Friday, 2 October 2009

Ray Harryhausen Q&A

Posting those two Clash Of The Titans shots got me thinking about the time I interviewed Ray Harryhausen just prior to the release of Corpse Bride. I visited the legendary special effects maestro at his London home and was honoured to see many of his stop-motion creations in the flesh, so to speak. Here's part of our chat.

How do you feel being such an iconic figure in the special effects world?

I’m delighted that our films are more appreciated today than when they were first released because nobody knew much about stop-motion. Seventh Voyage was submitted to the Academy for special effects. Ignored completely. Most of pictures were ignored until I got my Academy Award for Lifetime Achievement.

How did they think the creatures were created then?

I don’t think they knew. Nobody knew much about stop-motion. We were really the people who made it, after Willis O’Brien [who did the original King Kong]. We’re the bridge between Willis O’Brien and CGI.

Well, in between you’ve got Nic Park and his Wallace and Gromit films…

Well, that’s a puppet film. It’s done with the same process but a puppet film is entirely different to the type of films we made because they are usually highly stylised. They’re obviously puppets, they’re not trying to disguise it. King Kong was a puppet but he was a character in the film and nobody knew at the time how it was done. That’s why I used to hesitate even talking about stop-motion because it destroys the illusion. When I saw King Kong at 13 I didn’t know how it was done and it haunted me for years until I found out about stop-motion.

Would you like to see more stop-motion in movies?

Oh yes, but rumour gets around that there’s nothing better than CGI. Well, that’s hype. But we covered so many fantasy subjects it’s hard to dream up new fantasy subjects. All they do today is reinvent the wheel, they keep doing remakes.

Are you a fan of CGI?

CGI is marvellous if you’re doing a documentary type of film but for fantasy, stop-motion lends this strange quality of a nightmare, this strange quality of fantasy, where you know it’s not real and yet it looks real. When you make fantasy too real, you bring it down to the mundane.

You say your films weren’t popular at the time.

They weren’t what you’d call blockbusters. They attracted a certain type of fan who appreciated what went into the film but for the average public, fantasy sometimes is not acceptable. They think it’s kids’ stuff. Sometimes people don’t have the imagination.

Do you have a favourite of your films?

I think Jason. It’s the most complete. I like Clash Of The Titans. I’ve always liked Greek mythology. Medusa was a big challenge and the Hydra in Jason. Hydra had seven heads and also I had seven skeletons because seven in mythology is a magic number.

You must have wished three was the magic number when you were animating seven skeletons.

It took me four months to put that particular five-minute sequence together. When the sword came down a skeleton had to be there to meet it, so I had to analyse every frame that we shot of the live action and time the skeletons movements to the live action. That’s why I lost my hair. I pulled it out.


Gerard said...

Thankyou for this. I'm always fascinated by Harryhausen and have been reading up on him again recently after the release of that great discussion series between he and Burton.

Mark Salisbury said...

You're welcome.

He's a god among filmmaker's and it was one of those interviews where I was constantly pinching myself to make sure I wasn't dreaming.