Jerzy Zielinski has been settling into his new role as president of the Polish Society of Cinematographers. Between shooting gigs and trips back and forth between Europe and the States, Jerzy’s been shooting a pilot in the Boston area (Hatfields and McCoys) and ramping up for a directing job on a comedy feature titled King of Life.
Under Jerzy’s leadership, the PSC has instituted an awards ceremony modeled on the ASC and BSC awards programs. The event was held on April 13, 2013, and three main awards were presented. The first, recognizing the best cinematography in Polish films for 2013, went to Arek Tomiak for his work on Oblawa (Manhunt), the story of a World War II resistance fighter.
(For what it’s worth, I’m reminded of an interesting conversation at Camerimage in which one theory held that the prominence and frequency of World War II-themed films in current Polish cinema is attributable in part to an aversion to these themes in the years immediately following the war, due in part to the need to recover and look forward and in part to reluctance on the part of Soviet authorities to support films built around these difficult themes. According to this theory, only now are these themes coming to the surface in the Polish culture.)
The PSC also presented two special awards. The first was for Lifetime Achievement, given to Jerzy Wójcik, best known in the West for Andrzej Wajda’s Ashes and Diamonds (1958). The second special award went to the actress Krystyna Janda, perhaps best known for her role in Wajda’s Man of Marble, photographed in the mid-1970s by Edward Klosinski.
The award itself looks like a longish cine lens, but us actually a working kaleidoscope – hence the many shots of honorees holding it up to their eye. Attendees of the 2012 Plus Camerimage Festival may recall that Zielinski presented one to festival director (and freshly minted honorary ASC member) Marek Żydowicz.
“It was a tremendous amount of work getting these awards together,” says Zielinski. “I’m sure that doesn’t come as a surprise to my colleagues at ASC who put the ASC Awards together! But it was well worth it, and important to recognize the work of these artists. Andrzej Wajda improvised a very beautiful speech at the end about how crucial the director-DP relationship is for making good movies. We hope it’s the first of many annual PSC Awards ceremonies.”
* * *
More thoughts on the legacy of Ray Harryhausen: Bill Taylor recalls that as a boy, his primary interest and influence was magic, and illusions in general. And his first reaction upon seeing the work of Harryhausen was that it must be some kind of large scale magic – which, of course, it was, in a way.
“I didn’t realize then that it was created almost entirely by hand, with very little help, and with very small crews in terms of the postproduction,” Bill remembers. “Likewise, I didn’t realize that almost all the composites were done by miniature rear projection. I thought he had some sort of traveling matte system going, but of course, he didn’t. That wouldn’t give him the kind of control he needed and the ability to see the puppets live against their projected backgrounds.”
Bill made his way into the visual effects business by cold calling the people whose names he saw in the credits or in magazine articles, including Linwood Dunn and Al Whitlock. It was through Whitlock that Bill met Jim Danforth, who had worked with Harryhausen on ten films. Bill never worked with Harryhausen, but he hosted to programs in Ray’s honor at the Academy, and was a guest of Ray’s at his home in London.
“Ray was charming, outgoing and articulate,” Bill says. “Of course, he was a splendid sketch artist, with a pencil particularly, and a terrific sculptor. He really enjoyed showing his stuff off for us. I was very grateful because I was probably the thousandth person that he had told the same stories to.”
Bill notes that many of the filmmakers behind today’s effects blockbusters have acknowledged their debt to Harryhausen. “Jurassic Park was animated by stop-motion animators using Phil Tippett’s dinosaur input device, which was basically a classic stop-motion armature with motion encoders attached,” Bill says. “It’s the profound understanding of motion that stop motion animators brought to the table, I think, that made Jurassic Park the huge success that it was.
“What stop-motion animators always lacked was the ability to edit,” Bill says. “Basically, digital 3D animation brought the ability to edit performance and action. When digital animation began, it required a huge infrastructure and an enormous effort. There was no off-the-shelf software. Since then it has expanded far beyond that, with tools that let us scan in skeletal systems. We have the ability now to make puppets that are anatomically realistic, and they animate realistically because of the way they’re built digitally.
“Today, the software has become sufficiently advanced that an individual with a Ray Harryhausen-size production team could make stop-motion films again with the same sort of ethic that Ray brought to his movies,” says Bill. “Essentially, it’s come full circle.”
Bill is currently creating visual effects for a short film called Dustland, a film that takes place in the American Southwest in the Dust Bowl era.