Wednesday, 8 May 2013

Ray Harryhausen (1920 - 2013)

A hero passed away yesterday, and with this the world lost some of it's magic.

Ray Harryhausen was a technician, a sculptor, an artist, an animator and most importantly, a filmmaker. I don't want to give you his life story here. I'm not the man for that. Plus there are plenty of books for you to go out and read.

What I do want to do is tell you is how much Ray's work and life meant to me.

Now I'm no one special. I'm a guy that works in an office in Brighton who happens to make films in his spare time. I have good days, and I have bad days, but I enjoy the hell out of this life. I enjoy the the fact that you can't stop me doing this. If I have an idea for a film with a killer doll, you may say it's stupid and you may tell me it's a waste of time; but ultimately you can't stop me.

That's pretty much how Ray started. He saw King Kong one day and was hooked on the magic of Cinema. With the help of this family and friends he went out and taught himself how to make animated films. And this was back in the 40s. Not like today when any office worker in Brighton can get their hands on a camera and make a film.

I can't remember the exact day when I was first introduced to the films of Ray Harryhausen. It feels like they've always been there. But way back in 2001 I was faced with a big decision. Do I go to University and If I do, what do I study?

I was good at two things; Graphics and Maths. However I was never that much of a fan of continuing Maths and ending up in a Economics office staring at numbers all day. So, with pile of prospectuses (prospectii?) in hand I sat down with Mum and started going through  to find something art based to follow.

Illustration was the way forward...then illustration and animation...then solely animation. "Hell, I love the Ray Harryhausen films. That's what I will animator!"

Okay that's quite a tenuous link. However, whilst at the interview I had to present my minimal portfolio. I also had a long discussion with the lecturer and a couple of students, about Ray Harryhausen, and how animation can bring the imagination to life. I'm still convinced to this day, that this is why I was accepted into University. My love of film, animated monsters and Ray Harryhausen!

Very important side note to cement this:- Whilst at University, I had the chance to meet Ray at a talk in Bristol on 21st March 2004. A great exepereince and definite highlight of my undregrad life. I also got a copy of his book (quite a hefty and pricey item for a poor student) and queued to get it signed. Something I will always treasure.

So I continued my love for animation, especially the stop motion effects in films, not just Ray's credits, but such examples like Jack the Giant Killer, Puppet Master and of course King Kong (what do you mean which one? I ought to slap you. 1933 of course!)

In a roundabout way, without ever seeing Ray Harryhausen film, I wouldn't be who I am today. I probably wouldn't be working in an office in Brighton, I wouldn't be providing animation for Brother Chris' Jenny Ringo films or trying to control a killer doll.

So as I said, like many others, I grew up with these films. However I've seen a lot of tributes, including one I'm pasting below, that mention how much he meant to our childhood, and how a large part of our childhoods have now been lost. To me his films are more than this. Yes I watched them as a child. But I never stopped watching. I still watch today. I will always watch.  And I'm sure that one day, way when I have kids, or even Grand kids, I'm sure one day I'll be sitting them down to show them real magic.

So life goes on. I'll go back to work and sit in theoffice; and no one will mention how we lost a legend on Tuesday, how the world of film has lost a genius and how a shocking number of people are still unaware of the magic he created.

But I know; and the people I love know. And I'll carry on fighting killer dolls and chasing beach monsters and writing bizarre films set in Victorian London. I'll also continue to imagine more crazy ideas for films. Because that's what I do.

That's what Ray Harryhausen taught me. If you put your mind to it, no one can stop you bringing a skeletons back to life.

"Ray Harryhausen took a part of all our childhoods with him when he went.
Thankfully he remained with us long enough to realise how universally beloved his work was by so many. Thank you, Ray." - Joe Dante

Thank you Ray. Thank you.

Ray Harryhausen
1920 - 2013


Pad said...

A fine tribute to a great film-maker. It stirred up some of my own memories of seeing Ray Harryhausen's films. I reckon the first must have been Earth vs. The Flying Saucers. I must have been about 6 or 7 and I think I probably saw it at the Broadway in the Meir - scared the bejasus out of me. The next would have been The Seventh Voyage of Sinbad, which I saw at the Gaumont up Hanley, around 8 years old. That could have been the first time I'd been to the Gaumont since I can remember walking down the street to the cinema. Strange what bits remain - my earliest memory of going to the pictures, is the curtains at the Broadway (not sure what the film was, but those curtains were impressive). I also remember ducking behind the seat when the Cyclops appeared. He was terrifying. When I went to see Jason and the Argonauts I was older (13?), and went on my own, probably on a Friday evening on the way home from school. I was so impressed that I told my mum and dad that they should see it and when it came round again we all went to the Plaza in Fenton. That was the only time I went to the Plaza - it was a bit of a dump, lacking the old-time Victorian theatre ambience of the Empire, the velvet curtains and strange metal tickets of the Alhambra, or the ultra-modern swish of the Broadway (famous for the double seats on the back row). I went to see the rest, First Men in the Moon, Valley of Gwangi, the other two Sinbads and Clash of the Titans, but as I got older there were other things to terrify me and the memories aren't as sharp. But I do remember going to the Broadway one last time, just before it closed. Me and my dad went to see The Seventh Voyage of Sinbad again, one afternoon. The place was empty, but the magic was still there.

From the land beyond beyond,
From the world past hope and fear,
I bid you, genie, now appear.

Pete Regan said...

I can never remember where I saw specific things. Well, not never, I remember seeing Willow in Newcastle, and Last Crusade I think, but not sure of the cinema. And we saw Roger Rabbit in the old Odeon in Hanley. I think we possibly moaned about going, or whether we wanted to go. Apart from that, I just remember later stuff at Festival Park.