Saturday 11 May 2013

Ray Harryhausen's Fantastical Land's Beyond Beyond: A Tribute

While I was preparing the latest post A MATTER OF PERSPECTIVE, I, along with countless film enthusiasts around the globe heard the sad news on May 7 of the passing of a true legend  - the great, inimitable Ray Harryhausen.  It goes without saying that we’d most likely be hard pressed to think of another figure of similar status within the realms of trick cinematography and fully blown fantasy escapism as was Ray’s place in the medium.  Multitudes of film makers and visual effects people – both seasoned professionals such as Peter Jackson, Joe Dante and George Lucas and amateur Super 8 kids alike owe so much to Ray and his long time producer and friend Charles H.Schneer.  You made us the fans we are today.

I’ve been a lifelong enthusiast of Ray’s work and his films with, I guess, VALLEY OF GWANGI being my first exposure to the Harryhausen world on the big theatre screen on it’s initial release.  Naturally, I was blown away by the entire ‘headtrip’ and admit to more than a few nightmares associated with the sights of chewed, bloodied cowboys and sundry citizens being shaken and spat out by the very frightening meat eater of the title.  I was hooked!  Very little in the way of stop motion and all out effects showcases were available at the time in the late 60’s.  It would be years before any of those shows ever showed up on our single channel state broadcaster NZBC – with the elusive landmark picture KING KONG still several years away as a first run television ‘event’.

I vividly recall the thrill of seeing Saturday matinee double features with JASON AND THE ARGONAUTS, more often than not paired up with some utterly incompatible companion film such as Charles Bronson’s Mexican prison break actioner BREAKOUT (one of his best by the way).  I also recall some years later seeing JASON again on an equally mismatched double bill (I think it was with Steve McQueen’s BULLITT that time!!), though this time being shocked at the state of the 35mm print, which had turned pink and was barely holding together with none too subtle splices, rendering bizarre jump cuts in dialogue and action, with characters suddenly vanishing out of frame with an ill timed ‘pop’ and important bits missing.   
As was the case then, the print was an ‘Island Print’ – that is, one supplied by the NZ distributor (whom I’d later work for) to various Pacific nations such as Fiji and Samoa, whereby the prints would typically be thrashed to death through misuse and projection gates which hadn’t seen a cleaning in 15 years.  You had to see these prints to believe it.  Scary tropical insects squashed onto frames of film and gigantic ‘X marks the spot’ gouged in cue marks that even a blindman could see!  Jesus!   I laugh today as my projectionist son had a fit if a splice appeared in a 35mm print – with a fine‘railway track’ green scratch being sufficient to evoke a nervous breakdown.

Anyway… as usual I digress.  What I intend to do here today is to pay a tribute to the various non-animation effects shots featured in Ray’s films.  This isn’t meant to neglect the creatures and wonderful hands on stop motion we’ve all come to know and love, but as with the true flavour of this blog I’ll be concentrating upon mattes, miniatures and opticals – all of which played an important part in bringing those fantasy tales to life, and which themselves have been all too often overlooked.  Those obsessed mainly with monsters and dinosaurs please understand.

Ray on MIGHTY JOE YOUNG (1949) with evocative glass art behind, possibly by Fitch Fulton or Jack Shaw.

There are a great many fine publications out there dedicated to, and sometimes written by, Ray himself.  The most important one being the astonishing MASTER OF THE MAJICKS series by Mike Hankin.  Although I only have book three (The British Films) I simply cannot speak highly enough of this titanic endeavour.  Never has a book on such a specialised subject been as comprehensive, exhaustive and just plain perfect as this.  A staggering achievement that should be on the bookshelves of all special visual effects fans the world over.  Other excellent books out there are Ray’s old FILM FANTASY SCRAPBOOK, RAY HARRYHAUSEN: AN ANIMATED LIFE and the excellent Jeff Rovin book FROM THE LAND BEYOND BEYOND which is especially good and a most worthy work should you be lucky enough to find a copy.
So, what about Harryhausen’s films?  Here’s a rundown of some noteworthy entries.  Well, I love several, like some others a lot and find a couple incredibly dull.  SEVENTH VOYAGE OF SINBAD is almost as good as it gets, with tight, compact running time and barely a frame wasted.  Beautiful animation and the absolute best score out of any of Ray’s pictures, by the legendary Bernard Herrmann.  Bernie’s pounding opening theme set to the Columbia logo and those hand painted titles still thrills me no end. Of note, Herrmann’s theme for the skeleton fight remains a unique pleasure, with inventive use of percussion resembling the clattering of bones – the likes of which I’ve not heard before nor since.   

Ray at work on one of the many training films made during WWII.
 I still have a pristine 16mm print of the film and long before the advent of home video I’d thrill friends and family with this show.  Kathryn Grant was very easy on the eye – a fact not lost on your then adolescent blogger.
THE GOLDEN VOYAGE OF SINBAD is possibly my favourite film overall, despite it being shrugged off by many for inexplicaple reasons.  Good script, a great Sinbad (John Philip Law), beautifully atmospheric fx art direction and, what I personally believe to be Ray’s best stop motion work.  Many great set pieces, but the six armed Kali is my favourite among them.  Tom Baker makes a wonderfully convincing villain and Maurice Jarre's score stands more than comfortably on it's own merits.  Terrific show which blew my mind on the very large cinema screen of the long deceased movie palace The Embassy, here in Auckland back in 73 or 74.   I, along with thousands of other adolescents were mesmerised from start to finish.  It was a big hit too as I recall.
GOLDEN VOYAGE OF SINBAD - top marks for atmospheric effects design.

JASON AND THE ARGONAUTS is another fave with NZPete (and millions of others it seems).  It takes a while to get going but just keeps improving as it moves along.  Talos was amazing and naturally the climactic skeleton army set piece was unforgettable (Ray’s single best sequence in itself) though it would have been ten times better in moonlight, though I believe even this daytime sequence raised the eyebrows and wrath of censors in various territories such as the UK. The shots inside the treasure vault are still a delight for this viewer.

MYSTERIOUS ISLAND was a highly entertaining adventure with a lot going for it and is an all out great movie, again with a wonderful Bernard Herrmann score and a lot of special photographic effects work outside of the creatures..  One of the few films of Harryhausen’s to use matte art to any significant degree, with Ray typically preferring to stick with miniatures and so forth instead.  Variable matte paintings from great to less so, with some being full frame matte shots.  The film was notable for it’s outstanding miniature work of the Nautilus grotto and superb sodium backing travelling matte shots, which are especially good.

VALLEY OF GWANGI started it all for me.  A plodding, though ultimately rewarding adventure with the miniature horse stop motion effects being the best of the lot. The budgets and schedules of all of Ray’s films were tight at best, with very little time or money available for tests and second takes.  A side effect of this unfortunate regime were the all too frequent occurances of stop motion creatures suddenly taking on different hues in some shots.  This is no more evident than in GWANGI sadly as the poor beast alternates between purple, green, grey, blue in as many cuts, which even as a kid I was mystified by.  I know Ray cringed at this regrettable anomaly, especially in this film where it’s at it’s worst.

H.G Wells' FIRST MEN IN THE MOON was a brave departure from the norm for the Charles H.Schneer organisation.  A genuinely interesting premise that hooks the viewer right from word "go" and had probably a record number of effects shots of various type, oddly with stop motion being the least of those.   


Both THE BEAST FROM 20’000 FATHOMS and 20 MILLION MILES TO EARTH rank highly on my Harryhausen meter, both in terms of narrative and also technical execution – with the latter being impressive indeed with it’s better than usual Dynarama combinations that still look great, and make later efforts such as the dismal SINBAD AND THE EYE OF THE TIGER and disappointing CLASH OF THE TITANS look poor indeed.

So with that, here’s a collection of special photographic effects shots from many of those, and other Harryhausen films that have supported the myriad of creatures, giants, dinosaurs and suchlike.

Long before he became a virtual household name in movie magic, Ray had mastered all manner of trick photography techniques.  Largely self taught, Ray was a master artist in his own right, as is clearly evident here in an early experimental 16mm film made in the shed out back of his family home.  Note Ray's considerable ability in painting his own foreground glass and the painted backing behind the model.

In keeping with this blog's M.O, here's a close up of Ray's glass matte painting.

I'm not certain, but this shot from THE BEAST FROM 20'000 FATHOMS (1953) appears to be a matte painting, though Ray and Charles Schneer were not yet a Columbia/Morningside comodity, this was a Warner Brothers affair and it's most likely a shot pinched from another film entirely.
The miniature rollercoaster built by effects man Willis Cook for the same film.
EARTH VERSUS THE FLYING SAUCERS (1956) had flair and spectacle which went beyond it's low budget.  Among the effects were several brief sequences where alien scenes of destruction required meticulous frame by frame animation of debris and collapsing structures using complex wire aerial braces as high speed miniature photography wasn't affordable
Ray with miniature set.

An excellent matte composite shown here in breakdown with location and partial miniature flawlessly combined.
Irwin Allen's ANIMAL WORLD (1956) featured the talents of veteran Warner Bros matte painter Jack Shaw in supplying the Jurassic era vistas to good effect.  Sadly jack took his own life shortly after completing his work on this film.
As was Ray's preference, the island in THE 7th VOYAGE OF SINBAD (1958) was a miniature with a real body of water split screened in.
The ancient city of Baghdad in 7th VOYAGE OF SINBAD was indeed a painted matte, although from a completely different film altogether.  I spoke with Jim Danforth about this a while back and he seemed to think it was from an old Universal  ALI BABA type show or maybe a Columbia serial, though I've not spotted it in any of those numerous films.  **Update:  My Madrid based friend and international matte shot detective, Domingo Lizcano has just revealed this to be a Russell Lawsen matte from an old Universal Victor Mature costumer THE VEILS OF BAGDAD released in 1953. At last we know what even Ray himself had long since forgotten, or possibly not realised at all. 

Another matte painting from 7th VOYAGE, just recently confirmed by Ray, with both the island headland and the sailing ship all painted on glass.  Once again it's from another show altogether and as best Ray could recollect was from an old Columbia serial (?)

Now this one's really nifty... the giant crossbow from 7th VOYAGE is in fact a 12 inch or so miniature split screened into a location shot using Ray's Dynamation sandwich technique.  The only full scale piece of the machine is the front wheel with the men standing by.  Terrific old school trick work that works a treat.

In the 1960 adventure THE 3 WORLDS OF GULLIVER this matte shot was used, though whether it's a painted extension or a miniature one I'm unsure.  Artist unknown, but maybe a British matte painter.
On Cy Endfield's rather good MYSTERIOUS ISLAND (1961) many good trick shots are utilised, aside from Ray's own stop motion work.  This very effective miniature was enhanced with sodium process people and rain overlay.  Photographic effects overseen by Wally Veevers at Shepperton Studios.
Ray on miniature set.
Unlike the majority of Ray's films, matte art played a major part in opening up the vista on MYSTERIOUS ISLAND.  I've read differing accounts on who painted the mattes, with Ray himself stating in his book An Animated Life that the artists under Wally Veevers at Shepperton painted on the film, yet Mike Hankin states in Master of the Majicks that Les Bowie and Ray Caple painted the shots?? Ray added the animated birds to try to take the curse off what he regarded as a patently obvious matte shot.

More matte art from same film.  Either Bowie & Caple or else George Samuels and Bob Cuff perhaps, if in fact Shepperton were assigned the task.

Now I do like this one.  Obviously a nod to the Mario Larrinaga glass shot from KING KONG.  An extensive full frame painting with the actors added in later by means of the sodium vapour matting process.

Granite House - another full frame painted matte, and again with actors doubled in later.  Ray apparently wasn't too happy with this matte shot.
More matte art from MYSTERIOUS ISLAND
Outstanding miniature grotto and Nautilus submarine, seemlessly combined with actors by means of travelling matte.
Although this shot looked awful on DVD, video and tv versions, the recent BluRay remaster has produced a far better image with much less grain evident.  Sadly, grain would plague many of Ray's animation process shots and composites, especially in his colour productions.

I remember being spellbound with this shot from JASON AND THE ARGONAUTS (1963) when I first saw it, probably in the late 60's - it kind of creeped me out as I recall.  Basically one of Harryhausen's Dynamation sandwich split screens with model statues in front of a process plate - part of which was re-matted in front (at base) of the models.

Probably my favourite of all the matte shots employed on Ray's films.  Inside Talos' treasure vault is a small, minimal set extended considerably with a Ray Caple and Les Bowie matte painting which in turn was augmented with actual cheap fake costume jewellery draped and fastened atop the matte art.  A wonderful shot which inspired me so much back in the day.

Bowie-Caple matte painted top up to temple set on Shepperton stage.

Before and after matte shot:  JASON AND THE ARGONAUTS
As something of a departure, Harryhausen and Schneer would break from mythical lands of long ago and take on a science fiction scenario for the H.G Wells story THE FIRST MEN IN THE MOON (1964).  A big effects movie, though one with just a minimum of stop motion, Ray would once again utilise the talents of Bowie Films to provide the lions share of the visuals.  Shown above with Ray are effects supervisor Les Bowie (right) and effects cameraman Kit West (bottom right).  Other chap unknown.

FIRST MEN utilised a variety of visual effects, from matte painting, foreground miniatures and much travelling matte. The space probe is a 12 inch model.  Unusually, Columbia chose the anamorphic widescreen process to shoot and release the film - the only such case for any of Harryhausen's pictures.
Correct me if I'm wrong, but I believe this film was submitted to the all powerful Academy for visual effects Oscar consideration and was knocked back.  The lunar module was an 18 inch high model for the landing shots.

I'm sure that's Ian Scoones seen here touching up the Earth.  Scoones worked with Bowie for several years as assistant

Harryhausen with Kit West and Les Bowie at Les' Slough effects workshop.

Looking at those distant rock formations they are much like those from MYSTERIOUS ISLAND but I'm still unsure who painted as Bob Cuff worked on this film and was previously at Shepperton during the former film.
Effects set up at Bowie Films for the Space Sphere miniature shoot (see upper right).

Nice matte shot that works so well in scope.

Miniature set with actors doubled in later.  Incidentally, as good as the film is, actor Lionel Jeffries hams it up so much he drove me up the wall!
I know there's a good story behind this photo of Ray at Bowie Films.  I think I got it from effects man Dennis Lowe but I can't recall the anecdote

According to one of Ray's books, this shaft was made of cardboard.

Another glimpse inside the Bowie studio while FIRST MEN IN THE MOON was underway.  I think that's director Nathan Juran with the hat on in the background.

Miniature set with sodium process matted in actors.

More of the same, with beam of light added later as a separate optical element.

I rather liked this shot, and after seeing it years ago on tvand on VHS in a dreadful full screen print, it was great to see it in all it's CinemaScope glory on DVD.
The Selenites and the groovy Selenite Moon Pad.
I remember seeing this too on the cinema screen, probably around 1970 or so, doubled with the truly awful PREHISTORIC WOMEN - a laughable low cost, stage bound opus with Martine Beswick and a fake rubber white Rhino on wheels!  Anyway, ONE MILLION YEARS BC (1966) was a considerably more polished affair with spectacular stop motion, spectacular leading lady and more!

Once again, Bowie Films were enlisted to provide the miniatures and matte shots as well as a pretty impressive, though frugal, prologue.  Bob Cuff painted the few mattes with Ray Caple.  Back in the early 80's my brother and I had a memorable session whereby we played the VHS of this one with the sound turned off, along with audio cassette segments of dialogue from other shows and nearly split our sides laughing.  I still recall one part with caveman John Richardson muttering something in anger to another cavedude "Ugh ugh", to which we 'dubbed' over Charles Napier's immortal line from THE BLUES BROTHERS "You're gonna look kinda funny trying to eat corn on the cob....with no fucken teeth".  Still cracks me up... though you really had to be there.  Ahhh, the 80's.

The first Harryhausen film I saw in the cinema, VALLEY OF GWANGI (1969) was a picture Ray's mentor, Willis O'Brien, had tried unsuccessfully to get off the ground back in the late 40's.  This hasn't aged well and is somewhat pedestrian in pacing and lackluster in characterisation.  Seeing as he was based at Shepperton Studios working on the animation, for the non monster effects work Ray engaged resident matte artist Gerald Larn to paint this initial view of the hidden valley (before and after above).  I spoke with Gerald some time ago about it and he had happy recollections of the assignment, though, like me, felt the film really could have benefitted from more matte shots for the lengthy prehistoric valley segment.
For this view, artist Doug Ferris and optical cameraman John Grant extended the number of spectators with multiple split screens replicating the crowd and enhanced the stadium slightly with minor matte art.
Now this shot at the end I really admired.  A superb match up of location church and burning miniature carefully matted atop, with impressive results.  Excellent line up, light match and perspective. 
Probably my favourite among Ray's films is THE GOLDEN VOYAGE OF SINBAD (1973). For me it all just works a treat.  This wonderful establishing shot is one of the best fx shots from all the Harryhausen shows and is a relatively simple yet sublimely well executed in camera foreground matte painting by the great Emilio Ruiz del Rio.

The maestro, Emilio Ruiz on location in Spain at work on the matte painting.  Emilio's preferred method was to paint directly onto thin sheet metal or aluminum, while taking careful note of the time of day the intended shot would occur (sometimes days later) and paint a precise match in hue, tone, shadow and light.  I've written often about Ruiz and should do a blog about him as I have a mountain of material.  The man was a of the best in the field.

Emilio at work on a second matte shot for THE GOLDEN VOYAGE OF SINBAD, this one depicting the town and both sides of the harbour.  Note the completed matte art carefully positioned and aligned on steel supports with the effect being photographed entirely 'in camera' as a first generation composite.

Before and after of the Emilio Ruiz matte shot.  Sadly, most - if not all - of Emilio's beautiful pieces were thrown into the trash once the given film was complete, with no thought as to the creative value further down the track.
Some detail from the above matte painting.

GOLDEN VOYAGE's effects art direction is as good as it gets on these shows.  Some very atmospheric set ups, many of which are entirely miniature as this one.  The actors performed in front of a large blue screen, with excellent compositing.
Spanish craftsman Francisco Prosper's elaborate miniature exterior to the temple.
Lighting Cameraman Ted Moore confers with Ray about shooting Prosper's miniature.

Steps of the blue screen travelling matte process used to 'drop' the actors into Francisco Prosper's miniature set.
Miniature detail.
Actual scenic plate with miniature figurehead matted in.

Miniature figures and structures matted into Spanish location shoot.
Something I just loved about GOLDEN VOYAGE was the entire Fountain of Destiny notion and the set itself.  It took some years of repeat 16mm viewings to realise it was entirely miniature, with huge amounts of blue screen work used to add it the actors - and seemlessly at that.  In Ray's An Animated Life he describes the miniature set:  "The set was huge.  The monoliths were 32 inches high and the fountain was constantly maintained at a height of 51 inches.  The rock background was 15 feet high and the whole thing was built on a platform 32 inches off the ground to allow access to the special pumps installed to supply the water to the fountain"

The Fountain of Destiny

More complex opticals as Tom Baker calls upon the ole' invisibility trick.  If he can't see me, surely he can't kill me?  Think again Dr Who!

The one sheet is terrific (don't you just miss the days of real movie promotion?) - the film unfortunately is anything but terrific.  Even Ray's animation is tired and flat.  The effects shots are lacking in imagination, grainy,  poorly photographed and lit.  Jane Seymour is something else though.

Easily the weakest of the Harryhausen-Schneer collaborations, SINBAD AND THE EYE OF THE TIGER (1977) was an overlong, tedious affair that was not a patch on the other SINBADS, nor their other shows.  With this shot above, I've always been of the opinion that it's an in camera foreground miniature though somewhere I read that it's possibly not?

An actual location in Avila, Spain (main walls and turrets) has been augmented with an additional miniature above and beyond to broaden the setting.

The castle of Madam Zenobia (sounds like a dominatrix) is a small 16 inch miniature matted atop an area of coastline off Almeria with the actors approaching.  Moon and mist are additional elements added optically later.
Complex miniature-animation-blue screen and optical combination all in one.

A second view of Zenobia's palace with different sky added.

Ray's final feature, CLASH OF THE TITANS (1981) was at least a bit better than the aforementioned effort, though not especially memorable.  I saw it back in the day and can't recall a thing about it aside from an outstanding tidal wave, some good Pegasus stop motion..... and, well.... that's about it.  The damned 'cute' owl robot character thing totally annoyed me and was redundant.  Pictured here with Ray we can see the detailed Greek city and painted backing just beyond.

Excellent work here of the tidal wave with the lower right frame especially good in terms of rotoscope work, which surprised me as the Van der Veer optical house did the work and similar shots the year before for the big budget turkey METEOR were painfully bad... in fact I believe Frank was fired from that show as a result... Perhaps it was Roy Field who put together these shots? ... though as usual, I digress.

Although a matte painter by trade, Pinewood's Cliff Culley would supervise all of the miniature work on CLASH OF THE TITANS.  Cliff was assisted by Leigh Took, with Cliff's son Neil photographing the models.

Detail from the temple miniature.

Let her rip!  I heard from Leigh Took that this shoot didn't exactly go according to plan.  Apparently during slack periods one of the crew members would climb up into the empty dump tank and have a sleep.  Well comes action day and now vacated tank is filled up, high speed cameras roll - action.... all looks great.  Perfect demolition of pre-scored columns etc.  Well, the next day while viewing the rushes the powers that be were stunned to see a giant chocolate candy wrapper gracefully floating through the deluge in slow motion.  I've heard of product placement but this is ridiculous.  Needless to say, a rebuild and re-shoot was on the cards.
The final shots, and they look swell.  Very nice doubled in extras running for their lives.
Cameraman Neil Culley photographs the deluge.
Composite shots from CLASH OF TITANS where I understand models were used rather than artwork.  Brian Smithies worked on these with Cliff Culley.
Another Cliff Culley & Leigh Took  matte composite.

Either matted art or miniature - with mist overlay.

A delightfully candid photograph taken in 2000 of Ray in the back garden of Charles and Shirley Schneer, with close friend Arnold Kunert and, at right, long time friend and producer Charles H.Schneer.  Charles and Ray would live right around the corner from one another for decades in near identical homes by exterior appearance - having been constructed at the same time, though with markedly different interior decor.  Ray's home was beautiful but somewhat somber featuring period decor whereas Charles interior had brightly painted walls and contemporary furnishings.  Arnold, who has been very supportive of my trick shot blogging for some time  was kind enough to share several photos of Ray with me for my blog and had this to say:  "My wife took the photo of the three of us in Charles' London garden.  Up to that time I had only ever spoken to Charles on the phone.  When Ray introduced us, Charles shook my hand and said "You did what I tried to do for more than twenty years - to get Ray some Oscar recognition.  I thank you."  Naturally I was thrilled by Charles' comment." 
Ray with some of the contemporary art featured in Charles Schneer's backyard.  The look of shock on Ray's face was Arnold Kunert's suggestion to liven up the photograph.  Personally I'd have taken a few shots as if Ray was animating that monstrosity, with his usual look of deep concentration in trying to get the take in one and stay on schedule.  Arnold told me this is a particular favourite among his photos of Ray, and I thank him for sharing these personal photographs with me.

Former ILM visual effects artist Doug Chiang is seen here flanked by two recently departed masters from the realms of fantasy cinema, the late Ralph McQuarrie at left and of course Ray at right.  This picture was taken by Arnold's wife Marlene at George Lucas' Skywalker Ranch in July 2000

Two lifelong pals and both Ray's:  Bradbury and Harryhausen.  Thanks RH.... we've loved every minute of it!             Rest in Peace.   *photo courtesy of Arnold Kunert  


  1. That’s perfecto Señor Cook. Many thanks for assembling that wonderful tribute to Ray Harryhausen, probably the most venerated VFX artist on Film History.
    I will add a link from my Blog.

  2. That’s perfecto Señor Cook. Many thanks for assembling that wonderful tribute to Ray Harryhausen, probably the most venerated VFX artist on Film History.
    I will add a link from my Blog.

  3. You did it again, Peter. I have tears in my eyes reading your wonderful tribute. Thank you!
    And thank you Ray, for letting us see the world through kids eyes and making us believe in fairy tales.

  4. Again I can only exclaim teuere Gott … how do you get all of those rare photos and obscure info? We all knew when Ray said he couldn't travel any more that the final countdown had begun. For a man of his generation 92 is a very good run but wasn't ready for him to go. So many people got into films due to his work and not just effects people.

    His career (which we all envied was an aberration. Producer Charles Schneer must get a lot of credit for this. It's hard for us to grasp but the Harryhausen/Schneer films, which were the epitome of lavish, anything is possible, and endless, stunning visual effects film making were actually very tightly-budgeted films. The producing of them was the equivalent of the old juggles spinning plates balanced on sticks … the trick was keeping them spinning enough not to drop. So Schneer often was late with the crew's as on JASON AND THE ARGONAUTS because his funding was slow incoming in.

    They were almost all (THE THREE WORLDS OF GULLIVER was a bit too "kiddie-film" in its style and SINBAD AND THE EYE OF THE TIGER was a total mess but both had some fun moments) solidly-constructed films that respected the audience's intelligent and the source materials. Schneer and Harryhausen were very lucky to have had fine journeyman directors such as Don Chaffey and Nathan Juran. If you doubt their skills look at the last two films, directed by Sam Wanamaker and Desmond Davis, and tell me the others were mere hacks. For the most part the scripting was considerably better than just about any other fantasy films of the time.

    As to technical notes … well the Mike Hankin books are a pretty good start.

  5. Hi Spencer

    Thanks for that. I couldn't agree more on your comments, especially those last two below par 'pedestrian' films.
    I've not seen the other two Hankin books, but the Volume 3 tome is a gem.... it's everything a fan could ever ask for, and credit should also go to fellow VFX guy Ernie Farino for alot of work there.


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  7. Hi Peter:

    I could really use an edit function on my post. Believe it or not I did try to proofread it but … well … you know. Yep, Ernie deserves kudos but Mike Hankin's name is the one on the book. I'm eagerly awaiting delivery on volume 1; the last of the three to be published. The anecdote about JASON AND THE ARGONAUTS came from Dave Gregory who was fairly close to the late Don Chaffey.

    I did rant a bit more about Ray's problems on CLASH OF THE TITANS on the Classic Horror Films Boards. I feel a bit sheepish in that I was overhearing stuff that Ray didn't want to air publicly. He was amazingly politic in his speech even in private. Of the stuff that doesn't get written-up were joking references by Jim Danforth about how fast an animator Ray was. Hyperbole along the lines of, "Ray animates in real time" and "if he was any faster he'd have to film it with a high-speed (slow-motion) camera." This is from a guy (Danfoth) who was pretty fast himself. After the aggravations Danforth had on CAVEMAN Jim said he found CLASH OF THE TITANS a very pleasant experience. Ray (a very good diplomat in his way, kept Steve Archer and Jim Danforth protected from the "political" hassles. Now if the damned background footage had been shot properly … OY! The Medusa sequence was properly photographed (all footage intended for the back projection process should be exposed for a "beefy" negative … at least 1/2 to 3/4 stops over-exposed) and you can really tell the difference.

    For a brief while Ray had visions of being the Charles Schneer to Jim Danforth and after his massive vindication with CLASH OF THE TITANS it seemed possible but idiot management will always win out.

    Hell, idiot management ruined digital for everyone in that field. I swear what should've made effects more fun ("No more matte dirt!!" You cannot imagine what that meant to an optical effects guy) turned the field into a 70+ hours a week, sweat shop which is now dominated by $4 an hour workers and free interns (I'm not kidding) in India and China.

    My goodness … this has become a bitter rant, hasn't it? Anyway check out THE ART OF RAY HARRYHAUSEN since Ray's commentaries are not the endless rehash of previous stories and you can see how he was the defacto art director on his films.

  8. A wonderful tribute. Not that I'd imagine anything less from you...

    As a child growing up in Derbyshire, I was always mad for the movies and determined that I'd work in them one day. The first book I ever bought with my own pocket money was the huge “A Pictorial History of the Talkies” (I finally found the – Silent, and long out of print - companion volume in a charity shop a couple of years ago...).

    There were two movies that I saw on tv as a small boy that particularly obsessed me: “War of the Worlds” and “Jason and the Argonauts”. Ray Harryhausen's was the first Behind The Camera name I knew.

    (And it's true what you say about mad double bills: I have a (“borrowed” from the Derby ABC display board...I'm not proud of it...) poster from the 1973 re-release of “Seventh Voyage of Sinbad”. Paired with the Terence Hill / Bud Spencer comedy “Watch Out – We're Mad!”.)

    When I was 11 I found an address for him and wrote the only fan letter I've ever written. I was rewarded with a handwritten note (on very cool headed notepaper) and a handful of eight by tens from his forthcoming “Golden Voyage of Sinbad”.

    Fast forward to the early nineties...

    As a member of the management committee of Derby's council-funded arthouse cinema, I persuaded the rest of the board to book Mr Harryhausen to do his talk. Naturally, I used the excuse to take Ray and his wife to dinner beforehand.

    He (and Diana) were as thoroughly pleasant as everyone has ever said. “I wrote to you when I was 11!” I said. “Do you have any idea how many kids wrote to me when they were 11?” he laughed.

    (It's true. An acquaintance (who made a career in visual effects) had sent Mr Harryhausen a VHS showreel as a child in the 80's. His reward was a lengthy 'phone call (Mother: “Johnny! There's an American on the phone for you! What have you been up to?!”) filled with encouragement and advice.)

    His talk, of course, was wonderful – and played to standing room only.

    I'm very glad to see that he lived long enough to see his status secured. It's a sadly common story to hear of the Giant of Cinema who was forgotten in their own lifetime and was only revered years after their death.

    Even though 92 is a good innings in anyone's book, it still caught me by surprise. Like a piece of my childhood gone.

    Nowadays, although I write for a living, I have an interest in another cinema (The Ritz, Belper). We're screening “Jason and the Argonauts” as the centrepiece of a Ray Harryhausen tribute on June 23rd.

    I suspect it'll be another full house for the Big Man.

    (P.S: While agreeing with the consensus over "Eye of the Tiger", I have a soft spot for it. One of my oldest friends in the business - an actor for whom it's a running joke that he never survives to the end credits - is of Patrick Wayne's unluckiest comrade in it. First of all he gets poisoned. Then wounded by a demon. Finally squashed by a walrus. Some gig.)

  9. Hi Andy

    I always enjoys your letters. Note, the above "deleted by blog administrator" makes it look as if you've hurled abuse at poor ole' NZPete...but, as you informed me, was just a repeat of this comment due to computer reboot.

    I'm so envious of you having met and known Ray. Kudos too my friend for keeping a revival house still operational (digital or 35mm?) in this day and age.

    I can think of a lot less worthy second bill matinee shows than the still highly enjoyable WATCH OUT WE'RE MAD (their best in my book, with the catchiest theme song by Oliver Onions(!) as you'd ever hear)

    EYE OF THE TIGER was lousy in my book. Not just as a form of severely overlong kids entertainment, but a muddier, washed out more mess of celluloid I've rarely seen - and I mean that from a 'print' point of view. Even later tv and video presentations looked shite (never bothered with it on DVD) Maybe BluRay will breath some life back into it. GOLDEN VOYAGE by comparison just looked sensational on the big screen and had always maintained that polished look. Even Ray's sometimes faulty colour mismatch issues which litter other shows are pretty much absent from GOLDEN. The Dynamation shots all look so clean, with nowhere near the grain issues with the process backgrounds.

    I saw it at a very impressionable age, and, like so many of us, it's "those" films we saw back in the day which hooked us and remain fresh to this day. I'm thinking stuff like DIAMONDS ARE FOREVER, TORA TORA TORA, MUNSTER GO HOME, A DAY AT THE RACES and THE LOVE BUG which had a major impact on me at the time, and have remained all time faves (among many others)...... though, as usual, I digress.


  10. At The Ritz we use film and digital. Increasingly, new releases simply aren't available on film, and the logistics can mean, also, that low-budget indy's can gain distribution where they were priced out before.

    It's easy to get nostalgic about celluloid, but we've had some horrors: The ancient print of Lean's "Oliver Twist" that fell apart four times during its screening. The knackered copy of "The Third Man" that we never managed to finish. The "archive print" of "Kes" that was missing a good minute from the beginning and end of each reel...

    Of course, there have been goodies, too. We had a talk from Stanley Kubrick's onetime Sound Editor (who lives locally). The Kubrick Estate kindly loaned us his personal print of "The Shining" for the evening. Imagine the frisson when we realised it was a previously unseen version, with entirely new scenes!

    You (or your Son) may be interested to see how we do things in Derbyshire. This link ( ) is to a short Mpeg4 of our Projectionist / Lead Clarinettist Paul in one of the short educational fillers we make with the House Camcorder and subject our long-suffering Audiences to from time to time.

  11. I just was wondering if anyone can identify the miniature tower under construction in the shot in Les Bowie's studio. It's the photo just under the shot of the cavorite sphere traveling through the Selinite air shaft to the surface and just above the photos of Cavor (Lionel Jeffries) climbing the steps for his audience with "the Grand Selinite."

    I thought initially it was the tower from castle Frankenstein from the Hammer film THE EVIL OF FRANKENSTEIN but that tower has straight sides in the film. It could be the miniature used for the up angles of the tower and the spread sides may be a bit of forced perspective. Still Peter … where the hell do you get these shots?

  12. Hi Spencer

    Well I too was wondering about that. Oddly, just the other night I was watching the excellent 1956 version of Orwell's 1984 and it had strikingly similar towers - both as miniature (by George Blackwell)in aerial shots, and as matte art (unknown) in at least one shot.

    As for the material - I do have a large collection of stuff of my own, though many rare items such as FX showreels and high quality photos I've had sent to me by VERY friendly and helpful people in the industry (to whom I'm seriously indebted). Some pics I "borrow" from books or I find when trawling the net.

    I'm always open for new stuff, and sadly, many promises of great imagery just never materialises, such as photos of old Fred Sersen masonite matte paintings from THE RAZOR'S EDGE, still in the care of his family, as well as Emil Kosa paintings from JOURNEY TO CENTRE OF EARTH and SOUTH PACIFIC among others which still exist. I've just recently been in touch with the family of former Percy Day matte protege Ivor Beddoes (THE RED SHOES) who tell me they still have some of his original mattes dating back to the early 50's.

    I was very happy to recieve that long lost Ellenshaw matte from IN SEARCH OF THE CASTAWAYS which I featured in my previous blog. Since then another long lost matte of Peter's has shown up, from ROBIN HOOD though I just have a small 'cellphone' type picture of it.


  13. Gosh, I loved those films but - believe it or not - I never knew the name of the artist behind them! I am an '80s kid, mind, and from communist Poland.. Which is probably how I got to be exposed to Ray's amazing work (we did not get new movies - only "oldies and goodies":). I still remember the cyclope form “The 7th Voyage of Sinbad” or the fight scene with skeletons from “Jason and the Argonauts”. I have to admit I only started searching for articles about Mr. Harryhausen after his passing (BTW, isn’t it such a shame that often only after someone great passes that people sit up and notice?), so thank you for listing the books and sharing all the amazing photos!
    As an SFX enthusiast and an amateur “tinker”, and now that I live in the UK, I started playing with doing 6 second Vines (short videos) and wanted to do stop-motion animation on miniature models, but am a bit lost on best materials to use. I have found this UK supplier not far from me: – has anyone used them before or can recommend good, inexpensive providers of tools/materials? Many thanks!

  14. Hi SFX Fan from Poland (I went there in 2008, to a town called Guben...half of it's in Germany and the other half in Poland!!)...

    The best source of info on stop motion practices, parts and everything you'd ever need is the web forum

    The site used to have a vast and healthy matte painting thread, but when they re-vamped it a while back as some sort of 'social networking' thing all of the decade or worth of wonderful matte material (hundreds of pics and lots of real pro's chipping in) was all thrown out.

    Another great blog on stop motion is one run by a friend of mine which you can click on above as McTodd animates in my own Essential Links.


  15. A great article indeed! Ray and I were close friends for over 30 years and we spent alot of time together. Loved staying at his home in Kensington, we always had fun. A really amazing article.

    1. Hi Bruce

      Thanks for those comments. It's always interesting how some of these blogs of mine bring out all sorts of people connected to fellows such as Harryhausen and others in the field.


  16. Wonderful as always. When I was at IMAGE TRANSFORM we got the negative of 7th VOYAGE to reprint. The timers went nuts because they couldn't match the opticals with the straight footage. Then, on being returned to storage, the negative got stolen! I understand it was recovered, thank heavens.
    Mr. Harryhausen was a truly amazing man. Old as he was, I was stunned by the news he was gone. Well, he certainly left a legacy.

  17. I like Harryhausen and the practical effects. I have no words. Greetings from Spain.