ANIMATION WORLD MAGAZINE - ISSUE 4.11 - FEBRUARY 2000
A Chat With Ray Harryhausen
(continued from page 2)
Harryhausen with his own creation Mighty Joe Young. © Animation Art Gallery London.
Dynamation Versus The Puppet Film
Ray said that he followed in the footsteps of Willis O'Brien, who took stop-motion animation out of the realm of the puppet film. This was a theme to which our conversation kept returning. Roger and I had hoped to elicit his expert opinion on all sorts of stop-motion film making in Europe and America, but Ray, although he takes a keen interest in these things, kept coming back to the same distinction: that Nightmare Before Christmas, Jiri Trnka and Starevich, George Pal, Will Vinton, Nick Park and Barry Purves make "puppet films," and his own life's work is something distinct from that. When I asked him whether he had ever longed to animate free of the restrictions of fitting to live-action, he replied that that was the whole point of what he did -- "otherwise you're making a puppet film."
Perhaps this feeling was influenced by his experiences working on puppet films for George Pal, using his painstaking replacement technique, in shorts such as the Jasper series:
Ray: They were little stylized puppets, and his method was to substitute for each move. It took 25 separate figures to make one step. They were animated on paper first, and then they were transferred to wood, and cut out on the bandsaw. So they had a cycle of 25 puppets to take one step and then they'd just keep repeating that. So it wasn't very creative on the set, because it was all pre-animated. So I preferred Willis O'Brien's technique where he used a single figure. I admire my stamina for sticking it out for two years. It taught me patience. I've lost it since. They never quite caught on in America, although he was in business for three or four years before he turned to features. They were fascinating and beautifully made, but they didn't catch on with the public; the cat and mouse stuff with Tom and Jerry seemed to attract the public much more.
It's easy to see the challenge and attraction of animating jointed characters such as the seven skeletons in Jason and the Argonauts compared to that sort of technique, especially as Ray had so much say in the films he finally made with Charles Schneer:
Ray: I brought in the stories many times. I don't just do animation. Twenty Million Miles to Earth, The Seventh Voyage, The Golden Voyage, are all based on outlines I made, plus my drawings. So I always worked with the writer, and the producer, and sometimes the director wouldn't come in until the picture was ready to go. It's not a director's picture as you imagine in the European sense of the word. It has to be laid out -- otherwise we couldn't make them for the price we did. I was responsible for laying out the special effects and making the picture practical. I went out to locations and picked them out. We picked out locations in Spain that hadn't been photographed before for Seventh Voyage, and we used 5000 year old temples for Jason. So our films had a lot more to them than entertainment value, and I'm glad that a lot of people recognize that now. People realize now the value of them as educational. I think they use Jason and Clash of the Titans in teaching Greek mythology. We had an actress called Maria Montez, I don't know if you've heard of her, she and John Hall and Sabu used to make pictures for Universal like Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves. Well, you never saw any of the fantasy creatures. They would talk about the cyclops but you'd never see it on the screen, it was always O.S., you know. So I was determined when I got into making films that we were going to put these fantasy elements on the screen.
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