Celebrating the legacy of legendary creature designer, stop-motion animator, and VFX creator Ray Harryhausen comes easy given not just the volume of material he left behind, but also how iconic most of it is. Quite simply, the special effects of today stand on the shoulders of Harryhausen, which means restoration and preservation work becomes a crucial component in the process of honoring such a storied legacy.
The Ray and Diana Harryhausen Foundation is responsible for this task. Harryhausen kept an archive of around 50,000 items—including reference books, concept art, materials and props, and creature models—all of which were gathered throughout his career.
Foundation Trustee John Walsh and Collections Manager Connor Heaney took to Comic-Con@Home 2021 to give a behind-the-scenes look at some of the items found in the collection and offer insight into the restoration process, but also to make a special announcement: the creation of the Ray Harryhausen Film Awards.
The awards will range from a half-dozen categories including best feature animation, best student animation, best television animation, and a Hall of Fame award. The inaugural awards will take place in June 29th, 2022.
The Foundation is looking for applications in stop-motion. More information can be found in The Foundation’s webpage, which you can find here.
Before the film awards announcement was made, though, Walsh and Heaney provided a fascinating look at the process of restoring Harryhausen’s mythical creatures.
One of the things Walsh and Heany made clear from early on is that restoration is a race against time and latex. Harryhausen used latex when constructing his creature models, along with a variety of other materials possessing their own deterioration thresholds. Given the nature of the latex in particular, deterioration is an inescapable factor and must be attended aggressively.
Harryhausen handpicked restorer Alan Friswell to undertake this massive conservation project, which came with a list of requirements that the creator wanted to be met when repairing models. Walsh and Heany showed video of Friswell commenting on the process itself while also admiring the craftmanship behind the models, in one case using the Hydra creature from Jason and The Argonauts (1963).
The talk went through several creatures from the collection (the Kraken and Kali among them) to look at their current state, speculate as to why some have managed to remain with minimal damage and why some haven’t, and also to bring certain design details to the fore that speak to the complexities of building such detailed monstrosities for the screen.
Walsh and Heaney also showcased the work the foundation’s been doing with the Manchester Metropolitan University, under the name Re-Animate, to scan and create 3D models of the creature models for further study by animation students and to produce more accurate information to aid in the restoration process.
Exciting things are happening at the Harryhausen Foundation and the new film award announcement is sure to make an impact in the animation world. The panel itself is a treat to watch, filled with creature goodies to make not just Harryhausen fans happy, but fantasy enthusiasts and animators as well.
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