The Hobbit, Ray Harryhausen and Influence

What’s the connection?

Smaug in The Desolation of Smaug put me in mind of Ray Harryhausen, master of special effects who died earlier this year. Apparently the thirteen year old Harryhausen saw the 1933 King Kong, with stop-motion animation courtesy of pioneer, Willis H. O’Brien. Harryhausen was stunned and wanted to know how it was done and determinedly he found out, eventually leading to him working with O’Brien on Mighty Joe Young, and he just kept learning and innovating. Harryhausen, in turn, has been influential on numerous directors, including Desolation of Smaug director Peter Jackson.

From Harryhausen’s obituary in The Guardian:
“George Lucas and Steven Spielberg, James Cameron and Peter Jackson all cite his films as crucial antecedents for their work, and modern animators often slip homages to him into their films, like the Harryhausen piano in Tim Burton’s “Corpse Bride” and Harryhausen’s restaurant in the Pixar feature “Monsters, Inc.””

From his obituary in the LA Times:
“Ray Harryhausen pioneered stop-motion animation, creating classics such as “The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms”, and “The 7th Voyage of Sinbad”. Without his work, “there never would have been a “Star Wars” or a “Jurassic Park”, Steven Spielberg said.”
“I had seen some other fantasy films before, but none of them had the sort of awe that the Ray Harryhausen movies had,” [George] Lucas said in “The Harryhausen Chronicles,” a 1998 documentary written and directed by film critic and historian Richard Schickel.”
“Ray Harryhausen, the stop-motion animation legend whose work on “The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms”, “Jason and the Argonauts” and other science fiction and fantasy film classics made him a cult figure who inspired later generations of filmmakers and special-effects artists…”
“In the pre-computer-generated-imagery era in which he worked, Harryhausen used the painstaking process of making slight adjustments to the position of his three-dimensional, ball-and-socket-jointed scale models and then shooting them frame-by-frame to create the illusion of movement. Footage of his exotic beasts and creatures was later often combined with live action.”

And from Wikipedia:
“The BBC quoted Peter Lord of Aardman Animations, saying he was “a one-man industry and a one-man genre””… “They quoted Shaun of the Dead director Edgar Wright: “I loved every single frame of Ray Harryhausen’s work … He was the man who made me believe in monsters.””…”George Lucas said, “Without Ray Harryhausen, there would likely have been no Star Wars”. Terry Gilliam said, “What we do now digitally with computers, Ray did digitally long before but without computers. Only with his digits.” James Cameron also paid tribute by saying, “I think all of us who are practitioners in the arts of science fiction and fantasy movies now all feel that we’re standing on the shoulders of a giant. If not for Ray’s contribution to the collective dreamscape, we wouldn’t be who we are.””

Such influence inspires growth and creativity and creates its own outgrowth of the influenced and inspired. This is one of the many reasons I love watching films from the silent era on…seeing the expansion of technique and light and shadow across direction, portrayals of character, unfolding of story, editing, lighting, special effects, voice, music, silence and the use of new technology…in fact, and perhaps semi-random, one of the previews shown prior to Desolation of Smaug included a use of music with action that was totally ala Stanley Kubrick’s use of music in 2001: A Space Odyssey.

“The Road goes ever on and on
Down from the door where it began.
Now far ahead the Road has gone,
And I must follow, if I can,
Pursuing it with eager feet,
Until it joins some larger way
Where many paths and errands meet.
And whither then? I cannot say.”

J.R.R. Tolkien

The Ray Harryhausen Creature List


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