Stop Motion Research on Ray Harryhausen and Animation Storyboard

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Through the inspiration and tutelage of King Kong animator Willis O’Brien, Ray Harryhausen used his knowledge of stop motion animation and creative thinking under a budget to create his most prolific style of animation.  Throughout his career, Harryhausen developed and mastered dynamation.

Dynamation being where Harryhausen took a prerecorded live action sequence, placed it in a projector, showed it on a thin screen, took a camera on the other side of the screen with a clay figure on that side, and went frame by frame through the live action sequence, all while moving the figure in stop motion. The entire process was to make the appearance of the clay figure seem like it was in that live action sequence. For its time, it was a very advanced technique, not only because of the new possibilities it opened up for fantasy cinema, but also the money and time it saved by not having to paint and create miniature towns for the stop motion figures to rampage through. Ray Harryhausen’s method of dynamation was well received for the almost life like interaction that it gave. An example being in the movie Jason and the Argonauts, during a scene where they fought Claymation skeletons. The clashing of the actors swords against the clay skeletons almost seemed real. During The Beast from 20 Thousand Fathoms as well, the creature in that movie was somehow able to pick up a policeman with its mouth and eat him. The interaction he created between live action and stop motion was new and innovative. The closest thing to it during his time was King Kong, but they used painted backgrounds and easily spotted mattes.

Speaking of mattes, something Harryhausen was prevalent in using was mattes. He used a glass pane with black paint to cover up parts of the foreground that the monster would be behind, and then played the same footage again, but this time covered up the area that would the monster would be in, which is everything but the foreground. This technique made creatures fit in well with their environments, one such being from The Seventh Voyage of Sinbad, with the flawless entrance of the cyclops coming out of a cave entrance. The matte for the mouth of the cave is barely noticeable when the cyclops passes by it. His mastery of mattes however would not be shown until 1981’s Clash of the Titans, during the Medusa fight. He created reflections of his stop motion figures in the shields of the actors. Besides the reflections, he was able to turn a man from being a living breathing person to a stone statue, all in the same scene as the reflection on the shield. Not only was the shield reflection innovative, but Harryhausen used it as an integral plot point in that fight. Using his own techniques to drive a story shows how advanced his dynamation was for its time.

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