Animation B.C. (Before Computers) – Page 2

After three months the work dried up and I returned to Shepherds Bush Odeon Cinema as a projectionist. Three years later I received a phone call from Culley’s cameraman, Gus Ramsden, and blue-screen technician, Dennis Barkleh, who told me that Ray Harryhausen was looking for an assistant for his new film, Clash of the Titans. I was invited to shoot an animation test at Pinewood using models from Sinbad and the Eye of the Tiger. A year passed by, then I got a phone call from the production office for the film to say that I had got the job.

Working for Ray Harryhausen was the most exciting thing in my life. It was a job that I dreamt about during the night and looked forward to doing on my way to the studios every day. Ray’s contemporaries were using more and more elaborate, expensive and technologically advanced methods in their animation and the many magazines began to criticise Ray Harryhausen’s style. I was well aware of the gradual change in the special effects world and hoped that the work in Clash would reaffirm that the master had not lost his touch. No matter what the opposition had, I felt we were ahead of them anyway. What could be more thrilling than to work with a consummate artist who literally created his own unique style? Not many of those about today.

I worked on the film as Ray Harryhausen’s assistant animating Bubo the mechanical Owl, some sections of the Kraken, Calibos, Two-headed dog and Vulture sequences. Ninety shots in all – about a quarter of the film’s animation. We were joined later on by Jim Danforth an American animator twice nominated for his work on When Dinosaurs Ruled the Earth and The Seven Faces of Dr. Lao who animated Pegasus, most of the two-headed dog sequence and a few other odd shots. Like Ray, Jim had worked on a Willis O’Brien film (It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World) and later became a genius of special effects in his own right. Ray did the majority of the work on Clash which included perhaps his best ever sequence – Medusa.

How the special effects were created for the film has been detailed in countless magazines, so it would be redundant of me to repeat here. What I remember of working on the film – now some fourteen years ago – is the large rather dirty stage we animated in; the several heavy downpours which completely flooded the whole work area in many inches of water; Harryhausen’s occasional afternoon nap in his office; Les, the electrician, with his CB radio and his lunchtime journeys outside the studios to find better pub meals; me using Willis O’Brien’s rather rickety film projector (last put to use on The Black Scorpion) and accompanying Ray to the morning rushes and witnessing our efforts and the master’s occasional dry wit. “You got into the business too late” one magazine writer said to me shorty after the film was completed. Ironically, all I learned from the Maestro is made rather redundant now due to computers.

Special effects supervisor Derek Meddings (left) with animator Steve Archer during the making of Krull.

After the film, I returned to my job as projectionist for the last time. (My cinema was closed down shortly after. It was demolished this year!) Then was hired by Derek Meddings to animate a crystal spider in the “Widow of the Web” sequence for Krull directed by Peter Yates in 1981. As a little boy, I had loved Supercar, Fireball XL5 and Four Feather Falls – TV series produced by Gerry Anderson which featured Meddings special effects work. Meddings was a very pleasant man to work for, always encouraging me and praising my efforts – something that is very rare in the film business. I also animated about a dozen or so odd shots of a flying weapon called “The Galive”, various spears, axes and a wall of ribs which close in on the film’s heroine. This was followed by The Never ending Story for which I animated the flying shots of Falkor the Luck Dragon. These shots were photographed against a blue screen using Brian Johnson’s computer controlled Vistavision camera equipment which resulted in less than a dozen animated shots. Brian had hired me for the film and very generously gave me total freedom in my work.

The next film was to be Force of the Trojans – a title which has unfortunate implications since I found out later that “Trojan” was the name of a condom. The film’s story involved Helen of Troy, the wooden horse and climaxed with Pandora’s Box – a scene which unleashed the four horsemen of the inferno on the film’s heroes. I was asked to animate two characters which did not appear in the draft script that I had – a talking bird and a mechanical squirrel. Jim Danforth, David Allen, and at one point I believe Phil Tippet (of Robocop) were all approached to work on the film. I was due to start on April 1983. Sadly, the finance was never found and the film was never made. At the same time Ray Harryhausen was involved with People of the Mist, a feature film project based on a novel by H. Rider Haggard of “She” fame. The director was to be Michael Winner. This project never went into production and not long after Ray announced his retirement. Within the last couple of years Ray won a much deserved special Oscar award in recognition of his past work.

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