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A Hero's Journey Through Science Fiction

Archive for the category “Animation”

Duck Dodgers in the 24½th Century (1953)

Although released in 1953, this cartoon was under development and production during 1952, a presidential election year that pitted Dwight D. Eisenhower against Governor Adlai Stevenson. As you may know–and if you don’t, I’m givin’ it to you straight–presidential contests have a way of heightening the fear factor as both political sides of the contest use every trick in the book to motivate you to their way of thinking. (The More You Know…) In 1952, the cattle prod to the voting booth was Communism, more specifically the threat of godless hordes infiltrating our neighborhoods, churches, schools and bowling leagues. (Yes! Bowling leagues!) Much like today’s politics, it was the Republicans in 1952 who consistently championed themselves as the lighthouse in a darkness of evil whilst successfully painting the Democrats as weak-kneed handwringers who couldn’t poop nor get off the john. Beneath this opera of political wills–both national and international–was the quite real and terrifying threat of nuclear annihilation. In November 1 of 1952, the United States detonated in the Pacific Ivy Mike the world’s first Hydrogen “weapon”. Instantly the hopes of surviving your standard fission bomb war went from a maybe to a big fat wet phhht!. The futility of a cold war culminating in mutual destruction is codified in this toon. In Daffy’s Duck Dodgers is the arrogance that our nation brought to this mindless swager before our communist enemies. Who then does Porky represent in this tale? Oh, I don’t know, let’s say…uh, Canada?

TV of Tomorrow

From The Pedestrian, 1952

On this particular evening [Leonard Mead] began his journey in a westerly direction, toward the hidden sea. There was a good crystal frost in the air; it cut the nose and made the lungs blaze like a Christmas tree inside; you could feel the cold light going on and off, all the branches filled with invisible snow. He listened to the faint push of his soft shoes through autumn leaves with satisfaction, and whistled a cold quiet whistle between his teeth, occasionally picking up a leaf as he passed, examining its skeletal pattern in the infrequent lamplights as he went on, smelling its rusty smell.

“Hello, in there,” he whispered to every house on every side as he moved. “What’s up tonight on Channel 4, Channel 7, Channel 9? Where are the cowboys rushing, and do I see the United States Cavalry over the next hill to the rescue?”

The street was silent and long and empty, with only his shadow moving like the shadow of a hawk in midcountry. If he closed his eyes and stood very still, frozen, he could imagine himself upon the center of a plain, a wintry, windless Arizona desert with no house in a thousand miles, and only dry river beds, the streets, for company.

“What is it now?” he asked the houses, noticing his wrist watch. “Eight-thirty P.M.? Time for a dozen assorted murders? A quiz? A revue? A comedian falling off the stage?”

Was that a murmur of laughter from within a moon-white house? He hesitated, but went on when nothing more happened. He stumbled over a particularly uneven section of sidewalk. The cement was vanishing under flowers and grass. In ten years of walking by night or day, for thousands of miles, he had never met another person walking, not once in all that time.

— by Ray Bradbury

Stone Trek: The Deadly Ears

“The highly-unlikely adventures of the crew of the U.S.S. Magnetize. This Flash series was created by cartoon artist Brian Matthews out of his love for The Flintstones and Star Trek. What started out as a series of humorous panels developed into a Flash Animation series that just seems to have a life of it’s own. It stars the considerable voice talents of Wally Fields as all the characters on the show.” — Starland.com, sci-fi website that hosts two episodes of the three part series.

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)

In Memoriam: Ray Harryhausen (1920-2013)

Jason and the Argonauts

I can’t begin to elaborate on the impact Ray Harryhausen had on my childhood. But I suppose I must start somewhere. To do this justice, here are a few on the glowing tributes pouring in from masters of the cinematic universe, of whom very little would be written about, were it not for Mr. Harryhausen’s imagination and influence.

“Ray has been a great inspiration to us all in special visual industry. The art of his earlier films, which most of us grew up on, inspired us so much. Without Ray Harryhausen, there would likely have been no STAR WARS.”
George Lucas

“THE LORD OF THE RINGS is my ‘Ray Harryhausen movie’. Without his life-long love of his wondrous images and storytelling it would never have been made – not by me at least.”
Peter Jackson

“In my mind he will always be the king of stop-motion animation.”
Nick Park

“His legacy of course is in good hands because it’s carried in the DNA of so many film fans.”
Randy Cook

“You know I’m always saying to the guys that I work with now on computer graphics ‘do it like Ray Harryhausen’.”
Phil Tippett

“What we do now digitally with computers, Ray did digitally long before but without computers. Only with his digits.”
Terry Gilliam.

“Ray, your inspiration goes with us forever.”
Steven Spielberg

“I think all of us who are practioners in the arts of science fiction and fantasy movies now all feel that we’re standing on the shoulders of a giant. If not for Ray’s contribution to the collective dreamscape, we wouldn’t be who we are.”
James Cameron

Amen.

(quotes courtesy of the Harryhausen family)

Star Wars Episode IV: 121 Minutes in 60 Seconds

“Skywalker. Vader. Lots of futuristic rooms. The droids they were in fact looking for. All as if George Lucas were on meth.” –1A4STUDIO

A Boy And His Atom: The World’s Smallest Movie

“You’re about to see the movie that holds the Guinness World Records™ record for the World’s Smallest Stop-Motion Film (see how it was made at http://youtu.be/xA4QWwaweWA). The ability to move single atoms — the smallest particles of any element in the universe — is crucial to IBM’s research in the field of atomic memory. But even nanophysicists need to have a little fun. In that spirit, IBM researchers used a scanning tunneling microscope to move thousands of carbon monoxide molecules (two atoms stacked on top of each other), all in pursuit of making a movie so small it can be seen only when you magnify it 100 million times. A movie made with atoms. Learn more about atomic memory, data storage and big data at http://www.ibm.com/madewithatoms.” — IBM

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