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Sunday, May 4 • 8:45am - 9:00am
Introduction to Ray Harryhausen

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This year, May 7th marks the one-year anniversary of the passing of Ray Harryhausen. For the majority of today’s filmgoers, this isn’t a significant event.

For many others, like myself who grew up in the era before science fiction and fantasy movies were multi-million dollar productions requiring entire armies of effects artists, it’s a time for sadness and reflection.

Even if you don't know who Ray Harryhausen was, you've probably seen his work. The master animator is best known for breathing life into giant, writhing serpents, sword-wielding skeletons, and marauding dinosaurs in such fantasy adventure and monster movies as The 7th Voyage of Sinbad(1958), Jason and the Argonauts (1963), and Clash of the Titans (1981). Harryhausen was an innovator, and in many ways the father of the modern special effects craft and industry.

Harryhausen's trademark action sequences featuring animated model figurines always pictured interacting with, or more often, fighting with human foes, or crushing them, or biting them in half or flying away with them might seem clunky and old-fashioned when measured by today's standards. But in their day, the effects Ray pioneered were cutting-edge. He painstakingly filmed his "creatures" frame by frame. The process was exhausting: The 4 minute, 37-second skeleton and human fight sequence from Jason and the Argonauts reportedly took four and a half months to photograph and he had to readjust and film around 184,800 movements of the puppets.

Then, using his patented "Dynamation" technique, those skeletons and serpents could interact on screen with actors in a remarkable realistic way. The Dynamation process combined foreground and background footage by photographing miniatures in front of a rear-projection screen. Sometimes, he shot sequences through a partially-masked glass pane. Live footage would later be superimposed on the masked portion of the frame, and voila, the creature or creatures seemed to exist in the midst of "real" human-scaled action, or even appear to move in front of and behind "live" elements. Ray also carefully controlled lighting and color balance to make sure the image quality of his animated sequences matched the quality of the live action. His effects were more convincing than the standard use of optical printing and mattes. This was before green screen, folks.

Perhaps because of his hermetic production style and the fact that he produced half of his films outside of Hollywood (living in London since 1960), reducing his day-to-day interaction with other more traditional, but still influential Hollywood effects artists, none of Harryhausen's films were nominated for a special effects Oscar. Harryhausen himself says the reason was that he worked in Europe.

 During the 1980s and early 1990s, those of Harryhausen's growing legion of fans who had graduated into the professional film industry, started lobbying the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences to acknowledge Harryhausen's contribution to the film industry and he was finally awarded a Gordon E. Sawyer Award for "technological contributions [which] have brought credit to the industry" in 1992, with actor Tom Hanks as the Master of Ceremonies and long time friend Bradbury, presenting the Oscar. After the presentation to Harryhausen, actor Tom Hanks told the audience, "Some people say Casablanca or Citizen Kane...I say Jason and the Argonauts is the greatest film ever made!"

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Kevin Atkins

Tech Support Manager, The Noerr Programs
Our beloved Master of Ceremonies, Kevin, has been with the convention for over 30 years, but he amazingly shows very little wear and tear. Kevin is famous for his corny internet jokes which he unleashes whenever there is a pause in the action onstage. Because we have bugged him so... Read More →

Sunday May 4, 2014 8:45am - 9:00am
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