Science Fiction Filme.) First of all, I would like to thank you for your time doing this Interview. I think you´re work have got a huge fan base here in Germany. Especially because for films like ROBOCOP, WILLOW or LAND OF THE LOST of course. A lot of movie maniacs know the films you´re involved. Could you please tell us what you did before you come into filmbusiness. Why have you choose the way of being into special effects?
Harry Walton) From about the age of seven I remember being very intrigued by movies like KING KONG (1933) and MIGHTY JOE YOUNG (1949) which I saw on television. At least twice a month my aunt would take me and my cousin to the drive in movie theatre to see monster and scifi movies during the 1950's which was a great era for these type of movies. Of course I saw all of the Ray Harryhausen movies during the 50's and 60's and was very intrigued by how the creatures looked, moved and were alive in some strange way that I couldn't figure out until I got Famous Monsters of Filmland magazine.
So on weekends as a kid I started doing simple monster make ups on myself and my cousin and taking still photos of ourselves. This went on until my first year in high school and eventually led to me making 8mm home movies experimenting with stop motion animation and visual effects. I would make clay figures and animate them, I made a miniature flying saucer and animated it in front of a 8mm rear projected image on tracing paper, I did a werewolf transformation with in camera dissolves, I made crude matte paintings and combined it with live action via split screen, animated a 2D bat transformation into Dracula and many more such experiments.
SFF.) If I´m right informed you were starting your professional career as a stop motion animator was THE TOOL BOX back in 1971. How did you get to this job and what did you learn from this movie the most?
H.W.) My professional career started in 1968 working for Clokey Productions on GUMBY and DAVEY & GOLIATH television series. Rick Baker and I had met in high school and he was already working at Clokeys and told me about the place and said I should apply for a job. I got an appointment and brought my 8mm home movie animation experiments with me to Clokey Productions and soon after I was offered a job.
As for THE TOOLBOX...I was already working for Gene Warren Sr. at his company Excelsior! Animated Moving Pictures and this was one of the jobs that came into the studio. This was the first stop motion animation that I did where I had to animate characters to musical beats. This was a project that George Pal brought to the studio and so I got to meet George and he gave me some very helpful animation feedback during the production. I must say though that I learned more about stop motion animation from Gene Warren Sr. in my six years working for him than any other person...he was a master of the craft!
SFF.) Do you have any personal idols or role models in your business? Is there a movie or an event which make you think: “I want to do the same thing.”? Do you have any collaboration which was the most influential in your career and why?
H.W.) Absolutely...Willis O'Brien, Ray Harryhausen, Gene Warren Sr., George Pal, Jim Danforth, Albert Whitlock, Peter Ellenshaw, Les Bowie, Phil Kellison, Wah Chang, Ron Seawright and many others. Movies like KING KONG (1933), MIGHTY JOE YOUNG (1949) and THE 7TH VOYAGE OF SINBAD (1958) were great inspirations for my career. Again working for Gene Warren Sr. was the most influential job because this was early in my career and I learned more about animation from Gene than any other person. I also learned much about other areas of visual effects such as front projection compositing, optical compositing, miniature cinematography and more. I must say that I also learned much about character animation and timing from Tex Avery later on at Cascade Pictures of California and at CPC Associates where we both worked.
SFF.) You belong to the animation effects crew for one of my alltime favorite shows: LAND OF THE LOST. It´s a part of my childhood. What exactly did you do on this show and do you believe, at that time, that this tv-series would make it into some kind of cult?
H.W.) Yes LAND OF THE LOST was one of my favorite shows to work on. We did three seasons of LOTL 1974, 1975 and 1976. My primary task was as a stop motion animator. I also performed many other jobs such as making some of the armatures, sculpting, casting and painting most of the dinosaurs, cinematography, lighting and setting up my shots. At the time nobody thought LOTL would later have a cult following. It was another job to do but we did know that this job was a cool one and an envy of the Hollywood effects community at the time.
SFF.) Were the materials used for this TV series difficult to handle? Did you have or do you have certain tools or materials that you can best handle in order of stop motion animation?
H.W.) The materials such as the Uniroyal or Goodyear foam rubber kits, flexible paints, rubber paste and plasters were all good as far as I was concerned. There was no problem with these materials if you knew how to use them. Later on in the 80's I seem to remember that the quality of the foam rubber kits were not as good and the foam castings didn't seem to last as long. There were many different flexible painting procedures. One that was very good was thinning rubber cement with benzine and coloring with latex tints.
SFF) How should I imagine the work of a stop motion animator in the 1970s? A lot of things were certainly new and a lot of things were tried out. In retrospect, how do you feel about that time?
H.W.) I love the 70's to the mid 90's and the decades before while animation and effects were photo - mechanical. For me you can't beat the tactile experience of being on a set, handling puppets, fabricating armatures, hand painting mattes, making miniatures, operating cameras and projectors, lighting sets and so on. There was a lot of work in the 70"s and not a huge specialized work force like you have today so we were always busy...there was always plenty of work to go around. Most of the effects companies were small by todays standards so you learned to do more than one thing. All I can say is that I am thankful that I was a traditional effects person during the 60's, 70's, 80's and 90's.
SFF) Is there a special difference between a stop motion and a go motion animator?
H.W.) I don't see a difference between the two. In fact the go motion that was being done at ILM was actually about 75% stop motion. You are still manipulating a puppet's appendages whether moving the parts by hand or moving the parts via a moving device...the animator is still driving the performance. The whole purpose of go motion is to add motion blur to the otherwise static animation. I and others have actually added blurs to stop motion by other means before there was "go motion".
SFF.) What is your opinion about education to become an expert in special/ visual effects? Is there any requirement or talent you need to have next to enthusiasm?
H.W.) Yes I believe enthusiasm is the most important requirement because without it you are not going to do what it takes to seek out, experiment and aquire the knowledge that is necessary. I come from a different world where there was no schools for visual effects or animation. I learned on my own, from friends, colleagues and mostly on the job as a master and apprentice relationship.
SFF.) What do you feel about Stop-motion. Is it just a technical one or art?
H.W.) Visual effects is both technical and artistic. The work would suffer if it were only technical or only artistic. One needs to have an artistic eye to properly evaluate the work and make corrections, modifications or completely redo something if needed. I have also had to learn the technical aspects of visual effects to compliment my artistic qualities such as film lab procedures, how printing lights work, technical aspects of different film stocks, mathmatical formulas for calculating how to shoot high speed miniatures and many more things. In many ways I have had to be an inventor as well.
SFF.) We all have our favorite movies. Mine is PHASE IV for example. But which movies do you really don´t like and why?
H.W.) What movies I don't like? This is too difficult to answer. There have been many over the years and I guess I just forget about them or don't think about them. I would rather talk about the movies I do like and why.
SFF.) If we look back to the movies you have done, we see that you did a lot of genre-movies. I am really into science fiction (or fantasymovies in general) because I think, that those kind of movies are the best way to show actual political and social events. For example SOYLENT GREEN or SILENT RUNNING. Do you believe that these genres can transfer something to the people?
H.W.) Sure these type of movies transfer something to the viewers as I believe all types of movies do in one way or another. Some movies have strong 'in your face' messages, some very subtle messages and some are just pure entertainment. You ultimately have to capture and hold the audiences attention with strong and interesting characters, good story, pacing and other cinematic values.
SFF.) Do you have a project you always wanted to do or are there something in progress we can enjoy in the future?
H.W.) Yes there was a movie idea circa 1980 called HELLSPAWN that was a project of a friend of mine named Bill Stromberg. Bill actually got actors and a small crew together and shot a short live action sequence. I was in charge of shooting the plates for later inserting a stop motion creature that would menace the actors. This was a project where I was donating my spare time. I did some projection tests and creature designs but was not able to proceed any further because of other work demands. I would have loved to have completed this movie.
Now I mostly work on digital matte paintings and fine art paintings. I'm working on a few matte painting composites for David Allen's movie PRIMEVALS which is being handled now by David's long time associate Chris Endicott.
SFF.) Hand on heart: Which film would you have liked to be involved in?
H.W.) Well circa 1979 I met with Charles Schneer twice about working on CLASH OF THE TITANS but for various reasons that did not happen. I was honored to have been considered.
SFF.) I held up with the most important question to the end: What was the most difficult effect you were working on and why?
H.W.) I have two that were difficult for different reasons. The first is THE TOOLBOX where I animated the tack dancing down the ruler in time to music. This was a gruellingly long shot where I had to hide the tacks supports from camera view while animating to music beats. I started the shot at 10 am and finished the next day around 9 am without stopping.
The other project was ROBOCOP II. This was the shot where Robocop jumps from the top of the truck onto Cain's back. This was not so much of an animation difficulty but more of a shot technical set up difficulty. I used two VistaVision projectors where I had to blend both projected images together with soft mattes so it looked like one normal image. One projection had the Robocop stunt man jumping from the truck to the ground landing on a mattress. The other projection was a clean plate with no actor or stuntman. One matte eliminates the mattress and another matte eliminates the Robocop stuntman halfway thru the jump just before reaching Cain's back. As the Robocop stuntman disappears in the soft matte I replace the live image with the matching Robocop stop motion puppet. So the final effect looks like the live actor jumps from the truck and lands on the stop motion Cain's back...all in one shot!
SFF.) Dear Mr. Walton. I thank you immensely for taking time doing this interview and wish you all the best for your future movie making.
H.W.) Thank you.