TateShots

Ray Harryhausen on John Martin

Discover how a nineteenth-century British painter inspired a film legend

Ray Harryhausen is a legend in the film world. He created the special effects for films including Jason and the Argonauts and One Million Years B.C which changed the face of cinema and inspired filmmakers such as Steven Spielberg and Peter Jackson.

TateShots got the rare chance to visit Harryhausen at his home to discuss how the nineteenth-century painter John Martin influenced his work and why he considers Martin to be the father of modern cinema.

Transcription

RH: I’m Ray Harryhausen and I do special effects and film making; the Seventh Voyage of Sinbad, Jason and the Argonauts, Clash of the Titans, First Men on the Moon and the Three Worlds of Gulliver, I can’t name them all.

I have a big collection of John Martin engravings; they are very impressive because they have a theatrical quality to them. He portrayed all these rather sublime, dramatic images and they left an impression on me, and it’s very difficult to pinpoint it, but these things come to you subconsciously if you do a lot of research in your early period of learning the trade.

I think he influenced many artists of later periods, like Gustave Doré. I always say he’s one of the first art directors of motion picture, because so many of the early art directors would use his compositions. He had a wonderful way of making the depth; he would have the foreground very dark and medium brown and then a very light background. His engravings were very filmic. All these painters of that period were visionaries, and I think his paintings were highly influential in early films like The Deluge, and various other films of that period. So all these artists, they influence other people, and it gradually grows, it’s a snowball and it gets bigger and bigger and bigger.

TD: One of the great inspirations of Ray was Gustave Doré and also because of Olympus and Gods and other incredible, fantastic landscapes, John Martin and Michael Gandy. Both of those you can see in Ray’s films, especially in Clash of the Titans when you’ve got the background to Olympus.

RH: Everybody is influenced by somebody else, and I think that’s the way progress is made.

TD: This is probably the biggest exhibition that we have and today we are going to be installing four new items and also demonstrating how the process of split screen was done by Ray. It’s called Dynomation, basically; it means inserting models into live action.

RH: Our films were mainly fantasy films, and I think fantasy stretches the imagination. People don’t realise it takes years and years; I just didn’t happen to say ‘Eureka! I’m going to make these pictures;’ it took many years to gradually develop so that… one good film; and I imagine artists have to do the same thing, to make paintings such as John Martin. They grow; each painting is a progress for another painting.

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