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www.morpheustales.com would be shot, as they still are even today with CGI, with the actor(s) reacting to empty air. In a supreme effort of imagination, they would ‘fight’ against an enemy that wasn’t even there. Later, the special effects man would create a scale model of whatever creature it was, made from latex over a wire armature which allowed it to be manipulated into various positions. Then, using a backdrop technique, each frame of the already shot film would be back-projected on to a tiny screen behind the model. The animator would then move each individual limb of the model a certain amount, and a picture taken a frame at a time so that, with the film moving at the correct speed, it would appear that the creature had come to life and was battling a human adversary. It was a painstakingly slow process – just mere seconds of film would take weeks, if not months, of very patient work. The end result, however, would more than make up for the time involved. The technique can be traced back to the very earliest days of the film industry with pioneers such as Albert E. Smith and J. Stewart Blackton, Georges Méliès and others employing it in their films. Perhaps though, in connection to the genre we love, it was Willis O’Brien who made considerable inroads in using stop-motion on celluloid in The Lost World and the King Kong films, for instance. But it was O’Brien’s protégé, Ray Harryhausen, who finessed the technique and gave us such memorable scenes incorporating it. Harryhausen was an absolute master of the art. That first film I saw which featured his work, Jason & the Argonauts, left an indelible impression. One scene in particular sent shivers up and down my spine. After the Argo had landed on an isolated island, they came across massive bronze statues of the gods. Two of the crew, Hylas and Hercules, decided to investigate

further. The plinth upon which Talos kneels, sword ready in hand, has a door in its side, and inside, the pair find untold riches: the treasure chamber of the gods themselves. Hercules picks up a brooch, the pin of which is an ideal-sized javelin. Hylas warns against taking anything, which Hercules poohpoohs. However, at that moment, a grinding noise is heard and the chamber’s door shuts from the outside. You just know something awful is about to happen. Using his prodigious strength, Hercules pushes the door open and, when they get out, the head of Talos turns to look at them – and I remember being utterly frightened at that image. But that was the magic of Harryhausen – he could invest an inanimate object with not just life, but vast menace as well. Intuitively one knows that the model is only something on the order of 12” in height, yet the sheer weight and intention of the animated behemoth can be palpably felt. But it wasn’t just menace that he was able to conjure up. Later on, Talos is defeated by Jason, unscrewing his heel plug out, thus depriving him of animating force. You can almost feel Talos’ anguish at being bested by mere puny humans. It’s a tour de force of animation; in essence bringing a statue to life and investing it with recognisable qualities, using a medium that really didn’t possess the flexibility that computer imagery and wire-frame work affords the special effects technician today. That, at its most basic, is where the artistry comes in – it takes a special talent to create such magic from lifeless materials. There have been plenty of obituaries and eulogies to the great man, but I won’t bore you with any biographical details. This is, however, a personal remembrance in tribute to him. The films on which he worked have stayed with me for all these years, a testament to the level of his creativity. Over and above that, those films 18

Profile for Adam Bradley

MT21Reviews  

45 pages of genre non-fiction, including author interviews with Juliet E. McKenna, Jack Skillingstead, and Karen Distasio, artist Duane Myer...

MT21Reviews  

45 pages of genre non-fiction, including author interviews with Juliet E. McKenna, Jack Skillingstead, and Karen Distasio, artist Duane Myer...

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