Sunday, May 12, 2013

In Memoriam: Ray Harryhausen 1920-2013

Special effects artist/stop motion model animator. George Pal's Puppetoons. Mighty Joe Young. The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms. It Came From Beneath the Sea. Earth vs. the Flying Saucers. 20 Million Miles to Earth. The 7th Voyage of Sinbad. The Three Worlds of Gulliver. Jason and the Argonauts. One Million Years BC. Clash of the Titans.

 "Without Ray Harryhausen, there would likely have been no Star Wars."

--George Lucas

"He was the man who made me believe in monsters."

--Edgar Wright (Shaun of the Dead director)

"I think all of us who are practitioners 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

 "What we do now digitally with computers, Ray did digitally long before but without computers. Only with his digits."

--Terry Gilliam

Mighty Joe Young (1949) On this, his first live-action movie, Harryhausen assisted a man he'd long admired, Willis O'Brien, who had created the special-effects for King Kong 16 years earlier.

Speaking of King Kong, its re-release in mid-1952 proved to be more popular than three earlier reissues, as well as its initial showing in 1933. It was the highest grossing film that summer, and Time magazine called it Movie of the Year. Why am I telling you all this? Because more than anything else, it was the success of this then-19 year old film that spurred on the giant-creature-attacks-big-city stop-motion picture craze of the 1950s, of which Ray Harryhausen played no small part.

The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms (1953) "Burp."

It Came From Beneath the Sea (1955) "If you're going to San Francisco/be sure to wear some flowers in your hair"

Earth vs. the Flying Saucers (1956) Earth would seem to be the underdog.


20 Millions Miles to Earth (1957) We don't fare too well against lizards from Venus, either.

The 7th Voyage of Sinbad (1958) With the exception of the "red-and-white"  burning house scene in Mighty Joe Young, this was Harryhausen's first foray into color. Green looked rather becoming on her, don't you think?

 Jason and the Argonauts (1963) Probably Harryhausen's most famous (and most bone-chilling) special effect.

One Million Years B.C. (1966) In case you're curious, Raquel Welch is not a Harryhausen special effect. All kidding aside, I think that T-rex holds up well against the computer-animated one in Jurassic Park.

Clash of the Titans (1981) Harryhausen's final film. Heads up!



  1. I never even knew what his name was, but I loved ALL his movies! Shame on me! My daughter and I watched Jason and the Argonauts until the tape broke! That army of skeletons freaked me out! Thanks for all the vids. Never saw The Earth vs Flying saucers. He really was an inspiration. Awesome homage to an amazing artist.

    1. Patricia, when Harryhausen was involved with those movies, I don't think he was known outside the film industry. Remember, he wasn't a director. It's only in the 1980s and '90s, when people went and looked back at this body of work, did his reputation grow. So much so, that all the films above are now routinely referred to as "Ray Harryhausen movies", even though he didn't direct any of them!

      As far as EARTH VS THE FLYING SAUCERS goes, there's a cool scene of them taking apart Washington D.C. The aliens must not like our politics.

  2. I', going to agree with Patrica, except that I knew he was when I heard the bad news. I won't say he was an inspiration to me, but we certainly enjoyed his films and the stop motion style he made famous. R.I.P. Ray Harryhausen.
    Thanks Kirk.

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    3. Well, Mike, Harryhausen wasn't an inspiration to me in the sense I ever wanted to be a stop-motion animator myself. But I guess you could say all artists inspire me in the sense that they take a blank canvas, blank piece of paper, lump of clay, scattered musical notes, etc, and do something with them, create an alternate reality, bring something to life. They get to play God, when you think about it. Inspirational, indeed!

  3. Good point Kirk. He certainly was a master of his craft and brought his imagination to life. Yes, inspirational. I wasn't considering that aspect of his tremendous influence.

  4. Wonderful post today.
    It seems all the artist that I grew up with and admire are dead or dieing. How fabulous is his body of work. I remember many of these movies. Never saw "The Earth vs Flying Saucers"
    On another thought I was watching "The Incredibles" again (I want to live in their home) a few days ago and I always laugh at the Edna Mode character. When I was growing up I wanted to be Edith Head who the character is based on.

    cheers, parsnip

  5. That's one of the many bummers about the aging process, parsnip, the people you admire growing up start dying on you. I guess we should see it coming, but we never do. After all, unless they were child stars, they were older than us to begin with.

    I wonder how many superhero fans, animation fans, and grade school kids got the Edith Head reference in THE INCREDIBLES? It's just one of those little in-jokes scriptwriters slip into movies and TV shows, regardless of whether people get the joke or not. I actually like it when they do that. Watch the WIZARD OF OZ again sometimes. There's all kinds of jokes in it you probably didn't get as a kid.

    1. I too love the insider jokes.... artist even included them when I worked at Hallmark Cards a zillion years ago.
      Daughter used to live near Pixar and the movie UP has lots of references from around that area.
      When we went to see WRECK IT RALPH the whole movie is filled with references for gamers. I got a few of them but she laughed all the way through.

      cheers, parsnip

  6. Hah! I've even seen some of these movies (Sinbad, for sure) when I was a child.

  7. Staples of late-night horror movie hosts everywhere, Jim.


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