Animation is a form of visual entertainment that has taken so many different forms and names ever since it became well known to the public. You only have to look at the likes of hand drawn animation, cel animation, all forms of stop-motion animation, computer generated animation, computer generated effects, and even flash animation. Looking through all these different kinds of animation can show how far the animation industry has come since the first ever animated film. The best kind of question that can be asked is what kind of animation is the best at conveying emotion at a realistic level? What kind of animation can show off how the characters feel in certain moments while still showing off flashy motions? To fully answer that question, it is best to examine the animation style of Ray Harryhausen since he is well known for mixing stop motion with real life acting.
First a little background into his style, it often consists of having some creatures with stilted but comprehensible movements in a setting where it couldn’t happen. First the background scene is shot then the stop-motion characters are added in post filming. Well known examples include the dinosaur scenes like the skeleton fight from Jason & The Argonauts. He has also done some fully stop-motion animated shorts based off stories like Rapunzel, Little Red Riding hood, and so on so forth. These shorts were animated in a similar style but done with people rather than only using creatures.
With that out of the way, time to analyze specific examples as to how does his works capture emotion, first look at the stadium fight scene from The Black Scorpion. As soon as the scorpion enters the fray, it shows a savage intent with the turned down eyes. Later on in the scene as the fight goes on, you can tell that the scorpion shows concern for its own safety judging by the subtle eye gestures on his face. And here’s the real kicker, the expression that scorpion gives out is more human like than the humans he fight. A stop motion figure of a giant scorpion is capable of giving off a comprehensible expression while an actual human just delivers a blank expression while fighting off a giant monster that could kill him, showing how a stop-motion figure can convey an emotion compared to an actor in the 1957.
The next thing to look at is the previously mentioned skeleton fight scene from Jason and the Argonauts and see how they act. The main difference between the creatures in this scene compared to the one from Black scorpion is the by this point, Harryhausen has gotten better at his technique. And it shows here since the characters aren’t restricted to purely stilted movements, but do they still show expression through actions? Yes they do, the skeletons in this scene show a sense of how they prefer to intimidate since they have slow movements in the beginning of the scene. Then later on, they show signs of determination and anger as the fight goes on since they try their best to win and attack ferociously and carelessly in hopes of winning despite knowing that it costed the lives of their comrades.
Comparing animated character motions from older films isn’t relatively fair since it was before hollywood actors really started acting realistically. So this next segment will be focused on the encounter with medusa from Clash of the Titans. After Medusa kills two of Perseus’ companions, her facial expression along with the way she moves gives off a sense of urgency as she searches for Perseus. Even among actors that act decently, the stop motion figure gives off an expression that stands out. Even the motions she makes after being beheaded are lifelike, giving off a disturbingly accurate portrayal of someone slowly dying if they survive the initial beheading.
Revisiting the previously mentioned Clash of the Titans, there was another scene there that fits the bill of a stop motion character showing emotion. This time it’s the scene where Perseus flies towards the Kraken and all eyes are on him. The Kraken takes the time to slowly observe Perseus implying a sense of caution since there is a man flying on a pegasus approaching, unlike the countless soldiers restricted to the ground. After the Kraken knocks Perseus, it shows a sense of relaxation since the shoulders move slowly down. And like the scene with Medusa, it is even more impressive since it done among decent actors.
So after analyzing these clips of movies with animation done by Ray Harryhausen, what can be learned from it all? We see that his stop motion figures, no matter how inhuman they are, no matter what era, they can express something a human can too. They all express emotion that either is on the level of, or suprases the quality of the real actors in the same scene. These clay puppets all can express savagery, concern, anger, tenacity, caution, and relaxation. Despite lacking human features that make telegraphing said emotions more noticeable. A very impressive feat accomplished by Ray Harryhausen, and because of this, he has developed a cult following among aspiring animators. Much like how he felt himself towards watching the original King Kong.
Finally, to answer the question asked earlier, “What kind of animation can show off how the characters feel in certain moments while still showing off flashy motions?” If Ray Harryhausen’s films have shown off anything, it’s that stop motion is quite possibly the best or one of the best to fit that criteria. These clips have stolen the show among real actors and as stated earlier, sometimes surpass the acting skill of said actors. So in conclusion, if one wishes to imitate an animation style to create an emotion filled story with multiple layers to otherwise simple characters, Ray Harryhausen’s is the one to use as he has accomplished the things mentioned earlier. Even if he didn’t exactly do everything mentioned before all by himself as one would believe.
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