Sunday, May 12, 2013

The Man Who Moved Monsters

And another intregal part of my childhood is gone.

Ray Harryhausen, the man who moved monsters for a living, and in so doing, created an entire pantheon of creatures that moved me and my generation, is dead.

Of all the creative credits that graced the silver screens of the 1940s, '50s, '60s and '70s it can truly be said that Harryhausen's was unique. Those of us who formed the half-pint cognoscenti that were aware of his name at all would silently cheer (or not so silently) when his name appeared on the screen, because we knew that, even though the stories, acting, and other production values might be be mediocre at best, the movie would be great -- and not just because there would be monsters in it.

Because they'd be Ray's monsters.

I guess the onscreen credit that was most often associated with his name was something like "Creator Of Special Effects". This would include all kinds of on location trickery (most FX were "practicals" back then, done in the camera or somehow managing to fool the lens, as opposed to "opticals," which were done post-shoot; sometimes months afterward). But the ones to which I quickly learned to react in Pavlovian response were the "Animation Effects". And even though they definitely fell into the category of "opticals," they were where the magic happened.

Let's be clear here: Ray didn't invent the concept of what came to be called "tabletop animation." That honor belongs (I think; someone correct me if I'm wrong,) to his mentor, Willis O'Brien, who was responsible for bringing to life one of the first, and without a doubt one of the best-loved and most-feared (two sides of the same coin in this case) monsters ever -- King Kong. But Ray learned at the feet of the master, and that was mighty clear water. From O'Brien he learned the styles and techniques that allowed him to shoot, with meticulous attention to detail, a great many of the most famous and instantly-recognizeable animated creature sequences in all of movie history: the Ymir in 20 Million Miles To Earth; the Rhedosaurus inThe Beast From 20,000 Fathoms; and the eponymous Mighty Joe Young, the biggest gorilla aside from Kong himself.

The great thing about Harryhausen's creations was that they weren't just big mean ugly critters that could bite your head off down to your belly button (although that was certainly part of their appeal). Many showed emotion, had that extra spark of humanity (or monstrosity) that you appreciated all the more when you realized how much extra work went into giving them some bit of business to do. It might be only a few seconds' worth, but at an animation rate of 24 frames per second, that could consume some time. And even though you were taking your chances with some of the movies (It Came From Beneath the Sea, anyone?) No matter how bad they got, we always had Jason and the Argonauts.

Ah, Jason. One of the first Harryhausens I ever saw, and still one of the best. A retelling of the story of the Golden Fleece, it had one jaw-dropping sequence after another, until after awhile you just gave up and left your lower mandible lying there in the sticky morass of Milk Duds and Good'n'Plentys. The battle with Talos, the attack of the Hydra, and best of all, the climactic battle with the Children of the Hydra's Teeth ...

Ray Harryhausen not only made animation his career; he helped animate mine as well. Thanks, Ray.


Mark said...

Hi Michael,i just wanted to leave you a note saying how much i enjoyed the episode of MONSTERS TV show you wrote, perchance to dream. I run a story podcast and i'd love to have one of your stories featured. If you are interested, let me know. i'll leave a link to the website my email is
thanks for writing some wonderful things.
---mark slade

Sarah said...

Hi Michael,

I hope you're well. I have been asked to determine if the film and television rights to VOODOO CHILD are currently available. Could you please advise, or direct me to the party currently handling these rights on your behalf?

Many thanks in advance.


fantasytracker said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
fantasytracker said...

I loved Dungeons and Dragons and in learning more about it...I discovered that an un-produced story exists and realized an audio file does exist.
Have not listened to it yet...but I will.
I think the time good to bring a reinvented Cartoon to television based on your work and those great characters.
I would love any insight or help you could give me since I want to find a way to bring back the show, in a reimagined retelling, after a fashion.
I found this blog as I try and learn more about how I might best recreate the now latent magic of such a great show.
Any thing I say about the disease you have could come off as trivial or even I will say this: It takes more bravery than people often realize to endure a hardship that only becomes heavier with time.
My grandmother had Alzheimers for 15 years before she died and for the first seven she horribly understood she was losing her mind.

Unknown said...


I really love your work, but I am sure you have heard that numerous much so that you have become desensitized to the least it seems that way as I read through your website (

Just curious why you took the site down. I saw your blog which is suppose to document your life with parkinson's, but that too seems to be sparse in content.

Jake Cannon said...

Hi Michael,

My name is Jake Cannon, I'm a writer and stand-up comedian that works in animation as an Art PA on the Paramount feature Amusement Park. I’m reaching out because I’m currently gathering research for a personal project: an oral history of Recess focusing on Paul Germain and Joe Ansolabehere.

The plan is to produce an oral history podcast using the interviewees’ actual voices to tell the story of Paul and Joe’s winding journey to Disney. I also plan to turn it into a book. I've already recorded multiple interviews with Paul and Joe and would like to include your experience in their story.

Their path intersects with yours in many ways when Disney Television Animation was having a changing of the guard. I would love to hear your perspective on Disney Television Animation and specifically your work on Gargoyles.

If you are interested in being interviewed, please let me know. We can record your interview over Skype or in person.


Jake Cannon

Unknown said...

I tried to find your email to write you but I couldnt find it.

I was researching Gargoyles cartoon and wanting to know what the castle was referenced from? I came across your name and found out you were the major writer for season 1 and for all these years I thought it was Greg Wiesman. I wanted to reach out and say I love the writing in the show. I watched the TV show and it is my favorite cartoon of all time. It showed the many aspects of human nature and because of that the characters felt real and treated its audience in a mature way. My email is Im using my yardsale app account to write to you. Anyway just wanted to say thanks, Ill never forget Gargoyles for the rest of my life.

joe said...

Hi Mike - A voice from the past, thought I'd reach out. It's been quite a while.

Couldn’t find an email address so I thought I’d try this blog as I did in an earlier one.
Took to heart what you wrote.

If you don’t or can’t communicate back in response, I’d understand.

Joe Zucker

kate said...

As a sign of gratitude for how my husband was saved fromParkinson  , i decided to reach out to those still suffering from this.
My husband suffered parkinson and it was really tough and heartbreaking for me because he was my all and the symptoms were terrible, we tried various therapies prescribed by our neurologist but none could cure him. I searched for a cure and i saw a testimony of so many people who was cured from parkinson, and so many other with similar body problem, and they left the contact of this doctor who had the herbal cure to  parkinson I never imagined  parkinson has a cure not until i contacted him and he assured me my husband will be fine. I got the herbal medication he recommended and my husband used it and in one months he was fully okay even up till this moment he is so full of life. parkinson has a cure and it is a herbal cure contact the doctor for more info on on how to get the medication. Thanks for reading my testimony .