If it wasn’t a monster movie, then it wasn’t worth watching. That was my narrow view of cinema when I was a kid. There was the usual suspects of werewolves, vampires, gelatinous blobs from outer space, and stitched-together cadavers, but nothing thrilled quite as much as seeing one of Ray Harryhausen’s animated creatures move across the screen. Whether it was those ghoulish skeletons in Jason and the Argonauts; the Ray Bradbury-inspired Rhedosaurus that tore up New York City in The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms; the leathery terradactyl that picked up Raquel Welch in One Million Years B.C.; or the octopus that brought down the Golden Gate Bridge; this was the kind of movie that made so many childhoods happy—mine included.
Harryhausen sketched out each of his ideas before turning them into models, and this is a small selection of his drawings for the films Jason and the Argonauts, The Seventh Voyage of Sinbad, the unmade War of the Worlds, Valley of the Gwangi, 20 Million Miles to earth, and One Million Years BC.
More of Harryhausen’s incredible drawings after the jump…
Ray decided he would make his own short films. Using some out of date 16mm colour Kodachrome stock he had acquired, and with the help of his father and mother, he shot a series of nursery rhymes that included Little Miss Muffet, Old Mother Hubbard, The Queen of Hearts and Humpty Dumpty.
When he had completed all of these stories he lumped them all together under the title The Mother Goose Stories (1946), which he distributed to schools with great success.
He returned to the theme in the 1950s, around the time that he began to break in to the feature productions that would soon make him famous.
Ray returned to shorts with an adaptation of Little Red Riding Hood, which he called The Story of Little Red Riding Hood (1950). Using the same methods as he used with The Mother Goose Stories the film proved another success with schools and so Ray set out to make what has since become known as the Fairy Tale series, although in fact not all were fairy tales. The series included The Story of Hansel and Gretel (1951), The Story of Rapunzel (1952) and The Story of King Midas (1953), the last of which was completed after his first feature film project.
It couldn’t be more clear from watching these that this was the work Harryhausen was meant to be doing. Though his only significant commercial animation work prior to the Mother Goose tales had been assisting George Pal on some Puppetoons shorts, his own films are expertly done, and stand up well to any animation of the era.
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 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.
If it wasn’t a monster movie, then it wasn’t worth watching. That was my narrow view of films when I was a child. There was the usual list of werewolves, and vampires, and stitched-together cadavers from Frankenstein’s lab, but there was nothing quite as thrilling as seeing Ray Harryhausen’s name on a film.
Harryhausen’s name on a movie meant unforgettable special effects that made any average film extraordinary. Before VHS or DVD recorders, we memorized those key scenes to replay in our heads, and discuss at our leisure. The ghoulish, resurrected skeletons that fought Jason and the Argonauts; the Rhedosaurus that tore up New York in The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms; the Terradactyl that terrorized Raquel Welch in One Million Years B.C.; the sinewed goddess Khali that fought Sinbad; these were memories that made many a childhood special - mine included.
It was seeing the original version of King Kong that started Harryhausen off on his career. His ability to duplicate some of Willis O’Brien’s groundbreaking effects led the young Harryhausen to meet and then work with his idol on Mighty Joe Young, in 1949. Their collaboration won an Oscar, and set Harryhausen off on his career.
Today, tributes poured in from across the film industry praising Ray Harryhausen‘s genius:
“Ray has been a great inspiration to us all in special visual industry. The art of his earlier films, which most of us grew up on, inspired us so much.” “Without Ray Harryhausen, there would likely have been no STAR WARS” —George Lucas.
“THE LORD OF THE RINGS is my ‘Ray Harryhausen movie’. Without his life-long love of his wondrous images and storytelling it would never have been made – not by me at least” — Peter Jackson
“In my mind he will always be the king of stop-motion animation” —- Nick Park
“His legacy of course is in good hands because it’s carried in the DNA of so many film fans.” — Randy Cook
“You know I’m always saying to the guys that I work with now on computer graphics “do it like Ray Harryhausen” — Phil Tippett.
“What we do now digitally with computers, Ray did digitally long before but without computers. Only with his digits.” —Terry Gilliam.
“His patience, his endurance have inspired so many of us.” — Peter Jackson
“Ray, your inspiration goes with us forever.” — Steven Spielberg
“I think all of us who are practioners in the arts of science fiction and fantasy movies now all feel that we’re standing on the shoulders of a giant.
If not for Ray’s contribution to the collective dreamscape, we wouldn’t be who we are.” — James Cameron
A sad loss, and a sad day, but what movies he has left us!
Stop-motion animation pioneer Ray Harryhausen turns 90 today. It’s a perfect time to appreciate his contributions over more than a half-century. Harryhausen’s parade of creatures—giant squids, gargantuan bees, serpentine genies, sword-wielding skeletons, huge crabs, etc.—have fuelled the nerdy fantasies and stoney dreams of many a Boomer teen.
Although the labor-intensive stop-motion method now seems the quaint realm of the video artiste, we shouldn’t overlook its predominance in the realm of pre-CGI modeling. But putting that aside, as you’ll see in Mat Bergman’s obsessive tribute below, Harryhausen refined the interaction between stop-action models and live-action, which sets him apart from acolytes like Tim Burton and Henry Selick. Catch the interview as well—Ray’s a truly warm wit.