Thursday, 3 March 2011

From King Kong to Clash of the Titans. Ray Harryhausen talk at Stoke Your Fires

From King Kong to Clash of the Titans

Thursday 3rd March I attended an excellent talk by Tony Dalton the Curator and friend of Ray Harryhausen. During his 1 1/2 hour talk he kept us all amused with stories and antidotes of the legendary animator, as well as giving a comprehensive lecture on the masters work. Now at the age of almost 91 and suffering with poor hearing, Tony now does the circuits on Ray behalf and I would say that he has nailed it down superbly!

The talk started with a brief history of Ray, from his earliest influences, such as King Kong. Apologies for the above video and the shaky hand cam, but this is Tony explaining that Ray didn't create Monsters, but instead he created creatures!

Rays earliest influence was when he saw King Kong and was struck in awe at how the special effects were done. He did a lot of research and brought some magazines to see if they knew, but they revealed that it was all really a man in a suit! Ray knew better and started a search to find Willis O'Brien.

It was obvious that there was never a man in the suit, regardless of what the magazines said and soon Ray met with Obie (Ray's name for his mentor) and took with him his Stegosaurus. Obie gave Ray some advice when seeing his prize winning model and told him to go and study anatomy, and understand about how the body works! Does that sound familiar to anyone?

Above is a picture of Obie working on some conceptual art work for one of his films (Evolution?)  It wasn't long before Ray was recruited by Obie to help on the movie Might Joe Young. Here Ray learnt from Obie that he needed to be in with the picture from the beginning and not to let producers push him around and dictate shots etc.

Above is some concept art, drawn by Obie for The Might Joe Young. This was Rays first taste of working in the film industry and in fact he didn't get paid for it! He just got his petrol money paid!

The fact was that most of the animation done on Might Joe Young was done by Ray.

Ray fell for the big time when a small production company asked him to do the Special effects for the Beast from 20,000 Fathoms. This was made on a shoe string budget, but it made it's money back and more. The Japanese saw Rays film started to produce their own monster film, called Godzilla! only they did put a man in a suit to play the monster. So impressed were other companies that Ray was approached to work on other "Creature Films" Ray hesitated at first but when the suggestion of having a giant Octopus attack the Golden gate bridge this was too much. The film was made on a tighter budget than "The Beast" but Ray managed to save the company money by producing an Octopus with only 6 tentacles!

 I suppose the greatest of Rays films was Jason & the Argonauts. Tony brought with him one of the stars of the film, one the skeletons brought back to life by the hydras teeth

Overall it was a great experience hearing about the master a seeing a few of his props. Tomorrow I'm hoping to go and view some of his conceptual drawings for his films that are on show in the Potteries Museum in Hanley Stoke-on-Trent.

One of Tony's excellent books on Ray Harryhausen. Other books are available.

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