Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Miscellaneous: An Evening With Ray Harryhausen

Living legends don’t make it to my neck of the woods all that often. Particularly those whose work I’ve enjoyed my entire life. So when stop-motion animator/visual effects designer extraordinaire Ray Harryhausen stopped by Seattle’s Science Fiction Museum and Hall of Fame, I wasn’t about to miss it. The man’s name is synonymous with the phrase ‘movie magic.’ Just look at the films he’s made. A sampling of clips, heavy on the monsters, kicked off the evening.

Arnold Kunert, who produced the recent DVD collection of Harryhausen’s early films, interviewed him about his new book before taking questions. Harryhausen spoke about the profound impact the original King Kong had on him (“If I hadn’t seen that movie, I probably would have become a plumber”). Kong’s creator Willis O’Brien eventually became his mentor. Harryhausen praised Peter Jackson’s “interpretation” of the story – although he did say that ninety minutes is a long time to wait for your first glimpse of the big ape.

He reminisced about hanging out in Clifton’s Cafeteria with longtime friends Ray Bradbury and Forrest J. Ackerman. (“People thought we were nuts, talking about space travel in 1938.”) He expressed his pleasure at the recent resurgence of stop-motion while taking pains to explain the difference between “puppet movies” like The Corpse Bride and Wallace & Gromit (“wonderful films”) and his style of work, in which animated characters interact with real ones.

Both of those “puppet movies” feature tributes to Harryhausen. Kunert told of another one, after an early screening of Jurassic Park. That film’s effects designer Stan Winston, on meeting Harryhausen for the first time, told him, “Those are your monsters up there, Ray.” Kunert also brought word of a new project: a short film executive produced by Harryhausen based on Poe’s ‘The Pit and the Pendulum.’ Featuring stop-motion and limited CG support, it will be playing at festivals this fall.

The evening ended, much too soon, with Harryhausen displaying the original model of the fighting skeleton used in The Seventh Voyage of Sinbad and Jason and the Argonauts.

If you need further proof of Harryhausen’s living legend status, how many other 86-year-olds are asked to sign a woman’s breast? Almost as impressive: the woman in question gave Harryhausen enough room to write his full name.