An examination of analogue and digital tools utilized in the creation and animation of Gorgon Medusa in Clash of the Titans (1981) and in Clash of the Titans (2010).
This essay aim to discuss, compare and bring forth an understanding of the tools and techniques implemented in the creation of the Medusa Creature in Clash of the Titans (1981) using the technique of stop-motion animation and miniatures and in the use of digital computer generated model and motion-capture in Clash of the Titans (2010).
Clash of the Titans (1981) is a Greek Epic which was directed by Desmond Davis and Produced by Ray Harryhausen and Charles H. Schneer. Ray Harryhausen, the most successful, innovative and leading animator and Visual Effects artist. He is the landmark for the stop-motion animation. “A man who has inspired us all, one frame at a time.” (THE SECRET LAB DISNEY FEATURE ANIMATION AND WALT DISNEY COMPANY). He was inspired by King Kong (1933) which was animated by Wills O’Brien, first Stop-Motion Animator, and it changed his life.
Ray Harryhausen and Charles H. Schneer are long-time colleagues. Their first combination movie was “It Came from Beneath the Sea (1955)”. Both decided to produce Clash of the Titans (1981), a low budget product with a predictable and dependable margin of profit but it happened to develop into a big-budget production (Cinefex, 1981). Because of big-budget Ray produced extra dose of stop-motion effects. Movie took nearly three years of development and preproduction and its budget was $16 million and become the 11th highest grossing film of 1981 (CG World, 2010). He did lot of work for creating city of Argos miniature, puppets of winged horse Pegasus, Calibos, snake-tailed Medusa, Dioskilos, Scorpions and the Kraken. This was Ray’s last film; he took retire after the Clash of the Titans.
It’s been 29 years since Ray Harryhausen and Desmond Davis released the original Clash of the Titans (1981). Now the Greek Gods are back again for another battle in Warner Bros. Pictures remake of the original Clash of the Titans, directed by Louis Leterrier. Louis Leterrier was a fan of the original Clash of the Titans and he wanted to make sure this new ‘Clash of the Titans’. Nick Davis, the visual effects supervisor divided the visual effects work into three main parts because of 900 visual effects shots and short postproduction. Postproduction completed in 25 weeks by artists at The Moving Picture Company, Framestore and Cinesite (Cinefex, 2010).
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“A colossus of stop motion goes head to head with the new giants of CG, as Jim Thacker discovers how three VFX houses re-imagined Ray Harryhausen’s final creature feature for the digital era (3D World, 2010)”.
“We divided it into three main parts, playing to the strengths of the different houses, and locking together those sequences that, logically, would stay together. Whoever did the Kraken, for example, would have to do the city of Argos. So that block of work stayed together and went to MPC. The Scorpioch battle was very much a stand-alone sequence, and we felt it lent itself quite well to the skill sets of Cinesite. That left everything else – Hades, Medusa, Calibos, and all of the other environments – to Framestore.” By Nick Davis (Cinefex 2010)
CLASH OF THE TITANS (1981)
GORGON MEDUSA, terryfying female creature in Greek Mythology, She is one of the three Gorgon sisters. Medusa had once looking good, but after a assault in Athena Temple the goddess, Aphrodite, turned her into a weird creature having serpents on the head instead of hair and her lower body look like snake, upper body is albeit green and covered in reptilian scales and her curse of turning human life that looked at her into stone. Ray Harryhausen developed Medusa into a dynamation( it is the name of the technique used by Ray Harryhausen used to combine stop-motion footage with live action by means of split screen and rear projection) character. He researched about the Medusa creature how the art and literature painted and he discovered two paintings by Caravaggio’s Medusa and Leonardo da Vinci’s Testa di Medusa (An Animated Life, page 272).
By watching the portrait of Caravaggio’s Medusa Ray realised that this look attractive rather than Gorgon. He saw an attractive statue of Perseus holding frightening Medusa’s head by Cellini in Florence and decided to design Cellini’s Medusa in his film. The torso of her should give the ugliness to her face so he decided to give her a non – human body. After a long debate Ray opted to twelve snakes on the head, instead of arise from the skull he laid them on head to take more space and for the lower body added a rattlesnake tail for the interesting opening sequence. When he was setting up for animation he had no idea about how the Medusa is going to move because of her lower snake body and the heavy weight of her top. He took a reference image from the 1932 Tod Browning Film Freaks, in this film a handicapped man move forward by the support of hand (An Animated Life, page 272).
The model of Medusa is 14 inches high and 24 inches long from the tip to the head of the Medusa. The Medusa contains 150 armature joints (the kinematic chains used in computer animation to simulate the motions of virtual characters). Initially Ray planned to build two Medusa characters one with full body and another with only head for the close – up shots. But for the close – up shots with big head had to use bag filters to look good so he decided to manage with the single Medusa it is enough to shoot her face, tail and lower body individually.
The animation of Medusa took days for the simple movement like moving her hand to reach the bowstring and few more days to pick the arrow and few more days to release the arrow. And also animating the general movement of the mouth, eyes and fingers and the realistic movement of her tail took more time to complete the perfect animation. Including this he had to animate the twelve individual snakes at every point on the head and the head and tail of the twelve snakes are separate and he had to move them separately, so totally twenty four movements plus one more around her wrist (An Animated Life, page 274-275). In the film the Medusa sequence is six minute and it contains fifty-three stop-motion cuts (The Stop-Motion Filmography, Page 139).
The most successful achievement of the medusa sequence is it doesn’t appear like composite photography. The whole shots of medusa were shoot on a full size set of chamber except some steps and the pillar is constructed in miniature. To show the creepy in the scene the opening sequence of the medusa is seen only in the part of shadows, the raising tail on the wall and the head with snakes on her hair writhe, in this part of the sequence the wall and the column are the miniatures set, placed in front of the rear-projected with flaming braziers ( The Stop-Motion Filmography, page 140). Miniature is a representational model which are built, operated and photographed so as to appear to be genuine in character and full-scale of size ( Special Effects of Cinematography, page 322). Rear-Projection and Miniatures were the common tool for the visual effects artists in early history. Miniatures presents three -dimensional, lighting can be changed from shot to shot.
In long shot Medusa drags herself along with her arms enter into the scene. This is the scene which was composited by rear-projection technique. A rear projector and camera positioned on either side of a central assembly consisting of a rear process screen and an intermediate pane of glass between it and the camera. Small areas of live-action footage to be projected onto the screen and then surrounded with elaborate glass paintings. Background temple is a live action footage which was projected on to translucent screen by rare projector and camera is used to shoot on to the translucent screen, in between the camera and the translucent screen Medusa is placed and animated. To interact the character with background they used a brazier on the left of the rear projection.
Fig. Dynamation by Ray Harryhausen
Fig. Rear-Projection Technique
In the next two shots, a composite of Medusa into the centre of shield of Perseus by using a matte technique. Matte is a technique of combining foreground and back ground image elements into one final image by compositing. In those days before computer graphic technology they used glass shots, mirror shots, travelling matte shots, in camera matte shots, optical printing and aerial image printing for matte. In this movie they used travelling matte to compose Medusa onto the Perseus shield. In travelling matte the compositing is done on a optical printer. Both the foreground and background scenes are printed onto a duplicate negative. While compositing the Medusa onto the shield the background image (Perseus with shield) looks like a still image it is used to avoid more complicate on the scene.
Fig. Travelling matte
Fig. Medusa on the shield of Perseus using matte.
Another rear projection used in this movie is when the Medusa looks into the fallen soldier and he turned into stone because of her curse. This is a scene where the background is a live action shoot and the Medusa is composed onto background by using rear-projection. In the foreground the camera zooms in from the medium shot to close up of Medusa’s face to show her eyes more lighting and the skin with scaly green and her jagged teeth ( The Stop- Motion Filmography, page 140). In this scene her eyes are composed for lighting by using matte.
Fig. Medusa with lighting eyes to show her power to turn into stone.
In the next shot Medusa passes behind a statue. It shows the depth between the foreground, midground and the background. In the background is the live shoot and in the midground Medusa passes along on her tail and in the foreground a statue. The statue is actually a miniature and some brazier is used for lighting on a statue. This is a scene mixed of rear projection, miniature and matte techniques.
The next scene Perseus is ready to cuts off the Medusa’s head. In this sequence the foreground Medusa puppet is actually a far off and behind live action figures. In this scene they used a camera technique by using dollies to show the foreground puppet is beside the Perseus to create the depth in the scene. This type of technique is called “reality sandwich” , it fools the eye to think that a foreground puppet is actually far off and behind live – action figures ( The Stop-Motion Filmography, page 141). The sequence fallowed by cutting the head of the Medusa. This scene is shot by using wires for the animation of the separated head of Medusa. And one of the Medusa’s hand scratches with the fingernails onto the pillars. In this scene the pillar, it is actually a miniature and the scratches are drawn on a cardboard and they animated it after the Medusa’s hand. After the body fell down the red goo comes out from the neck, actually the goo was shot separately, it is mixed of red-tinted wallpaper paste. They cut a tube that would match the size of the neck and it is tied with the black velvet and it is poured it down the tube, it looks like oozed out. After that it is matted it into the scene ( An Animate Life, Page 274). The Medusa’s sequence ends with a final shot with static matte contains Perseus stands and holding the Medusa’s head on right and to the left the lower body of Medusa lying in a pool of red ooze ( The Stop-Motion Filmography, page 141).
CLASH OF THE TITANS (2010)
Warner Bros. Pictures remake original Clash of the Titans. Much as the fondly remembered 1981 feature is a reworking of the myth of Perseus, this 2010 release is director Louis Leterrier’s reimagining of the Harryhausen original (3DWorld, page 30). Aaron Sims Company (Production and Character Design Company) designed the variety of creatures based on the Greek mythology characters and the characters appeared in Ray’s original film. “We’ve seen so many Greek mythology characters done in films,” Aaron Sims. Sims team designed more than 1000 designs by the end of the project time. The team started with pencil designs, Photoshop paintings and 3D models, textured and rendered lot of 3D characters still images. These were given to the visual effects crews and previsualization team to utilize them in the production (Cinefex 2010).
Fig: Medusa Designs of Aaron Sims company (Character Design Company)
Because of the short time of post production and the 900 shots of computer graphics Nick Davis divided work into 3 parts and gave to three main visual effects houses in London. Framestore got the work of Medusa, Hades and Olympus. Framestore carefully distributed the snakes on Medusa’s head to convince the viewer that her head and neck are capable of bearing thier weight ( 3DWorld, page 30). Based on the designs of Aaron Sims Company visual effects artists made Medusa with a massive snake body on lower part and snakes replaced with hair on the head of the Medusa and her body slithers into a womanly shape. Medusa is a beautiful lady because of the curse by gods she turned into gorgon, so they took some reference photos of Natalia Vodianova to design the face of Medusa.
” We had to try to make the snake body merge seamlessly into a human body and still feel snake-like,” Webber says. ” The 50-foot snake starts changing into a human body and still hips. You see a slight bulge, a hint of stomach muscle, and the scales smooth out. She has metal armor a kind of metal bra with a snake design.”( CGWorld, )
In Clash of the Titans(2010) Medusa is completely designed and animated by using Computer Graphics. When compared to original movie Ray Harryhausen used a puppet Medusa and rear projection techniques for mixing the live footage and the Medusa character for the entire sequence. To animate snakes on her hair they wrote a plug-in for Maya (Autodesk’s) to manage the scales. Every snake is individually animated by using this plug-in. In the original movie Ray is the only person who animated the snakes individually by hand. Eventhough she doen’t have any dialouges, she had facial expressions based on the Vodianova, they had full-on facial animation rig to show creepy in the audience.
They modelled two models in 3D, both are animatable. One with beautiful face and the another with scary snake. They used morph to change from beautiful face to scary snake. When she pertifies people, her head changes from beautiful women to a scary snake (CGWorld, ). In the morphing the model could change, the texture could change, and the skin surface could change. It is not possible to change all at same time. She again changes from scary snake to human, in this scene the animators managed the timing for the morph and for the snakes. Because of the individual behavior of the snakes procedural techniques are not worked and so the animation of snakes ended up a lot with a hand animation.
Fig. Medusa’s head transform from scary snake to beautiful women