One of America’s great national treasures, stop-motion animator Ray Harryhausen, celebrated his 90th birthday June 29th and the Web is bespangled with tributes, articles and retrospectives. So many of “Uncle Ray’s” films feature brave soldiers battling dinosaurs, aliens, space monsters and Greek myths, that you might wonder about Harryhausen’s martial experience. WIB readers might pleased to know that as a member of the Greatest Generation, Harryhausen joined his peers Chuck Jones, Ted Giesel (Dr. Seuss!) and others working on Frank Capra’s “Why We Fight” series during World War II. In his autobiography, Ray Harryhausen: An Animated Life (co-authored with Tony Dalton), Harryhausen writes:
Whilst I was working in the Special Service Division I was able to live with my parents, and went home after a day at the studios to work in my hobby house on another project called Guadalcanal (1943). It was a 10-minute color short about the battle for Guadalcanal in the Pacific using model ships and planes. I hoped to demonstrate the usefulness of model animation in illustrating events and techniques for wartime use, much as I had tried to do with my earlier How to Bridge a Gorge. However, unlike the previous effort, this was a much more sophisticated project that used wipes, sound effects and music “borrowed” from Max Steiner and Miklos Rozsa. For the sea I used a huge sheet of frosted ripple glass lit from below with a blue light, and for the waves on the glass I animated “waves” of sand. The final touch was to show a Japanese ship sinking, and to simulate the distressed water I used salt, animated like the sand into ripples of white “sea.”
In a 2008 interview with Lawrence French for Cinefantastique, Ray elaborated:
It was made in my spare time at night to show how you could use stop-motion photography to do a training film. I showed it to Frank Capra, and although he was impressed with it, the army never used it. At the time, I was working with Frank Capra in the Signal Corps and our post was at Western Avenue and Sunset, so I was able to live at home and work on Guadalcanal in my spare time …
All the tanks and boats I bought at the five and dime store. Except for the steamroller, which I had to build from scratch and the bulldozer, which was made from a model kit. The palm trees I had left over from Evolution. I used one foreground painting, which is obviously a painting, but shooting in 16mm you had a difficult time carrying the focus, because the painting was so close to the camera and in the background was the table where the action took place. To get a depth of field I stopped way down to f16 on the camera lens and took 30 seconds for each frame of film that was exposed. I originally used all canned music for the soundtrack, records of Stravinsky, Max Steiner and Howard Hanson, but we couldn’t get the release for that music for the DVD, so John Morgan and Bill Stromberg have composed new music for it.
On a related note, we’re now working on WIB‘s very first stop-motion animation. Details to come.