Delayed from its original May launch, the stunning exhibition, Ray Harryhausen – Titan of Cinema, has now opened at the Scottish National Gallery Of Modern Art in Edinburgh, created in partnership with the Ray and Diana Harryhausen Foundation – and runs until Sunday 20th February 2022. Comic artist Gary Erskine was one of the first through the exhibition’s door and has very kindly shared his thoughts on the exhibition, and some photographs with downthetubes.
Celebrating the work of this extraordinary film maker Ray Harryhausen, this wide-ranging and eagerly-anticipated exhibition draws on an archive that consists of a treasure trove of material from Ray’s life, ranging from storyboards, paintings and scripts, through to original models, film equipment and plaster moulds. Much of this material has never been seen before, and as such the Foundation are aiming to present Ray’s work in a manner through it that has never been exhibited in the past where possible.
Edinburgh’s Museum of Modern Art opened the Ray Harryhausen: Titan of Cinema exhibition on Saturday 24th October. A comprehensive retrospective of his work including many of the seminal characters he brought to life over many years, including favourites from his Sinbad films, Mighty Joe Young (1949) and the Clash of the Titans (1981), it also includes a lot of personal items from his family life, early film experiments as a teenager, and covers his friendship with Ray Bradbury, and his military service, where he learnt a lot of practical film craft.
My wife, Mhairi, bought me tickets for the following Friday as a birthday present and we were both understandably concerned about the safety aspects of attending such a show. This was our first trip to Edinburgh since March. Our first trip anywhere!
Thanks to our friend, David Scroggy, formerly of Dark Horse Comics, we were assured that all precautions had been taken by staff and followed by attendees. David and his wife Rosemary had been at the opening night the previous week, and let us know what to expect both from the show itself and also the venue.
We arrived early and had a coffee and were immediately made to feel comfortable. A one-way system was in place with a One In, One Out system for ticket holders. We re-joined the queue outside, were led in and started the tour. Everyone was wearing a mask and staff were especially considerate in keeping everyone informed of the route and numbers per room. We felt very safe and relaxed enough to enjoy the exhibition as if it were a normal thing to do.
The first room covered the classic King Kong (1933). This was the film that inspired a young Ray Harryhausen, and lit the spark of his interest in both animation (stop-motion) and filmmaking. There were plenty of cool exhibits arranged in the room, video screens and props and the original models including the wireframe skeletons. A wonderful introduction to the exhibition and context for what was to follow.
Each subsequent room moved forward chronologically through Ray’s career. Even the room focusing on his three years of military service was of interest, as this period was very much where he learnt the craft of filmmaking production, editing and camera work. A seldom seen or mentioned part of his life.
There were also personal effects (books, letters and photos) from this time and his friendship with author Ray Bradbury.
Later rooms covered the classic films we know and love – and some of the lesser known ones too. Tables with props and curios from each film were displayed under glass but clearly lit and well presented.
Obviously, many of these exhibits are fragile and as much as I would like to have picked up and inspected some in detail, there was no need. The display cases allowed for photographs and easy viewing. Some of the popular and famous characters (Talos, the skeletons from Jason and The Argonauts, the Hydra) were given more prominence and had rear projection animations to better help bring them to life. Walls were covered with a selection of posters, storyboards, key frame illustrations, technical drawings of the skeletons and articulation of each character, personal photos from on set locations, and many more items. There was such a wealth of detail presented and plenty to read and inform about each.
One of the more striking presentations was a short series of clips of footage from early black and white films that were broken down into their constituent parts and projected through hanging screens set two meters apart. It really proved a perfect setup to display the layered technique of Ray’s stop-motion work. You instantly understood how the film was created and saw clearly how Ray’s work integrated into live action scenes.
There was also a short ten-minute film about Ray Harryhausen’s work that featured various friends, collaborators and others who were inspired by his work. Actresses Caroline Munro, who is an an Advisor to the Ray and Diana Harryhausen Foundation, and Martine Beswick talk about how Ray helped shape their performance to sometimes invisible characters or a mark on a long stick to help their focus. It was also fun to see Scottish writer Mark Millar make a short appearance and his tribute to Ray Harryhausen’s influence was perfect.
The highlights, for me, especially, were seeing my favourite characters in person: the pesky skeletons and Talos from Jason and the Argonauts (1963), Kali from The Golden Voyage of Sinbad, (1974) Minoton from Sinbad and the Eye of the Tiger (1977) and Bubo and the Kraken from Clash of the Titans (1981). Smaller models than expected (most were about 12 – 15 inches tall), but it still brought back so many fond memories of seeing these films and the characters in the cinema as a child or on the TV over a wet Saturday afternoon. A wonderfully nostalgic experience – and also informative.
The amount of work that Ray Harryhausen did beyond the characters represented on the screen was a revelation. His illustrative work and storyboards in particular were astounding and incredibly detailed. You could see how influenced he was by Gustav Dore’s work.
At the end of the exhibition, there was a fun green screen room to allow attendees to take selfies integrated into a scene where various Harryhausen characters appeared and “interacted” with you. Behind the screen as you left the room was a wall of dedications from a variety of film makers and animators who offered testimonies to Ray’s influence on their work. Peter Jackson, Joe Dante and George Lucas were particularly inspired. A nice end to a wonderfully rich exhibition.
With David Scroggy’s advice, we allowed ourselves two hours to walk round the exhibition, read all the screens and plaques and notes, and took our time with each display. Some of the smaller rooms meant we had to wait for other attendees to leave before we could enter but it seemed more of a courtesy than the health guidance it was. No one seemed rush either. The one-way system, hand sanitiser and overall staff made us feel safe and reassured. I would recommend this show for anyone with an interest in filmmaking and animation.
I left through the Gift Shop and bought Ray Harryhausen: Titan of Cinema the book which accompanied the exhibition. Written by his daughter Vanessa, it too is an exhaustive and comprehensive tome with plenty of details and photos covering Ray’s entire life and career. There are also many entries and testimonies from various filmmakers and animators and actors included. Highly recommended.
• Ray Harryhausen – Titan of Cinema runs until Sunday 20th February 2022, The Scottish National Gallery Of Modern Art (Modern Two) | Book tickets here | Sign up for their eBulletin on the National Galleries web site
• For those of you unable to visit this exhibition in person, there is a now an option to enjoy the “Ray Harryhausen | Titan of Cinema virtual exhibition experience” until until Sunday 20th February 2022, priced £10
This virtual experience includes: five specially created films including newly created animation; over 150 items from the exhibition including drawings, storyboards, models, posters and behind the scenes photographs; archive films and objects from Ray’s Harryhausen’s life and work; three specially created 3D model videos; access to four exclusive live online events, giving you the opportunity to ask questions of the experts (the first takes place 26th May with Vanessa Harryhausen) ; and get a fascinating look inside the exhibition and hear from family, friends and contemporaries, as well as just a few of the writers, animators and film makers who tell how Harryhausen and his work left an indelible mark on them.
Gary Erskine has worked in the comic industry for near thirty years for MARVEL, DC Comics, Vertigo, Dark Horse Comics, Image, IDW and other companies with writers Mark Millar, Warren Ellis, Garth Ennis, James Robinson and Grant Morrison on books including The Unwritten, Hellblazer, War Stories, The Massive with Brian Wood, and Grindhouse with Alex De Campi, with characters as diverse as Judge Dredd, Starman, John Constantine, Dan Dare and Captain America. He has also contributed to licenses including Star Wars, Star Trek, Doctor Who, Transformers and Terminator.
He mentors film students on storyboarding, teaches workshops at schools and libraries and is currently writing and publishing ROLLER GRRRLS.
Gary has also provided storyboards and concept design work for the games and film industry and also works commercially with clients including D’Agostini, SONY, EA Games COLORS, Team GB British Cycling, J League and the Joshua Agency. He has also contributed a short story to the successful Metal Made Flesh series for Subversive Comics working with writer Cy Dethan called “The Final Piece Of Me”. Recent work includes the companion graphic novel to the Frontlines series of sci-fi novels by Marko Kloos, written by Ivan Brandon for Jet City Comics.
He also teaches the art of creating comics both in person and online – check out his web site for details
National Galleries Scotland looks at the influence that artists such Gustave Doré and John Martin exerted on the art and film-making of Ray Harryhausen
A look at the profound influence that Harryhausen had on generations of visionary film-makers
• The Ray and Diana Harryhausen Foundation – www.harryhausen100.com – has launched a highly praised podcast with exclusive content from a series of extensive recordings made with Ray covering his life and work which are now part of the Foundation’s film and audio archive. The shows include retrospectives on classic films, unique interviews, announcements and competitions. These are free to access by the public via iTunes and Soundcloud
As we previously reported, Ray Harryhausen’s wife, Diana, had very strong links to Scotland, as the great-great granddaughter of explorer David Livingstone. Ray himself designed a statue of the legendary missionary being attacked by a lion, one of his last projects; the statue now sits outside the David Livingstone Centre in Blantyre.
BOOKS ABOUT RAY HARRYHAUSEN
• Ray Harryhausen: Titan of Cinema – book available from National Galleries Scotland
This new book accompanies the greatly anticipated Ray Harryhausen exhibition, which will be on show at the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art from October 2020 onwards.
A landmark exhibition book that examines 100 objects selected from an incredible archive by the animator Ray Harryhausen’s daughter. The book is packed with Vanessa’s personal stories that have never previously been heard or published from a life watching her father make world-famous films that changed the course of cinema.
Special effects superstar Ray Harryhausen elevated his stop-motion animation to an art during the 1950s to 1980s. An army of fighting skeletons in Jason and the Argonauts; a giant octopus wrapping its tentacles around the Golden Gate Bridge in It Came from Beneath the Sea; snakes writhing atop the Medusa’s head in Clash of the Titans – some of cinema’s most iconic creatures and images sprang from Ray Harryhausen’s imagination and skill.
He inspired a generation of filmmakers, from Peter Jackson to George Lucas, and his legendary influence on blockbuster cinema continues.
With material drawn from his incredible archive, his daughter, Vanessa, selects 100 creatures, mementoes and objects that mean the most to her. The book unveils, for the first time, many newly restored works, accompanied by Vanessa’s previously unpublished stories of life with Ray on set and at home. There are also fascinating contributions, telling of working with Ray and his innovative techniques, from many of those who were inspired by him. John Landis, Rick Baker, Caroline Munro, Merlin Crossingham and many others share their own memories in this very personal chronicle of the life of a true titan of cinema.
Harryhausen – The Movie Posters showcases the posters from all of Ray’s movies, from 1949’s Mighty Joe Young, to Clash of the Titans in 1981. There has never been a book devoted solely to the promotional art associated with these classic films.
Featuring posters from all over the world, as well as commentary from the Ray & Diana Harryhausen Foundation, this is an essential addition to any fan’s library.
A journey into the thrilling films that almost could-have-been, from the mind of the stop-motion genius who revolutionised Hollywood special effects
Known for his iconic stop-motion creatures, Ray Harryhausen was at the forefront of Hollywood special effects for much of the 20th century. His films include One Million Years B.C., Clash of the Titans and Jason and the Argonauts, among others. But for every film that reaches the big screen, half a dozen projects are never realised.
Harryhausen: The Lost Movies explores Harryhausen’s unrealised films, including unused ideas, projects he turned down and scenes that ended up on the cutting room floor. This book includes never-been-seen-before artwork, sketches, photos and test footage from the Harryhausen Foundation archives.
In An Animated Life (Aurum, 2003) Ray Harryhausen told the story of his career as the acknowledged grandmaster of special effects in the pre-computer era, the creator of classics such as One Million Years BC, Jason and the Argonauts and The Clash of Titans.
In this book the focus is not on the movies themselves, but on the vast hoard of artwork which Harryhausen has carefully preserved in his London home. These include preliminary sketches, elaborate drawings of key scenes and carefully plotted storyboards, all produced as he sought backing for his next venture and prepared to undertake the laborious task of animating the prehistoric creatures, aliens and mythical monsters which stole scene after scene from the human actors. There are also the tiny, elaborately articulated models which Harryhausen created to play these roles and the bronzes which he cast to preserve their forms in perpetuity.
This stunning array of images is a tribute to the scope of Harryhausen’s imagination and his artistic skills which no student of special effects or cinema history will want to be without.