Ray Harryhausen and the Art of Special Effects

Skeletal armies and man-eating dinosaurs are just a couple of Ray Harryhausen's repetoire of special effects, which elevated stop motion animation to an art during the 1950s to 1980s.

Ray Harryhausen (1920-2013) was an American artist, designer, visual effects creator, writer and producer who created a form of stop-motion model animation known as "Dynamation".

In an era before CGI, Harryhausen used clay monsters and mythical creatures to bring life to live-action adventure films like Clash of the Titans, Valley of the Gwangi and Jason and the Argonauts.

It is impossible to imagine the science-fiction and fantasy cinema of the last 50 years without visionary directors such as Steven Spielberg, George Lucas, Peter Jackson, Sam Raimi, Tim Burton or Guillermo del Toro.

All of these film-makers have cited Harryhausen as a formative influence or even as the reason they became film-makers in the first place.

‘The Lord of the Rings is my ‘Ray Harryhausen movie’. Without that lifelong love of his wonderous images and storytelling it would never have been made – not by me at least.’

Peter Jackson

Jackson is by no means alone in owing Harryhausen a debt. Harryhausen’s films are viewed with such affection that homages and references to his films can be found in countless films.

When Tim Burton made his Martian invasion movie Mars Attacks (1996), Harryhausen was his inspiration.

Burton’s Martians gleefully destroy the Washington Monument in a direct reference to Harryhausen’s early black and white movie Earth vs the Flying Saucers (1956).

When asked what film segment Harryhausen was most proud of, he said he was proud of all his work but,

“the skeleton segment in Jason and the Argonauts gives me the greatest satisfaction. It was certainly the most time-consuming and elaborate sequence I ever designed.”

Watch the video; Harryhausen's work in one of the most recognisable sequences of film history.


 

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