Wednesday, 17 July 2013

Ray Harryhausen. 1920-2013

Ray Harryhausen.  1920-2013

In May this year we lost one of cinema’s true legends; Ray Harryhausen.  We covered Harryhausen’s work when we did our 2010 Summer Holiday show.  We talked about the big summer ‘event movies’ which began in 1975 with the release of Steven Spielberg’s 'Jaws' and decided, in the end, to cover the original and best kids movies; Harryhausen’s “Dynamation!” movies.  The films we covered were 'The 7th Voyage of Sinbad' (1958), 'Jason and the Argonauts' (1963), 'One Million Years BC' (1966), 'The Golden Voyage of Sinbad' (1974) 'Sinbad and the Eye of the Tiger' (1977) and 'Clash of the Titans' (1981).


We also got a very special guest in to the studio with us “Nick the Teenager”.  Nick watched the 1981 version of ‘Clash of the Titans’ as well as the 2010 3D remake and gave us his verdict. Nick said he actually preferred the 2010 version which wasn’t the answer we had hoped for! Nick’s beef was interesting; his dislike of the 1981 version was down to Harryhausen’s Kraken.  Teenagers, as you are aware, like to have their facts right.  Being an aficionado of Greek Mythology Nick was correct in stating that the Kraken, a sea monster from Norse mythology, is usually represented as similar to a giant squid or octopus.  Harryhausen, however, chose to present his Kraken as a bipedail, vertebrate primate, wrong we were told “on so many levels”. Harryhausen made the decision to design his own Kraken as he had already used a giant octopus in ‘It Came from Beneath the Sea’ in 1955 and didn’t want to do so again.



Ray Harryhausen was born in Los Angeles. His interest in stop motion animation began in childhood when he was taken to see ‘King Kong’.  He joined the local Science Fiction club where he became friends with Science Fiction Writer Ray Bradbury. The two vowed “always to remain friends and always to love dinosaurs” and both kept their promise. The two remained friends until Bradbury’s death in 2012.  Harryhausen set up his first animation workshop in his parents’ garage. His father made the metal skeletons around which he built the figures and his mother made miniature costumes.

In his early career many of Harryhausen’s films involved animating the destruction of several US landmarks by various creatures.  In 1952 he moved his attention to the Eiffel Tower for the unfinished movie 'The Elementals' because he fancied making a picture in Europe. He eventually relocated to Europe (London) in 1960 and lived there until his death. 

Harryhausen’s major innovations were his split screen method allowing him to combine stop motion models and live actors and the use of rear and front projection to enable the use of glorious colour.  It is his colour productions that are his most iconic, particularly the Sinbad films and ‘Jason and the Argonauts’.  The Sinbad films always include a climactic battle between two creatures.  More terrifying than Medusa and Kali put together must be, though, the most hideous menace ever committed to celluloid; THE SKELETON ARMY from ‘Jason and the Argonauts’. Utterly iconic and the stuff of nightmares the three minute scene took four months to produce. It is now impossible to tell the story without the skeleton army; A 2009  production of “Jason and the Argonauts” by The Dukes Playhouse in Williamson Park, Lancaster, although based on the original myth (Nick was pleased to note), went to great pains to include a version of this scene. It has become part of the Golden Fleece mythology.  

By the time ‘Sinbad and the Eye of the Tiger’ came out in 1977 it was up against the mighty ‘Star Wars’ and the special effects now seemed old fashioned and unconvincing.  Although the special effects in ‘Star Wars’ were groundbreaking they were still an updated version of stop motion animation. Speaking after Harryhausen’s death George Lucas said “Without Ray Harryhausen, there would likely have been no Star Wars.”


This show went out as part of Preston FM’s “12 Weeks of Summer” tour where we broadcast from various local locations including the new Media Centre at Preston College and Brite Futures in Ribbleton.  The Harryhausen show went out live from Roccocco Coffee Lounge and Bakery in Leyland. Roccocco is run by Brothers of Charity, an organisation which provides services to people with learning disabilities.

3 comments:

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