Ray Harryhausen Tribute: Jason and the Argonauts: The Skeleton Fight
“What we do now digitally with computers, Ray did digitally long before but without computers. Only with his digits.” — Terry Gilliam.
“The climax of the film is the battle with the children of the Hydra’s teeth. When Acetes catches up with Jason he scatters the teeth while calling on the forces of darkness to avenge him of the crime. From out of the ground appear armed skeletons. In the legend it is rotting corpses, but we thought this would give the film a certificate that might have barred children, so we decided on seven skeletons.
Each of the model skeletons was about eight to 10 inches high, and six of the seven were made for the sequence. The remaining one was a veteran from The Seventh Voyage of Sinbad, slightly repainted to match the new members of the family. When all the skeletons have manifested themselves to Jason and his men, they are commanded by Acetes to “Kill, kill, kill them all”, and we hear an unearthly scream. What follows is a sequence of which I am very proud. I had three men fighting seven skeletons, and each skeleton had five appendages to move in each separate frame of film. This meant at least 35 animation movements, each synchronised to the actors’ movements. Some days I was producing less than one second of screen time; in the end the whole sequence took a record four and a half months.
How do you kill skeletons? We puzzled over this for some time and, in the end, opted for simplicity by having Jason jump off the cliff into the sea, followed by the skeletons. It was the only way to kill off something that was already dead, and besides, we assumed that they couldn’t swim. After filming a stuntman jump into the sea, the prop men threw seven plaster skeletons off the cliff, which had to be done correctly on the first take as we couldn’t retrieve them. To this day there are, somewhere in the sea near that hotel on the cliff edge, the plaster bones of seven skeletons.”
© Ray Harryhausen and Tony Dalton 2003. This is an edited extract from Ray Harryhausen: An Animated Life by Ray Harryhausen and Tony Dalton, published by Aurum Press. (Courtesy of The Guardian)