May 7 2013 1:40pm

The Man Responsible For All of Your Favorite Monsters, Ray Harryhausen, 1920-2013

Ray Harryhausen dies at age 93

Visual effects maestro and stop-motion pioneer Ray Harryhausen passed away today, on May 7th, 2013. His family issued a statement earlier today. He was 92.

Best known for his work in creating stop-motion creatures in films like Clash of the Titans, Jason and the Argonauts, Mighty Joe Young, The 7th Voyage of Sinbad and countless others, Harryhausen initially apprenticed under Willis O’Brien, who was responsible for the stop-motion effects on the classic King Kong. From the motion of dinosaurs, to skeletons, to the snakes on Medusa’s head, Harryhausen defined our collective imaginations, giving movement to a variety of fantastic beasts. Generations of special effects filmmakers were influenced and inspired by Harryhausen, with reverberations of his style present in everything from Star Wars to The Nightmare Before Christmas.

Wonderfully, Harryhausen was also childhood friends with another famous Ray; author Ray Bradbury. The two met in high school and shared an interest in dinosaurs, monsters and all the wonderful creatures that both would eventually make into their careers. It’s hard to imagine the magic of this initial meeting, with neither young guy fully aware of how much their individual imaginations would re-shape the world forever. Famously, both vowed to “love dinosaurs forever.”

The art of stop-motion animation was revolutionized by Harryhausen and is unimaginable without considering his contributions. Ray Harryhausen put all of our favorite monsters into motion, and for that, we’ll never forget him. 

Irene Gallo
1. Irene
Heartbreaking. I cant think about being in my single digits without thinking of watching Harryhausen movies on tv after school.
Tim Marshall
2. smaug86
Some of my best childhood memories revolve around seeing films Ray worked in at the drive-in theater.
Paul Weimer
3. PrinceJvstin
Jason and the Argonauts! Clash of the Titans!

Alas. Rest in peace, Ray
4. Gecko
'Valley of the Gwangi' has long been a great guilty pleasure of mine.
james Pope
5. jim162065
I love the Medusa in Clash of the Titans.
6. Alright Then
I was in seventh grade in the mid '90s, and on a "no-work day" near the end of the semester my science teacher popped in a VHS of Jason and the Argonauts. And so for a couple of hours there we were: a crowd of twenty or so boys watching with rapt attention, in this newly minted computerized age of "after Jurassic Park," a movie from 1963! How'd they do that back then? Hey, that skeleton's head came off! Oh, awesome!

Thanks for the memories, Ray.
j p
7. sps49
I can't remember thinking the effects were real- but they always made the story being told more magical.
8. Eugene R.
The Venusian reptile monster versus the elephant in 20 Million Miles to Earth - what a great battle sequence. Interesting trivia point: Mr. Harryhausen wanted a 15' tall elephant, but the only live one they could get for the preceding scenes was 8', so they cast a 4' 6" zookeeper to make the live elephant look jumbo.
9. glorbes
Harryhausen was an auteur. The movies were essentially constructed around his effects, he would outline what he wanted to do, have a huge imfluence over the script, and be there during principal photography. He and Charles Schneer seemed to make the movies they wanted...and it mostly worked. Its so weird...so many of the complaints about modern blockbusters are around the fact that the films are underwritten and place emphasis on visual effects...but this was the defining feature of Harryhausen's film...and yet that's why they are so wonderful. I think its because he did it all himself...he designed the characters and armatures (though his father usually built them), developed the stories, and physically animated the creatures. His films were a product of his character, of his passions, that the human actors and the plot were not the driving force. The animation he created was a performance of tremendous craft...how often did you feel more for the creature than the hero? And Harryhausen did this deliberately...all of his creations were given an internal life, character quirks, and a certain sad and misunderstood quality because he loved them. Honestly, I think the only character of his that I thought was truly monstrous and terrifying was Talos...because he was expressionless, pitiless, and as such seemed to be more a figure of pure menace.

Harryhausen was lauded as a genius throughout his life, and he earned all of that respect honestly. And he was aware enough to make it clear...there was a straight line from what he did that started with Willis O'Brien.

So yeah...he was awesome.

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