Hollywood animation guru’s creations set to come back to life in Edinburgh

Picture: Sam Drake (National Galleries of Scotland)
Picture: Sam Drake (National Galleries of Scotland)
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The lid has been lifted on newly-restored and previously unseen monster models which will be showcased in the world’s biggest ever celebration of Hollywood special effects pioneer Ray Harryhausen when it is unveiled in Edinburgh.

Creatures used in films like Clash of the Titans, Jason and the Argonauts, One Million Years BC and Sinbad and the Eye of the Tiger will take centre stage at the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art.

Ray Harryhausen (1920-2013) animating Skeleton model (The 7th Voyage of Sinbad, 1958). Picture: The Ray and Diana Harryhausen Foundation

Ray Harryhausen (1920-2013) animating Skeleton model (The 7th Voyage of Sinbad, 1958). Picture: The Ray and Diana Harryhausen Foundation

Staged by the National Galleries of Scotland to coincide with what would have been his 100th birthday, the exhibition will also feature models, artwork, miniatures, screenplays and archive footage spanning more than 30 years in the movie industry.

Next year’s show, which is being overseen by the family of the stop-motion animation pioneer, which will explore how he decided to try to pursue a career in the film industry after seeing King Kong in 1933 at the age of 13.

He began overseeing special effects on films like Mighty Joe Young, The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms and It Came From Beneath in the 1940s and 1950s.

Harryhausen, who is described by the National Galleries as “a titan of cinema,” would go on to influence directors like George Lucas, Steven Spielberg, Tim Burton, Joe Dante and Peter Jackson.

Model of the Kraken from Clash of the Titans. Picture: The Ray and Diana Harryhausen Foundation

Model of the Kraken from Clash of the Titans. Picture: The Ray and Diana Harryhausen Foundation

The Edinburgh exhibition will be drawn from around 50,000 items which are in the care of the Harryhausen Foundation, which he set up in 1986.

Highlights are expected to include the chance to see Harryhausen’s original models for the famous skeleton sword fight sequence from Jason and the Argonauts, as well as Medusa and The Kraken from Clash of the Titans.

The National Galleries will be staging a special programme of film screenings, workshops and talks to coincide with the run of the exhibition, from May-October 2020.

It has been secured thanks to the Hollywood legend’s Scottish connections. His wife Diana, who died shortly after he did in 2013, was the great-granddaughter of the celebrated Scottish explorer and missionary David Livingstone. One of his last projects was a huge sculpture of Livingstone being attacked by a lion, which Harryhausen created for his birthplace in Lanarkshire.

Medusa model from Clash of the Titans, c.1979. Picture: The Ray and Diana Harryhausen Foundation

Medusa model from Clash of the Titans, c.1979. Picture: The Ray and Diana Harryhausen Foundation

Harryhausen’s daughter, Vanessa, who is writing a book to accompany the exhibition, said: “Our plans to celebrate Dad’s centenary at the National Galleries in Edinburgh are so exciting – if he was still around, he would be so enthused by all of our plans for 2020. It’s wonderful that we are able to display so much of his collection. “

“The space at the gallery gives us great scope to display as many of his models and artworks as possible, as well as personal items which have never been exhibited before, such as his equipment and tools. We’re thrilled by the enthusiasm that the National Galleries’ team are showing about displaying his collection and celebrating his legacy.

“He established the foundation in order to encourage future generations to enjoy stop-motion animation, and we hope that next year’s activities in Edinburgh will encourage fans of all ages to be inspired by his creativity”.

In a special tribute to Harryhausen ahead of the exhibition’s launch, Hollywood director John Landis, whose credits include An American Werewolf in London and Michael Jackson’s Thriller video, said: “The eight-year-old me was no longer sitting in my seat at the Crest Theater in West Los Angeles, I was on the beach of the island of Colossa and as awe-struck and fearful as Sinbad and his crew when the first Cyclops made his appearance. I was spellbound by Sinbad’s adventures and marvelled at the Cyclops, the two-headed Roc, the fire breathing dragon and the skeleton brought to life by the evil magician Sokurah.

Model of Skeleton from Jason and the Argonauts, c.1961. Picture: The Ray and Diana Harryhausen Foundation

Model of Skeleton from Jason and the Argonauts, c.1961. Picture: The Ray and Diana Harryhausen Foundation

“Only later did I learn that these extraordinary beasts were really brought to life by the magician Ray Harryhausen.”

Connor Heaney, collections manager at the Harryhausen Foundation, said: “In preparation for next year’s exhibition at the National Galleries, some of Ray’s most iconic models are being prepared for display. New restorations will allow for iconic creatures to be exhibited for the first time in many years.

“Other treasures from the archive will be publicly displayed for the first time ever.”

Simon Groom, director of modern and contemporary art at the National Galleries, said: “It’s an amazing experience to watch being brought back to life some of the most famous mythical creatures from the history of cinema.”

Original Skeleton model. armatured skeleton, with Medusa shield, from Jason and the Argonauts, c.1962. Picture: The Ray and Diana Harryhausen Foundation

Original Skeleton model. armatured skeleton, with Medusa shield, from Jason and the Argonauts, c.1962. Picture: The Ray and Diana Harryhausen Foundation