of The Titans’ in 1981. Occasionally, stop-animation/live-action films will crop up but they are more the exception than the rule these days. Certainly none of them will have the link Harryhausen had which goes back to Willis O’Brien and the seminal 1933 film ‘King Kong’. Harryhausen was both a fan of and worked with O’Brien.
A couple years back, I reviewed ‘Ray Harryhausen’s Fantasy Scrapbook’ and over-joyed with how much it showed of his work and models from his fifteen major films but was even more taken by his animation shorts which led me to the DVD ‘Ray Harryhausen: The Early Years Collection’ to see it for myself. My jaw continued to drop, especially as he described how he learnt how to do it, mastering model-making to getting the light right. All first hand experience because there were no books at the time. His inspiration, Willis O’Brien, pointed out his short-comings and what was needed to be done and made him an excellent pupil. What he created then was breath-taking and you would need very sharp eyes to spot the odd out-of-sync frame which even he said couldn’t be helped. If you really want to appreciate Harryhausen’s work before his major films, grab them both.
What Harryhausen is best remembered for is his fifteen major films. Much of them worked from ancient mythology than Science Fiction. Harryhausen admits his love of dinosaurs could never extend to many films but this allowed a greater use of his imagination. Considering the many months he spent working alone, you really do have to love your work. The effort is for all to see on the screen. Although he only got an Oscar for Life Achievement, his films were regarded as B pictures because of their tight budgets. Then again, I’ve never thought the judgement calls made for winning Oscars to be really fair or we would see more Science Fiction films winning awards. It does make me wonder what would have happened had he been given bigger budgets but I doubt if it would have suited Harryhausen to have led a team of animators than do the work himself. What you see on the screen is pure Harryhausen.
He made his mark by patience and deliberation. When I was young, it was important to see them either on television or at the cinema. They were events. Harryhausen himself points out that they are remembered far more than other films that were released at the time. They fed the imagination. They lived in our hearts. You might not always remember the stories in detail but who could forget the animation. From skeletons fighting in ‘Jason And The Argonauts’ to seeing Pegasus being reined in ‘Clash Of The Titans’, you could believe mythology was brought to life. Seeing the size of the models themselves only added to the myth not distracted from it. You got caught up in their magic which was essentially the work of one man. How many films can you truly say that about. He truly was one of a kind.
A toast then to Ray Harryhausen and a most remarkable career.
check out website: www.rayharryhausen.com/index.php
© GF Willmetts 2013