Saturday, 14 July 2012


This article originally appeared in Issue #60 April/May 2011 of "ModelArt Australia" magazine.

eing a fervent fan of the creative puppet animation and time consuming expertise of FX maestro, Ray Harryhausen for as long as I can remember, I was overjoyed when a friend presented me with a GEOmetric Design box containing a vinyl kit of one of Ray’s most enduring creatures, the YMIR from the 1957 Columbia Pictures release, “20 Million Miles to Earth.” In the days of long ago, prior to the unfortunate advent of overblown CGI (Computer Generated Imagery) in big budget motion pictures that are, that for the most part, instantly forgettable and boringly repetitive, Special Effects used to be integrated sparingly into the live action footage and produced as cheaply as possible. Spaceship models were hung on strings, monsters were made from rubber and carpet pieces and robots contained real people inside their cardboard bodies. The trick for FX technicians of the day (and it probably still is) was to produce the best effects they could for the cheapest possible outlay. Most FX were pretty dire in the majority of those films, however a few movies stand out from the rest as classics of their time. Now don’t get me wrong – I love all Sci-Fi films and TV series, even the appalling ones (and there are many!), so when FX became more successfully integrated to the action and the money could actually be seen on the big screen, I was the happiest person on the planet. Special Effects had come of age, finally! I appreciate the advances made to CGI, what it can do and the limitless imagination that now can be fully catered for, however, it seems to have taken out all the fun for FX fans such as myself. A case in point is the recent release of the new version of “Clash of the Titans”- huge effects, big name cast and, in the long run, instantly forgettable. While the original Ray Harryhausen effort in 1982 was far from a classic film, at least it had a heart and soul and a sense of wonder, something severely lacking in its modern counterpart.
nstead of an army of FX technicians labouring away to produce visual splendours for the screen, Ray Harryhausen worked virtually alone on his films to create A-Class effects on B-Class budgets. Painstakingly animating a three dimensional model in front of a rear process screen, onto which the live action element was projected, Ray created some of the most memorable scenes in early fantasy movies. His efforts have inspired a whole new generation of FX masters, the results of which we see on the cinema screen up to this day. In my humble opinion, there is more “character” in Ray’s animated model of the Ymir from “20 Million Miles to Earth” than in all the CGI FX I’ve seen recently. You actually feel sorry for the “little fellow” towards the end of the film which features a shootout with the military atop the Colosseum in Rome, quite an achievement for a metal armature covered in foam rubber. A 12 inch and a 6 inch version were created for use during the animation sequences in the film, making the GEOmetric kit in between the two, at 9 inches in height.

he vinyl kit of the Ymir comes in 18 highly detailed, hollow-cast vinyl sections. The original sculpture was by Izumi Takabe and Yoshihito Kobayashi of Max Factory Custom Craft in Japan. Trimming with a sharp knife removed the extra flash at the ends of the castings. Before Supergluing the sections together, I filled the tail, lower body and leg sections with a combination of masonry compound and plaster of paris to give strength and weight to the model. Holes were drilled into the mixture when set to accept sections of brass tubing used to firmly anchor the legs to the body. Araldite ensured a strong bond between the brass tube and the masonry/plaster of paris mixture. The various parts went together quite readily, gap filling superglue used to fill any areas that needed it. Automobile Stop Putty filled any remaining gaps between the joins and, when fully set, was carefully scrapped away with a hobby knife to leave as little as possible remaining in the gaps. Holes were drilled into the bottom of the feet for more brass tubing to secure the model to a display base.

eing a black and white film from the 1950s, this presented me with a dilemma – do I paint the Ymir in shades of grey as it appeared, or do I try and “colourise” it, to coin a popular phrase? The instructions mentioned the use of a “Dull Olive Brown” for the main body and a “Dull Brick Red” for the dorsal fins and facial trim. I spent quite some time mixing and remixing Tamiya Red Brown (XF-64) with Flat White (XF-2) to achieve something in the red/brown range that was not too dark and would be able to be weathered realistically. A lighter shade of the same colour would be airbrushed onto the creature’s anterior sections of the tail, legs, arms and torso. After priming with acrylic car spray, the base coat was applied with an airbrush, after which the lighter colour was airbrushed into those areas that required “lightening up”. Some Tamiya Flat Aluminium (XF-16) was added to this lighter colour to give an additional “sparkle” to the skin. The teeth, claws and eyes were hand painted in off-white and I made up a pink colour for the inside of the mouth using Flat Red and Flat White, again both Tamiya colours. For the dorsal fins and those on the arms, I resorted to using an acrylic car colour called Mandarin Red. As I had run out of Tamiya Flat Red, I had to use this instead, sprayed into the lid and hand brushed on. Gloss Black was carefully applied for the eyeballs, even though a Dull Olive Brown was mentioned in the instructions. I feel that the darker eyeballs look better anyway. Using a mixture of Methylated Spirits and Tamiya Black, I ran a wash over the creature to darken the skin detail, followed by a drybrush of the lighter red/brown colour with more of the Flat aluminium added for good measure. An overall coat of flat varnish softened the shiny paint look successfully. The final touch was a liberal dose of gloss clear, added to the eyes and mouth interior to give them that “wet’ look.

The thought of my Ymir standing alone on a display pedestal seemed a little boring to me, so I cobbled together a 1/35 scale army soldier from four different kits and proceeded to join all the bits together into a helpless, “arms out” position, with putty blending the sections together. The manufacturers state that the Ymir is 1/35 scale although, since the creature grows in stature throughout the film, as any self-respecting 50s movie monster does, I was hoping to obtain a 1/20 scale person to add to the scene. This didn’t eventuate, so I resorted to the use of a 1/35 scale soldier to place in his right claw. I had previously softened the vinyl claw by immersion in hot water and bent it into a more “clutching” state, however after painting and weathering him, I discovered that the claw had returned to its original position. The soldier was painted in the appropriate colours and, along with his rifle, which would be shown on the ground beside the Ymir, was sprayed in a flat clear varnish. A wooden pedestal was purchased from my local trophy shop and a base made from 2mm sheet styrene which had been scored with a scriber into a pavement pattern. This was Araldited to the pedestal and two holes drilled to accept the brass tubes from the Ymir’s feet.

verall, I’m very pleased with the final result. Not being a confident figure painter gave me some pause, but I feel the model really stands out on his pedestal and the 1/35 scale soldier squirming in his right claw adds a certain 50's movie nostalgia to the display.
“20 Million Miles to Earth” – A Story Synopsis
A rocket returning from Venus brings with it an unhatched lifeform, a dead crew and only one human survivor. Crashlanding in the Mediterranean Sea off the coast of Sicily, the survivor is rescued and the unhatched egg found by a young boy who sells it to a scientist. Upon hatching, the creature begins to grow at an alarming rate, consuming sulphur and scaring farm animals along the way. After being captured by the military, the creature is tranquilised and held captive at a zoo. Following an accident, it escapes, kills an elephant and terrorises the population of Rome before being cornered in the Colosseum by soldiers and tanks. Climbing to the top of the tourist destination, the creature is finally shot by bazookas and falls to its death in the street below.
As a 50's movie monster fan, who could ask for anything more?

A Ray Harryhausen filmography for you to check out:
“Mighty Joe Young” (1949)                                                       “Mysterious Island” (1961)
“The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms” (1953)                               “Jason and the Argonauts” (1963)
“It Came From Beneath the Sea” (1954)                                  “First Men in the Moon” (1964)
“The Animal World” (1956)                                                      “One Million Years B.C.” (1966)
“Earth Vs the Flying Saucers” (1956)                                       “The Valley of Gwangi” (1969)
“20 Million Miles to Earth” (1957)                                          “The Golden Voyage of Sinbad” (1973)
“The 7th Voyage of Sinbad” (1958)                                         “Sinbad and the Eye of the Tiger” (1977)
“The Three Worlds of Gulliver” (1959)                                   “Clash of the Titans” 1981)

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