Ray Harryhausen: An Animation Legend
A Dying Art Form Gets Revived in New Book
There have been many animators and special effects individuals that have put their personal stamp on cinema. Willis OíBrien, who created King
Kong, started the chain reaction in 1925, which led to the most famous puppet and stop motion animator of all time, Ray Harryhausen.
Whether they were flying metal owls, two-headed dogs or snake headed lady in Clash
of the Titans, Harryhausen made many of these creatures his own. But perhaps, his greatest character designs were the seven skeletons fighting three men in The
7th Voyage Of Sinbad.
Now in his 80ís, stop motion animation guru Harryhausen has been retired for nearly 25 years. However, he has resurfaced with a new book, which details his lifeís work. Catching up with this living legend was one of the great challenges for this journalist and getting to speak to him was an extreme honor.
TAIL SLATE: First, I have been a long time fan, dating back to my childhood
when a friend of mind first introduced me to your work. I always wanted to know,
why havenít you directed?
Ray Harryhausen: Thank you. Well, I didnít want to water myself down,
and besides my actors do exactly what I want them to do with no talk back.
TS: Why has it taken you so long to put a book together?
RH: I did put a book out in the 70ís called "Film
Fantasyís Scrapbook", which was just a resume of all the films
that I made. At that time I did feel, itís like a magician, if you tell
everyone how to pull a rabbit out of a hat nobody is interested in you anymore.
But recently things have changed and they tell how things are done before the
film comes out, which I think spoils it a bit. When I saw King
Kong in 1933 what fascinated me was that I didnít know how it
TS: So thatís what inspired you?
RH: Absolutely, King
Kong. I blame it all on that big Gorilla.
TS: What about the new version of King
Kong coming out that Peter Jackson is directing?
RH: Yes, Peter Jackson, heís doing a remake. I think if anybody were
going to remake it he would do the best job. There will always be only one King
Kong, thatís the original. I think the 1970ís version that
came out was a farce; it had lost all the essence of what King
Kong was all about. I think Peter Jackson is in love with Kong as much
as I am, and heíll do the best job at making a new interpretation.
TS: Itís going to be interesting seeing how he does the effects.
RH: Well I am sure heíll do a magnificent job as he did with The
Lord Of The Rings.
TS: Do you think now because of the technology, artist would rather
work on computers than the way you worked?
RH: Well I prefer the old technique. Computers are a wonderful tool, but they
are only a tool. You donít have to say that every film should be made
with a computer. But no one has done what we did in the 50ís when we made
Beast From 20,000 Fathoms and It
Came From Beneath The Sea. Those types of films, thank God for video,
have been revived.
TS: How do you think your films hold up today?
RH: I think they do hold up because I get fan mail all the time saying they
prefer those pictures than the modern pictures.
TS: I remember when you won the Gordon Sawyer award. What was that
like for you after all the years of not being recognized by the academy other
than your joint Oscar on Mighty
RH: Our films have been submitted over the years. Jason
and the Argonauts, the skeleton sequence, was submitted and they completely
ignored us. Nobody new much about stop motion, so I am glad that in 1992 I got
an award for Lifetime Achievement, but I think some of our films deserved more
recognition than they received at the time they were released.
TS: Did you regret retiring when you did?
RH: No I didnít for several reasons. I felt that the studios wanted to
make films that were not my cup of tea. We started out making these monsters
on the loose movies and then graduated to Sinbad the legend, and wanted to find
a new outlet for stop motion photography. We stepped from the Sinbad legends
to Greek Mythology, which had never been put on the screen the way it was written.
Italy made a number of films based on Greek Mythology, but they didnít
have the fantasy aspects that we tried to put into Clash
of the Titans or Jason
and the Argonauts.
TS: What was the hardest character you had to create?
RH: The seven skeletons fighting three live actors was a problem, which I had
to overcome. It took four months of animation to try to synchronize that sequence
that only last five minutes on the screen. Medusa was one of my favorite characters;
I always wanted to animate a Medusa. She had twelve snakes in her hair and each
frame of film you had to move the snakes to make them look like theyíre
writhing. I also had to move her body, her eyes, her nose and her expressions
as well as shooting an arrow with a bow. I think that was one of the highlights
of the Titans.
TS: Do you feel that stop motion animation has been taken as far as
it could go?
RH: I think there is always development in any field. Stop motion is wonderful
for a fantasy film because its not quite real, you know its not real, but yet
it looks real. That was the fascination with King
Kong. It gave that illusion of a nightmare, a dream world rather than
reality. If you make fantasy too real it becomes mundane.