Remembering Ray Harryhausen: The Monster Maker
On May 7th 2013, the tragic news broke that the world had lost a true cinematic legend: special effects titan Ray Harryhausen, aged 92. Mourning the loss, tributes instantly flooded the world’s social media as filmmakers, industry insiders, and the millions whose childhoods were entertained and inspired by the enchantment of Harryhausen’s imaginative works paid their respects to one of the most influential special effects masters of cinema history.
Famously inspired as a youth by Willis O’Brien’s effects work in the 1933 RKO classic King Kong, Ray Harryhausen was determined to follow in his idol’s footsteps by entering into the world of special effects in live action filmmaking: and so he did. Through his long and prosperous career, Ray worked on some of the most iconic and influential films of his generation – most of which are arguably so as a result of Harryhausen’s input. Through his creative designs, dedication to stop-motion and impressive special effects work, Ray brought the impossible and the incredible to life: be it blowing up the White House in a UFO attack, making dinosaurs roam the land once again, animating an army of skeleton soldiers, destroying the Golden Gate Bridge with a giant sea creature or making mythical Greek titans clash, Ray seemed to be able to do anything and everything his childlike imagination could think up.
Of course, Ray’s work is best seen, not read about – and the following footage provides a fitting tribute to the remarkable man behind the incredible creations shown.
He may not have been the director for the majority of the movies that he worked on, but they will always be remembered by the film world as Ray Harryhausen films; the likes of Jason and the Argonauts, The Golden Voyage of Sinbad, and Clash of the Titans certainly would not be as well remembered and loved today without his influence.
In a world before computer animation, special effects artists like Ray Harryhausen had to deploy a number of alternative methods to bring such impossible creatures to life -- largely through the process of ‘dynamation’. Whilst we become immersed in modern films by groundbreaking photorealistic CGI, created by hundreds of people on hundreds of computers, it is difficult to appreciate these effects as much as the tireless work done by Harryhausen’s own bare hands. With each creation animated and brought to life so realistically, frame by frame at 24 frames per second, Ray was a skilled, creative and inventive individual in his field. Yet it was not the tireless hours of work and the impressive technical ability of Ray Harryhausen that made his special effects stand out, as much as his endless imagination that brought beauty to the designs of his monster marvels – or his ‘creatures’ as he would fondly call them. His work has entertained generations of cinemagoers, and has formed the inspiration for some of the most iconic monster movies since.
As the movie world pays its dues at the death of Ray Harryhausen, we are not just saluting a very talented man; with his passing we also say a fond farewell to an era of classic filmmaking that will forever be remembered for its beautiful craftsmanship – a very special quality that was influenced and pioneered by a truly remarkable talent, the likes of whom won’t easily be matched.
Raymond Frederick Harryhausen: June 29th 1920 – May 7th 2013.
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