Visual effects icon Ray Harryhausen, whose stop-motion creations brought many monsters alive in movies such as Jason and the Argonauts and Clash of the Titans, died on Tuesday morning (May 7) at age 92. Born and raised in Los Angeles, he lived in the U.K. for several decades with his wife Diana.
“Harryhausen’s genius was in being able to bring his models alive,” said an official statement from his foundation. “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.”
Born in Los Angeles in June 1920, Harryhausen had a deep love for dinosaurs and other prehistoric creatures which led him to make his own version of the animals. According to biographers, movies such as the 1925 epic The Lost World and the 1933 version of King Kong led him to seek a meeting with model animation master Willis O’Brien when he was starting out. His first commercial job was working on George Pal’s Puppetoon shorts.
Harryhausen joined Frank Capra’s film unit during the Second World War and helped make the influential Why We Fight series to help the American war effort. After the war, he was hired by O’Brien to create the ape in the 1949 movie Mighty Joe Young, which got him his first Academy Award. He then went on to create some of the most memorable fantasy creatures of all time in beloved classics such as The 7th Voyage of Sinbad (1958), Mysterious Island (1961), Jason and the Argonauts (1963), One Million Years B.C. (1966), The Valley of Gwangi (1969), The Golden Voyage of Sinbad (1973) and Clash of the Titans (1981). Many will forever remember him for the remarkable sequence of the fighting skeletons in Jason and the Argonauts and the realistic Medusa in the original Clash of the Titans. In 1992 Harryhausen received a special Oscar to honor his work with special effects.
Through his amazing creations, Harryhausen inspired new generation of vfx artists, directors and animators, including industry giants such as Steven Spielberg, James Cameron and Peter Jackson.
Spielberg said Harryhausen’s “inspiration goes with us forever” while Cameron said Hollywood science fiction filmmakers had been “standing on the shoulders of a giant”. George Lucas noted, “The art of his earlier films, which most of us grew up on, inspired us so much.”
Aardman Animations’ founder Peter Lord described Harryhausen as “a one-man industry and a one-man genre” on Twitter while Nick Park, creator of Wallace and Gromit called Harryhausen the “king of stop-motion animation.”
Visual effects master Phil Tippett told Variety, “He was the guy that everybody was inspired by to do visual effects work. He was the singular creative person, so he inspired a lot of singular artists. It wasn’t like the head of a studio turning out stuff. He was a singular craftsman who shaped all the movies he worked on from cradle to grave. He was there on the set making sure everything was shot the right way and finished it all up. He was a total filmmaker that had his hands in everything … Nobody else has done anything like that. Or had such an impact.”