Dynamation legend Ray Harryhausen, whose films including The 7th Voyage of Sinbad, One Million Years B.C. and Clash of the Titans delighted and terrified audiences for forty years, visited the Edinburgh Film Festival last night to talk about his life and work and take questions from a capacity crowd.
Interviewed by longtime friend Tony Dalton – with whom Harryhausen has penned several books about his work – the special effects master, who turns 88 on Saturday, reminisced on the making and impact of his entire body of work, from his apprenticeship under Willis O’Brien on Mighty Joe Young through to his last feature film, 1981’s Clash of the Titans.
Famed for pioneering stop-motion animation that interacts with live action, Harryhausen explained that the phrase Dynamation was chosen to differentiate the process for audiences who may have been put off at the thought of an all-animated movie.
“Then the PR teams took over and started calling it ‘Super-Dynamation, then Electrolytic Dynamation, and it was just silly, but that was nothing to do with me,” he joked.
The process, which is entirely achieved in-camera, allowed stop-motion minatures to interact with actors shot separately on location. This allowed skeletons to fight in Jason and the Argonauts and dinosaurs to terrify the natives in One MIllion Years B.C.
Harryhausen spoke of the number of filmmakers working today who’ve credited him as an inspiration, including Tim Burton. “I knocked over the Washington Monument [in Earth vs. the Flying Saucers] long before Mars Attacks!” he joked. “Glad to see it was rebuilt!”
With him, Harryhausen bought a few of models, including a dinosaur from One Million Years B.C. and one of the seven skeletons from Jason and the Argonauts. Only six and a half survived, he explains, because he needed a set of skeleton legs when he was preparing a later film.
The painstaking process involves the animator – Harryhausen famously worked alone until a technical issue meant he had to bring help onboard for Clash of the Titans – moving the model by minute degrees for every frame of film. For a four and a half minute sequence involving the skeletons in Jason and the Argonauts, Harryhausen estimated that there were a total of 150,000 model moves involved.
“It takes a lot of patience and there’s a lot of hair pulling,” he laughed, “which I guess is why so few animators have any hair!”
Harryhausen and Dalton are set to publish a new book called A Century of Model Animation, which they explained will take a look at the history of the artform from its very beginning under Melies and O’Brien through to the recent work of Tim Burton and Nick Park.