Iconic stop-motion animation characters brought back to life with digital preservation
20 July 2019
Famous models from Jason and the Argonauts, Cosgrove Hall and Clash of the Titans saved for future generations
Rarely seen stop-motion animation models at risk of deteriorating have been 3D scanned and digitally brought back to life to preserve them for future generations.
Characters such as the Kraken from the 1981 movie Clash of the Titans – the work of the late visual effects pioneer Ray Harryhausen – and the Sandman from the 1991 short film by the same name – created by the Mackinnon and Saunders studio – are among those being 3D scanned to create exact computer copies for posterity.
The first computer versions of the scanned creatures have just been unveiled at Comic-Con International in San Diego, USA.
It is envisaged that a digital platform – website or smartphone app – will allow people in the future to interact with the digital versions of the characters in an unprecedented way.
Additionally, some of the models have been X-rayed to allow experts to better understand the inner workings of the models before undertaking delicate restoration work.
It is all part of the ReAnimate Project, a collaboration between Manchester Metropolitan University; The Ray and Diana Harryhausen Foundation; the Waterside Arts Centre in Sale, the custodian of the archive of famous Manchester animation studio Cosgrove Hall; and McKinnon and Saunders, the Altrincham-based animation producers and puppet makers behind numerous hit children’s TV shows.
The project also aims to start a debate about how best to protect and celebrate Britain’s stop-motion animation legacy and address the challenges in conserving models held in collections.
Dr Steve Henderson, Senior Lecturer in Animation at Manchester School of Art, Manchester Metropolitan University, and co-architect of the ReAnimate Project, said: “Animation, particularly children's animation, has an amazing nostalgic power.
“Most people watch something from their childhood and instantly want to share their cherished memories with their children.
“However, we don't have a dedicated animation museum in the UK so animation artefacts are either kept in hard-to-access archives, private collections or worse still simply thrown away once they have been used in a film. They can rot and disintegrate if not cared for properly and we face a real risk of losing our amazing animation legacy altogether.
“By scanning and digitising these puppets, the ReAnimate Project can hopefully give some access to digital versions of these characters for future generations to enjoy.”
The Ray and Diana Harryhausen Foundation brought the Kraken and a skeleton warrior from Jason and the Argonauts to Manchester Metropolitan University’s digital laboratory and workshop PrintCity to be 3D scanned by the team.
A variety of scanners were used including handheld scanners, laser scanners and photogrammetry, to build up as complete a digital picture as possible.
Characters from Cosgrove Hall’s collection were brought by staff at Waterside Arts Centre to undergo the same treatment, as were McKinnon and Saunders models.
All the stop-motion figures were also X-rayed so that curators and conservators can study the armature, or metal skeleton, and joints within.
John Walsh, a trustee of The Ray and Diana Harryhausen Foundation and author on Ray’s work, said: “We are working with the University not only to preserve Ray's legacy and the creatures themselves but to get in-depth scans to find out what went on beneath the skin of some of these monstrous creations.
“We did not know the design of the armatures until we did the scans, and it's been quite an eye-opener for us.
“The scans not only show us the way that Ray worked and his practices and how he put the armatures together, but it also protects the creature collection.
“There's lots of applications of the computer models, not just making a replica or even 3D printing copies.
“Students of animation can come and have a look inside something they would never have been able to have done before.
“It's the closest we get to asking Ray how he works and how he animated.”
The University’s academics are speaking with other animation collections across the UK about the possibility of similarly capturing digital scans on their models for posterity.
The Ray and Diana Harryhausen Foundation is a registered charity, no. SC001419.