How the technique began
For many years Ray had had an idea that would allow the live action to be ‘split’ so enabling a model to be inserted directly into the action and appear to interact with the actors.
As far back as 1938/39 he had experimented with mattes for his production Evolution of the World and realised that if an area is matted out then why couldn’t two areas be matted out to create what was known as a split-screen.
The first Dynamation feature
Obie had inserted models, in both King Kong and Mighty Joe Young by means of a sandwich of glass paintings which allowed a three dimensional effect to the animation, but as Ray knew, because of his work on Mighty Joe Young, this time-consuming method was way too expensive for any low budget production.
When Ray submitted his budget for special effects for The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms in 1952 he knew he had to think of a more practical way of interacting the model, or models, with the live action so he made some experiments and found that his idea of split screens worked.
The process was simple but very effective. He projected a live action image onto a rear screen in front of which was placed the animation table with the model. He would then place a glass sheet in front of both. When the live action plate had been shot Ray would establish where he wanted to make his matte line and so by looking through the camera viewfinder he would re-establish that line and with a wax pencil on the end of a stick, follow that line by drawing it on the glass. When he was satisfied that the line was accurate he would then paint out, with black matt paint, the lower section, below the line. He would then photograph the animation of the model reacting to the live action on the plate. Afterwards he would then create a second pass in the camera to reinstate the lower previously matted out section so creating a combined image of the creature seemingly as part of the live action.
The name Dynamation
It was for the film The 7th Voyage of Sinbad that Charles came up with the name Dynamation. Sitting in his Buick whilst waiting in traffic he noticed the word Dynaflow on the dashboard. He realised that Dyna was perfect for Ray’s style of animation and so the word became a merchandising term for Ray’s dimensional animation.
Over the years, and subsequent features, the name changed from Super Dynamation to Dynarama and in First Men in the Moon it was entitled – Dynamation – The Miracle of the Screen.
If you wish to find out more about Dynamation, please refer to the four books - An Animated Life, The Art of Ray Harryhausen, A Century of Model Animation and Ray Harryhausen's Fantasy Scrapbook.