Model Animation

What Is Model Animation?

Model animation is a type of stop motion animation that is designed to blend with live action footage to create the impression of a sequence of real-world fantasy shots.

Willis O’Brien: The Pioneer of Model Animation

Willis O’Brien is a name synonymous with the use of model animation technology in feature films. An American special effects engineer, O’Brien animated a series of films, including The Dinosaur and the Missing Link: A Prehistoric Tragedy (1917), Prehistoric Poultry (1917), R.F.D. 10,000 B.C. (1917), The Ghost of Slumber Mountain (1918). His real commercial success came with The Lost World (1925), an adventure-fantasy silent film where he integrated live action footage with animated dinosaurs. This became the first film, possibly worldwide, that featured animation productions as the main special effect.

In 1933, O’Brien animated his most famous film, the original King Kong, fusing live action scenes with models of the giant gorilla, Kong, and various dinosaurs. By now, he had mastered the art of combining stop motion and live action footage within a single frame.

In 1949, O’Brien worked on the film that won him an Academy Award for Best Visual Effects, Mighty Joe Young. The animation was of a superior caliber than in King Kong, with models demonstrating subtler movements and even comic elements, including a scene where Joe spits on his pursuers.

Other Model Animation Films and Animators

After O’Brien, his protégé, Ray Harryhausen, made a series of films featuring motion animation effects. These include The 7th Voyage of Sinbad (1958), Mysterious Island (1961), One Million Years B.C. (1967), The Golden Voyage of Sinbad (1974), Sinbad and the Eye of the Tiger (1977) and Clash of the Titans (with Jim Danforth, 1981), etc. Harryhausen progressive style of animation inspired numerous contemporary filmmakers including Peter Jackson, Tim Burton, John Landis and John Lasseter.

The next generation of animators include notable names such as David Allen, Phil Tippett and Jim Danforth.