Ray Harryhausen, one of the legends of Hollywood special effects and the king of stop-motion animation for decades, died today in London. He was 92.
Inspired by the original “King Kong,” Harryhausen became the master of pre-CGI-era special effects, developing a form of stop-motion animation he called Dynamation. He made his mark in movies starting with “Mighty Joe Young” in 1949 and continuing through “Clash of the Titans” in 1981. Also among his best-known movies were “The 7th Voyage of Sinbad” (1958) and “Jason and the Argonauts” (1963).
“Way before movies like ‘Star Wars’ and ‘The Lord of the Rings’ inspired the imagination of film lovers everywhere, audiences were enraptured by the sword-wielding skeletons of ‘Jason and the Argonauts,’ the great ape of ‘Mighty Joe Young’ and the dinosaurs opposite Raquel Welch in ‘One Million Years B.C.,” USA Today reports.
In fact. according to the Los Angeles Times obituary about Harryhausen, Steven Spielberg once said that wiithout Harryhausen "There never would have been a ‘Star Wars’ or a ‘Jurassic Park.’ "
The USA Today report adds: “The legendary effects wizard’s influence was felt both in his sci-fi and fantasy movies as well as in the works of later filmmakers such as George Lucas and Peter Jackson. Beginning his career in the 1940s, Harryhausen became well known for using stop-motion model animation and having them interact with actors in a live-action world.”
A statement on his Facebook page says: "Harryhausen’s genius was in being able to bring his models alive. Whether they were prehistoric dinosaurs or mythological creatures, in Ray’s hands they were no longer puppets but became instead characters in their own right, just as important as the actors they played against and in most cases even more so."
USA Today reports: “Born in Los Angeles, Harryhausen first became inspired as a 13-year-old watching Willis H. O’Brien’s large beast of ‘King King’ come alive via stop-motion photography in 1933. The young Harryhausen would then work with O’Brien as a technician on ‘Mighty Joe Young’ (1949) before his breakthrough … with The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms (1953), where he designed a giant rampaging lizard that attacked New York City.”
The report adds: “Monster movies became his forte in the 1950s and ’60s, and he unleashed a wide variety of … creatures, including the gigantic irradiated octopus of ‘It Came From Beneath the Sea’ (1955), alien spacecraft in ‘Earth vs. the Flying Saucers’ (1956), a whole island of beasties including the Cyclops in ‘The 7th Voyage of Sinbad’ (1958) and a prehistoric mollusk in ‘Mysterious Island’ (1961).”
His skeleton warriors in “Jason and the Argonauts” were perhaps the most famous of his many trademark movie creations, with the swordfight between the seven skeletons and a group of live actors taking more than four months to complete.
The following video clip, one of the best of many video tributes to Harryhausen that can be found online, includes virtually all of Harryhausen’s iconic movie creations: