Written by Mac McCord, edited by Tim Smyth
When the topic of stop motion animation comes up most people immediately think of Ray Harryhausen and Willis O’Brien. O’Brian was an early pioneer who used clay and then improved his armatures using ball and socket joints with foam and latex covering. He made many films starting in 1914, and was a huge inspiration and influence on a young Ray Harryhausen, who later was able to work for O’Brian in the 1949 film, Mighty Joe Young.
Ray Harryhausen and Jim Danforth
Ray Harryhausen went on to becoming a living legend in the field of stop motion and special effects, and he, in his turn, inspired and worked with a young Jim Danforth, who has been twice nominated for the Oscar for Visual Effects; once for George Pal’s 7 Faces of Dr. Lao, (1964) and the second time for When Dinosaurs Ruled the Earth, (1971).
Danforth got his first professional break at Art Clokey’s studio of Gumby fame, and later was hired by Project Unlimited to work on George Pal’s The Time Machine. (1960). He continued to produce films with Project Unlimited, working on Jack the Giant Killer,(1962) and The Wonderful World of the Brothers Grimm (1963). In this film he animated the very lifelike dragon. He also worked on Stanley Kramer’s comedy, It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World.
Later in the mid-sixties Danforth went back to work with Project Unlimited. They were tasked with creating the effects and monsters for the original The Outer Limits TV series. He animated the plane creature at the end of the episode titled “Counterweight,” and the scary bugs in “The Zanti Misfits.”
In 1964 Danforth worked on the pilot for STAR TREK, The Cage,” but received no credit. Also in 1964 Danforth worked with George Pal and did the model animation for the Oscar nominated 7 Faces of Dr. Lao, starring Tony Randall. Tony Randall considered this film the favorite of his long career. Unfortunately it lost the Oscar to Mary Poppins.
Danforth helped a young filmmaker named Dennis Muren to make a 16mm short film titled THE EQUINOX A journey into the Supernatural which was written by Mark Mcgee the title was suggested by David Allen. The film was later expanded into the feature film; The Equinox in 1971. Danforth helped with animating cells, set construction and matte painting,. He also was an ‘extra’ for that film. Muren would later go on to work for George Lucas and became the head of ILM’s special effects program. Danforth worked for England’s Hammer Films as an animator for the film When Dinosaurs Ruled the Earth. Mark Magee and David Allen were also main contributors to the film.
During this time he found a way to add more personality to his models by refining the facial animation. The emotional resonance of the mother dinosaur finding a human in a cast off baby egg shell, and her subsequent adoption of that human, brought a new level of characterization to stop motion animation. In 1975 he refused an offer by Dino de Laurentiis to work on the remake of KING KONG. That movie won an Oscar for best effects, though the effects nominating committee had not actually ever recommended the film for a nomination. Additionally the effects in question were shots of a man in an ape suit. Danforth quit the Academy as a protest. He was celebrated as a heroic rebel by film fans, but was persona non grata with the Hollywood Old Boys club.
Danforth continued to do occasional matte paintings for films and returned to England to work again with his mentor, Ray Harryhausen, on Harryhausen’s last film, Clash of the Titans, (1981). He continued to do matte paintings trough to ‘80s and 90’s. Today he lives in the Los Angeles area and works on fine art and fantasy paintings. He is a wonderful example of how artists inspire each other and then pass their passion along in order to keep an art alive.
THE ART OF STOP-MOTION ANIMATION, Ken Priebe
Thompson Course Technology
SPECIAL EFFECTS, by Richard Rickett, Billboard Books
Wikipedia, list of stop motion artists