History of Visual Effects - Stop Motion

The past week has focused on two influential men in the visual effects industry: Willis O'Brien and Ray Harryhausen.

Willis O'Brien from Wikipedia:
O'Brien was hired by the Edison Company to produce several short films with a prehistoric theme, most notably The Dinosaur and the Missing Link: A Prehistoric Tragedy (1915) and the nineteen minute long The Ghost of Slumber Mountain (1918), the later of which helping to secure his position on The Lost World. For his early, short films O'Brien created his own characters out of clay, although for much of his feature career he would employ Richard and Marcel Delgado to create much more detailed stop-motion models (based on O'Brien's designs) with rubber skin built up over complex, articulated metal armatures.
O'Brien's first Hollywood feature was The Lost World (1925). Although his 1931 film Creation was never completed, it led to his most famous work, animating the dinosaurs and the famous giant ape in King Kong (1933), and its sequel Son of Kong (1933). He was chief technician for the epic The Last Days of Pompeii (1935). The film Mighty Joe Young (1949), on which O'Brien is credited as Technical Creator, won an Academy Award for Best Visual Effects in 1950. Credit for the award went to the films producers, RKO Productions, but O'Brien was also awarded a statue. O'Brien's protege (and successor), Ray Harryhausen, worked alongside O'Brien on this film, and by some accounts Harryhausen did the majority of the animation. Rather than stop motion, he even did the real special effects on Orson Wells's American classic Citizen Kane.
Later movies with special effects by Willis O'Brien included The Animal World (US 1956, in collaboration with Harryhausen), The Black Scorpion (US 1957) and Behemoth, the Sea Monster (UK 1959, US release entitled The Giant Behemoth). Although O'Brien is widely hailed as an animation pioneer, in his later years he struggled to find work. On the 1960 remake of The Lost World, O'Brien was hired as the effects technician, but was disappointed that producer Irwin Allen opted for live lizards instead of stop-motion animation for the dinosaurs. One of his story ideas was used in Ishiro Honda's King Kong vs. Godzilla (1962). Shortly before his death, he animated a brief scene in It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World (1963), featuring some characters dangling from a fire escape. He died soon after that, leaving people disappointed about the passing.
The 1969 film The Valley of Gwangi, completed by Harryhausen seven years after O'Brien's death, was based on an idea he had spent years trying to bring to the screen. O'Brien's wrote the script for an earlier version of this story, a film released as The Beast of Hollow Mountain (US 1956) but O'Brien did not handle the effects.

Ray Harryhausen from Wikipedia:
Before the advent of computers for camera motion control and CGI, movies used a variety of approaches to achieve animated special effects. One approach was stop-motion animation which used realistic miniature models (more accurately called model animation), used for the first time in a feature film in The Lost World (1925), and most famously in King Kong (1933).
The work of pioneer model animator Willis O'Brien in King Kong inspired Harryhausen to work in this unique field, almost single-handedly keeping the technique alive for three decades. O'Brien's career floundered for most of his life—most of his cherished projects were never realized—but Harryhausen was the right person at the right time, and achieved considerable success.
Harryhausen draws a distinction between films that combine special effects animation with live action and films that are completely animated such as the films of Tim Burton, Nick Park, Henry Selick, Ivo Caprino, Ladislav Starevich and many others (including his own fairy tale shorts) which he sees as pure "puppet films", and which are more accurately (and traditionally) called "puppet animation".
In Harryhausen's films, model animated characters interact with, and are a part of, the live action world, with the idea that they will cease to call attention to themselves as "animation", which is different from the more obviously "cartoony" and stylized approach in movies like Chicken Run and The Nightmare Before Christmas, etc.
Springing from O'Brien's groundbreaking work, Harryhausen continued bringing stop-motion into the realm of live action movies, keeping alive and refining the techniques created by O'Brien that he had first developed as early as 1917. Harryhausen's last film was Clash of the Titans, produced in the early 1980s. Recently, he was involved in producing colorized DVD versions of three of his classic black and white films (20 Million Miles to Earth, Earth vs. the Flying Saucers, and It Came from Beneath the Sea) and a film from the producer of the original King Kong (She).

Both have had an indisputable impact on the animation industry and are memorialized today as pioneers of their art.

No comments: