Ray Harryhausens “Tortoise and Hare”


The Tortoise and the Hare is one of Aesop’s Fables and is numbered 226 in the Perry Index.[1] The account of a race between unequal partners has attracted conflicting interpretations. It is itself a variant of a common folktale theme in which ingenuity and trickery (rather than doggedness) are employed to overcome a stronger opponent.



In 1946, Ray Harryhausen set out to make a series of stop motion Mother Goose Stories for children. The first segment, Little Miss Muffett, lasted only two minutes. But the next films in the group ran for ten minutes and took up to four months to complete. These films include: Little Red Riding Hood (1949), Hansel and Gretel (1951),Rapunzel (1951) and King Midas (1952). Harryhausen’s sixth fairytale was to be his last since the process was so time consuming. The year was 1952, and he completed only a few minutes of The Tortoise and the Hare, which he fully expected to be the most impressive of the series. Then a job offer arrived from Ray’s mentor, Willis O’Brien, the special effects mind behind films like King Kong (1933) (which Harryhausen claimed changed his life by sparking an interest in stop motion animation). It was an opportunity to work with O’Brien on the film Mighty Joe Young (1949). And The Tortoise and the Hare was soon forgotten, left unseen – until now.

In 2000, almost fifty years later, two filmmakers named Mark Caballero and Seamus Walsh began work to restore the original scenes of The Tortoise and the Hare, completing the story with new footage while remaining true to Harryhausen’s vision of the film. Though he had been retired for 22 years, Harryhausen himself came out of retirement to animate some of the new scenes. He also provided the original puppets for the project. The film’s three characters, the Tortoise, the Hare and the Fox were crafted in 1952, with metal bodies by Harryhausen’s engineer father and costumes by his mother (Harryhausen’s projects were often a family affair, but he liked to project a professional image on film, and credited his mother and father as Fred Blasauf and Martha Reske). All three puppets were in surprisingly good condition for their age, as filmmaker Caballero expressed, “when Ray brought the puppets to us, we were amazed at what great shape they were in. The heads made out of plaster kept very well over the years. There was minimal wear to the puppets so it didn’t take long for us to refurbish them.” The tortoise did require a bit of work to replace his lost shell, but thankfully, the key elements – the dozen heads used to create expressions for each of the characters – were intact.

The sets, of course, were a different story. None of the original sets existed. All of this had to be built from scratch and naturally matched to pre-existing footage. Harryhausen was pleased with the look Caballero and Walsh created, saying, “they kept the style that I had developed over the years very well.” The filmmakers also tried to adopt Harryhausen’s animation style, which wasn’t exactly an easy task. As Walsh explained, “everyone has their own way of animating, and to try to match someone’s style is like trying to match their signature.”

Harryhausen also provided Walsh and Caballero with the same Cine Special 16mm camera with which he’d filmed the original Tortoise and the Hare footage in 1952. But, the exact film stock Ray had used in the 50’s had been discontinued, forcing the filmmakers to try and match it as closely as possible. Naturally, there would be some variation between Harryhausen’s 1952 footage and that filmed in 2000. It was decided that digital fixes would be necessary to give the film the most cohesive look possible. In a generous move, IO FILM, a digital house in North Hollywood, donated their services, offering to complete the entire time-consuming and expensive process. Even among today’s high-tech digital wizards, there is still great respect for Harryhausen’s creations. As Chip Potter of IO FILM says, “We love Ray! If it weren’t for him, half of us wouldn’t be working in this business. He’s like the Neil Armstrong of stop-motion animation.”

The finished product debuted September 27, 2002 at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences Theater in Beverly Hills. Then it was on to the festival circuit with stops at the Ottawa International Animation Festival in October of 2002 and the Sundance Film Festival of January 2003. Then, in February, The Tortoise and the Hare, fifty years in the making, received an Annie award (given out by the International Animated Film Society) for Outstanding Achievement in an Animated Short Subject.

Producer: Ray Harryhausen, Mark Caballero, Seamus Walsh
Director: Ray Harryhausen
Cast: Gary Owens (narrator)

Ray HarryHausen, Stop Motion, tortoise and Hare, animation

Ray HarryHausens Stop Motion short “Tortoise and Hare”


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