The legendary animation and special effects pioneer discusses his films, today's films and more
Ray Harryhausen is a living legend in cinema. He has an Oscar for lifetime acheivement, a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame and an immense catalog of work, in practically every aspect of film, to prove it. He was one of the pioneers of stop-motion animation and his work is seen best in classics like Jason and the Argonauts and Clash of the Titans. The cable channel Monsters HD is paying tribute to Harryhausen with a Stop-Motion MonsterMania Marathon on November 7, and I had a chance to speak with the 87-year-old filmmaker via phone from London.
Although you're known as a stop-motion animation pioneer, you've done practically everything in movies from acting, screenwriting, directing producing, even authoring two books. You're a man with many hats.
Ray Harryhausen: (Laughs)
Is there any area of film you'd like to do more work in?
Ray Harryhausen: Well we're colorizing a lot of our earlier black and whites, you know. They were on a really tight budget because fantasy wasn't very popular in those days. And then in the 50s and early 60s we did our pictures in black and white. Now we've colorized them with a new process and now they look like they were shot in color. A lot of young people don't look at black and white films for some reason (Laughs). That was the best period in the history of cinema.
With this MonsterMovie Marathon on Monsters HD, are you just trying to reach out to the younger crowd?
Ray Harryhausen: Yes. I think that the colorization really brings our pictures to life and gives them new life.
There have been some references to your work in recent movies, like the restaurant in Monsters Inc. was named after you as was the piano in Tim Burton's Corpse Bride. Is it refreshing to be honored by your contemporaries like that?
Ray Harryhausen: Oh I'm delighted that our films have lasted all these years. You know, they were rather rare, and I think they're more appreciated now than when we made first made them.
The industry now is so heavily fueled by special effects and computers...
Ray Harryhausen: There's some great special effects but they don't have a story!
I would definitely agree.
Ray Harryhausen: We tried to make our films comprehensible. I'm grateful that our films, which were considered at the time B-pictures because they were on a very tight budget, have lasted when many of the A-pictures have fallen by the wayside.
You have an ongoing series of DVD's with the Ray Harryhausen Presents banner. Do you have a lot more that are coming out in that series?
Ray Harryhausen: Oh yes yes. I have The Early Years, that's been out for some time now, that shows all my early experiments as well as, in the first book there was a list in the back of films we never made, but were considered.
What do you see as the future of the special effects industry?
Ray Harryhausen: I think they should concentrate more on story, because the whole point of making a film is to tell a story. That seems to be forgotten. Many films today just rely on special effects and they have an explosion every five minutes. Who needs it? It's rather repetitious.
You've said that Jason and the Argonauts is your most complete film.
Ray Harryhausen: I get a lot of fan mail about Jason.
Why do you think that's your most complete film?
Ray Harryhausen: I don't know. It's not for me to say, it's the people. Jason is very complete and we were on a very tight budget. And today they spend millions and, I don't know, they forget that there's a story. The whole point of making a film is to tell a story.
Finally, I've read that one of the milestone events in your life was seeing King Kong when you were 13.
Ray Harryhausen: Oh yes, it started me on, I got hooked after seeing King Kong. You know, the 30s was a very creative age because sound just came in, and Kong was a milestone. That was the the first that had a score by Max Steiner. The score elevated the film into a different category.
Where do you think you'd be right now if you hadn't seen that film when you were 13?
Ray Harryhausen: (Laughs) I can't say. It's very difficult, all speculation.
The Stop-Motion MonsterMovie Marathon airs on Monsters HD on November 7, and for more information on Ray Harryhausen you can visit his official website at RayHarryhausen.com