Archive for the STOP-MOTION Category

Yukon and the Bumble

Posted in Collectibles, STOP-MOTION with tags , on December 22, 2018 by MONSTERMINIONS

Harryhausen Cyclops in “Ready Player One”

Posted in Miscellania, Ray, STOP-MOTION with tags , , on March 9, 2018 by MONSTERMINIONS

I noticed at 1:45 mark, in new Ready Player One trailer that The Iron Giant and Harryhausen’s Cyclops from The 7th Voyage of Sinbad make cameos.

The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms (1953)

Posted in Ray, STOP-MOTION with tags , , on March 17, 2014 by MONSTERMINIONS

20,000 Fathoms_Titles

Of Ray Harryhausen’s black-and-white creature films, most fans will pick 20 Million Miles to Earth (1957) featuring the reptilian bi-pedal Ymir as their favorite film.  It has a lot to offer —an unusual storyline which has a space crew carting an embryonic egg capsule of a sulfur-eating creature from Venus back to Earth, Italian coastal landscapes, an exciting finale in Rome, Harryhausen’s superb animation of a spacecraft (a rocket!) and the star of the show, the Ymir.  It’s one of my favorite Harryhausen films, along with Jason and the Argonauts (1963), The 7th Voyage of Sinbad (1958) and the underrated  The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms (1953).

However, 20 Million Miles to Earth has one major flaw with stiff William Hopper (Emmy nominee for Perry Mason, 1957) in the lead.  Don’t agree with me? Just watch the ….Alright…. almost a doctor…. scene with Joan Taylor in 20MMTE.  I just don’t think William Hopper is a very good actor.  Universal-International’s The Deady Mantis (1957), essentially a remake of Beast, also suffers for the same reason. The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms is one of Harryhausen’s best films due to competent direction by veteran Eugene Lourie, story by Ray Bradbury, and decent acting, with Swiss-born actor Paul Hubschmid (Bagdad, 1949; The Day the Sky Exploded, 1958; Fritz Lang’s Der Tiger von Eschnapur, 1959) in the lead as Professor Tom Nesbit, Cecil Kellaway (Harvey, 1950) as paleontologist Professor Thurgood, Paula Raymond as Lee Hunter, and Kenneth Tobey as Col. Jack Evans.  Lee Van Cleef even gets in on the fun as a sharpshooter aiming an isotope-laced shell at the title creature.

Harryhausen’s black and white films have been criticized for having the same essential story:  A – Big monster is discovered, B – Big monster creates some havoc, C – Alpha male has romance with the girl, D – Big monster enters city and causes a lot of damage, E – Scientists figure out how to kill the big monster.    Earth vs. the Flying Saucers (1956) differs a bit in not having a monster so to speak, but has splendid animated UFOs integrated into the same basic story.  Beast works for me in being one of the first giant monster films (only a few silents, the seminal King Kong (’33) and its offspring Son of Kong (’33) and Mighty Joe Young (1949), and a few lost Japanese films anticipate Beast), and what a marvelous design Harryhausen came up with for the prehistoric Rhedosaurus.  I think the creature is totally believable as an amphibious marine creature, with a powerful, broad and flattened tail like a crocodilian.

20,000 Fathoms_The Beast

Beast was filmed on a modest budget of approximately $200,000 ($1.7 million adjusted by today’s standards) and made approximately $5 million.  It was a very sucessful film and one of the hits of 1953.  I don’t think the film looks cheap at all. Even the polar sets come across as being realistic, with snow-capped rocks and fissures.  As with most science fiction films of this era, stock military footage is used, albiet infrequently in Beast.  Here’s a shot of the ubiquitous Douglas C-47 transport plane. The same aircraft with landing skis appears in Howard Hawk’s The Thing from Another World (1951).

Douglas C-47 Transport

Film buffs will have fun spotting several character actors. The Beast has minor parts for Frank Ferguson and King Donovon (Invasion of the Body Snatchers, 1956).  Kenneth Tobey appears as a military man like he does in The Thing (1951) and in Harryhausen’s It Came from Beneath the Sea (1955).  I like Tobey in films of this nature. He smoked quite a few cigarettes in his day and lived to the ripe old age of 85.

Frank Ferguson_Kenneth Tobey_Paul Hubschmid_King Donovan

There are a few scenes in Beast where an artist’s render of the Rhedosaurus is shown.  Does anyone know if that is a production sketch prepared by Ray Harryhausen?  I think it might be a conceptual drawing used by Ray to develop the stop-motion puppet used in the film.

Rhedosaurus Art

The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms was imaginitively directed by Eugene Lourie (The Giant Behemoth, 1959; Gorgo, 1961), whose background included art direction (Jean Renoir’s La Grande Illusion; Chaplin’s Limelight, 1952) and film direction.  Lourie’s competence in set design can be seen in collaborative sequences with Ray Harryhausen, including the lighting of the live action portions of the Fog Horn sequence.  I particularly like the scenes set under the water, which offer a rare opportunity for humans to interact with a monster in its habitat.  For instance, in 20MMTE the Ymir is brought to Earth.  I would have loved to see the Ymir running around the landscapes of Venus.  Prequel anyone?

20,000 Fathoms_Diving Bell

These canyon scenes remind me of sequences later animated by Pete Peterson in The Black Scorpion (1957).

20,000 Fathoms_Hudson Canyon

Behold the Rhedosaurus!

Rhedosaurus_Hudson Canyon

I wonder if Ray Harryhausen based the creature design off a modern analogue? Compare the Rhedosaurus to a modern day living fossil Tuatara.

Tuatara

The Fog Horn sequence….

Rhedosaurus_The Fog Horn

The Rhedosaurus in New York….

20,000 Fathoms_The Rhedosaurus

And the finale!  The concept of a gigantic prehistoric beast cornered in the skeletal frame of a wooden rollercoaster was just brilliant.  Go get ’em Lee Van Cleef.

Ah, they don’t make ’em like they used to!

Coney Island_Rhedosaurus

Douglas C-47 Skytrain

Norse Ymir

TCM Tribute to Harryhausen

Tuatara

The Skeleton Dance (1929), Short

Posted in STOP-MOTION with tags , , on March 7, 2014 by MONSTERMINIONS

Skeleton Dance_Titles

The Skeleton Dance (1929) is a masterwork of early American animation available on the Walt Disney Treasures Collection, DVD Catalogue #52420 (The Adventures of Oswald The Lucky Rabbit). The short runs approximately 5:30 and is a delight from beginning to end.  It would make a perfect short for a screening of Jason and the Argonauts.  The art was primarily rendered by animator Ub Iwerks who was an early colleague of Walt Disney, but left on his own around 1930, and then later returned back to Disney Studios in the late 30’s. Iwerks contributed to countless Disney productions, but is known for his pioneering work in combining live-action footage with animation, as exemplified by films The Song of the South (1946), Hitchcock’s The Birds (1963) and Mary Poppins (1964).  Some sources also list Les Clark (one of Disney’s key animators) as having contributed to the xylophone sequence in The Skeleton Dance (1929).

The Skeleton Dance is an example of Disney’s Silly Symphony shorts, which are exemplified by screwy stylized characters performing odd routines with classical or contemporary jazz/pop music playing in the background.  This short is really strange with grotesque frame-filling closeups which pre-dates the Fleischer’s  use of the technique (see the color Popeye shorts).

As with other Silly Symphony shorts, this film used the Cinephone sound process. The music direction and composition was done by Carl W. Stalling, who worked on over 650 shorts for Disney, Warner Bros. and other studios, as well as numerous contributions in sound composition on TV.

The Skeleton Dance grabs you in the opening moments with a frame-filling closeup of eyeballs.  The camera pulls back and we see an owl sitting in a tree, with howling wind animating a claw-like branch.

Skeleton Dance_Owl Eyes

Skeleton Dance_Hoot Owl

Skeleton Dance_Tree Hand

A skeleton appears under a full moon sitting on a tombstone and leaps toward the audience, swallowing the camera as it passes through his abdomen —well, hollow abdomen or rib cage.  He lands, falls apart, re-assembles and goes into a Vauldeville dance routine.

Skeleton Dance_X Bones

Skeleton Dance_Jumping Skeleton

Skeleton Dance_Skull in Your Face

Skeleton Dance_Rib Cage Tunnel

I knew a skeleton and he’d dance for you in worn out shoes….
Silver hair, ragged shirt and baggy pants, that old soft shoe….
He’d jump so high, he’d jump so high, then he lightly touch down….
Mr. Skeleton, Mr. Skeleton, dance….

Skeleton Dance_Prancing Skeleton

Later, three additional skeleton appear and get in on the action.

Skeleton Dance_4 Skulls

One of the stranger sequences has a skeleton playing a friend xylophone-style.  What’s he gonna do with that Tibia?

Skeleton Dance_Xylophoneleton

And the film culminates in the bizarre assembly of a “skeletopede” that crawls back into the grave.  This is really a strange sequence.  I sometimes wonder if those guys were smoking a lot of pot or perhaps ingesting peyote.

Skeleton Dance_Skeletopede

Don’t forget your feet.

The Skeleton Dance_Feet

The Skeleton Dance_End Titles

IMDb Entry on The Skeleton Dance

The Skeleton Dance on the Big Cartoon Db

WATCH CRAPPY COPY

Just In!

Posted in Old School, STOP-MOTION with tags on February 11, 2014 by MONSTERMINIONS

Man, I loved this magazine.

20140211-224121.jpg

The Alien Factor (1978)

Posted in Bad Films I Love, Ray, Sci-Fi, STOP-MOTION with tags , on February 4, 2014 by MONSTERMINIONS

The Alien Factor_Titles

I discovered this entertaining low-budget indie on a 100 movie Mill Creek DVD collection.  I always like to check out the cast and crew in the credits and did a double take when I noticed some of the special effects were rendered by Ernest Farino (The Abyss, 1989; The Terminator, 1984; The Thing, 1982). I wondered to myself how do I know that name? Well, it dawned on me that he just published and released the seminal biographical editions Ray Harryhausen, Master of Majicks (Vol. I, II and III), with Volume I just being released, as well as the rare FXRH also re-issued.  I had been corresponding with him impatiently waiting for Majicks Volume I (the book is the BOMB and one the finest books on RH ever, and worth the wait).

The Alien Factor (1978) is a regional sci-fi alien invasion film shot in the rural environs, bars and backyards of Maryland. It has a lot to offer —4 funky aliens, an interesting and early example of a plot line with a bounty hunter-like alien hunting down other aliens (several years before The Hidden, 1987), resourceful and creative special effects, grainy photography (blown up from 16mm?), an electronic score, ridiculous dialogue and inept acting (I didn’t say the film offered positive attributes).  As far as films of this nature go, this one is unusual, fun, and clearly a labor of love for director Don Dohler (Editor of Starlog’s CineMagic Magazine) and crew.  One IMDb user notes in a review that “The Alien Factor is infused with [a] weird low-budget horror sensibility that makes it even the more intriguing.”

The Alien Factor_The Sheriff and Locals

The plot is simple enough —townies, a Sheriff (Tom Griffith) in McCloud garb, the town mayor and a mysterious telepathic outsider (Don Leifert) investigate a series of strange deaths occurring in a rural town.  Along the way we learn that an alien ship and cargo have crashed, and it’s up to the team to stop The Alien Factor.

The Alien Factor_Farino Effects

The film offers a bounty of crude special effects and illusions —men in suits, prosthetics, stilt-walkers, stop-motion animation, optical lens effects, big ass props, rotoscoping, but no matte work after the opening credits as far as I can tell. Ernest Farino animated the Leemoid creature, which reminds me of a cross between the vine-creeping ravine lizard in King Kong (1933) and a Tarsier.  The animation is fluid and the creature is really cool, but the live-action shots and animation do not intercut well, with some scenes revealing a transparent Leemoid!  Oh well, this is an energy monster after all.

The Alien Factor_Leemoid

The strangest moment in the film has outsider Ben Zachary (Don Leifert) taking on the bizarre Sasquatchesque Zagatile creature with a hypodermic blow gun.

The Alien Factor_Hypo Shooter

Messin’ with Zagatile….

The Alien Factor_Zagatile Attack!

Yes, that is a hypodermic needle stuck in the Zagatile’s chest….

The Alien Factor_Dead Zagatile

For me the ultimate barometer for grade Z film watchability is the “significant other” test.  I drive my girlfriend crazy watching these crappy old films and occassionally she asks ‘What are you watching?’ knowing fully well that it is a piece of crap, but sometimes she gets intrigued and sits down for a gander (she likes MST3K lampooning and Philip Kaufman’s remake of Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978), but hated the masterful Night of the Hunter (1955)).  She watched all of The Alien Factor and laughed quite a bit along the way.

I think it’s a terrific bad film.  Does anyone know if there is a decent copy anywhere?

Don Dohler’s The Galaxy Invader (1985) and Nightbeast (1982) are also on my list to watch.

The Alien Factor_Zachary

Here’s an excerpt from Ernest Farino regarding animation of the Leemoid:

The Leemoid came after all that work had been completed. Britt McDonough had animated it first, but the results were deemed unsatisfactory. So Don wanted to start all over again from scratch. Britt had “permanently” double-exposed his stop motion creature directly onto the as-yet unprocessed live action (I’ve yet to understand how he was able to line things up and figure out any kind of shot lengths or frame counts). In any case, this, then, required that the live action for the sequence be completely re-shot. At that point, Don only had a batch of 16mm VNF (Video News Film) stock on hand, so he used that. This stock (no longer made) was designed to be compatible with TV, and thus had a blue-ish cast. This is why the overall color scheme suddenly shifts from normal daytime tones to what appears to be very blue “day-for-night” filtering.

In any case, they re-shot it and sent me the film, and I edited the sequence myself. I was shocked to see that there were numerous camera tilts and pans in the backgrounds. With no way to track or match these movements, I could only try to animate the Leemoid in and out of these shots and avoid the camera moves as much as possible. Thus, in some shots the creature steps in, takes a swipe at the guy, and then makes a hasty retreat. At which point the camera tilts down as the guys rolls down the hill (or whatever). Really clumsy, but there was no re-shooting the live action a third time.

It was established earlier in the film that the Leemoid was an energy creature, and was therefore supposed to be transparent. We thought this would let us get away with not having background projection or optical compositing, so I animated the creature against black, and the animation and background were combined in the lab by standard A/B-roll printing. However, the idea of the Leemoid being an energy creature was long-forgotten by the time the sequence showed up at the end of the film, and that concept was never repeated or reinforced for the sake of the viewer. So, as has been correctly remarked upon here, the result just looks like bad effects. It was bad effects work, of course, but we hoped the explanation of the nature of the creature might cause the audience to cut us a little slack.

I built the armature for the Leemoid in a weekend and completed the model in the evenings during the following week, mainly building it up in foam padding and covering it with latex skins. I had read that this was the way Jim Danforth had created the Mother Dinosaur in When Dinosaurs Ruled the Earth, so thought this would be an effective shortcut approach. (Of course, I wasn’t very skilled with the technique, and the Leemoid will never cause anyone to forget Jim’s brilliant Mother Dinosaur model…). The head was sculpted and cast in the traditional fashion.

Don basically gave me carte blanche with the sequence, and I remember him telling me on the phone, “Do whatever you think is best…” So it was with some frustration that I read a comment by Don quite a few years later that what I delivered “still wasn’t what I wanted.” The fact that Don never told me what he wanted didn’t seem to be important to mention.

Final anecdote: In 2003 I was the visual effects supervisor for the Sci-Fi Channel miniseries Children of Dune. After spending six months in Prague during pre-prodution and principal photography, I returned to dig in to the post production, which was set up at a company in Burbank called Area 51 (which I had previously hired to do work on From the Earth to the Moon for HBO and the previous miniseries, Dune). It was our routine to start every other day with VFX “dailies,” in which we would all gather around to see the latest versions of shots, tests, and eventually, completed shots which I would approve and sign off as Final. On my first day of watching dailies, they cued up a shot that had the official VFX slate and all the details, slated as a test of our saber-tooth tiger “dying.” They pressed Play and, of course, it was the Leemoid dying. Verrrry funny…

Here’s a recent shot of the Leemoid:

Leemoid Armature_E Farino

N. Pettigrew. 1999. The Stop-Motion Filmography, Volume 1. McFarland.

*Image of decaying Leemoid and excerpt article from The Classic Horror Film Board (CHFB) courtesy of and used under permission of Ernest Farino.

Kong’s Head

Posted in STOP-MOTION with tags on December 2, 2013 by MONSTERMINIONS

Here’s a closeup of King Kong’s head! This is the armature owned and exhibited by Bob Burns.

20131202-122232.jpg