New Exhibit Shows Off Special Effects Pioneer Ray Harryhausen's Lasting Works

Nov 12, 2017
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MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

We're going to spend the next few minutes hearing about two unusual stories about the film industry. Long before CGI and digital animation, creatures like those in "Clash Of The Titans" came alive through the world of stop-motion model animation. And one of the legends of that world was Ray Harryhausen. Now, for the first time since his death in 2013, his work is on display in Oklahoma City. Nomin Ujiyediin of member station KGOU has this report.

NOMIN UJIYEDIIN, BYLINE: A cyclops, a sea monster and a three-headed dog guard the office of Scott Henderson.

SCOTT HENDERSON: When I got to open the crates there it was like Christmas 10 times. It was pretty amazing. I never get tired of looking at them.

UJIYEDIIN: He's a gallery director at the Science Museum Oklahoma. And the exhibit, titled Ray Harryhausen - Mythical Menagerie, was his idea. He's loved Harryhausen movies since childhood and shares them with his 10-year-old daughter. And now, more than 100 of Harryhausen's models, prototypes, posters and designs are on display right outside his office door. His favorites are from the 1963 film "Jason And The Argonauts."

HENDERSON: They're evil-looking skeletons wielding swords, getting ready in a fight position. And these were the actual models he used in the film from the famous skeleton warrior fight.

UJIYEDIIN: In the scene, seven animated skeletons burst from the ground and attack three live actors. The skeletons chase the men around sunlit Greek ruins and react to every swing of a sword and wave of a shield. The skeletons themselves look a little bit like toys, but their movements look astoundingly real. Harryhausen spent four months on that 5-minute sequence, incorporating stop motion into live-action footage. Sculptor Mike Hill says that passion and attention to detail is Harryhausen's legacy among special effects artists.

MIKE HILL: He's part of our blueprint as monster makers.

UJIYEDIIN: Hill designed a main character in the upcoming film "The Shape Of Water," a blue sea creature with fins and a humanoid body. He says that creature wasn't directly based on a Harryhausen creation, but you can see his influence in its broad shoulders and narrow waist.

HILL: It's the design sense. It's the movement. It's the fluidity. Ray somehow put a soul in there. You almost know what they're thinking, what they did and what their life is without anybody giving us that exposition already. It's inspiring.

UJIYEDIIN: Harryhausen has influenced generations of filmmakers, including Guillermo del Toro, the "Shape Of Water's" director. Maureen Furniss is the head of the Experimental Animation program at the California Institute of the Arts. She still sees animation students who are inspired by Harryhausen's technical and artistic abilities.

MAUREEN FURNISS: He had a very creative, inventive mind, as well as being an artist. He, you know, went to art school. He thoroughly learned about anatomy and the way that figures moved. And all these come together in his films.

UJIYEDIIN: Those films are known not so much by their actors or directors but by their monsters, like 1981's "Clash Of The Titans," which happens to star Laurence Olivier and Maggie Smith. But what everyone really remembers is...

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "CLASH OF THE TITANS")

LAURENCE OLIVIER: (As Zeus) Release the kraken.

UJIYEDIIN: ...And Bubo, the goofy mechanical owl. Longtime fan Matt Hanke came to see them with his 8-year-old son.

MATT HANKE: It's almost like a religious experience for me. It's tangible. Even when you're watching those films, you know it's not real, but it works like something that could have been touched. When a movie's done with CGI, you can't have exhibits like this.

UJIYEDIIN: Visitors can see the kraken and Bubo the owl alongside Medusa, Pegasus and other stars of the movie at the Science Museum Oklahoma until December 3. For NPR News, I'm Nomin Ujiyediin in Oklahoma City. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.