It pains me to write that the world has lost one of the greatest visual f/x artists of all time: Ray Harryhausen was “movie magic” personified. To be certain, no one lives forever (Dick Clark proved that when he shuffled off this mortal coil just over a year ago), but it is still a shock to the system when someone you respect and love passes on.
I never met Ray Harryhausen, but I’ve always wanted to. Had I ever had the chance to cross paths with the once living legend, I would have feverishly shook his hand and thanked him immensely. His divine stop-motion creations unlocked my imagination, and brought me so much joy and excitement in my formative years.
In a period of my life where openly liking monster movies, horror flicks, and comic books, cemented me as a social outast, the films that featured Harryhausen’s creations were a secret safe haven for me. Even now in adulthood, I still find comfort when I bask in the glow of the films he worked on.
I still find excitement in the adventures of Sinbad the Sailor, and enjoy the wanton destruction of major landmarks in classics like IT CAME FROM BENEATH THE SEA and EARTH VS. THE FLYING SAUCERS. It satisfies the child within me, and takes me back to a simpler time, before the full time job, and bills, and debt, and all the other day to day bullsh*t that makes up this thing called adulthood. It’s also a welcome break from all the CGI-heavy films coming out these days.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not going to sit here and bad mouth CGI effects artists: They work hard, and their job is not as simple as “cut, paste, render, repeat” like many people believe. However, I will say that they do have to put in far less effort than Harryhausen, and all of the other stop-motion masters that slaved to bring their miniatures to life on the silver screen.
Stop-motion animation is one of the most difficult, and painstaking types of f/x work you could ever attempt. I should know as I filmed a stop-motion animated Godzilla short for a senior high school project back in 2001, and it took me a month to get about fifteen minutes of viable footage. It’s certainly a skill that is not easily mastered and requires the patience of Job to accomplish. Ray Harryhausen was the king of the craft.
Unlike the animation I’ve seen in so many other films, Ray had the ability to pull it off rather smoothly, and imbue his creations with an actual personality. I grin every time the Rhedosaurus from BEAST FROM 20,000 FATHOMS snaps up a heroic cop by his head, because the officer was annoying it with small arms fire.
I cheer on the Cyclops when he battles the Dragon in THE 7TH VOYAGE OF SINBAD (even though I already know the outcome). I pity the poor Ymir from 20,000,000 MILES TO EARTH because its a rather docile creature in a strange world. It only becomes a rampaging monster after suffering constant torment at the hands of humanity.
I simply marvel at the skeletal warriors, Talos, and the mutli-headed Hydra from JASON AND THE ARGONAUTS, as well as the multi-limbed Kali from GOLDEN VOYAGE OF SINBAD. And is anything truly cooler than seeing cowboys rope and wrangle a raging T-Rex in VALLEY OF GWANGI?
Everything Harryhausen created is solid gold in my eyes, and thankfully his work will live on for many years to come as we enter an increasingly digital age. Yes, a legend is gone, but he left behind a legacy that will continue to ignite the imaginations of youngsters, and inspire others to follow their dreams of being animators and filmmakers.
Ray Harryhausen will be sorely missed, but he had a damned good run. He created Dynamation (a technique still used by animators today), earned a Lifetime Achievement Oscar, and inspired a generation of some of cinema’s greatest directors and effects artists, including: Steven Spielberg, Phil Tippett, John Landis, Tim Burton, Rick Baker, David Allen, Mick Garris, George Lucas, James Cameron, and so many others.
Few have managed to capture the hearts, minds, and the imaginations of so many. So thank you Ray, and may you rest in peace good sir. I doubt the world will ever see your like again.
Unsurprisingly, there’s been an outpouring of Ray Harryhausen love on the web since his passing.
CLICK HERE to start watching some cool video tributes to Ray on YouTube.
CLICK HERE to read my Top Ten List of favorite Ray Harryhausen creations.
CLICK HERE to visit the Official Ray Harryhausen Facebook page, and share your condolences or just chat it up with fellow Harryhausen fans.