Interview with Ray Harryhausen from 1989
I recently came a across a very informative interview done by HTV West production for Channel 4 UK with Ray Harryhausen – the stop motion animation genius of the forties and fifties. I have reproduced some of the interview here for all to enjoy.
“The skeleton fight in Jason and the Argonauts were quite an ambitious thing to bite off because I never animated multiple figures. And we wanted to have seven skeletons fighting three men. We had seven stuntmen each portraying one of the skeletons and the actors would rehearse with the stuntmen, so that would give them a chance to count their moves and see just where they had to stop their movements in order to give the impression that they were fighting with the skeleton.
I had to take about four and a half months on that particular sequence which only lasted for five minutes. It took four and a half months in the front of the animation camera to animate seven skeletons because many times I would only average thirteen frames a day.”
Ray goes on to talk about the history of stop motion and how he was inspired by Willis O Brien..
“The combination of live action and animation goes way back to the silent days. We use models of course unlike Roger rabbit and some of the other cartoons we see today. We used a dimensional model which blends much more closely with the live action than a flat drawing such as you saw in Mary poppins.
Then of course Willis O’Brien on the last world combine of live action with animation. And King Kong was the really his highlight of the combination. I wandered into Grauman’s Chinese theater in Hollywood boulevard some years ago in 1933 when I was the tender age of thirteen. And I haven’t been the same since. I just found that this picture haunted me so, so I had to find out how it was done.”
Harry then talks about how he created his own first series of stop motion animation shorts..
“ And when I found out about the glories of stop motion animation, I started to experiment in my garage and after that it gradually developed from my hobby to a profession. I had the great pleasure of working with George Pal for a while, before the war he was doing a series of puppetoons of the time. But they were very stylized figures and they were not the same type of drama that I was really interested in.
Mother Goose Stories.
After the war I made my own series of puppet films. I made a series of five films. I called them Mother Goose stories. I funded the films myself. They were very easy to make because I didn’t pay myself a salary. It was sort of one man job. My family helped me out very much. My father became interested in it, my mother dressed the figures. So it was more or less a family enterprise. The plaster heads were all extreme expressions. They, I made one placid expression and then carved maybe to make ten casernes and carved each one slightly different into extreme expressions. And then I’d dissolve into eight frames from one head to the other.
Of course in red riding hood, the wolf was very dear to my heart because it was the type of thing I wanted to do. Later on, when I got involved with dinosaurs and pre-historic animals, of course they are all creatures of fantasy and I found them much more enjoyable to work with than just a normal character.
We found the melodrama was very useful for the medium of dimensional animations and of course it is always been used with dinosaurs. Willis O’Brien, my mentor, he used the dinosaur and the gorilla animations. Well after king Kong, he was my hero. And I called him up with MJM one time, he was very courteous and encouraging and we became friends and later on when he got involved with Mighty Young (1949), he chose me his assistant. Again a gorilla, a nice kind gorilla, very sympathetic and it didn’t have the same impact of course that King Kong had.”
Ray Moves to the UK.
“Both Charles Schneer and myself came to England originally to make two films and we’ve been here ever since. This was way back in 1960. After the seventh voyage the studio had an old script called Mysterious Island.
I took the shell of the crab, made a mechanism that would go inside specifically for animation. Then you can make the crab to do what exactly you want him to do. We wanted to do some close ups of all the intricate mechanisms in the mouth. So, we got six live edible crabs and when we put them under the lights, of course they got very languid, and they all fell asleep I think. I wondered how you know when a crab is asleep. And that evening we ate our actors. I think Hitchcock would have been pleased.”
Ray talks about how Sound and Music in Stop Motion Animation brings it to life
“The music is very important. I, I have always felt 50% of the success of a fantasy film is the music. The music hightens the emotions and makes the whole thing bigger than life!
You see, medusa is quite a complicated figure. She has twelve snakes in her hair and each snake has to be animated. You roll her eyes by using a pencil eraser, and each frame of them you move them slightly until you get them into the position you want. And inside her lips, she has little levers that give her a chance to have some sort of mobile features.
These types of pictures are not a directors picture. They have to be laid out ahead of time in a very careful way so that they can be made for a reasonable cost. The pictures laid out many times before the director is even brought on to the scene. He has to handle the actors naturally. But the actual film is laid out by Charles and myself and the writer.
I’m retired from making films because it does take too much of your life. We spent three years on the clash of the titans, and there’s long time in preparation and long time in, after everybody goes home and they go on another picture on rest of the crew, maybe do two pictures but I am still putting the first one together. But I’m in hopes that one day that there will be a viable museum that will house all the materials because it is actually is the bridge between Willis O’Brien’s work and the work of today. I have had a great success practically, say 90% in doing what I wanted to do I did. I’m told the stars of my films were my creatures because most of them received the best write ups.”
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