Friday, 10 May 2013

Remembering The Grandfather Of Stop Motion Animation

An unfortunate problem within the film industry is that many greats go unnoticed by the vast majority of the public. Costume designers to to set creators to special effects experts, many figures within each area of expertise all too often go unrecognised for their efforts. People might claim to love all the sets in Hellboy 2 but that film's most recognisable names are always going to be Guillermo Del Toro and Ron Perlman. The same goes with Aliens and James Cameron, and you'd be lucky to find someone on the street who knows key figures within Industrial Light and Magic beyond George Lucas.

One of the few well known names among his craft, capable of frequently outshining the directors involved with his films, was Ray Harryhausen. A pioneer in visual film effects and a man who sadly passed away last Tuesday.

Best remembered for his stop-motion work on various sword and sorcery films of the 60s to 80s, Harryhausen was someone whose talent was instantly recognisable on any film he worked on. Whether it was animating a giant monster or having a stop-motion figure seemingly interacting directly with the protagonist, his presence was evident.

While many effects might be deemed laughable or even cheesy by today's standards, he accomplished with his eyes and estimations what many now do with computers. Working with his hands in making painstakingly careful touches where others now use editing software to correct every mistake, or build upon his lessons.

The official statement given by the foundation dedicated to he and his wife Diana, tasked with preserving and promoting his contributions to stop motion, said it best:

"Harryhausen’s genius was in being able to bring his models alive. Whether they were prehistoric dinosaurs or mythological creatures, in Ray’s hands they were no longer puppets but became instead characters in their own right, just as important as the actors they played against and in most cases even more so."

The further comments and dedications from the likes of Peter Jackson and Steven Spielberg within that statement show just how far reaching his inspiration was. Just how much his efforts meant to many of the great directors of the past several decades.

While his presence might not have turned every film into cinematic gold, it always presented some element to be enjoyed. No matter how corny or lackluster the plots might be the sight of monsters, truly physical and fully animated ones, to threaten the protagonists always allowed an audience to walk away feeling they enjoyed something.

While his last big screen production might have been 1981's Clash of the Titans, Harryhausen remained active throughout the years. Many documentaries, lessons and interviews of his works were made, a number of which are available on youtube. All of which give insights into his experiences and talent in visual effects.

The world is lessened for his passing. May his films endure the ages to inspire others.

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