Tuesday, May 07, 2013

Ray Harryhausen (June 29, 1920 - May 7, 2013)

He was a special effects giant, and and inspiration to so many, myself included. His movies, and the creatures that starred in them, enriched my childhood, and continue to enrich my adult life.

A few years back I wrote a post about Ray Harryhausen and his work for my (now much neglected) companion blog for kids. In that post I discussed the two lessons that Ray's movies taught me.

"The first thing I learned is that if you are going to tell stories using non-existent creatures in them, it's incredibly important to make them seem real. You need to convince the reader that these are living, breathing creatures with their own personalities and behaviors, that live in their own habitats and behave in a manner that suggests that they are interacting with their world in a believable way. Ray learned this from another stop-motion animator named Willis O'Brien who was responsible for the special effects in the original (and best) "King Kong" (1933). In "King Kong" there is a famous scene in which Kong fights an allosaurus. O'Brien could have just had the two creatures grapple with each other and still impressed people, but he went an extra step. Not only does Kong use wrestling and boxing moves to fight the dinosaur, but my favorite detail is the way the allosaurus swishes its tail back and forth when it's getting ready to pounce. O'Brien made his stop-motion puppets characters and actors, something Ray Harryhausen did as well. My favorite detail of Ray Harryhausen's is in "20 Million Miles to Earth" (1957).  It's a scene where someone turns on a light and disturbs the baby alien Ymir, who blinks and starts rubbing his eyes at the brightness of the light. This detail makes the Ymir seem even more like a living creature reacting with its environment.

The second thing I learned from Ray Harryhausen is that your work and your play don't have to be two different things. As a writer, or any kind of artist, your workday never really ends. Even if you are not actively writing, or drawing, or playing music, you are thinking about it, generating ideas, and reading, watching and encountering things that might inspire your next big idea. I write about the things that I enjoy when I'm not working, and enjoy the sorts of things I write about when I am."

You can read the entire post here.

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