Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Ray Harryhausen Lives!

Mention the film Jason and the Argonauts, and people think of  Ray Harryhausen.  He didn't write it, he didn't direct it, he didn't star in it.  But it's his film.  He produced it, and other fantasy adventures like it around his ideas involving stop-motion animation - an enviable position.

I had seen Harryhausen's work long before I knew his name, which I first heard as a student at CalArts.   Two friends from film graphics, Steve Burg and Shannon Shea, were always talking about this brilliant guy Harryhausen.  For the longest time, I thought his name was Harry Hausen - they never referred to him using his first name.  They had super 8 films of their primitive attempts to ape Harryhausen - pardon the pun.  Shannon was animating dinosaurs, Steve was more about space ships.

And where are these two geeks today?  Steve Burg went into conceptual design for science fiction films, most recently Ridley Scott's Prometheus.  Shannon Shea has had a long, successful career as a make-up effects artist, most recently on Men in Black 3.  They are just two of a generation of visual effects artists who point to Ray Harryhausen as The Man.  Like a large family tree, the lineages of visual effects trace back to him.

Shannon Shea told FLIP, "Ray Harryhausen, despite what some contemporary filmmakers might say, was a true genius. It goes without saying that he managed to imbue his latex and metal armatured puppets with character, but he was an incredible technician with an eye for matching lighting and atmosphere, and the life-long imagination of an unjaded 12 year-old."

I got to see Harryhausen speak at The Academy before they screened a new print of Jason and the Argonauts.  He talked about his childhood fascination with the film King Kong.  Willis O'Brien's visual effects on Kong influenced young Ray to want to work in the field.  His dream came true, working for O'Brien on Mighty Joe Young.    He talked about how much more complex the armature was for Mighty Joe Young, enabling them more flexibility and subtlety in animation.  I always enjoy it when people whose work I admire talk about those who influenced them, like a connection to the distant past.

Ray Harryhausen is part of an elite group of filmmakers, whose influence on the industry may outshine his films.

1 comment:

  1. I am a movie buff and have seen several of Ray Harryhausen's movies. He was definitely an innovator. His movies are brilliant. Always nice to read about another fan.