skip navigation
Remind Me

The Story of King Midas

The Story of King Midas(1953) was the last stop-motion animated short completed by Ray Harryhausen before he began his partnership with producer Charles H. Schneer and full-time work in feature films. Harryhausen has said that The Story of King Midas was the best of his Mother Goose and Fairy Tale shorts; it is no doubt his most technically accomplished – by the time he shot it, he had not only worked with his idol Willis O'Brien on the classic fantasy film Mighty Joe Young (1949), he had also completed work on his first solo feature, The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms (1953).

The Story of King Midas was the fourth Fairy Tale Harryhausen shot in this particular group of animated adaptations. He completed a group of four Mother Goose Stories in 1946, and following his work on Mighty Joe Young, he began a new series of shorts based on classic fairy tales, starting with The Story of Little Red Riding Hood (1950), Hansel and Gretel (1951), and Rapunzel (1951). As with the earlier shorts, Harryhausen intended the new series to be used in schools. He shot them in 16mm, with the intent of later synching up music and narration. The changing expressions on the puppets were a variation of the method employed by George Pal on his Puppetoons series, which Harryhausen had worked on before his service in WWII. Harryhausen sculpted a small group of plaster heads for each puppet, each having an extreme expression. To create expressions, he changed out the head and did a quick 8-frame dissolve in the camera; the dissolve provided the "in-betweens" to bridge the jump between the extremes. The King Midas animation model was 10 ½ inches high, with a latex body and an interior metal armature. (As with all of Harryhausen's shorts, the metal armature was machined by Harryhausen's father based on Ray's design, and the clothes were sewn by Harryhausen's mother). There were eleven different heads made for King Midas, cast in plaster at 2 ½ inches in height.

Harryhausen began a rough draft of the ancient Greek legend, called The Golden Touch, in November, 1951. As he wrote in his autobiography (Ray Harryhausen: An Animated Life, co-authored with Tony Dalton, for Billboard Books), "my version saw Midas as a gold-hungry miser who is visited by a mysterious stranger whilst counting his money. The stranger asks Midas what he wants above all, whereupon Midas replies, 'to be the richest man in the world.' The wish is granted but the greedy king discovers that not only does he turn inanimate objects to gold, but also his beloved daughter." Harryhausen asked Charlotte Knight, a friend and former teacher, to help with the screenplay. (Knight would go on to contribute to the story of one of Harryhausen's early science-fiction pictures, 20 Million Miles to Earth, 1957).

Harryhausen was particularly proud of the opening crane shot in The Story of King Midas that started high above the King's throne: "To achieve this very ambitious crane shot movement, my father made a special camera crane device consisting of a long metal arm on which was mounted my 16mm camera. The whole device could be moved both forward and down on a ratchet device so that the minute movements could be changed for each frame shot. The sequence took over four days to photograph, requiring over 800 frames to be shot in the one cut." Another tracking shot occurs on a stone spiral staircase, anticipating the use of such a staircase for a memorable scene in The 7th Voyage of Sinbad (1958), for a swordfight between Sinbad and a living skeleton.

Harryhausen based the design of the benevolent stranger in The Story of King Midas on one of his favorite actors, Conrad Veidt. The stranger's introduction was another shot Harryhausen was proud of. He later wrote that "the materialization takes place through a smoke effect, a matte in the area occupied by the model into which I dissolved real smoke, a trick I would use again in later features." Harryhausen employed a similar effect in Jason and the Argonauts (1963).

Following the completion of The Story of King Midas, Harryhausen began to work on another short, The Tortoise and the Hare, but left it incomplete when the chance came to work on the Columbia Pictures feature It Came from Beneath the Sea (1955). The Tortoise and the Hare was finished in 2002 by animators Mark Caballero and Seamus Walsh, using the original designs and models, and with the occasional hands-on assist from Harryhausen himself.

Producer: Ray Harryhausen
Director: Ray Harryhausen
Story: Charlotte Knight
Cast: Del Moore (voice of King Midas).

by John M. Miller