Playdead

Ray Harryhausen: Titan of Cinema

National Galleries of Scotland

Ray Harryhausen, the father of modern special effects, an icon of cinema who inspired the modern greats including George Lucas and Del Toro.  The visuals for an exhibition devoted to Harryhausen, one which would be the largest and widest-ranging exhibition of his work ever seen, could not be just inspired by or complementary, they had to not only be wholly authentic and respectful but be part of the narrative of the exhibition.

Playdead were commissioned by the National Galleries of Scotland to create the visuals for the Ray Harryhausen: Titan of Cinema exhibition.

Working closely with the NGS and with The Ray and Diana Harryhausen Foundation, we were allowed to 3D scan Ray’s original models from the 1963 film, Jason and the Argonauts. Our team led by Creative Director Kev McCrae carefully researched and referenced the original stop motion sequences.  The models were then rigged and animated. Using clippings from the film as reference, the team were then able to animate new, bespoke looping sequences of each of the individual characters and give them the stop-frame look they once had. We paid particular attention to the original material they were made from, to make sure they felt like a truly accurate portrayal of themselves and their traits within the film. These were then composited and projected into the gallery, back alongside the original Harryhausen models; the Skeletons, the Hydra, the Harpy and Talos. As well as this, we brought Ray’s hand drawn concept art to life and created a story where they fight between canvases that were then projected in-between his models and artwork. We animated the 1933 version of King Kong climbing the New York Empire State Building and exploded some of the footage from his most iconic films across three large Holo-Gauze screens to illustrate his incredible Dynamation technique. We created our own mythical ancient Greece scene and projected the visitors into that world, where they come face-to-face with their favourite characters.For the social and promo side of the exhibition, we worked closely with Smartify to produce an animation that would be used in their augmented-reality app, bringing to life one of the skeletons at your location.

King Kong

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Looking out onto 1933 Manhattan from the Empire State building, we took a high-res photograph of the model from the original film. The intention was to make it appear as if ‘Kong’ was peering into the window, breathing onto the glass as the visitor looks on. This film was Harryhausen’s inspiration for wanting to work in stop-frame animation.

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Dynamation

The Gallery was keen to draw attention to the ‘Dynamation’ technique that Ray Harryhausen used when creating his stop-frame animation sequences. The proposal was to hang three hologauze screens and allow the view to walk and see between the layers of footage (the central layer being the animation). We spent a considerable amount of time selecting the best scenes from some of his most iconic films, scenes which would showcase the technique in the best light. From there, we created a 2 minute edit and began rotoscoping the different layers. We then animated them breaking apart across the three screens. We also wanted to keep some of Ray’s original film cards, plates and tests within the sequences, to show just how raw and incredibly detailed he was – a true master of his craft.

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*Dynamation previz*

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Animation Table

The next installation included a room filled with some of Ray Harryhausen’s original sketches and concept art for his mythical creations. Taking his sketches, we brought them to life on the actual canvases and then created a story whereby they all interact and engage in a small battle as the visitor walks around the central table within the gallery space. The animation was all completely drawn by hand, with reference to each of the characters individual traits with the films (‘Jason and the Argonauts‘ and ‘Clash of the Titans‘). The characters are: Dioskilos, a two-headed wolf beast, a Martian (designed for ‘War of the Worlds‘, which never made it to screen unfortunately), Bubo, the golden owl, and the Skeletons.

We spent a considerable amount of time working out the perspective, story and layout of the sketches on the table. It was a very unique and exciting sequence to work on.

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Blockbuster Room

While the visitor works their way around the exhibition they are brought to the ‘Blockbuster Room’. This features all the original models from the classic 1963 film ‘Jason and the Argonauts‘ which contained some of Harryhausen’s most iconic creatures. The models are lined up next to each other on a head table: Talos, Harpy, Skeletons (x3) and the Hydra.

The proposal was to add small lights to the front of the models and have their shadows on the back wall behind them. Although these are fake shadows and actually come to life inside the gallery!

Taking Ray’s original models and 3D scanning them, we rigged and animated them using the sequences from the films for a true reference. We wanted these individual character animations to be as authentic and respectful as possible. Even the detail on the textures are from the actual physical models used within the film. We then created four bespoke looping scenes, considering everything from the detail of the their movements to the stop-frame effect, while creating a dark and eerie atmosphere within the gallery.

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Experience

We created a Greek mythological scene, including Mount Olympus and the Pantheon, to house Harryhausen’s fantastical creatures that we brought to life. The visitors to the exhibition are projected into this World, which allows them to come face-to-face with their favourite characters.

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Social

We worked with Smartify to create an augmented reality animation whereby one of the skeletons from ‘Jason and the Argonauts’ would appear in front of you, in any location.

We also produced a short teaser animation of the skeleton coming up through the ground, before slashing at the screen and revealing the details of the exhibition.

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