My day with Ray...

Discussion in 'Archived Threads 2001-2004' started by Peter Apruzzese, Jun 10, 2002.

  1. Peter Apruzzese

    Peter Apruzzese Producer

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    ... Harryhausen, that is.

    Ever meet someone you really admire? Someone who, as a movie fan, you’d consider a “hero,” especially if you discovered his or her work as a child? For myself, and many people in my age bracket, one of those heroes is Ray Harryhausen, the creator of the special visual effects for many films, among them THE SEVENTH VOYAGE OF SINBAD, TWENTY MILLION MILES TO EARTH, MYSTERIOUS ISLAND, CLASH OF THE TITANS, FIRST MEN IN THE MOON and JASON AND THE ARGONAUTS.

    I had a chance to spend some time with Mr. Harryhausen this past weekend, as he was one of the honorees at the third annual Lake Placid Film Forum. He attended the festival to sit on a discussion panel along with Guillermo Del Toro (the director of BLADE II & THE DEVIL’S BACKBONE) and a longtime admirer of his. I was at the festival as a volunteer projectionist (a good friend of mine is the Chairman of the Board of the festival) and to attend the effects discussion.

    After a 35mm screening of JASON AND THE ARGONAUTS (a very nice print from the Columbia vault), there was a short on-stage Q & A between Harryhausen and Del Toro, where Ray related many of the famous stories about the creation of his films. He also wowed the crowd when he brought out an original model of one of the skeletons from JASON and the Medusa from CLASH OF THE TITANS.

    Next up was the small discussion panel (about 50 people), once again moderated by Del Toro (a very nice guy not at all like the image you’d have of him from his films). Again, many familiar stories about the creation of his films and career were told. Audience questions veered off the path from the merely technical to more mundane, yet interesting, topics. My favorite quote of the afternoon (when asked what he thought of the Dino Delaurentiis remake of KING KONG: “The only thing I can say is that I have nothing to say,” said with a big grin on his face.

    Afterwards, however, is where things took a turn for the great. I kind of hovered around the table, listening to him talk – to everybody! – and sign things. Finally it was my turn (last). He autographed my poster of FIRST MEN IN THE MOON, which I asked him to personalize with my son’s name. A discussion arose between the two of us about my son and his interest in the films. I told him that, ever since the age of two (he’s seven now), he’s seen most of them with me, either on video or on a theater screen. Ray took delight in knowing that the newer generations still love and admire his work. I also mentioned that my son’s love of music came about from listening to the Bernard Herrmann soundtracks from the films (a favorite game of ours used to be asking him to identify what scene the music was from). We said our goodbyes and I thought that was that.

    Wrong!

    Next day, I’m walking through the lobby of the hotel on my way to the theater to work the morning’s shows. Who do I see sitting there? (You get one guess) I steeled myself the courage to go over and say hello again as I crossed the lobby. Once there, I shook his hand and said how much I had enjoyed the events of the previous day. He thanked me for coming and invited me to sit down for a second (I could have died right then and there!). I asked him what he was waiting for, he explained there was a film crew from a TV station that wanted to interview him, and they were late. So we had a chance to have a very leisurely chat about his time in Lake Placid and where he was off to next. We did, briefly, discuss some modern effects films, but it was all I could do to resist temptation to continue to pepper him with questions about his films; questions he has, no doubt, answered a million times. Shortly, the crew arrived and he was off to do his piece with them, but not until he, again, thanked me for coming to the show!

    Some interesting insights gleaned from our conversation:

    1. 1. He loved the climactic dinosaur fight in JURASSIC PARK.

      2. Thought STARSHIP TROOPERS had a great combo of effects techniques – too violent, though.

      3. Has nothing but praise for Phil Tippett’s work.

      4. Thought “Walking with Dinosaurs” was a wonderful documentary with great animation.

      5. Thinks one CGI problem is that most effects are done by committee, not by a single artist: “Skeleton by one guy, skin by another, hair by another, clothes by another, movement by another.” Says that while most of today’s effects are beautiful optically, many of the creatures lack “personality”.

      6. Loves the computer-assisted help today’s effects artisans get for optical composites.

      7. Knows all about current techniques of effects creation and spends time at ILM whenever in California.

      8. Lots of the early models were cannibalized to make others.

      9. [This one was stunning!] Most of his sequences were done with only one take – they were almost never tested and then reshot. Most tests were done for color balance only and not for the animation.

      10. Used nothing other than instinct and a rough idea in his head about how a creature was going to move within a sequence. That accounts for the “performance” aspect of many of his best monsters and points out a major thing lacking with some modern creature efforts.

      11. FIRST MEN IN THE MOON couldn’t use his standard miniature rear-projection due to being filmed in Panavision, which had been insisted on by Columbia. He had to use traditional traveling mattes for the majority of it.

      12. He just signed a deal to write a book – due next year – that will cover his career and techniques. He promised it would go into far more detail than the Film Fantasy Scrapbook.[/list=1]

      There’s not much more I can say about the events of the weekend, other than that it was amazing to meet somebody who I’ve idolized for so many years. He was so down-to-earth and genuinely friendly, that he made me (and everyone else) feel at ease right away. It was beyond cool getting a chance to spend some time with Ray Harryhausen – it’s something I’ll treasure forever.
     
  2. Chuck Mayer

    Chuck Mayer Lead Actor

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    Peter,
    Great story, great weekend, and a very hearty THANK YOU for sharing the experience with the rest of us!
    Thank you,
    Chuck [​IMG]
     
  3. MickeS

    MickeS Producer

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    Peter, that's a great story. I love Harryhausen's work, not because it looks real, but because it FEELS real. The creatures and other effects may move a little jerky, but they have a presence, weight and personality that almost every other effects artist (whether they work with CGI or models, or both) has failed to capture.

    It would be cool to see what he could do with CGI. has he ventured into that area, or is he not interested in doing more than observing when it comes to that?

    /Mike
     
  4. Peter Apruzzese

    Peter Apruzzese Producer

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    He's certainly seen CGI up close (at his ILM visits, if not at other demonstrations) and thinks it's a wonderful tool. He'd like to see more personality come with it, however. He did say that he's really too old (82) to try something that new. I told him that he should take an advisory role with these young effects people and teach them to inject more of themselves into their creations.
     
  5. Jack Briggs

    Jack Briggs Executive Producer

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    Marvelous story! Marvelous. And I am so glad you spoke to him about modern CGI stuff. That's a good take on the situation--personality.

    Man, I can't tell you how much I admire Mr. Harryhausen. I remember reading Forry Ackerman's articles on the man when I was growing up, devouring each issue of Famous Monsters of Filmland.

    This guy is a raving genius, and an institution unto himself. You had an unforgettable weekend, Peter. Wish I could have been there.
     
  6. Peter Apruzzese

    Peter Apruzzese Producer

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    Thanks, guys.
    Pic of Ray and "friend" attached:
    [​IMG]
     
  7. Lou Sytsma

    Lou Sytsma Producer

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    Agreed - great story Peter and thanks for sharing with us all here.

    Harry provided so many of us with so many great moments in cinema when we were growing up.
     
  8. Walter Kittel

    Walter Kittel Producer

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    Pete,

    Great story. Reading this thread reminds me of the many pleasurable moments I've had viewing Mr. Harryhausen's craft. Thanks for sharing the experience with us.

    ( Jack - Famous Monsters of Filmland indeed! )

    - Walter.
     
  9. Craig S

    Craig S Producer

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    Great story, Pete! Like many here, my first filmgoing experiences were in the early-to-mid 60s, and Harryhausen's films claim a large portion of those boyhood memories. Glad to hear he's still out there sharing his experience & talents.
     

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