Sunday, 19 September 2010

Raymond Frederick Harryhausen (2 of 2).


Earth Vs the Flying Saucers (1956)

In the mid-fifties there were a spat of flying saucer sightings.

It was thought this phenomenon would make a good feature, and so 'Earth Vs the Flying Saucers' was the result.

The various sizes of saucers (there are seven in total) were made from aluminium by Ray’s father and then anodised giving them a matt finish so they didn’t reflect light.

Ray never liked the latex alien suits used in the film although they were based on his design.

For all the aerial model work Ray used old recording wire on which to suspend the saucers.

The miniatures sets – The Capitol and the Supreme Court buildings cost $1,500 each and the Washington Monument cost just $500. Compare those costs with today’s budgets.

20 Million Miles to Earth (1957)

Because Ray wanted to see Italy he changed the location of a story, which he had written with Charlotte Knight, and was called 'The Cyclops', from Chicago to Italy. It was eventually titled '20 Million Miles to Earth'.

Charles Schneer wanted the picture to be shot in colour but Ray insisted it should be black and white, because Kodak had just brought out a 35mm stock that eliminated the problem of grain when the rear projection image is re-photographed. Ray got his wish but this was to be the last picture he made in black and white.

The Ymir figurine no longer exists, as it was cannabalised to make other subsequent creatures.

The live action was shot in Sperlonga on the Italian coast, and in Rome at the Borghese Gallery, the Coliseum, around the river Tiber and in the Roman Forum.

The hatching of the Ymir from the ‘egg’ was perhaps one of the most touching moments in any of Ray’s films. The young creature is at his most vulnerable at this point.

The ‘blood’ seen coming from the elephant at the end of the fight with the Ymir is made of theatrical blood, called Kensington Gore, and glycerine. The glycerine helps to slow the ‘blood’ down for animation purposes.

20 Million Miles to Earth was Ray’s tribute to Willis O’Brien and King Kong.

The 7th Voyage of Sinbad (1958)

As with '20 Million Miles to Earth' it was Ray who came up with the idea of using the Arabian Nights for a vehicle for dimensional stop-motion animation. He wrote an early step outline which he called 'Sinbad the Sailor'. He had also executed key drawings for it, including the skeleton fight on the spiral staircase, in 1953, four years before it went into production.

The final title, 'The 7th Voyage of Sinbad' was Ray’s idea. The number seven has a mystical quality.

There was to have been five more sequences in the film but they were dropped. (1) Sinbad and the Princess Parisa are chased by giant rats conjured up by the evil Sokurah but because Charles didn’t like rats, nor snakes, it was taken out. (2) Sinbad and his men are attacked by bat-devils. (3) A fight between two Cyclops. (4) Sirens with mermaid tails. (5) A giant serpent attacks sailors in a tree. This again was dropped because Charles objected.

Charles had Ray’s hands insured for a million dollars - and it was Ray’s first feature in colour.

This was also Ray and Charles’ first feature using Spanish locations.

Sinbad’s ship was in fact a replica of Christopher Columbus’ Santa Maria.

The storm sequence was shot in Barcelona harbour and during the filming Kerwin Mathews, who played Sinbad, was taken very ill with a stomach bug after swallowing some of the water thrown at him during the storm sequence.

Only one complete model survives from the film, the skeleton, which was reused in Jason and the Argonauts. Ray doesn’t remember which one it is out of the seven.

The armature of the Cyclops still exists but missing the lower section of one of his legs.

It was for this film that Charles came up with the name Dynamation. Sitting in his Buick whilst waiting in traffic he noticed the word Dynaflow on the dashboard. He realised that Dyna was perfect for Ray’s style of animation and so the word became a merchandising term for Ray’s dimensional animation.

Composer Bernard Herrmann wrote the music for this film and the subsequent films 'The 3 Worlds of Gulliver', 'Mysterious Island' and 'Jason and the Argonauts'.

The film cost a total of $650,000.

The 3 Worlds of Gulliver (1959)

Originally The 3 Worlds of Gulliver was intended as a vehicle for Danny Kaye and was to have been a musical.

The script, loosely adapted from Jonathan Swift’s novel, had already been written so Ray and Charles adapted it to accommodate Dynamation sequences, which included a curious squirrel and a fight with a vicious alligator.

This was the first film to be made entirely in Europe with the effects being executed in the United Kingdom.

Mysterious Island (1960)

Next to H.G. Wells and of course Ray Bradbury, another of Ray’s favourite fantasy authors is Jules Verne.

Ray created a series of creatures that have been bred by Captain Nemo, the hero of Verne’s 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. They include a giant crab, giant bees and two prehistoric creatures, the phororhacos (a prehistoric bird) and the nautiloid cephalopod (a prehistoric tentacled creature with a huge shell).

Originally there was to be a dog in the plot but because dogs or any real animals are unpredictable and the production budget was small, the dog was dropped from the script.

Missing scenes were the discovery of ruins of Atlantis, a man-eating plant and a mechanical digger operated by Nemo.

The crab was bought by Ray in Harrods Food Hall and sent to the Natural History Museum in London to be humanely killed. The armature was then designed to fit inside the shells of the crab. It was fixed to the animation table by wire and was supported on an aerial brace with wires.

Although there seemed to be three giant bees there was only one. Ray used mattes to make it seem as if there were three.

Jason and the Argonauts (1963)

This is generally seen as Ray’s best picture. ‘Everything seemed to fit and work so well’.

Ray began to think of adapting a story from Greek or Roman mythology in the early 1950s but he began to develop ideas for such a feature when he was shooting the live-action for Mysterious Island.

Whilst filing in Italy, where most of the live action was photographed, the production had problems with an olive grower who demanded that Charles pay him for the olives that the production vans had crushed by the side of the road. Also whilst filming the long shots of Jason’s ship, the Argo, they mistakenly photographed The Golden Hind that was being used for a television programmme. Charles shouted at the ship, ‘Get that ship out of here’.

The discus throwing competition between Hercules and Hylas was animated.

When Talos, the huge bronze statue, comes alive, Ray based the movement of the head turning to the camera on a Japanese film in which a woman’s head turns to the camera.

Talos was based on the Colossus of Rhodes.

Ray had to make the movements for Talos very laboured and slow to relay the sense of height of the statue. In reality the model is about sixteen inches high.

The actor chosen to play Triton, the sea god, was chosen because he had long arms which enabled him to hold the ‘clashing rocks’ apart for the Argo to pass.

The seven-headed hydra was based on classical vase paintings, which went through many changes. Ray takes up the story, ‘I finally came up with the idea of making it ‘serpent-like’ with a distinctive tail ending in a forked snake tongue. The seven heads were designed to resemble a dinosaur-like bird with curved beaks and two ear-like crests curving back, an image that would suggest a throwback to prehistoric times’.

The skeleton sequence in the film took four and a half months to photograph the animation scenes and the entire sequence runs for four minutes and thirty seven seconds. It is estimated that Ray executed a total of 184,800 movements.

The film was a box office failure when first released but has now become one of the great classic fantasy movies.

First Men in the Moon (1964)

At long last Ray got to make an H.G.Wells story.

Ray’s only film shot in widescreen, in this case Panavision, and which caused him many problems.

After much debate and rewrites, Nigel Kneale came up with the idea of topping and tailing the Victorian story with a modern expedition to the Moon.

Because Columbia thought that the story needed some female interest they insisted that the two men were accompanied by a woman, so the title should read ‘First Men and a Woman in the Moon’.

Everyone remembers the skeletons in The 7th Voyage of Sinbad and Jason and the Argonauts but few remember the one skeleton (borrowed from Jason) of Martha Hyer in the x-ray chamber.

This was the last film for which Fred Harryhausen made the armatures. He died soon after sending them off to Ray.

Frank Wells visited the filming of his father’s story.

One Million Years BC (1966)

Mmmmmm...Raquel Welch...

This landmark film was the first since 1955 that was not made with Charles Schneer, but for the UK based 'Hammer Film Productions'.

It was based on a 1940 film entitled 'One Million BC or Man and His Mate' about a caveman battling against prehistoric creatures. The creatures in that first film were not animated but were lizards and baby crocodiles with fins stuck on their backs and even a man in a rubber suit playing the young allosaurus. Ray could only improve on it.

The dinosaurs in the film include an achelon (a giant turtle), a young allosaurus, the pterodactyls, a triceratops, a ceratosaurus and a brontosaurus, which unfortunately only appears in the film in one brief scene.

The brontosaurus had been planned to have its own sequence in which it attacks the cave people in their dwellings, but the scene was dropped when it was thought to make the film too long.

In the scene in which the achelon appears one of the shell people shouts ‘achelon’. Obviously the creatures wouldn’t have been known as an achelon then.

This was the only film in which Ray used real creatures (iguanas and a spider) to supplement the dinosaurs.

Ray once again used location photographs over which he sketched in the action for his storyboard.

The Valley of Gwangi (1969)

The story was based on an idea and artwork by Willis O’Brien, which began pre-production in 1941 but was never realised. Obie’s name does not appear on the credits because he was not credited on the original screenplay. An oversight that Ray regrets to this day.

The film was originally to have been called 'The Valley Where Time Stood Still', which Ray prefers.

Ray and Diana’s five-year old daughter Vanessa, loved the model of Gwangi and used it as a doll. One day when Diana was in Harrods with Vanessa in her pushcart, a little old lady wanted to see Vanessa’s doll and was shocked when she saw it was a hideous dinosaur and reprimanded Diana for her choice of doll.

The Golden Voyage of Sinbad (1973)

The Valley of Gwangi was not a commercial success so Ray and Charles decided to return to the security of Sinbad and the Arabian Nights.

Ray wrote the step outline for the principle scenes and made some key drawings some years before it was made. That first outline story would become The Golden Voyage of Sinbad and Sinbad and the Eye of the Tiger.

Amongst the scenes that were never photographed was an introduction that was conceived by Ray. The homunculus, on the errand of the evil magician Koura, makes his way to the Visier bedroom in the palace and throws acid on the Visier’s face.

Another sequence that was never filmed was the Valley of the Vipers, which was again dropped because Charles really didn’t like snakes.

The glass painting of Marabia was painted by Emilio Ruiz del Rio.

The birth of the homunculus was a return to the birth of the Ymir in '20 Million Miles to Earth' except it was far more appealing and tender.

Sinbad’s ship was built at the Verona Studios in Spain and was miles from the sea.

Because of their beliefs, Muslim’s would never have had a figurehead on the prow of their ships, let alone a female one, but Ray wanted to have an animated figurehead to delay Sinbad on his quest like Talos had done in Jason and the Argonauts. There are two armatured models for the figurehead, one kneeling and one standing.

There were three golden masks made for Douglas Wilmer in the picture. Ray has all three of them.

Orson Welles was to have played the 'Oracle of All Knowledge' but because he had a difference of opinion about his fee with Charles Schneer, he was replaced by Robert Shaw.

Shaw had some difficulties with his false teeth. He found if very difficult to talk with them in because he kept spitting them out so the makeup people stuck them in. Sadly when they were removed out came part of his own dental work.

As with a great number of Ray’s creatures, the Cyclopean Centaur holds his arms back. This pose is a Harryhausen trait. When asked about it Ray has said, ‘It was the best way to keep the arms occupied, it made it easy and it had the result of making such a huge creature more dramatic’.

Sinbad and the Eye of the Tiger (1977)

There were several scenes that were not included including a fight on board ship with a worm-creature and a fight between Trog and an arsinoitherium (a two horned dinosaur that Ray had first seen in the test made for 'Creation' (1930-31), an unmade O’Brien project, in which an arsinoiitherium attacks sailors). Also there was to have been a sequence that showed how the Minaton was assembled with Shadowmen (zombie-like creatures) working a Frankenstein-like laboratory.

The gateway into Hyperborea was a tribute to the gates in King Kong.

All the live action snow scenes were shot on the island of Malta in temperatures in excess of 85 Fahrenheit.

There are two different sized baboons and two cages made for the animation.

Zenobia’s boat almost sank.

The latex on the model of the Walrus was so thick that it wouldn’t hold its position so Ray had to cut sections away to allow for animation.

The ice, which covers the tiger in the pyramid was made of cellophane.

Clash of the Titans (1981)

Ray’s original key drawing of Medusa in her temple has her sporting a bra, or as Ray puts it, a boob tube. This was thought to be too coy and for the film the Gorgon revealed all.

It was largely through the influence of the screenwriter, Beverley Cross that a great number of the leading players, including Maggie Smith, Laurence Olivier and Claire Bloom, agreed to take part in the production.

Ray always says, ‘Who else could have played Zeus but Olivier?’

The close shots of Medusa that show shadows across her face were influenced by shots of Joan Crawford in Mildred Pierce (1945).

There was only one armatured model of Medusa that was used for close-ups as well as all other shots.

The movement that sees Medusa pulling herself along by her arms was influenced by a scene in Tod Browning’s 'Freaks' (1932).

Ray Bradbury called the Medusa sequence, ‘The best thing that Ray every photographed’.

For the first time since making Mighty Joe Young Ray had to commission the help of two other animators on the film. They were Jim Danforth who Ray had met whilst working on The 7th Voyage of Sinbad and Steve Archer.

There are two main models of the Kraken. The small armatured one and the large armatured upper torso only used for one shot of Pegasus flying in front of him. There is a third, made from the original mould but only of hard rubber. This was used for publicity before the film was released.

In the original screenplay Perseus was to cut Medusa’s head off by throwing his shield, Frisbee fashion, but when it came to the shoot, Harry Hamlin who played Perseus pointed out that a sword would work much better than an oversized Frisbee.

Lost projects

There were many projects that followed 'Clash...' but none came to fruition. Amongst these were two Sinbad movies – 'Sinbad and the 7 Wonders of the World' (1981/2) and 'Sinbad on Mars' (1982). There was also a film that was to have been made with Michael Winner called 'People of the Mist' (1983) [not be confused with 'Valley of the Mist'], and another mythological adventure with Charles and Beverley Cross called 'Force of the Trojans' (1984).


Ray has been honoured with awards from around the world. His films were never nominated for an Oscar but due to friends and fans that included Ray Bradbury and Arnold Kunert, he did receive a special Oscar, the Gordon Sawyer Award, in 1992 presented to him by Tom Hanks. He has also been honoured with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 1993.

Retired or Not?

Ray ’retired’ from dimensional animation in 1984 although he has indulged himself occasionally, to keep his hand in, on such projects as the UK television documentary, produced by Tony Dalton, 'Walking With Dinosaurs' (1999) and the completion of 'The Tortoise and the Hare', now called 'The Story of the Tortoise and the Hare' (2001/2).

The 2001 Pixar film 'Monster's Inc.' pays homage to Harryhausen in a scene where characters Mike Wazowski and Celia Mae visit a restaurant named "Harryhausen's".

The 2005 film 'Corpse Bride' also pays homage to Harryhausen in a scene where character Victor Van Dort is playing the piano in the Everglott's home. The brand of the piano is "Harryhausen".

Tim Burton considers his satirical science fiction film 'Mars Attacks!' to be a tribute to Harryhausen, especially in a scene in which one of the hostile alien's flying saucers chops down the Washington Monument by crashing into it, just as Harryhausen had done in his movie 'Earth vs. The Flying Saucers' from 1956. Burton's film, and this scene, initially gathered mixed reviews from Ray, who has a habitually more subdued sense of humour. These differences were congenially resolved in subsequent meetings between the two film-makers.

'Clash of the Titans' has been re-made as a big budget all-CGI monster, and Harryhausen has expressed surprise as to why it was felt this was necessary.

As a ninetieth birthday tribute, he was featured on flagship BBC current affairs programme 'Newsnight' on June 24th 2010, talking about his life's work.

The father of stop-motion animation (he calls Willis O'Brien the grandfather) now lives in London with his wife Diana and takes an avid and enthusiastic interest in 'The Ray & Diana Harryhausen Foundation' and how his extensive collection of models, artwork, stills and miniatures are preserved and exhibited into the future.
Harryhausen plans to continue his travels and lectures as time and health permits. His body of work will continue to be revered around the world by millions of film makers and viewers alike long after Ray has left the "mortal coils" of film making.

He is a brilliant, brilliant man.

And these are his creature creations...


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