Today's X, Y, and Z generations
weaned on desktops, laptops, cell phones, PDAs, Mp3s, DVDs, MTV, 500
channel satellite TV, etc. etc. .... may not recognize the name of Ray Harryhausen as a household word, however,
the motion picture industry which includes, directors, producers,
actors, entertainment news media, etc., and in particular, those in the
current special visual effects field, in which many are now working in
today's dominate use of CGI techniques (computer special effects
& animation), are well aware of him. Ray Harryhausen in the
United States, can perhaps be credited or greatly contributed to the commercial
use of the Stop Motion Animation technique in combination
with his innovative use of good ol' classic special effects processes,
and made it marketable as an entertainment
package, presenting never before seen, fantasy
surreal-photoreal visual images to movie theater audiences across the
USA and worldwide. Many of the current artists & technicians
today doing computer CGI special effects and animation have had some
inspirational influence from the Master & Godfather, Ray
Harryhausen. Sometimes I have said, "Before
CGI became cool.....Ray was already
Doing It ! "
The very beginning use of the Stop
Motion Animation process is still in dispute and it possibly goes back
to, as early as 1905. Stop Motion had some of its in genesis, overseas
in Europe, where it was concurrently being explored. In the USA,
another visual effects pioneer, Willis O'Brien, also experimented with Stop
Motion around 1915 period doing various projects and 18 years later in
1933, O'Brien's major efforts and contribution was realized in a
groundbreaking special effects epic, King Kong.
That year, a young boy at the age of 13, named Raymond Harryhausen, saw
the premier of King Kong
at the Grauman's Chinese Theater in Hollywood,
California. This one movie so strongly affected and mesmerized Ray and
served as the pivotal motivation that directed the course of his
How many times have the press and media
glamorized celebrities or public figures of all sorts as though their
success and fame happened easily or quickly? Ray Harryhausen in the
beginning had ups and downs and difficult times trying to market his unique
brand of moving visual imagery creation. In Hollywood's early days ....
studio's seemed just as close-minded or very myopic and could not see
the potential of Ray's artistic & technical genius.
Fortunately, as an only child, young Ray was strongly encouraged by his
loving parents to pursue his dreams and both his dad & mom were
also gifted in craft & technical skills and helped Ray in
producing his early stop motion works. In Ray's day, there was
virtually no information about Stop Motion .... he struggled by himself
and eventually through his perceptive mind and detective work, he
eventually figured out the details of the Stop Motion photography
process. How easy it is for all you now, with today's overload of
information, mass media, and internet saturation.
Ray was a trailblazer ..... sweat, dedication
and perseverance in learning and refining his unique chosen path. Keep
in mind that Ray was not the actual ďDirectorĒ of his later, major
feature films and he primarily served as the behind the scenes creative
hands-on artist/technician and many times credited as producer.
Nevertheless, the movie audiences identified these movies as Ray
Harryhausen Films. In the newly released DVD set, Ray Harryhausen: The Early
Years Collection, you will get to see Rayís very early
work and experiments and see the progression
in his creative skills and talents before he became well known with his
later major film work.
few weeks ago, I had the honor and pleasure in doing a phone interview
with Ray Harryhausen. A Stop Motion colleague of
mine, Tom Brierton also participated:
TB: Hi Ray! I have just seen The
Early Years DVD and I was really impressed. I was wondering
how long was the DVD in production and was The Tortoise and
the Hare the impetus to undertake this project?
RH: As you may already know, one of the
fairy tales included on the DVD was The Tortoise and the Hare.
I started that in the 1950ís and then had to abandon that tale due to a
feature project (It Came from Beneath the Sea),
but some 50 years later in 2000 we undertook to complete T&H.
It was a couple of fans, Mark Caballero and Seamus Walsh who contacted
me and said that they were very much interested in finishing it. I lost
the original script so rewrote it and did some continuity designs and
myself, Mark and Seamus modified it, as needed.
Hi Ray, this is Lionel ! I was wondering, in The Early Years
DVD, there is a featurette about the making-of The Tortoise
and the Hare. It was mentioned that you actually animated
some new scenes? Nothing was mentioned about which shots you did, but
could you possibly reveal to us for the first time which scenes you
animated in T&H?
It was a little hard to get back into it because the last time I did
any extensive animation was almost 25 years ago in The Clash
of the Titans. Yes, I did animate a few scenes in T&H.
LIO: Looking at T&H,
all the animation looked seamless so I could not detect which shots you
might have animated, however in the making-of featurette, I could have
gotten some clues which shots you did!
Well, donít tell anyone, but what you saw on the DVD might have been
deceptive! Now everyone is going to start analyzing and dissecting it!
LIO: Okay, I won't tell anyone!
TB: I was always impressed by
the posing of your puppet characters in your feature movie work and
including your early years works and shorts .... a dynamic quality. My
question is ....Some animators prefer to walk around the stage and act
out the movements and then other animators can see it in their mindís
eye. What is your process in preparing for the animation?
RH: It is a little mixture of both. In the
early days when I started work on Mighty Joe Young,
I use to have a canvas mat on the floor and I would take a stop watch
and go through the gestures I had in mind, not to copy the movements
but to get a rough idea, like how long it would take your hand to go
from point A to point B. After you start getting experience though, you
do not to need to use a stop watch as often and you begin to get an
intuitive sense of the timing, movements and gestures.
LIO: In your Fairy Tales, I thought the
animation of the little girls and the female characters were imbued
with very childlike and feminine qualities. Did you act out the
gestures and movements for these characters?
Well, much of it I had in my mindís eye from observation, however, I
had a bit of experience by then and did not rely too much by timing it
with a stop watch. You know, you observe little children, men and women
.... how they pose while talking and listening to each other. You
remember those things.
You devoted so much work in your Fairy Tale shorts. If you had not gone
into feature movie work, do you think you would have continued with the
RH: I donít
know. My mother thought, I might have gone into work as a commercial
artist or something. I had to learn to draw to put my ideas on paper
but I do prefer to sculpt, as I have an affinity for three dimensional
things. I am just not sure what other work I possibly would have gone
into. Perhaps it was just that ďfickle finger of fateĒ. I did explore
the possibility of going into television commercial work and on the DVD
you will see a commercial test & examples. I did a test of
dancing cigarette packs and individual dancing cigarettes. Did you see
LIO: Yes I
did! Something of your's that I have never seen before. That was a
great piece of detailed animation and creativity.
TB: I wanted to ask you about that
cigarette commercial. It has some outstanding animation. I was
wondering what kind of rigging did you use?
I just used wires on a rig that allowed the incremental adjustment of
each wires and the rig was suspended above the animation stage. Wires
were attached to each of the cigarette packs and also each cigarette as
they popped out of the packs. A lot of movements to keep track of and
one has to keep everything in synchronization with the music. It was
just a test to show ad agencies. You will also, see on the DVD, a few Lakewood
commercials which was a real estate business and Kenny Key
was a puppet character talking to the camera about new homes for sale.
LIO: Those Kenny
Key commercials were interesting. I never read anywhere
before that you did those in your early years.
There were other Lakewood commercials in that
series that were similar and the oneís on the DVD were just some
examples. Like I said before, ďthe fickle finger of fateí maybe
determined another direction for me to go into which was not TV
Well Ray, we are ever so glad that you did not go into TV commercials
because today there might not have been a Peter Jackson, Steven
Spielberg, George Lucas, Tim Burton and so on. When they were young,
all were inspired by your now classic feature film work.
RH:. Peter Jackson has said at times, that
if he had not seen our films including the original King Kong,
he might not have made The Lord of the Rings !
LIO: In your Little
Red Riding Hood Tale, I never saw it in its entirety and
only previously seen brief clips of it in some documentaries about you.
I thought it looked spectacular in how bright & crisp the
colors were. It looked so good and one would think Riding
Hood was made recently!
It was shot using Kodachrome film. All the fairy tales were originally
shot with this film stock but Little Red Riding Hood
was in much better condition than the other fairy tales. The film
archive department at The Academy of Motion Picture Arts
& Sciences made master negative preservation prints
and did other restorative processes of all my early works and that is
what you will see on the DVD.
In your early years, your mother and father helped you greatly in your
My father help me until he passed away. It was The First Men
in the Moon (1964) which was the last film that he assisted
me with the armatures for the selenite alien ants and the giant moon
you recall the first time you handled an armature or used one in a
started using armatures from almost the beginning. The very early rough
tests of the cave bear puppet had a wooden armature and I got round
beads from the five and dime store. The beads were held together
between pieces of wood strips. Of course, that crude armature would
ratchet and the movements would be jerky. Thereafter, my father began
helping me and the armatures were more refined due to his machining
skills and the use of much better materials and methods.
TB: Did your father have a machine shop?
RH: We had the usual
equipment, lathe, drill press and other metal working tools. He also
worked as a machinist by trade.
In your early tests and fairy tales you used more movement of the
camera by animating it but you did not do much camera moving or
tracking shots in your feature film work?
For my own early work, tests and fairy tales, I just had more time and
could afford to put in the extra labor to calibrate complicated camera
moves. I the feature film work we did, we had very tight budgets and
deadline schedules, so we had to use economical measures.
LIO: In King Midas
fairy tale, I thought a great shot was the King Midas & the
Sprial Stairs scene in which the camera is followiing & moving
with King Midas as he descends down the stairs into his cellar. Also,
in Little Red Riding Hood, I was impressed with
the scenes of the wolf running through the forest towards grandmaís
house and we see the camera tracking and moving with the wolf through
the woods. Very dynamic.
Well, good ....you liked it! The stair scene in King Midas
might be reminiscent of 7th Voyage of Sinbad. I
think, I could have had a yen for spiral stairs! Again, all that camera
movement takes extra time and work, and something we could not do with
our feature films.
Do you do animation yourself?
I have done animation but got side-tracked and mostly have been
involved with the technical aspects of puppet construction. Right now,
I have a regular job to pay the bills and rent. From your book, I read
it was not so easy in your early days?
It was difficult at times. Work in animation was not frequent. Also, I
had no books or easily accessible information and I just had to figure
things out and recreate how I thought it should be.
LIO: Today we have animation frame
grabbers to assist with the stop motion and we can instantly see the
results. Have you used these tools?
Yes I did but I found it confusing. I donít want to know where I have
been but want to know where I am going! I am use to the old ways and I
would wait until the next day for the rushes to see how my animation
looked. That was part of the excitement in the waiting and anticipation
to see if what I envisioned the animation in my mind and then compare
it to the final results, the following day.
Ray, do you use a computer at all?
I do have one for letter writing and storage but I donít want to be
hooked up to the internet as it can take up much of oneís time!
LIO: To me, much of your fairy
tales seems to have a European quality. I know that you did work for George Pal. I was wondering in your early
days, were you aware of the practice of stop motion in Europe?
RH: That was my first
professional job , working for George Pal. In the beginning, I was not
really aware of European stop motion. It was only when I was 13 years
old, when I first saw King Kong, which was my
first exposure to stop motion of just seeing it, but I did not know how
it was done. After about 6 months of just watching King Kong,
again and again, then a few years later, I finally talked to people who
worked on Kong and I found out about the glories
of stop motion, but no specific step by step details and I still had to
invent it because there was not information available to the public.
There were no books about it. I had to do a lot of calculating and
experimenting on my own.
I tell you Ray, if it had not been for Forrey Ackermanís
Famous Monsters magazine, which initially exposed me to your
work, I might not have become aware of stop motion until much later.
RH: Compared to all the
magazines and books today about special effects, in my time, not many
magazines were interested about it.
Ray, you did some tests with rear 16mm rear projection?
RH: I was experimenting with split screen
in 16mm. For a stop motion test, I did for my War of the
Worlds concept of the alien emerging from the spaceship, I
wanted to do a traveling matte composite of people in front of the
alien but it was going to be too complicated and I couldnít do it.
LIO: In your Baron
Munchausen test, you did a rear projection in 16mm. Did you
use a special projector?
It was just a little tinny 16mm projector I picked up somewhere and
only did some minor modification and made it so it could go a frame at
TB: Ray, so
are you planning on coming out of retirement?
Not if I can help it! I retired from making films almost 25 years ago.
I do many other things. Sometimes I get involve with feature films. I
have gotten several as an advisor working on scripts and such, but I
wonít go into the details at this time.
So you do not think you would get back in doing short
RH: No, I
donít think I could. I donít want to get hooked again with doing actual
animation. It can take too much of your life! I donít know if anyone
has ever counted the many hundred thousands & thousands of
frames I animated!
I donít think you will never lose your animation skills!
RH: It would all come back, like learning
to ride a bicycle. You never forget. You know .... everything you see
in all our films, is usually the first take. We never had the time and
money to do retakes. I would say 90 to 95% were first takes, in every
film I worked on.
I remember when I was young seeing Jason and the Argonauts.
Shortly thereafter, I bought a model skeleton in a store and used it to
do stop motion tests of my skeleton coming out of the ground. Just
shows you how all of us are impacted and influenced by your work!
RH: The snowball rolls on.
Willis OíBrien was inspired by certain people, and I was motivated by
Cooperís and OíBrienís work .... then many at Industrial
Light & Magic, Peter Jackson and others were
inspired by my work. Peter Jackson may now inspire others. So the
snowball gets bigger and bigger.
Ray, what do you think about CGI?
Well itís a dream to think that just because CGI came in, that
everything else should be discarded. Itís disappointing how
that is suggested by some. There should be room
for every technique depending on the type of story. CGI is a good
creative tool but should not completely replace other methods.
LIO: I very much
agree with you on that Ray! Fortunately, there now seems to be some
brief comeback of stop motion animation. Are you aware of Tim Burtonís
The Corpse Bride?
Oh yes. I did visit the studio in England where they are shooting The
Corpse Bride. They are doing some amazing work and the
puppets are remarkable! There is also Aardman Studio
and I am friends with Nick Park and Peter Lord. They say, how our films
have inspired them. I am grateful that our films have had such a
I teach stop motion at a college in Chicago. Often times the class gets
so filled up and we have to add extra sessions. The students just love
stop motion because itís so hands-on. I show them examples of your work
and stop motion examples from others and they just eat it up! I
recently showed students your new Early Years DVD
and they were impressed.
Hopefully, they will all get the Early Collections
DVDs because it shows how you can develop on your own and that you
really do not need a big crew to do Stop Motion.
Itís not everyoneís cup of tea, though, but perhaps there are enough
people that admire the technique .... the creative things that go into
it and they will appreciate it and inspire another generation.
LIO: Ray, thanks for taking
the time to do this interview. You can be sure that I will always be
out there, everywhere and on the internet, promoting and advocating for
Stop Motion to help keep it in the public eye.
Same goes here ..... thanks Ray and a pleasure to talk with you.
RH: Your welcome and thank you
.....and be sure to spread the word about our new Early Years
Interview with Ray Harryhausen
Lionel Ivan Orozco
- Stop Motion Works
Tom Brierton - Tom Brierton Stop Motion
Harryhausen, mild manner in his personality, a gentleman and low-key
but I am sure, he was very much, a focused technical & creative
wizard when applying his art, craft, and skills. Rayís last film was Clash
of the Titans (1981). He put his entire energies into these
movie projects and each one can last a number of years. I know, many
would have wanted Ray to continue, but he was smart and saw the trend of motion pictures and
the eventual saturation of the movie mainstream market with an even
more corporate mentality where every filmís creative decision or
direction is dictated by committee and audience demographic
charts. It has always been like this, but much more
magnified, fierce, and intense .... a market that seems to be producing
formulaic & homogenized products for the masses. Also, hundreds
of movie crew staff seem the norm in todayís film. Look at the end
credits of current movies. Ray had a minimal staff and very small
budgets for his projects but made up for it with pure resourcefulness,
good storyline, and much creativity and produced a miracle
on the screen! One can sense the artistic hands-on sweat equity he put
into his films. Ray has been polite and commented about current
computer animation and hi-tech special effects in which he does
appreciate it as "another tool" to present visual imagery but he also
has emphatically said many times, that one should not discard
other visual styles or aesthetics in presenting good stories. In the
end, the general movie going audiences does not really care what
techniques are used but judge the films on their overall entertainment
value. His heart and soul will always remain with Stop Motion! Thanks
very much deserve all the respect & recognition. In 1992 Ray
received the Gordon E. Sawyer Academy Award, and in 2003 he was presented
with a Star on The Hollywood Walk of
Review: You will get a deep appreciation and history of
Rayís beginning work which eventually later in his
career, his techniques and artistry evolved to a high degree of finesse
& polish and became his trademark brand of classic special
effects which has inspired and influenced so many of todayís top people
in the motion picture business .....Peter Jackson, Tim
Burton, NIck Park, James Cameron, Steven Speilberg, George Lucas, Joe
Dante, John Landis, and also a plethora of technicians,
artists, craftspeople, modelmakers, prosthetic FX makeup people, CGI
people, all working in the special visual effects field. Ray Harryhausen: The Early
Years Collection covers the years 1936-54 (2 Dvd set, total 223
minutes). Prior to this Dvd release, in the past I have only seen brief
clips of Ray's early work and some I have never seen, but now you will
finally be able to view them all in their full glory and restored for
posterity by The Academy of Motion Picture Arts &
Science's Film Archive Dept.. The Early Years
Collection DVDs will greatly compliment Rayís book, Ray Harryhausen: An Animated
Here are the detailed contents of the DVDs which speaks for itself:
Disc One (with introductions &
commentary by Ray):
Stories and Tales
Mother Goose Stories: Little Miss Muffet,
Old Mother Hubbard, The Queen of Hearts, Humpty Dumpty.
Tales: Little Red Riding Hood, Hansel & Gretel, Rapunzel, King
Midas, The Tortoise & The Hare.
2 - Early
How to Bridge a Gorge, Guadalcanal, Lucky Strike
Commercial Demo, Lakewood Homes spots.
Tests & Experiments
Cave Bear & Dinosaurs,
Color, Split Screen and Rear Projection, Evolution, Adventures of Baron
Munchausen, War of the Worlds, The Elementals.
- Special Features
The Making of The Tortoise
& The Hare, Audio Commentary for Tortoise & The Hare,
Alternate Ending for How to Bridge a Gorge.
1 - Featurettes
The Hollywood Walk of Fame, The Livingstone Statue, The Clifton's
Cafeteria Reunion, In The Credits, An Evening With Ray Harryhausen, The
Bronzes, The Ted Newsom Interview, The Academy Archive Restoration,
2 - Tributes
Birthday Tributes, An Appreciation, David Allen Tribute
2005 / Stop Motion Works