Legendary film animator Ray Harryhausen was presented with a lifetime achievement award at this summer’s Fantasia Film Festival. The film animator was on hand to receive the award, sign autographs and answer questions from fans. The event, which was held July 24 at Concordia University’s H-110 theatre, also included a screening of several of Harryhausen’s films.
Harryhausen is best known for using a technique called “stop-motion animation” for films such as Jason and the Argonauts (1963), and Clash of the Titans (1981). Stop-motion animation is a slow and painstaking technique where models are filmed one frame at a time. The technique allowed Harryhausen to blend animated models of mythological creatures with real live actors.
At 85, Harryhausen appeared vibrant, charming the audience with remarks on today’s industry. “Recent pictures are very dynamic. You have to have an explosion every five minutes. We couldn’t do that with Greek Mythology.” He also shared his inspiration on developing the animation model of Medusa for Clash of the Titans: “Not that I feel Joan Crawford is a Medusa, but she had that bone structure and I started out [designing the character] with those kind of features.”
Harryhausen’s presence instigated several warm ovations from the audience.
“I wanted to be Ray Harryhausen when I grew up,” said fan and award-winning comic book artist Rick Trembles. Trembles recounted meeting Harryhausen the day before at a DVD signing. “It was incredible because he pulled out one of the skeletons from 7th Voyage of Sinbad and Jason and the Argonauts. The actual animation model, he pulled it out of a toy coffin and he was posing it around like he does when he animates it…. He gave me permission to move one of the limbs. So I actually bent the arm and I was going around all day asking people if they wanted to touch my finger, because I touched a piece of film magic history.”
Alexandra Nakelski, who traveled from New York to meet Harryhausen, had wanted to meet the man since seeing Mysterious Island as a young girl. “I told him how long I wanted to meet him. He’s a very patient and kind man, and if you see his Early Years [DVD] Collection you’ll get to see his commentary on it. And you’ll get to see that not only is his art wonderful, but he is just a wonderful kind man.”
When asked about the type of patience it takes to do stop-motion animation, Harryhausen’s answer was simple. “It takes a lot of patience,” he said smiling. He then gestured playfully with his hands above his head, “I pulled all my hair out.”
Ray Harryhausen’s Early Years Collection has just been released on amazon.ca. The DVD collection showcases his early stop motion animation films and contains tributes from the likes of James Cameron, Ray Bradbury, Tim Burton and others.