(Source: wearemoviegeeks.com) Stop motion animation, like most animation, really, is an art-form, one that has been perfected by only a chosen few.  Ever since 1898’s THE HUMPTY DUMPTY CIRCUS, the usage of stop motion animation in film has brought characters to life in far better ways than modern technology can provide.  Today, in honor of Wes Anderson’s usage of it in FANTASTIC MR. FOX, we give you our list of the 10 best stop motion characters in film history.

10. Talos from JASON AND THE ARGONAUTS

JASON AND THE ARGONAUTS is usually cited as the high-water mark of Ray Harryhausen’s career and there is so much to justify that call. The climactic skeleton battle is the most celebrated sequence, but for sheer awe, there’s nothing like the encounter with the 200-foot-tall bronze colossus Talos. After landing on the island of Bronze, the goddess Hera, in masthead form, instructs Jason to have his men collect food and water and nothing else. Naturally, when Hercules and Hylas take one souvenir from a giant trove of gold treasures, they wake the colossal bronze statue who’s been perched on his pedestal for thousands of years guarding it. From the dramatic moment it slowly turns to look down at Hercules to Jason’s discovery of it’s literal Achilles’ heel, the battle with the titan Talos is one of Harryhausen’s finest moments. His facial expression barely changes but his cold blank stare is chilling and he walks with a rusty, arthritic gait that highlights Harryhausen’s amazing ability to instill in all his animated creations a sense of personality that is lacking in much of today’s computer-generated sludge. Clearly inspired by the legendary ‘Colossus of Rhodes’, Talos truly feels like one of the Seven Wonders of the World come to life. 

9. Large Marge from PEE-WEE’S BIG ADVENTURE

It doesn’t take the entire running length of a film to introduce a great character — the same rule applies for stop motion. Tim Burton’s directing debut, PEE-WEE’S BIG ADVENTURE, is perhaps most memorable for a five second glance at the horrific stop motion beast that is Large Marge, a truck driver who seems hell bent on scaring Paul Reubens to death and scarring many a childhood in the process. Something about the design of Marge (Just look at her! I still remember my childhood nightmares!) and the sudden nature of her appearance has seared her into my memory as much as any character on this list, so surely her place in history is well deserved. 

8. The Cyclops from THE 7TH VOYAGE OF SINBAD

THE 7TH VOYAGE OF SINBAD, the first in Ray Harryhausen’s timeless Sinbad trilogy, melds all the magical-monster-adventure-movie moments you could ever want into one amazing fantasy epic. Sinbad is heading home to Baghdad when he and his crew stop off at the isle of Colossa.  There they discover a pair of giant cloven hoof-prints and decide to follow them back to their source. This begins the first encounter with the one-eyed titan who pummels Sinbad’s men with trees and roasts one on a spit. Harryhausen gives the fierce Cyclops an amazing sense of character. From the obvious pain on its face when Sinbad impales it in the eye with a burning spear to the way it clumsily stumbles about and is led over a cliff, the Cyclops is animated with a realistic sense of weight and balance. Both scary and thrilling, it’s the Cyclops (actually they are two) that has perhaps come to be Harryhausen most iconic creation. 

7. The Kraken from CLASH OF THE TITANS

Essentially the main antagonist for Perseus in CLASH OF THE TITANS, the Kraken remains one of the most intriguing and most memorable creatures created by the Harryhausen brand of stop motion animation.  Taken from the mythology of the Kraken from Scandinavian lore, the creature designed for this film is far different from the ancient beliefs that the creature was a giant octopus (a notion later revisited for PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN).  The Kraken found in CLASH OF THE TITANS is so monstrous and so awesome that it takes the head of Medusa to defeat it.  Don’t worry.  We’ll get to her momentarily.  The design of the Kraken is amazing, but what works to the effectiveness of its memorability even more is how little is seen of the creature until the final scene of the film.  In the early parts, when the creature is simply reeking havoc on innocent people and pushing whole cities into the sea, all we see is a giant, underwater gate and a scaly tail passing by the god Poseidon.  It is pretty much a weapon of mass destruction at the beck and call of the gods, and they use it to prove their point time and time again.  Seriously, if JAWS didn’t put most kids off swimming in the ocean (or even the deep end of a pool for some of us), this level of trauma was achieved by the Kraken.

What pains me more than anything about the remake of CLASH OF THE TITANS coming out next year is how they are going to handle the Kraken.  Medusa, Calibos, and most of the other villains of the film are sure to have similar features from the original film, even though they will mostly be CG.  What I’m fearful for with the Kraken is that it is going to be a wall of messy CG, and the design is going to be overly complicated.  Let’s hope I’m wrong.  Nonetheless, whatever they come up with will never stifle the memorability and grand achievement Harryhausen accomplished with his giant, sea creature in 1981’s CLASH OF THE TITANS.

6. The Skeleton Swordsman from THE 7TH VOYAGE OF SINBAD

While master of effects work Ray Harryhausen would take his skeletal animation to new heights with JASON AND THE ARGONAUTS, the creepy skeleton swordsman was first seen in the 1958 film THE 7TH VOYAGE OF SINBAD. This little bugger shows up to battle Sinbad after Princess Parisa gets returned to her normal size (she’s a little smaller than a grapefruit for most of the film) and is quickly dispatched by our hero. Harryhausen has many brilliant characters tied to his name, but the skeleton swordsman is one of his most memorable, due to its creepy silence and rigid animation style. Years later, Sam Raimi paid homage to this film by including many stop motion skeletons in his ARMY OF DARKNESS. It’s also one of the best effects in Harryhausen’s career simply because it works so well within the jittery nature of stop motion itself — if skeletons did rise from the grave, I’d guess they’d move a little bit like this beastie here. 

5. Ymir from 20 MILLION MILES FROM EARTH

TWENTY MILLION MILES TO EARTH was not the first film in which Ray Harryhausen was solely responsible for the stop motion special effects but its central monster, the ‘Ymir’ (never referred to by that name in the film, it’s what Harryhausen called him and it’s stuck) is his first to generate both horror and sympathy. Starting out as Jell-O encased embryo from Venus, the Ymir lands in Italy, grows astronomically, and winds up battling tanks and an elephant. Of course, what would any good Harryhausen monster movie be without the creature getting to topple a recognizable landmark? 20 MILLION MILES TO EARTH allows the monster to run amok on top of the coliseum in Rome, which provides an epic climax for the movie. Though obviously dangerous, the half-reptile, half-human Ymir is a sad and confused monster, never intentionally hurting anyone until it’s attacked. The remarkable animation of the creature’s facial expressions communicates rage and disorientation and it’s personality set the standard for many of Harryhausen’s future creations.

4. Medusa from CLASH OF THE TITANS

Of all the fascinating and utterly amazing, imaginative claymation creature creations from the legendary Ray Harryhausen, there is but one that was truly frightening to me as a young boy having first seen CLASH OF THE TITANS… the slithering snake-haired, ugly and scary Medusa. A woman scorned, left deformed and repulsive to the extent that if any man look upon her face they be turned to stone. Now, you try watching this at the tender age of 8-10 years right before bed and then tell me you slept soundly! Harryhausen brought ancient Greek mythology alive for me and Medusa was one of his most effective renderings of the lore borne to life on the big screen. The entire, drawn-out scene in which Perseus must out-wit the deadly Medusa is a real nail-biter. As was the same brilliant approach in films like JAWS, Medusa is not flaunted. Instead, she is hidden from view, building suspense and fear of the dark and unknown as Perseus struggles to guard himself from certain death while conjuring a way to cheat that very death. Medusa’s shrieking face, the tangled mess of serpents writhing from her disfigured head and the massive reptilian tail on which she moves… it’s all a bit much for a youngster, and even as an adult, this stop-motion character feels very, unnervingly real. 

3. Wallace & Gromit from various movies

Wallace and Gromit have been around for literally 20 years, and are two of the most loved characters in British film culture. Four short films, a handful of adventure based video games, a feature length movie, and several spin offs lead to Wallace and Gromit’s huge success. The Academy Award nominations for Best Animated Short Films as well as the eventual wins for two of the 4 short films made these characters instant classics. Their adventures are always amazing and incredibly funny. Whether it’s a trip to the moon to taste some great cheese, a penguin using their mechanical pants to perform a diamond heist, a huge run in with a lot of sheep, an evil curse putting a fun spin on werewolves, and finally a insanely funny murder mystery, Wallace and Gromit are always funny, and always a good watch.

Nick Park, their creator has made two of the best characters in animated history, the medium of stop motion simply added to their charm. Of all the entries on this list I (Kent) personally feel that these two are the best characters on it, as they’ve stood the test of time with film after film, holding up over the years with universally funny comedy. Hell… NASA has named one of it’s prototype Mars explorers after Gromit… I think it’ll be a while before King Kong is getting space craft named after him!

2. Jack Skellington from THE NIGHTMARE BEFORE CHRISTMAS

Few stop-motion animated characters have penetrated the minds and imaginations of so many from so vast a cross-section of age, culture and influence as Jack Skellington and the world of A NIGHTMARE BEFORE CHRISTMAS. We should expect nothing less from the mind of Tim Burton and the inventive creativity of director Henry Selick. Jack Skellington remains to this day a popular holiday favorite, both in the US and abroad, consistently re-emerging in various forms of merchandise and paraphernalia. The movie is even got a 3D re-release in theaters and will certainly spawn midnight screenings for years to come. Jack Skellington is a tall, lanky skeleton in a strange tuxedo with a creepy big smile. What makes Jack such a fascinating character is that he’s torn. He’s split between his own world and the mysterious world of another that he envies, but only comes to love and appreciate both worlds after nearly ruining the other. While Jack’s body itself is a fairly limited physique, it does convey a charming and child-like air of a marionette. This in turn is in contrast to Jack’s exceedingly expressive and telling facial animation that truly makes the character come to life, bringing the more mature, adult emotions and darker moods alive on screen. While Jack Skellington makes our list, due respect must be given to the entire cast of intricately animated stop-motion characters in A NIGHTMARE BEFORE CHRISTMAS. 

1. King Kong from KING KONG (1933)

How do you inspire a master?  Actually not just one master but several, but Ray Harryhausen is the name for the day.  Willis O’Brien, the man behind the stop motion animation for KING KONG, certainly knows.  The titular character of the 1933 film is one of, if not, arguably, the, most iconic character in motion picture history, giving characters like Frankenstein and Darth Vader a run for their money.  It, without a doubt, is the most memorable creation in stop motion animation history.  Neither beast nor man, as described by the film’s adventurous director, Carl Denham, O’Brien and Merian C. Cooper’s vision of Kong made the creature ape-like but with humanistic features, as well.  He walks upright and has a somewhat human look in face and head.  The 1933, original film is the only time Kong was crafted via the usage of stop motion, though, for the sequel, SON OF KONG, released the same year, O’Brien used many of the same models to bring to life the titular offspring.  The delicacy and intricacy used in bringing King Kong to life keeps him firmly in people’s memories nearly 80 years after being shown to the public for the first time.  Simply put, the creation of the film’s centerpiece is a masterpiece, and Willis O’Brien and his crew did a brilliant job completing it.  It’s the kind of work that gives someone like O’Brien, who had previously worked on films like THE LOST WORLD and CREATION, the title of pioneer.  Willis O’Brien is a pioneer of the art-form of stop motion animation, and King Kong is his crowning achievement.  That is how you inspire a master.



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