Ray Harryhausen’s Creepy War of the Worlds Sketches and Stop-Motion Test Footage

Most of us know The War of the Worlds because of Orson Welles’ slight­ly-too-real­is­tic radio adap­ta­tion, first broad­cast on Hal­loween 1938. But its source mate­r­i­al, H.G. Wells’ 1898 sci­ence-fic­tion nov­el, still fires up the imag­i­na­tion. Its many adap­ta­tions since have tak­en the form of com­ic books, video games, tele­vi­sion series, and more besides. Sev­er­al films have used The War of the Worlds as their basis, includ­ing a high-pro­file one in 2005 direct­ed by Steven Spiel­berg and star­ring Tom Cruise, and more than half a cen­tu­ry before that, George Pal’s first 1953 adap­ta­tion in all its Tech­ni­col­or glo­ry.

In recent years mate­ri­als have sur­faced show­ing us the mid­cen­tu­ry War of the Worlds pic­ture that could have been, one fea­tur­ing the stop-motion crea­ture-cre­ation of Ray Har­ry­hausen.

“Well before CGI tech­nol­o­gy beamed extrater­res­tri­als onto the big screen, stop-motion ani­ma­tion mas­ter Har­ry­hausen brought to life Wells’ vision of a slimy Mar­t­ian with enor­mous bulging eyes, a slob­ber­ing beaked mouth and ‘Gor­gon groups of ten­ta­cles’ in a 16 mm test reel,” writes Den of Geek’s Eliz­a­beth Rayne.

“The result is some­thing that looks like a twist­ed mashup of a Mup­pet and an octo­pus.” Har­ry­hausen had long dreamed of bring­ing The War of the Worlds to the big screen, and any­one who has seen Har­ry­hausen’s work of the 1950s and 60s, as it appears in such films as The 7th Voy­age of Sin­bad and Jason and the Arg­onauts, knows that he was sure­ly the man for this job. He cer­tain­ly had the right spir­it: as his own words put it at the begin­ning of the test-footage clip, “ANY imag­i­na­tive crea­ture or thing can be built and ani­mat­ed con­vinc­ing­ly.”

“I actu­al­ly built a Mar­t­ian based on H.G. Wells descrip­tion,” Har­ry­hausen says in the inter­view clip above. “He described the crea­ture that came from the space ship a sort of an octo­pus-like type of crea­ture.” Har­ry­hausen’s also pre­sent­ed his vision with includ­ed sketch­es of the tri­pod invaders lay­ing waste to Amer­i­ca both urban and rur­al. “I took it all around Hol­ly­wood,” he says, but alas, it nev­er quite con­vinced those who kept the gates of the Indus­try in the 1940s.

“We could­n’t raise mon­ey. Peo­ple weren’t that inter­est­ed in sci­ence fic­tion at that time.” Times have changed; the pub­lic has long since devel­oped an unquench­able appetite for sto­ries of human beings and advanced, hos­tile space invaders locked in mor­tal com­bat. But now such a spec­ta­cle would almost cer­tain­ly be real­ized with the inten­sive use of com­put­er-gen­er­at­ed imagery, a tech­nol­o­gy impres­sive in its own way, but one that may nev­er equal the per­son­al­i­ty, phys­i­cal­i­ty, and sheer creepi­ness of the crea­tures that Ray Har­ry­hausen brought painstak­ing­ly to life, one frame at a time, all by hand.

via @41Strange

Relat­ed Con­tent:

The Very First Illus­tra­tions of H.G. Wells’ The War of the Worlds (1897)

Hor­ri­fy­ing 1906 Illus­tra­tions of H.G. Wells’ War of the Worlds: Dis­cov­er the Art of Hen­rique Alvim Cor­rêa

Edward Gorey Illus­trates H.G. Wells’ The War of the Worlds in His Inim­itable Goth­ic Style (1960)

Hear the Prog-Rock Adap­ta­tion of H.G. Wells’ War of the Worlds: The 1978 Rock Opera That Sold 15 Mil­lion Copies World­wide

Hear Orson Welles’ Icon­ic War of the Worlds Broad­cast (1938)

The Mas­cot, a Pio­neer­ing Stop Ani­ma­tion Film by Wla­dys­law Starewicz

Based in Seoul, Col­in Mar­shall writes and broad­casts on cities, lan­guage, and cul­ture. His projects include the book The State­less City: a Walk through 21st-Cen­tu­ry Los Ange­les and the video series The City in Cin­e­ma. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.

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