Ray Harryhausen: The Father of Stop Motion Animation
A Scary Introduction
The first movie I've ever seen of Ray Harryhausen's was Jason and the Argonauts which, as a tradition, used to play during the holidays, like on Thanksgiving. I was four years old when first I saw Jason and the Argonauts for the very first time. Seeing the Cyclops caused me to take cover behind a couch and caused a ruckus of laughter from both family members and guests alike. I was terrified and elated at the same time. A monster had come to life and was heading towards me (the horror). The year after that, I flew away with Perseus and Pegasus while watching Clash of the Titans and fought the likes of the Kraken with the decapitated head of Gorgon Medusa and in doing so, I rescued Andromeda from the clutches of the evil Calibos. Safe to say, I was an instant fan ever since.
For anyone who has over the years enjoyed the work of Steven Spielberg, George Lucas, Tim Burton, Sam Raimi, and James Cameron among a host of many others, much tribute should be given to one man whose name is Ray Harryhausen. Much credit should also be given to his predecessor, Willis O'Brien (who was known to him as Obie) who inspired Ray Harryhausen to become the legendary stop motion animator we know today.
Courtesy of rayharryhausen.com
The Biography of Ray Harryhausen
Born on June, 29, 1920 in Los Angeles, California, Ray Harryhausen is an American icon. As an American film producer and special effects wizard; Ray Harryhausen is renowned for his contributions as Hollywood’s prominent stop-motion animator, notably Mighty Joe Young (1949), The 7th Voyage of Sinbad (1958), and Jason and the Argonauts (1963) which featured the famous sword-fighting duel against seven skeleton warriors. It is for this reason that any discussion involving stop-motion animation and model animation begins and ends with Ray Harryhausen. He is the master.
Contrary to what this article’s title suggests, Willis O’Brien is the pioneer of stop motion animation, as the first films to use such technique includes King Kong (1933) and The Lost World (1925), which inspired Harryhausen to fine-tune the craft and master it entirely. As early as 1917, Willis O’Brien introduced stop motion animation, bringing it from his studio workshop to the silver screen which captivated audiences around the world. However, for most of O’Brien’s professional career, he was met with many obstacles and so had to let go of some of his projects. As what would turn out to be a dream job, Ray Harryhausen was offered a position from Paramount to work on George Pai’s Puppetoons after reviewing his first demo reel of dinosaurs fighting one another, titled Evolution of the World, which was a tribute to O’Brien’s own work titled Creation. Before creating Evolution, Harryhausen frequented the theaters a multitude of times to watch O’Brien’s King Kong, which by the way is hailed as one of the greatest American movies ever made and according to the American Film Institute, it’s one of the Top 100 Movies of all time.
After having put together a cacophony of his work onto a reel, he showed it to O’Brien, whom he greatly admired. He also showed him the stegosaurus in which won first prize at the Los Angeles County Museum. After studying it for bit, O'Brien remarked that the stegosaurus's legs,"look like wrinkled sausages" and chided that Ray had to "put more character into it and study anatomy to learn where the muscle connects to the bone." O’Brien would end up hiring him as his assistant and the two would go on to produce as their first project, Mighty Joe Young (1949) which would win an Academy Award for Best Special Effects. It’s also important to note that while O’Brien was preoccupied with solving the technical problems of the film, he left much of the animation work to Harryhausen. O’Brien would call upon him again years later due to time constraints while producing an 8-minute intro to the film, The Animal World (1956). Not surprisingly, many believed that their 8-minute segment was the highlight of the entire film.
Ray Harryhausen Filmography
- How to Bridge a Gorge (1942) (producer)
- Tulips Shall Grow (1942) (chief animator)
- Mother Goose Stories (1946) (producer)
- The Story of Little Red Riding Hood (1949) (producer, animator)
- Mighty Joe Young (1949) (first technician)
- Rapunzel (1951) (producer)
- Hansel and Gretel (1951) (producer)
- The Story of King Midas (1953) (producer)
- The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms (1952) (visual effects)
- It Came from Beneath the Sea (1955) (visual effects)
- The Animal World (1956) (effects technician)
- Earth vs. the Flying Saucers (1956) (special photographic, animation effects)
- 20 Million Miles to Earth (1957) (visual effects)
- The 7th Voyage of Sinbad (1958) (associate producer, visual effects)
- The 3 Worlds of Gulliver (1960) (visual effects)
- Mysterious Island (1961) (special visual effects)
- Jason and the Argonauts (1963) (associate producer, visual effects)
- First Men in the Moon (1964) (associate producer, visual effects)
- One Million Years B.C. (1966) (special visual effects)
- The Valley of Gwangi (1969) (associate producer, visual effects)
- The Golden Voyage of Sinbad (1974) (producer, visual effects)
- Sinbad and the Eye of the Tiger (1977) (producer, visual effects)
- Clash of the Titans (1981) (producer, visual effects)
- The Story of the Tortoise & the Hare (2003) (director, co-producer, animator)
- Ray Harryhausen Presents: The Pit and the Pendulum (2007) (executive producer)
The Legend of Ray Harryhausen
In short, Ray Harryhausen made the world of make-believe believable. Imagine yourself working with high-detailed plasticine in which you make microscopic movements and with each movement, you take a picture with an 18-mm camera. And not until you have 24 frames (and not before, mind you) in which are flawless can you then convert the frames into a one-second of film footage! Do this and you've just imagined yourself as Ray Harryhausen busy with his absolute labor of love. His painstaking, yet passionate work has survived for over 50 years and has inspired countless fans, such as Jim Henson and Tim Burton. You certainly are a Titan among gods, Mr. Harryhausen. I thank you for your hard work and dedication to your craft. You certainly are an inspiration to me.
Here are some of the tributes given to Ray Harryhausen that I've found:
- In both Aardman’s Wallace and Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit (2006) and Tim Burton’s Corpse Bride (2005), there appear pianos both labelled with the makers name of Harryhausen.
- In the model animated feature Flesh Gordon (1974) the main antagonist is a god called ‘Nesuahyrrah’, which is Harryhausen spelt backwards.
- In the first part of Peter Jackson’s trilogy, Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Rings (2001) the giant cave troll was a tribute to Ray’s animation in the form of how the creature moved, and specifically, how he held his arms.
- The 2001 Pixar film, Monsters, Inc. pays homage to Harryhausen in a scene where characters Mike Wazowski and Celia Mae visit a restaurant named "Harryhausen's".
"A man who has inspired us all, one frame at a time."
-The Secret Lab; Disney Feature Animation and Walt Disney Company
"What is most important to me is that Ray showed us that a grown man could play with monsters and get away with it. Even get paid to do it. How cool is that? Make monsters, and get paid to play with them. That is what I want to do when I grow up..."
-Rick Baker; Make up and Special Effects Artist
"If you are tired of explosions, cursing, and lots of violence when you go to the movies, then watch Ray’s films."
-Ricardo Delgado; Artist
"I suppose for many of us, Ray Harryhausen was our Beethoven - a Titan struggling with the gods - as Wagner once described Beethoven. Many have made good on this ambition, and done great credit to the example that Ray's artistry and dedication inspired. In any case, gratitude is the highest tribute among artists, and I thank Ray for providing me the pleasure of his work my whole life."
-David Allen; Producer, Director, and Animator 1944-1999
"Ray's influence on filmmakers has been profound; a testament to belief in one's self, one's obsessions, or as the other Ray, Ray Bradbury - Ray H's close friend, would say 'Your loves, ' as well as to craft and artistry in an age where a single hard working artist, an amazingly prolific workhorse, contended with all of the Herculean obstacles that one faces making a motion picture year after year to inspire us as filmgoers and, for some of us to stand on his shoulders. And, every time that Cyclops emerges from that cave I reconnect with the seven year old that I was and still am. That's magic."
-Phil Tippett, Special Effects Supervisor
"As a child I was a misfit, an outcast, a freak if you will. I was the weird kid that lived down the block. It was all because of Ray Harryhausen. I would walk around and roar like the Cyclops in The 7th Voyage of Sinbad and it’s all Ray’s fault. He made me the freak that I am today. Thank you very much Ray Harryhausen. Ray has inspired so many of us and I’m honoured just to say that I know him."
-Rick Baker; Make Up and Special Effects Artist
"To the Boomers, the so-called Monster Kids, who grew up in the 1950s and '60s, there was no greater inspiration than Ray Harryhausen. His creatures brought to life mythology and legends we had only read about. But thanks to his "Superdynamation" techniques, our hungry little imaginations were fed the Food of the Gods. You cannot overstate the influence Harryhausen and his artistry brought to generations of writers, illustrators and filmmakers. He is the King."
-Mick Garris; Writer, Producer, and Director
"Thanks to Ray for all he has given me and all the other people in this goofy business of ours. He is an inspiration to us all and I don’t know where any of us would be right now without him."
-Dennis Muren, Visual Effects Supervisor
"Ray was captivated by Willis O’Brien’s King Kong. And now Ray
like Kong stands on a peak high above the world of storytelling as a
beacon of creative light. He is without question the person who has
almost single handedly created visions of wonder which have inspired
some of the best filmmakers in the world. And in so doing, the visual
effects industry was created and necessary to bring the visions of
these new filmmakers to life.
Ray’s legacy is monumental to contemporary and future storytelling."
-Tom Atkin; Founder of the Visual Effects Society
"We’re joined at the hip and we’re joined at the brow and joined in our imagination."
-Ray Bradbury, Friend and Writer
"The reason I got into the business is because of Ray and he inspires me in the work I do today. He is the master."
-Ken Ralston; Visual Effects Supervisor
Watch the new 2010 remake of the Clash of the Titans!
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