Years ago, I had my heart quietly broken during a visit to a Ray Harryhausen exhibition at the now-defunct Museum of the Moving Image. I got to see the stop-motion models that had played some of my favourite movie monsters, the grinning skeleton warriors from Jason And The Argonauts, and six-armed Kali– the animated statue from Golden Voyage Of Sinbad. But it turned out even monsters of legend suffer the pangs of mortality. Their joints were cracked, their limbs crumbled, patches of latex flesh had decayed entirely revealing the metal armatures beneath. I recall the gorilla model Harryhausen used for 1949’s Mighty Joe Young had crumbled into an unrecognisable green stump. It was like watching faerie gold turn to rocks upon contact with the real world.
Now here’s where life as a retired special effect gets a little ‘Toy Story’. If you’re lucky, someone may devote time and money to restoring you. Check out the kind of four-star facelift received by the Skeksis – the vulture-like villains of Jim Henson’s soulful epic fantasy The Dark Crystal…
“Jaws terrified me so much as a kid that one important fact didn't immediately occur to me: The shark was fake.
Then I found a photo of Bruce being built, a workman leaning harmlessly into its mouth. That was my Heart of Darkness moment. At 10 years old, I decided that (a) I had to see Bruce for myself and (b) I had
to touch it. Why? Simple: How dangerous is a shark you can touch?”
to rot in the Universal backlot. Or had they…
This article illuminates that weird intersection between screen fantasy and special effects reality much better than this rambling blog post, so check it out.
Weirdly, my discovery of this article and my current nostalgic funk for special effects coincides with the depressing news that major VFX house Rhythm & Hues filed for bankruptcy a week before it won an Oscar for its dazzling work on Life Of Pi. Prompted by Rhythm & Hues going bust, many VFX artists protested outside the Oscars venue, trying to draw attention to the fact that their industry currently labours under a unfavourable business model.
Here’s a news piece by Variety that highlights some of the key issues.