Visual Effects Pioneer, Ray Harryhausen, Dies at Age 92

Before we start, I’d like to ask that you watch this scene from ‘Clash of the Titan’ first.

The 1981 film ‘Clash of the Titans,’ was one of those movies that I saw as a child that, for some strange reason, happened to stick with me, and that particular battle between Perseus and Medusa ignited my imagination just as much as watching ‘Jurassic Park’ over and over again (I was 2 years old and rooting for the dinosaurs, I was a messed up kid)

That might be an odd statement, because when  looking at something like ‘Clash of the Titans,’ you think of the fact that it’s very dated, and doesn’t necessarily hold up, from a strictly technical standpoint, compared to something like ‘Jurassic Park,’ ‘Lord of the Rings’ or (god help you if you’d rather watch it, but) James Cameron’s ‘Avatar.’

Before we had Jim Henson’s magical puppets and the amazing potential of digital effects from companies such as Weta Workshop and Industrial Light and Magic, there was ‘claymation’ and ‘stop motion’ animation, and it’s grandest pioneer: Ray Harryhausen.

Before Ray passed away on Tuesday the 7th of May this last week at the age of 92, I’ll admit, his genius design and talent in animation was prevalent through my childhood, and I had never known his name, yet his artistic vision very subtly molded the evolution of making unbelievable fantasy come alive on a movie screen through recent decades.

In fact, Steven Spielberg spoke highly of Harryhausen to TIME magazine upon his death:
“My early exposure to all the leviathans of the Saturday matinee creature features inspired me, when I grew up, to make Jurassic Park. And the artist magician who breathed life into clay figures and wire armatures and made us, as kids, happily fear for our lives, was the dean of special effects, Ray Harryhausen. All those so called “B movies” were the A movies of my childhood. He inspired generations.”

Edgar Wright, director of upcoming film, ‘The World’s End’, and a visual effects junkie, said this about Ray,
“I have loved every single frame of Ray Harryhausen’s work. He quite simply was the man who made me believe in monsters. His stop frame creations are some of the most influential images in all of cinema and the painstaking process involved still wows today. Ironically, he inspired the technicians that would supersede his gargantuan efforts, but we still look in awe at Ray’s legacy while whole armies of purely CGI monsters just fade in the memory. He won’t be forgotten.”


Arguably, a filmmaker with an equally visually impressive eye as Harryhausan himself, Guillermo del Toro creator of’ Pan’s Labyrinth,’ ‘Pacific Rim’ and ‘Hellboy’ said,
“I lost a member of my family today. A man who was as present in my childhood as any of my relatives. No one will ever compare to Ray Harryhausen. He was a true pioneer, a man who took the mantle of stop-motion and elevated it to an art form. Like all great monster makers, he worked almost single-handed. He was designer, technician, sculptor, painter and cinematographer all at once. To my generation, and to every generation of monster lovers to come, he will stand above all. Forever. His monsters made millions of lonely children smile and hope for a better world- a world populated by Cyclops and griffons and the children of the Hydra. His knowledge, faith and dedication shaped generation after generation of filmmakers. I feel privileged to have met him and to be able to thank him personally for the incalculable amount of love and joy he brought into the world.”

Stop Motion animation is almost a lost art in this day and age, very rarely called back to by filmmakers such as Tim Burton. However dated the medium looks, I encourage everyone who’s ever loved fantasy movies to go back to these old cheesy movies like ‘Jason and the Argonauts,’ ‘Mighty Joe Young’ and ‘The 7th Voyage of Sinbad,’ not only to understand where modern visual effects came from, but just to have an appreciation that, before Harryhausan’s work, it was only fathomable to make ideas so fantastical coming from the human imagination through illustration and written prose.
Ray’s passion for his work allowed generations of children and adults to believe they were seeing cyclopes and Krakens and all these classic Gods, Demi-Gods and Monsters were being brought to life standing side by side with actors on a screen, and I would hope that it will still have that impact in the future, as I personally feel that practical effects like these still has more intensity and tone to be delivered than a lot of digital effects blockbusters today.
I’d rather watch the 4 minute skeleton fight scene from Jason and the Argonauts over the 50 minute climax of ‘Transformers Revenge of the Fallen’ any day.



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