Ray Harryhausen, special effects legend and stop-motion animation pioneer, has died at the age of 92.
The FX wizard’s death was announced on the Ray and Diana Harryhausen Foundation Facebook page. Ray passed away from natural causes in London on Tuesday (May 7).
In the days before computer-generated imagery, Ray Harryhausen was creating special effects that were only dreamed of at the time. The The Oscar and BAFTA award-winning visual effects artist is probably best known for his work on Jason and the Argonauts, The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms, and the 80s cult classic Clash of the Titans.
The special effects titan’s fascination with monsters and cinema began when he caught a screening of King Kong in 1933 with his friend Ray Bradbury. Two years later, he would begin making home movies which featured early attempts at this technique.
In short, Harryhausen was the master of stop-motion animation. Using jointed models, he would make slight adjustments to his creations on a frame-by-frame basis. This footage was later incorporated with live actors, giving audiences the impression that dashing heroes were actually battling otherworldly beasts and monsters.
In the 1958 fantasy flick The 7th Voyage of Sinbad, the FX pioneer used his technique to bring an army of skeletons to life. Ray Harryhausen, who said he was particularly proud of this sequence, had to match the actor’s movements with the models he was using to make the scene come alive.
“I had three men fighting seven skeletons, and each skeleton had five appendages to move in each separate frame of film. This meant at least 35 animation movements, each synchronized to the actors’ movements. Some days I was producing less than one second of screen time; in the end the whole sequence took a record four and a half months,” he explained.
What’s even more impressive about the man’s work is that he was often given very small budgets to work with on these films. This meant that most of the animation was done by Harryhausen himself, though he could sometimes afford to bring in a few assistance to make the jobs a little smoother.
The 1981 flick Clash of the Titans would be the last movie that featured the pioneer as the “creator of special visual effects.” While stop-motion animation has taken a back seat to CGI these days, the man’s influence can still be seen in a number of modern motion pictures.
In addition to having a great effect on this writer’s childhood, he has influenced such iconic filmmakers as Steven Spielberg, James Cameron, Peter Jackson, and George Lucas. Although he might be gone, his cinematic work will entertain folks for generations to come.
What is your favorite Ray Harryhausen movie?
[Image via The National Media Museum]