Monday, December 18, 2006

Advanced Animation Techniques in the 50s and 60s

In 1949, inspired by the work of Willis O'Brien in King Kong (1933), Ray Harryhausen animated the stop-motion gorilla in Mighty Joe Young (1949), although the work was mostly credited to O'Brien. This was Harryhausen's first feature film for which he created stop-motion animation. Ray Harryhausen's films, such as his best known work Jason and the Argonauts (1963) with its skeletal warriors set-piece, perfected stop-motion animation. By the time the 61 year-old Harryhausen had finished Clash of the Titans (1981), he had worked on more than a dozen sci-fi and fantasy films with stop-motion animation. George Pal, the father of screen science fiction fantasy films, artistically combined live acting cinematography, animation, puppets (e.g., Puppetoons produced for Paramount in the 30s), and other visual effects in films such as Tom Thumb (1958), the Cinerama-configured The Wonderful World of the Brothers Grimm (1962), and 7 Faces of Dr. Lao (1963).

Animator-geniuses of recent years have used pixillation, the frame by frame animation of live subjects or objects and human beings by filming them incrementally in various fixed poses. Mary Poppins (1964) was a more recent, semi-animated kids musical with both live-action and animated characters.

The best-known work of the Halas & Batchelor animation studios was the adult-themed Animal Farm (1954), the first animated color feature film made in England. The allegorical tale, based on George Orwell's 1945 satirical political novel, told of animals at Manor Farm who were led by pigs Napoleon and Snowball to rebelliously overthrow oppressive Farmer Jones, take over the farm, and form a free, egalitarian socialist utopia. The new society was to be based upon seven principles: 1. Whatever goes upon two legs is an enemy. 2. Whatever goes upon four legs, or has wings, is a friend. 3. No animal shall wear clothes. 4. No animal shall sleep in a bed. 5. No animal shall drink alcohol. 6. No animal shall kill any other animal. 7. All animals are equal. However, the animals would learn that some animals were more equal than others. [After the success of the 'talking-animal' hit Babe (1995), the film was later remade as the live-action TNT-TV production, Animal Farm (1999). It featured creations of Jim Henson's Creature Shop (where director John Stephenson was a veteran supervisor), animatronics and computer animation.]

A classic family animation with similar animal characters, although a-political, was Charlotte's Web (1973), adapted from E.B. White's beloved tale about an intelligent spider (Charlotte, voiced by Debbie Reynolds), a rat (Templeton, voiced by Paul Lynde), and a bashful, ill-fated barnyard pig (Wilbur, voiced by Henry Gibson). It was noted for Charlotte's sacrificial saving of Wilbur with web-spinning creations ("Some Pig"), Wilbur's caring for Charlotte's egg sac and spiderlings upon her death, and memorable songs including "Mother Earth and Father Time."

The magical puppetry of Jim Henson's Muppet characters have also charmed audiences, first with The Muppet Movie (1979), then followed by more adventures with Kermit, Miss Piggy, and other delightful characters.

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