ANIMATION WORLD MAGAZINE - ISSUE 4.11 - FEBRUARY 2000
A Chat With Ray Harryhausen
(continued from page 5)
Ruth: My experience of animation in the last few years is that it's got far more specialized. In children's series animation a few years ago you'd direct yourself and light your own set and load your own camera, whereas since I've been doing it it's been very specialized and nobody lets me do anything but animate. I don't know if you've noticed that shift as well?
Ray: Oh yes.
Ruth: And do you think that's a good thing?
Ray: From my point of view, no. I prefer to work alone and do everything alone, even today. Even on Clash I did all the set ups myself. I had just an electrician, although I had Jim Danforth and Steve Archer, who came in just about the middle of the production.
Ruth: I wonder sometimes if the idea gets lost because there are too many people worrying about their little bit of it.
Ray: Sometimes it takes a committee to make a decision. With Charles and I, I could always do whatever I wanted to. Charles had an independent company away from Columbia, and we could always make our own decisions without a committee making those decisions. They would make the overall decision whether to produce the picture, but that was all. They left us alone.
Ruth: You've sort of touched on the next thing I'm going to ask. I find animating most fulfilling when I don't feel restricted by any external pressures on the shot; for me they'd be where the lighting man wants the character to end up, or a camera move, or the fact that someone's already filmed the next shot and you have to match it. If I don't have too many of those restrictions I feel I can start animating with what I call the back of my brain, it's not such a conscious process. When I look at lots of your shots, it looks as if you've got to that state where you're animating intuitively and really enjoying the freedom...
Ray: That's because I lay it out myself on the storyboard. I know pretty well in the broad sense what I'm going to do, because I have to know that when we shoot the live-action, so that it'll synchronize. Then I know pretty well when I get to the animation stage, what that scene requires.
Ruth: Do you think it's the experience of knowing what you're going to want to do in that situation that enables you to plan that in advance?
Ray: Yes, one pose leads to another. You know the broad outline and then you get a pose and you think, that'll go great if it goes into this pose, and then you try and make it blend into the next pose, within the periphery of what you have to work with.
Ruth: So you made sure you weren't restricted?
Ray: Oh, absolutely. I was never restricted. I was never told what to do. I worked carefully with the live actors. The dueling scene in Jason, with the skeletons, that had to be very carefully laid out, and then it took four months to do the animation to match it, because the touching of the swords, and all that, had to be perfectly synchronized or it wouldn't be convincing.
Ruth: That's what impresses me most. You must have known how you were going to achieve that way back before you started trying to do it.
Ray: Oh yes, definitely.
This was the deepest impression I came away with. Ray Harryhausen's characters appear to have been animated with an instinctive freedom and joy which gives them personality and makes them rare enough in any form of animation, and yet their movements had to be planned and allowed for months in advance, and actors -- and the whole of a live-action shoot -- directed so that those plans wouldn't be compromised. On top of that, Ray had the whole technical side of stop-motion -- the lights, cameras, sets and puppets -- to deal with alone, as well as animating "blind," without the aid of any kind of video assist to help him remember which of Medusa's snakes was travelling backwards and which forwards. We discussed advances in computer generated animation for a while. Ray pointed out that many of the animators at ILM had been guided by Phil Tippett, who "has a great sense of style for movements," and he was clearly impressed by the Walking with Dinosaurs series made in this country, which he said had "a wonderful sense of the movement of animals," and he could have used their technique of copying the sway of an elephant's skin for his elephants in Twenty Million Miles to Earth and Gwangi. "But it takes so many people," he said, "You have to go through so many channels, it's almost like making a film by committee." It must be Ray Harryhausen's ability to take personal command of what he wanted to achieve that made his films with Charles Schneer, as he himself proudly claims, unique.
Animation World Magazine would like to give a special thanks to the Animation Art Gallery London for providing the Ray Harryhausen film images for this issue.
Roger Whiter moved from Los Angeles to England to go to art college, and met Ruth studying illustration at Maidstone College of Art, but both became interested in stop-motion animation at the same time. Roger has specialised in puppet armatures, and has been involved in making puppets for Mars Attacks!, Brambly Hedge, Chicken Run and currently Upstairs Downstairs Bears, as well as several independent and student films. He has also acted as puppet maintenance for three of Famous Flying Films' Cabbage Patch Kids films.
Ruth Whiter worked as an animator on several children's series including Tom and Vicky, Titch, Rocky and the Dodos, The Animal Shelf and Rotten Ralph, as well as the fifth Cabbage Patch Kids film, Vernon's Christmas. Ruth and Roger were married in 1995 and are expecting their first baby at the end of February 2000!
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