Ray Harryhausen (1920-2013)

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by Jerry Beck
May 7, 2013 5:55 PM
5 Comments
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Ray Harryhausen passed away today in London. He was 92.

Harryhausen was a master stop-motion animator who pioneered special effects combining live action and hand animated models. Harryhausen was also an artist and great character animator - who gave life to a wide variety of creatures, aliens and inanimate objects. 

Above it all he was a "fan". It was his love and admiration of King Kong (1933), and its animator Willis O'Brien that intrigued a teenage Harryhausen to study this technique and enter the field. He grew up in Los Angeles and was life-long friends, from the the 30s, with writer Ray Bradbury and agent Forrest J. Ackerman. Harryhausen began his professional career at the George Pal studio, working on the Paramount Puppetoons short subjects. 

He started his own studio in the mid-1940s to making special sculpts (like the Private Snafu below, for Yank Magazine) and non-theatrical stop motion fairy tale films - when he was tapped by his mentor O'Brien to assist on Mighty Joe Young (1949). This led to a string of special effect films,  all of which - despite their scripts or budgets - have become classics.

The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms, Earth Versus The Flying Saucers, Mysterious Island, First Men In The Moon, One Million Years BC and many others. He is probably best known for his Sinbad movies (7th Voyage in 1958, Golden Voyage in 1973, Eye of the Tiger in 1977) and his final film, Clash Of The Titans (1981). 

Mark Caballero and Seamus Walsh (both of Screen Novelties), who worked with Harryhausen to complete one of his earliest films, and sadly turned out to be his final one, The Story of The Tortoise And The Hare (2002), had this to say:

Mark Caballero:
"Ray taught us new levels of respect, professionalism and passion for the art of stop motion animation. We couldn't have had a better mentor."

Seamus Walsh:
"He possessed one of the greatest imaginations of the 20th century, and he never lost it - his sense of drama and the fantastic will never be outdone.  Working with him was better than any film school.  His absolute passion for his work radiated from the screen and made my imagination run wild."


Below is a small gallery representing a fraction of the work he has left behind. 

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5 Comments

  • Justin | May 12, 2013 3:52 PMReply

    The sushi restaurant in "Monsters, Inc." was named after him.

  • Andy Decker | May 8, 2013 11:08 AMReply

    We've lost a true creative genius.His shorts and feature work was unsurpassed.I truly think Willis O'Brien was the only one to match up in talent and skill with Ray.They will both be sorely missed.

  • Peter Stathes | May 8, 2013 8:11 AMReply

    I loved his work in Jason and the Argonauts. Always liked stop Animation, now I know who was the master. I wish his passing would have been mentioned on the news. He certainly perfected that art form of animation. If not for you I think no one would be aware. Thanks

  • Kristjan B. | May 7, 2013 8:51 PMReply

    Was there ever a Snafu puppet film?

  • Jerry Beck | May 8, 2013 12:04 AM

    No. Harryhausen made Snafu maquettes for the Army and many were used as dimensional scenes on the covers of Yank magazine.

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