Ray Harryhausen Has Died

The special effects genius was 92

Ray Harryhausen

Ray Harryhausen, a master of stop-motion animation and a true movie great, has died. He was 92.

Born in Los Angeles in June 1920, Harryhausen's enthusiasm for the burgeoning form of animation was sparked by a viewing of Willis O’Brien’s King Kong as a wide-eyed 13 year-old. Two years later and he could be found crafting his own homemade animations, prototypes of the models he would quickly come to perfect in Mighty Joe Young (1949), It Came From Beneath The Sea (1955), 20 Million Miles To Earth (1957) and The Valley Of Gwangi (1969).

Three Sinbad movies delivered classic monsters like the Cyclops and Homonicus, Jason And The Argonauts (1963) brought skeletons and Talos to the screen, while Clash Of The Titans (1981) delivered Medusa and unleashed a Kraken. All memorable; all maintained for posterity by the Ray & Diana Harryhausen Foundation.

Harryhausen's magic captivated young viewers like Peter Jackson, Steven Spielberg and James Cameron, all of whom are quick to recognise their subsequent debt to Harryhausen and pay tribute to his artistry. “The Lord Of The Rings is my ‘Ray Harryhausen movie’," enthuses Jackson. "Without his wondrous images and storytelling it would never have been made – not by me at least.” Cameron describes him simply as "a giant".

When Empire spoke to the great man last year, he remembered working on those stop-motion classics with great fondness. Always unwilling to pick a favourite monster creation - it was like trying to pick a favourite child, he reasoned - he did confess to a weakness for his dinosaurs. "We tried real animals in some of the prehistoric pictures", he remembered, "just to save time and money, but the real animals never look as good as the animated ones".

Not merely a master craftsman, Harryhausen's handling of stop-motion action sequences was sublime too. Perhaps the greatest of all his set-pieces was Jason And The Argonauts' timeless set-to in which Jason and his band battle a small cohort of skeletons, three months' worth of painstaking labour. Dynamic, free-flowing and filled with clammy desperation, it's a piece of cinema that remains lodged in the mind long after the film ends. We can't think of a better tribute.