Ray Harryhausen

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Ray Harryhausen

Post  BoG on Mon Mar 08, 2010 11:28 am


Guest blogger Brian Burkart writes:

James Cameron’s blockbuster Avatar may feature photorealistic aliens, but for my money the most magical special effects were created by a single man: Ray Harryhausen. He brought to life some of the most memorable creatures in film history without the assistance of computers.

I was first introduced to Harryhausen’s work in the second grade when I borrowed the picture book “Creatures!” from my school’s library. The title was part of a book series that featured entries on Dracula, the Wolfman, Frankenstein’s Monster, even King Kong. These books were very popular with the boys in my class and you had to be quick to grab one during our weekly library visit. The photos included in this entry were magnificent and sent my imagination into overdrive. There were pictures of sword wielding skeletons, a Hydra, a dinosaur attacking a rollercoaster, a giant octopus destroying the Golden Gate Bridge, flying saucers destroying Washington, D.C., and the most mind-blowing of all--an alien fighting an elephant! I felt a primal need to see these films. How could such wondrous images exist and I have yet to see them? I copied the titles from the index and in those pre-home video days would scan the television listings every Sunday hoping against hope that one would appear.

Luckily I didn’t have to wait long as my local UHF channel aired a double feature of Jason and the Argonauts and The 7th Voyage of Sinbad a few months later. I sat (too close to our console television) totally transfixed as formally static pictures now moved and interacted with real actors. Harryhausen’s creations were things of beauty and horror. The image of the Cyclops cooking a sailor on a spit over a fire haunted my nightmares for months.

The Golden Voyage of Sinbad provided me not only with thrilling creatures and swashbuckling action but was the source of my first crush. Caroline Munro was so beautiful that she almost outshined Harryhausen’s work. My 7-year-old self felt oddly uncomfortable sitting next to his mother. Ms. Munro haunted my dreams as well…but that is another story.

As the years went by my admiration for Harryhausen only grew as I learned the secrets of stop motion. He designed, sculpted and animated the creatures himself. I was flabbergasted by the fact that one minute of footage could take days to complete. How could one man have the patience and the skill to animate these fantastic sequences one frame at a time? The man was a complete genius and could do no wrong. I was appalled to learn that none of his films had ever been nominated much less won the Academy Award for Special Effects. In my eyes this was a greater sin than Hitchcock never winning Best Director. After all, did Hitch ever choreograph a fight between mythological creatures? The Academy did award Harryhausen the Gordon E. Sawyer Award for contributions to the technology of moviemaking in 1992 and I cheered this overdue recognition.

Harryhausen’s films are the fertile field where imaginations grow. Many artists cite one of his creations as the inspiration for their art. The Cyclops fight with the dragon; the statue of Talos coming to life; Jason fighting the many-headed Hydra; the Kraken rising to destroy Jappa; the terrifying Medusa stalking Peruses; the six-armed, sword wielding goddess Kali; the Ymir and numerous others are classic images that transport many of us to our childhood. I’ve purchased these films on VHS, laserdisc, DVD, Blu-ray and will pay to have them directly downloaded to my brain when that technology comes on the market without regret because they are timeless reminders of what one man can accomplish with creativity and patience.

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Harryhausen's 7th Voyage

Post  BoG on Sat Apr 10, 2010 7:36 pm