| n the spirit of "Steven Spielberg Presents", Ray Harryhausen and
his agent Arnold Kunert have envisioned a way to help talented
artists make a name in the industry. Where Spielberg spotlighted
discoveries such as Robert Zemeckis, Joe Dante, and Chris Columbus in the 1980’s, “Ray Harryhausen Presents” has found a similar way to showcase talent through projects under his name and approval. Thus the stop motion short “The Pit and the Pendulum” was created, falling under the umbrella of "Ray Harryhausen Presents", which includes Harryhausen’s launch of comic books, movies, video games, trading cards and his official website.|
Two years ago Kunert suggested the idea to Harryhausen, after a discussion about his projects that time and clearance had kept unrealized. Harryhausen liked the idea. They settled on a project using Poe’s short stories, usually 10 to 15 pages in length with a small number of characters. “We selected Poe because it was one of the projects Ray was interested in doing in the 40’s”, Kunert explained. “The Pit and the Pendulum”, with one primary character, was an ideal start.
|Requires CGTalk or CGSociety Membership& QuickTime 6|
|Kunert contacted Steve Jaworski, who in turn contacted former colleague Marc Lougee, who directed and co-produced the short with his wife, Susan Ma. Under Lougee, the team began to take form.
Lougee enlisted the company Switch VFX from Toronto, Canada, during the preliminary development stage. Jon Campfens, Co-founder and VFX Supervisor at Switch, was impressed when he heard what Lougee intended to do. “We felt we really had to be part of this film. I am a big fan of stop motion animation and with the recent resurgence of this art form I knew that Marc would be able to bring a real visual style and be faithful to the poem”. Jon was brought on board as the VFX Supervisor and to help with technical requirements that might be needed in shooting the film. |
Lougee also sought out Fred Fuchs, known for producing the films “Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein”, “Bram Stoker’s Dracula” and “Godfather III”. “I was asked to come on board as Executive Producer,” Fuchs explained. “I was to help with overall creative and also financing and distribution. My company was producing a stop motion television series so had lots of interest in the medium. We were able to help by providing equipment and technology at no cost”.
Fuchs’s involvement and the Canadian programs that support this sort of work made the production feasible. “We had no money!” Lougee exclaimed. “I got grants from Bravo!Fact in Canada, as well as the NFB in Montreal, a real blessing”. Lougee credits Judy Gladstone at Bravo!Fact, an organization through CHUM Network, and Michael Fukushima at the NFB for the support. The short was partially financed independently by Marc Lougee and Susan Ma, and a shoot studio was provided by Pete Denomme, Laurie Thompson and Jon Campfens. Fuchs supplied editing facilities, and Casablanca North helped with deals to post. Kunert estimated the short would have normally cost roughly $50-$60K, but it was a labor of love done between other projects with a tremendous support base.
Harryhausen had script approval, striving to maintain faithfulness to Poe's story. He also consulted and confirmed visuals were impressive and reflected his style of animation. Since Harryhausen lives in London, updates were handled via email.
Time and money were always a factor, and Lougee was working on this between other projects. He, Kunert, and Harryhausen were scheduled to meet in July of 2005 to view a rough cut of the film, so the rush was on. Matt Taylor wrote the shooting script and provided the concept art. Scripts and designs took about 4 to 5 months to complete, and were done during the puppet and set construction. There were four puppet characters: two monks, a French soldier, and of course the prisoner.
The puppets stood roughly 14” tall and were constructed over an armature kit from England that Lougee modified. The puppets needed to be light with replaceable parts at a low cost, not an easy combination. Lougee selected a ball and socket setup, made from bronze tubes brazed to steel joints. “Surprisingly, they were pretty tough. I use to build all my armatures for commercial work, but these were the first I had done in years”. The heads and hands were constructed from silicon, and the fabric wardrobe was furnished by costume designer Rosary Kwak.
Space was extremely limited, so sets were designed with CG augmentation in mind, and were built on four by four foot tabletops, creating a challenge by the shear limitation of space. Lens choice was key, to extend the set as far as possible. The practical sets would then be shot on green screen and extended with CG mattes.
The actual shoot was only about four-and-a-half weeks, but animators Mike Weiss and Ryan Fairley worked with Lougee from nine AM til one or two AM, six to seven days a week. “We all had gigs to jump into at the end of the shoot, so we went full on to get the film ready for post, while ramping up for the next job,” Lougee said. “We focused on using the same armatured heads, to keep the integrity of the faces intact. Logistically, we only had the budget for a couple of heads, one for each puppet, with a spare facial skin each that we could peel off and replace quickly, a feature I designed into the construction process to keep up with such a tight shot schedule. Mike and Ryan pulled it off. They are a couple of heroes.”
Harryhausen and Kunert met with Marc Lougee in Toronto in July 2005 to see the rough cut. They were pleased with what they saw, and confident in Lougee’s skills. The short was now entirely up to Lougee and his team.