News for Apr. 10, 2006

Special Effects Master Ray Harryhausen & Friends Visit Rafael Film Center

4/10/06, 6:13 pm EST - Xoanon

Celebriel attended Ray Harryhausen’s sold-out presentation, book signing, and screening of The 7th Voyage of Sinbad Saturday night at the Rafael Film Center in San Rafael, CA. Harryhausen, an energetic, youthful and still traveling 85, was joined onstage by producer Arnold Kunert and “younger generation” special effects masters Phil Tippett (founder of Tippett Studio) and Craig Barron (founder of Matte World Digital). Both Tippett and Barron have special effects credits longer than several arms, having started “a long time ago” in the galaxy of Industrial Light & Magic. Sinbad is the film that inspired Tippett to enter the industry.

This was Harryhausen’s fourth visit to the Rafael Film Center, where he is now almost a yearly regular. The visit gave him the opportunity to talk about his new book, The Art of Ray Harryhausen, co-authored with Tony Dalton and with a foreward by Peter Jackson. And it was a chance for the film center to celebrate its seventh anniversary with the screening of a beautifully restored print of Sinbad, which Harryhausen helped write and produce in addition to creating creatures like the Cyclops, skeleton, snake woman and dragon and animating them in stop motion. In the foreward, Peter Jackson notes The 7th Voyage of Sinbad “became my favourite of all Ray’s films. It’s right up there with Kong on my movie appreciation chart.”

Peter Jackson and Ray Harryhausen were both inspired to become filmmakers by King Kong, Harryhausen during its opening run in Los Angeles in 1933 and Jackson when he saw the film on television in Wellington in 1970. In the new book, Peter Jackson says of Harryhausen, “He has not lost his boyish excitement and sense of fun. We can talk about King Kong together like two thirteen-year-olds.”

One thing Peter Jackson’s King Kong didn’t have, Harryhausen noted, was Merion C. Cooper, saying of the producer of the 1933 Kong, “his point of view was real because he had lived the adventure; Carl Denham was based on him.”

Harryhausen also displayed the original skeleton model used in The 7th Voyage of Sinbad and showed its still working armature. He explained that this skeleton also appeared in Jason and the Argonauts (1963), where it was joined by six others, adding that the skeleton fight in Jason was the hardest sequence he’d ever had to animate, though the Hydra was also tricky because of the need to keep track of which way each of her seven heads was moving.

Harryhausen also showed a new six-minute stop motion film of Edgar Allen Poe’s The Pit and the Pendulum, made in Toronto with Mark Lougee of Celebrity Death Match as principal animator. Harryhausen was executive producer and Arnold Kunert producer. Harryhausen, always a fan of Poe, may extend the series of short films with The Black Cat and The Cask of Amontillado, showing Pit at the Toronto Film Festival to gain attention.

Before the film screening, Harryhausen talked about the techniques used in Sinbad, explaining that he wanted the creatures to seem real, not like an actor in a suit. That’s why, he says, “The Cyclops in the film continued to evolve….I didn’t want them to look like a man in a Cyclops suit, so I gave them a goat’s lower torso. Also, he made the Snake Woman very exotic, “the four arms meant she couldn’t be a woman in a suit.” The dragon’s fire, he explained, was created with a flamethrower and then double printed.

“We tried to make adventure films to take you out of the mundane world into a world of adventure,” says Harryhausen, summarizing the vision that inspired his many films. Hmmm, sounds like another well known, Kong-inspired filmmaker we could name.