Posted on Tuesday, May 7th, 2013 by Russ Fischer
Stop-motion effects pioneer Ray Harryhausen died today, with his passing confirmed by his family. The filmmaker, who retired from features in 1981, leaves behind a relatively small but incalculably influential body of work. In films produced between 1955 and 1981 his stop-motion animated skeletons, dinosaurs, and other beasts almost universally became icons of sci-fi and fantasy filmmaking. Though he hasn’t worked in features for over thirty years, echoes of his work continue to resound today.
I can’t say my experience with Harryhausen’s work is any more unique than that of most of our readers. I grew up watching his mastery on television thanks to airings of films such as It Came From Beneath the Sea, The 7th Voyage of Sinbad, and Jason and the Argonauts. Doesn’t take long for a six-year old boy to fall in love with animated fighting skeletons, but unlike many other childhood attractions, I was only more impressed with Harryhausen’s work as I got older. I was so taken with his work that his name was all I needed to spur me into the theater for Clash of the Titans in 1981, for which he animated the Kraken and other creatures. That would turn out to be his last major feature work.
You could say that Harryhausen’s influence was limited to film fans, but some of those fans turned out to be people like Steven Spielberg, George Lucas, Joe Dante, and Sam Raimi. Lucas once said “without Ray Harryhausen, there would likely have been no Star Wars.”
Here’s Ray Bradbury paying tribute to Harryhausen:
The family issued this statement.
The Harryhausen family regret to announce the death of Ray Harryhausen, Visual Effects pioneer and stop-motion model animator. He was a multi-award winner which includes a special Oscar and BAFTA. Ray’s influence on today’s film makers was enormous, with luminaries; Steven Spielberg, James Cameron, Peter Jackson, George Lucas, John Landis and the UK’s own Nick Park have cited Harryhausen as being the man whose work inspired their own creations.
Harryhausen’s fascination with animated models began when he first saw Willis O’Brien’s creations in KING KONG with his boyhood friend, the author Ray Bradbury in 1933, and he made his first foray into filmmaking in 1935 with home-movies that featured his youthful attempts at model animation. Over the period of the next 46 years, he made some of the genres best known movies – MIGHTY JOE YOUNG (1949), IT CAME FROM BENEATH THE SEA (1955), 20 MILLION MILES TO EARTH (1957), MYSTERIOUS ISLAND (1961), ONE MILLION YEARS B.C. (1966), THER VALLEY OF GWANGI (1969), three films based on the adventures of SINBAD and CLASH OF THE TITANS (1981). He is perhaps best remembered for his extraordinary animation of seven skeletons in JASON AND THE ARGONAUTS (1963) which took him three months to film.
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.
Today The Ray & Diana Harryhausen Foundation, a charitable Trust set up by Ray on the 10th April 1986, is devoted to the protection of Ray’s name and body of work as well as archiving, preserving and restoring Ray’s extensive Collection.