It’s a sad day for those of us who grew up on movies like Jason and the Argonauts and marveled over the monsters created by Ray Harryhausen. The special effects master who perfected stop motion animation has died at the age of 92.
Ray Harryhausen, whose dazzling and innovative visual effects work on fantasy adventure films like The Seventh Voyage of Sinbad (1958) and Jason and the Argonauts (1963) augured the explosion of effects-driven cinema over the last 30 years, died in London on May 7, according to his Facebook page.
Born in Los Angeles in 1920, Harryhausen began his love affair with stop-motion animation early after watching the seminal effects movie King Kong (1933). He started making his own stop-motion films in his family’s garage while connecting with a burgeoning science-fiction fan community in L.A., including life-long friend Ray Bradbury, who would become one of the pre-eminent sci-fi authors of the 20th century. Harryhausen, meanwhile, won work under a succession of filmmaking pioneers, including visual effects guru George Pal on Pal’s popular Puppetoons shorts, director Frank Capra on the Army Motion Picture Unit during World War II, and finally Kong animator Willis O’Brien on the 1949 giant gorilla film Mighty Joe Young, which won an Oscar for its special effects.
Harryhausen quickly became a sought-after effects artist in his own right, working on studio adventure films that culminated with The Seventh Voyage of Sinbad in 1958. Filled with expertly rendered and designed visual wonders, the film climaxed with an iconic fight sequence between the title hero and a sword-wielding skeleton, a spectacle that Harryhausen topped five years later with a whole horde of warring skeletons in Jason and the Argonauts. The sequences revolutionized how actors could interact with stop-motion effects, a process Harryhausen called “Dynamation.”
Harryhausen’s effects work continued through the 1960s and ’70s on films like the 1967 Raquel Welch movie One Million Years B.C. and The Golden Voyage of Sinbad in 1974, ending with the 1981 mythological epic Clash of the Titans. In 1992, he received the Gordon E. Sawyer Award for Technical Achievement at the Scientific and Technical Achievement portion of the Academy Awards. At the event, host Tom Hanks said, “Some say Citizen Kane is the greatest motion picture of all time. Others say it’s Casablanca. For me, the greatest picture of all time is Jason and the Argonauts.”
His work inspired Nightmare Before Christmas creator Tim Burton who also works with the tedious stop motion animation technique as well as numerous other filmmakers. He will certainly be missed.