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Obituary: Ray Harryhausen

Obituary by Jack Foley

SPECIAL effects titan Ray Harryhausen has died at the age of 92.

The American animator was best known for his stop-motion wizardry which brought classic films such as Jason and the Argonauts and Clash of the Titans to thrilling life.

Announcing the sad news, an official statement from his foundation said: “Harryhausen’s genius was in being able to bring his models alive. Whether they were prehistoric dinosaurs or mythological creatures, in Ray’s hands they were no longer puppets but became instead characters in their own right.”

Born in Los Angeles in June 1920, Raymond Frederick Harryhausen had a passion for dinosaurs as a child that was only fuelled further by seeing movies such as The Lost World and the 1933 version of King Kong.

His passion for these movies in particular prompted him to seek out a meeting with pioneering model animator Willis O’Brien and he never looked back.

His early work was mostly limited to low budget projects but helped to make them memorable in the process. Hence, he helped to create some spectacular havoc in 1953’s The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms and 1955’s It Came From Beneath The Sea and re-created dinosaurs in One Million Years B.C..

The Valley of the Gwangi followed in 1969, which paved the way for his pioneering work in the ’70s and early ’80s. In the ’70s, for instance, he created cutting-edge special effects for the films The Golden Voyage of Sinbad, Sinbad and the Eye of the Tiger and Jason & The Argonauts – the latter of which most memorably saw him animating the seven skeletons who come to life – a sequence which took him three months to film.

And then in 1981 he helped make Clash of the Titans an enduring classic, bringing such Greek mythological creations as The Medusa, The Kraken and giant scorpions to vivid, often terrifying life.

In doing so, he inspired a generation of film directors, from Steven Spielberg and James Cameron to Peter Jackson of the Lord of the Rings fame.

In the same year that Clash was released, Harryhausen was honoured with an exhibition and retrospective covering an entire month by New York’s Museum of Modern Art. He was later paid tribute by the American Cinematheque.

While in 2006, Harryhausen was recognised with a retrospective of his works at the historic Byrd Theater in Richmond, Va, and recently enjoyed another incredibly popular retrospective of his work at the London Film Museum.

The Ray & Diana Harryhausen Foundation, a charitable trust set up in April 1986, remains devoted to the protection of Harryhausen’s name and body of work as well as archiving, preserving and restoring his extensive collection.

Ray is survived by his wife.

A number of tributes have been paid to Harryhausen on the Facebook page of the Foundation – among them Steven Spielberg and Peter Jackson.

Spielberg stated: “Ray, your inspiration goes with us forever.”

While Jackson wrote: “THE LORD OF THE RINGS is my ‘Ray Harryhausen movie’. Without his life-long love of his wondrous images and storytelling it would never have been made – not by me at least.”

And George Lucas wrote: “Ray has been a great inspiration to us all in special visual industry. The art of his earlier films, which most of us grew up on, inspired us so much. Without Ray Harryhausen, there would likely have been no STAR WARS.”

View photos of his work