Ray Harryhausen


16 Monday 16th January 2012

How did you start making animation?

After seeing the film King Kong in 1933 in Los Angeles I was inspired to try and replicate the creatures seen in the film.  Slowly I learnt about stop-motion animation and taught myself how to draw and construct armatured (internal metal skeletons) and build up the model around them.   

What was the first figure you made?

A prehistoric cave bear in around 1935/36.

The Valley Of Gwangi

Looking back, was your main ambition to achieve realism, or to entertain?

Both.  I always strove to produce animation that was smooth and as realistic as the creature would allow.  Some of my creations, such as Talos, were metal so the animation had to be slightly jerky to reflect the constriction of the metal but generally I would study real animals to try and replicate their movements in my animation.  My films are all made to entertain and are not meant to be academic in any way.

Your telling of The Tortoise and The Hare was pure puppet animation, as opposed to your special effects work of the past - was this your preferred style -eschewing the goal of realism for pure storytelling?

The Story of the Tortoise and the Hare which I completed in 2002 was the last of a series of what I call my Fairy Tales.  I started these in 1946 with the Mother Goose Stories and then, when I wasn't working on feature films, made The Story of Little Red Riding Hood (1950), The Story of Hansel and Gretel (1951), The Story of Rapunzel (1952) and The Story of King Midas (1953).  I started The Story of the Tortoise and the Hare in 1952.  I enjoyed making these 10 minute films as they became my teething rings for future feature projects but I always preferred making features which were available to a much wider public and in which I could indulge my imagination.  

The Tortoise and the Hare

It's often the case these days that the best of artistry and special effects happen to feature in the worst of films. Did you ever feel, having worked so arduously on so many projects, that your efforts were undermined by the finished film - perhaps by the actors or director? (I'd suggest the skeletons may have been more convincing actors than Todd Armstrong and Nancy Kovack!)

Never.  We worked with good imaginative directors, technicians and actors.  I consider Todd and Nancy were perfect in their roles in Jason and the Argonauts, as I do most, if not all the actors we employed to fulfil the human elements in our films. 

Jason and the Argonauts

Which of the films you've worked on was the most difficult to make, and why?

All of the films I worked on had their own problems and difficulties.  However I planned ahead, sometimes for up to two years, wherever possible to avoid impossible difficulties.  With our budgets we couldn't afford last minute problems.

With the insane hours involved in your work, did your social life ever suffer? Were you ever accused of preferring the company of puppets to people?

My family always knew that when I began work on a pictures my social life would take a different direction but never to the point of being unsociable.  No to the last part of the question.

What advice would you give to animation students starting out in the field today?

Find a subject that has a beginning, middle and an end. Don't indulge yourself into obscurity.  Also whilst animating I have always used three rules, or laws of Dynamation - imagination, dedication and patience.  

For more details about our Ray Harryhausen competition, go here

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