Today: June 22, 2024

Ray Harryhausen – Cinematic Legend

He was the man who made us believe the unbelievable. Back in the days before CGI and billion-dollar budgets, Ray Harryhausen made magic the old fashioned way: with patience, skill and his own bare hands. From the fighting skeletons in Jason And The Argonauts, the spectacular dinosaur roundup in Valley Of The Gwangi and the chilling Medusa in Clash Of The Titans, Ray animated every iconic moment, frame by painstaking frame. And what magic is was.

Raymond Frederick Harryhausen was born on 29th June 1920. As a child he was always fascinated by the models of dinosaurs he saw during frequent visits to the La Brea Tar Pits. However the ‘eureka’ moment for the fledgling filmmaker came in 1933 when his aunt took him to see King Kong. The experience left the young Ray “stunned and haunted” by Willis O’Brien’s incredible stop-motion Kong and led to a life-long obsession with modeling and filmmaking.

At 17, Ray made his first stop-motion film – The Cave Bear – filmed in the family’s back garden using a model made from his mom’s fur coat. But all this is just biographical fluff. What made Ray a household name were his films. By the age of 21, Ray was working on stop-motion almost to the exclusion of everything else. He was a man obsessed. He attended classes in art and anatomy in order to better prefect his on-screen creations. He met with some of the biggest names in the business. He worked seven days a week honing his art until, in 1947, Willis O’Brien – impressed with Ray’s raw talent and unassailable enthusiasm – offered him a job as associate animator on Mighty Joe Young (1948).

The movie was a huge hit and job offers rolled in but Ray always preferred to do things his own way. Unbelievably the man who practically invented the art of stop-motion model animation never had his own studio. It was just Ray. One man, a small process screen, a vintage Mitchell camera, some miniatures, hand-made models and glass background paintings. So when, in 1953, he was finally given the opportunity to work on his own feature – The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms – he jumped at the chance. Despite the limited budgets and break-neck filming schedule Ray didn’t hold back. Fathoms, for all its faults, was a showcase for Ray’s genius and the rest, as they say is history. Earth Versus The Flying Saucers, The 7th Voyage Of Sinbad, The Three Worlds Of Gulliver, The First Men In The Moon, Sinbad And The Eye Of The Tiger … For the next 50 years, Ray was the name behind some of cinema’s most iconic films, often working not only as the sole animator on a project, but writer, director and producer – to ensure that his unique vision made it to the screen intact.

Ray Harryhausen was the man who made us all want to watch movies. He died yesterday at his London home and already the tributes are rolling in. There are times when simple words are not enough to express how much one person has enriched the lives of those around him but perhaps these comments from some of Ray’s very many admirers will  go some way to explain what one man meant to a generation of film makers and fans …  Goodbye Ray, and thanks for all the fabulous memories.

“He has been my mentor and inspiration since my earliest childhood.” Nick Park.

“Harryhausen stands alone as a technician, as an artist and as a dreamer.” Ray Bradbury.

“If not for Ray’s contribution to the collective dreamscape, we wouldn’t be who we are.” James Cameron.

“Without Ray Harryhausen, there would likely have been no STAR WARS.” George Lucas.

“THE LORD OF THE RINGS is my ‘Ray Harryhausen tribute movie’.” Peter Jackson.

“You know I’m always saying to the guys that I work with now on computer graphics “do it like Ray Harryhausen” Phil Tippett.

Main picture courtesy of Ray Harryhausen Facebook.com

Paula Hammond - Features Editor

Paula Hammond is a full-time, freelance journalist. She regularly writes for more magazines than is healthy and has over 25 books to her credit. When not frantically scribbling, she can be found indulging her passions for film, theatre, cult TV, sci-fi and real ale. If you should spot her in the pub, after five rounds rapid, she’ll be the one in the corner mumbling Ghostbusters quotes and waiting for the transporter to lock on to her signal… Email: writerpaula@icloud.com

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