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Monday, 29 June 2009

Happy 89th Birthday Ray Harryhausen

When it comes to motion picture special effects, there is only one name that personifies movie magic - Ray Harryhausen. From his debut films with George Pal to his final film, Harryhausen imbued magic and visual strength to motion picture special effects as no other technician has, before or since. Born in Los Angeles, the signature event in Harryhausen's life was when he saw King Kong (1933). So awed was 13-year-old Harryhausen that he began researching the film's effects work, ultimately learning all he could about Willis H. O'Brien and stop-motion photography - he even contacted O'Bie and showed an allosaur short he made, which caused O'Bie to quip to his wife, 'You realize you're encouraging my competition, don't you?' Harryhausen tried to make a stop-motion epic, titled Evolution, but the time needed cut it short. The footage he completed - of a lumbering Apatosaurus attacked by a belligerent Allosaurus -made excellent use as a demo reel, and as a result Harryhausen's first film job came with George Pal, working on Pal's Puppetoon shorts for Paramount, before a stint in the Army using his animation skills for training films. After the Second World War Harryhausen acquired over a thousand feet of unused military film and made a series of Puppetoon-flavored fairy tale shorts, which helped him land a job with O'Brien and Marcel Delgado for Mighty Joe Young (1949). Some 85% of the actual animation was done by Harryhausen. But Harryhausen's real breakthrough came when he was hired by Warner Brothers to do the special effects for _Beast From 20,000 Fathoms, The (1953)_ . Forced to make quality effects on a film budget of just $200,000, Harryhausen learned a technique called split-screen (rear projection on overlapping miniature screens) to insert dinosaurs and other fantastic beasts into real world backgrounds. The result was one of the most influential sci-fi films of the 1950s. From there Harryhausen drifted to Columbia and teamed with producer Charles Schneer' , the tandem becoming synonymous for the remainder of their respective careers. After three sci-fi monster films and work with Willis O'Brien on the 'Irwin Allen (I) documentary The 7th Voyage of Sinbad (1958), Harryhausen's first split-screen film shot entirely in color, highlighted by Harryhausen's mythological monsters interacting with Kathryn Grant, and Torin Thatcher and the rousing score of Bernard Herrmann. Because Harryhausen worked alone on stop-motion animation, filming usually took some two years, and the most famous example of the infinite patience needed came with the skeleton swordfight sequence in Jason and the Argonauts (1963), a sequence where Harryhausen often could get no more than 13 frames of film (one-half second of elapsed time) shot per day. The 1960s were Harryhausen's best years, highlighted by his most popular film Jason and the Argonauts (1963) and his reunions with dinosaurs in Hammer Films' One Million Years B.C. (1966) and The Valley of Gwangi (1969). His pace slowed in the 1970s but nonetheless saw three more masterworks, The Golden Voyage of Sinbad (1974), Sinbad and the Eye of the Tiger (1977), and Clash of the Titans (1981). It was not until 1992 that Harryhausen finally achieved film immortality with an honorary Oscar, a long-overdue tribute to the one name that personifies visual magic.

Source: http://delirium-vault.com

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