Dynamation's Last Stand

CLICK TO PLAY the Stone Giant animation sequence!


During the early Nineties, the animation and visual effects industries transformed rapidly from their traditional old-school techniques to the use of computer generated imagery. One of the lost arts was "Dynamation", invented by the late, great Ray Harryhausen. Once considered the best and most revered method for integrating creatures into live action movies, Dynamation is now long obsolete. Although this Harryhausen-created procedure was generally considered to be a magician's secret, a few other masters such as Jim Danforth, David Allen, Randall William Cook, Jim Aupperle, Phil Tippett, and Doug Beswick all knew and practiced the art. The procedure involves animating a realistic stop-motion puppet in front of a rear-projection of live action footage. Foreground elements are masked out on a glass sheet in front of the camera and then restored by backwinding the film and running a second pass. The result is the illusion that the animated character is in the scene and interacting with the actors in the movie.

While employed by Full Moon Entertainment in 1994-1995, I was fortunate enough to have the opportunity to animate using the Dynamation technique on five separate movies. One of these productions, Magic Island, had the distinction of being the last feature film released which utilized Harryhausen's legacy process!

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Cowboys, Aliens, and Giant Scorpions

CLICK TO PLAY the Night Scorps animation sequences!


In 1994, animation legend David Allen (1944-1999) hired me to animate gigantic scorpions for the feature film Oblivion. The film was a bizarre space-western, the original "cowboys and aliens"! It was produced by Full Moon Entertainment, which was a very busy studio with many movies in production. At that time, David was running the Full Moon special effects department and rarely doing any actual hands-on animation. In fact his main concern was planning for his upcoming Primevals movie, which was his dream project. He trusted his crew to create the work for other films such as Oblivion, under his overall supervision. I teamed up with Joseph Grossberg, who was in charge of the visual effects camera work and lighting. My task was to bring the giant alien scorpions, called Night Scorps, to life via stop-motion animation.

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Stop-Motion Field Trip

A movie of the animation. Click to play!


In 1987, I was part of a group of dedicated artists hired to animate critters for the ABC weekend special RUNAWAY RALPH. For one particularly successful sequence, director John Clark Matthews came up with the bold idea of shooting the stop-motion animation outdoors. The concept sounded crazy at first because the stop-motion process would exaggerate the changing sunlight, clouds, and wind blowing on the landscape. For “realistic” animation, filming outside should not work, but it did! The sequence in question involved Ralph the mouse running away from home and riding his motorcycle on the highway. Initial tests proved that if the camera shots were animated in large increments, necessary in order to follow Ralph’s motorcycle, the wind and changing sunlight would be imperceptible.

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Fairy Tale Surrealism

A movie of the animation, Click to play.

One of the most unusual projects of my career was RED RIDING HOOD AND THE WELL-FED WOLF, an educational film that featured characters representing the various food groups. As Animation Director of the 1989 film, I created and brought to life talking food interacting with live actors who portrayed Red Riding Hood and the Wolf. Stop-motion animation was the main technique used, and traditional puppetry was employed for the shots involving the actors and the talking food together.

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The Making of ENCOUNTER

A movie of the animation. Click to play!


Let's take a journey in the “way-back machine” to 1982, when I was busy creating a stop-motion world in the spare bedroom of my apartment. Having previously filmed numerous animated experiments, I devised the methodology for a more ambitious project, ENCOUNTER, about a confrontation between knights and aliens in the Middle Ages. Information about the stop-motion process was very scarce in those days, but I managed to figure out and find ways that would work within the confines of low budget independent filmmaking.

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A look behind the scenes of art-making and other musings by .

fractal picture

See More Articles:

Howie and pumpkin from The Nightmare Before Christmas
Skellington Incident

Pillsbury doughboy baking a pie
Stop-Motion Doughboy

Aliens from Encounter movie
Making ENCOUNTER

mouse riding motorcycle
Stop-Motion Field Trip

nimslo camera
Anaglyph Technique

Frog as a knight
St. Frog and the Dragon

Mother and father Umblebum
Meet the Umblebums

Carrot puppets from Red Riding Hood and the Well Fed Wolf
Fairy Tale Surrealism

3 cavemen
Sculpting Cavemen

A reindog and elf
The Red-Nosed Reindog

Disney popsicles
Making Mickey's Parade

Freddy nightmare
Nightmares Made Real

tattooed lady
Tattoo Parlor Diorama

face of fire dancer
Painting RING OF FIRE

face of Night Scorp
Gigantic Scorpions

face of Night Scorp
Chroma Key Animation

bodybuilder Frank Zane posing
The Living Body as Sculpture

Man runs in a sewer movie set
Starting at the Bottom

Animated bottle cap character
Zippy the Cap

Stone Giant stop-motion puppet
The End of Dynamation

Candy on a boys face
Eye Candy

Dancing figures
Lucid Dream

Talking deer and moose hunting trophies
Wacky Trophy Heads

Handstanding figure over river valley
Making THE WANDERER

Portrait of man made of fruit
Creating a Fruit Man

Colorful mandala design
Mysterium Mandala

Portrait of Jack Skellington
Nightmare Still Photos

Spacecraft Wreckage
Spaceship Junkyard

Closeup of a robot
Making Models and Props pt. 1

Watch shaped like a mouse
Making Models and Props pt. 2

“Train
Making Models and Props pt. 3

“Face
Young Iguanodon

“ice
Lively Kisses

“shopping
Making Mall Mania

“powerful
Extreme Heroic Poses

“face
Earth Mother

© 2006-2018 Joel Fletcher
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