The legacy of Ray Harryhausen dates back to the creation of King Kong in 1933. His mentor, Willis O’Brien, pioneered the concept of stop-motion model animation, made famous when he brought his iconic ape to life on screen. An astonished audience were amazed by his creation. The work of this pioneering model animator inspired Harryhausen to work in this unique field, and he almost single-handedly kept the technique alive for three decades. Ray’s most important productions include the animation on Mighty Joe Young (with O’Brien), which won the Oscar for special effects in 1949; The 7th Voyage of Sinbad, his first color film; and Jason and the Argonauts, featuring the famous sword fight against seven skeleton warriors.
RAY HARRYHAUSEN JOSEPH YOUNG WILLIS O’BRIEN
Other inspiration was derived from friends, Ray Bradbury and George Pal, who both became important contributors to the Science Fiction genre. Harryhausen joined a Los Angeles-area Science Fiction League, which led to his fortuitous meeting with his idol, Willis O’Brien. He critiqued Harryhausen’s early models, and he inspired him to take classes in graphic arts and sculpture to hone his skills.
During World War II, Harryhausen worked for the Special Services Division under Colonel Frank Capra. He also worked with composer Dimitri Tiomkin and Ted Geisel (Dr. Seuss). In 1947, Ray was brought in by Merian C. Cooper as an assistant animator on what was to become his first major film, Mighty Joe Young.
When King Kong was re-released in 1952, it contributed to a creation and revival of a giant monster cinema craze, especially at drive-in theaters. Harryhausen was hired to do the special effects for The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms, based on a story written by Ray Bradbury. His creative method was as old as the motion picture itself. He first used a technique that split the background and foreground of pre-shot live action footage into two separate images, and seemingly integrating live-action with models. This style was famously called Dynamation. Other memorable flicks featuring his special effects include It Came From Beneath the Sea, The Three Worlds of Gulliver, Mysterious Island, and One Million Years B.C. He worked alone to produce almost all of the animation for all his films, until his last feature film in 1981… Clash of the Titans.
During the 1980s and early 1990s, Harryhausen’s growing legion of fans in the film industry, such as George Lucas and John Landis, started lobbying the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences to acknowledge Harryhausen’s contribution to cinema, and he was finally given a Gordon E. Sawyer Award in 1992 for technological contributions [which] have brought credit to the industry. Tom Hanks and Ray Bradbury presented the award. The Science Fiction Hall of Fame inducted Harryhausen in 2005, the first year it honored non-literary contributors. He also had a comedic cameo role in the 1998 remake of Mighty Joe Young.
There is no question that modern special effects artists, including Tim Burton, owe a debt of gratitude to this pioneer of live animation… Ray Harryhausen was 92.
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