On Ray Harryhausen’s 90th birthday, Sony Pictures Digital Productions honored the legendary visual effects pioneer by renaming its 119-seat screening theater after him. The Ray Harryhausen Theater will be formally dedicated on Monday, July 12,
with the unveiling of a sign displaying the theater’s new name, a reception and the screening of Jason and the Argonauts, one of Harryhausen’s seminal films. The film’s iconic scene, in which Harryhausen seamlessly blends stop-motion puppetry with live-action footage to create seven articulated skeletons battling Jason, is an oft-cited inspiration to today’s visual effects artists.
The honor comes on the heels of another tribute, from the British Academy of Film and Television Arts (BAFTA), which gave Harryhausen a special award acknowledging his important contributions to film.
“It’s an incredible honor to have this theater named at the studio I called home,” says Harryhausen. “It means as much to me as my Academy Award and the BAFTA honor I just received, especially knowing that it is a working theater where visual effects artists and animators work every day.”
Located on the Culver City lot of Sony Pictures Digital Productions, the screening theater is used on a daily basis by Sony Pictures Imageworks, Sony Pictures Animation and Sony Imageworks Interactive to screen its visual effects-laden and animated features in progress and is an apt tribute to Harryhausen’s lifelong career and legacy.
In keeping with Harryhausen’s consistent innovation, the Harryhausen Theater has undergone a significant state-of-the-art technical upgrade, with capabilities for projecting digital 3D stereoscopic content via Sony’s 4K CineAlta projector system and RealD Z Screen technology, 2D digital content and analog (filmed) content, along with a modernization of the THX-rated theater’s audio reproduction system for 7.1 Surround sound. In addition, the projection system is tied directly to the animation and visual effects computer production infrastructure, enabling direct access to the artists’ work-in-progress at any time.
“What’s amazing—and unique—about his work is that he often brought a sympathetic quality to the creatures, especially during their demise,” notes Grover Crisp, Sony Pictures’ SVP, asset management, film restoration and digital mastering, whose team restored Jason and the Argonauts. “It’s never just a shock-and-awe thing. He gave them some feeling and humanity.”
The 1963 classic, originally produced and released by Columbia Pictures (now part of Sony Pictures Entertainment), has been lovingly restored by Sony Pictures for Blu-ray Disc release on July 6. The disc—the fifth Harryhausen Blu-ray title from Sony Pictures Home Entertainment—features new commentaries by Harryhausen, Oscar-winning director Peter Jackson, film historian Tony Dalton and visual effects expert Randall William Cook, as well as a new interview Harryhausen did with filmmaker John Landis.
Harryhausen’s initial inspiration was the work of Willis H. O’Brien, the stop-motion photography pioneer of 1933s King Kong. Harryhausen worked alongside his mentor for the 1949 Mighty Joe Young. In the mid-1950s, he moved on to Columbia Pictures, where he created mind-boggling special effects for such films as 20 Million Miles to Earth (1957); The 7th Voyage of Sinbad (1958), Jason and the Argonauts (1963) and, later, for MGM, the original Clash of the Titans (1981).
The impact of Harryhausen on today’s generation of visual effects artists is exemplified by Sony Pictures Imageworks’ Creative Head and five-time Academy Award-winner Ken Ralston. Ralston was 14 when he met Harryhausen at the home of Forrest J. Ackerman, who published the magazine Famous Monsters of Filmland. “I was dumbfounded,” recalls Ralston, whose relationship with his mentor is now entering its fifth decade. “Ray’s films took me to these fantastic worlds, with these incredible creatures and characters, in a way I had never experienced before. I’d never seen anything like it, and it really stuck to me.”
Ralston and his friends attempted to recreate the magic in their garages with small puppets and 8 mm cameras, and, over the years, discovered the most important aspect of Harryhausen’s success. “It was his work ethic—how hard he disciplined himself to do that work,” says Ralston. “Those films are all Ray. He was all of it. For the most part, that was one person doing all of the effects work we see in his films. That’s something that’s almost impossible for younger people to understand, where today, it is an army of individuals creating a single shot.”
Upon entering the newly named theater and seeing Harryhausen’s name, Ralston hopes for one thing for those who use the facility. “As they walk in, just seeing his name and contemplating for a minute the inspiration he’s been to so many—not just effects people, but filmmakers in general. Ray Harryhausen has had a global influence. And we’re glad he has a home with us.”
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