Ray Harryhausen: The Film-Maker Who Made The Impossible Possible

Raymond Frederick Harryhausen (June 29, 1920 – May 7, 2013) was an American artist, designer, visual effects creator, writer and producer who created a form of stop motion model animation known as “Dynamation”.

His works include the animation for Mighty Joe Young (1949), with his mentor Willis H. O’Brien, for which he won the Academy Award for Best Visual Effects; his first color film, The 7th Voyage of Sinbad (1958); and Jason and the Argonauts (1963), which featured a sword fight with seven skeleton warriors. His last film was Clash of the Titans (1981), after which he retired.

Dangerous Minds

If it wasn’t a monster movie, then it wasn’t worth watching. That was my narrow view of films when I was a child. There was the usual list of werewolves, and vampires, and stitched-together cadavers from Frankenstein’s lab, but there was nothing quite as thrilling as seeing Ray Harryhausen’s name on a film.

Harryhausen’s name meant memorable special effects that made any film extraordinary. Before VHS or DVD recorders, we memorized those key scenes to replay in our heads, and discuss at our leisure. The ghoulish, resurrected skeletons that fought Jason and the Argonauts; the Rhedosaurus that tore up New York in The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms; the Terradactyl  that terrorized Raquel Welch in One Million Years B.C.; the sinewed goddess Khali that fought Sinbad; these were memories that made many a childhood special – mine included.

It was seeing the original version of King Kong that started Harryhausen off on his career. His ability to duplicate some of Willis O’Brien’s groundbreaking effects led the young Harryhausen to meet and then work with his idol on Mighty Joe Young, in 1949. Their collaboration won an Oscar, and set Harryhausen off on his career. This is Ray Harryhausen interviewed in 1974, discussing his designs and the techniques used on some of his greatest films.

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