Stop motion animation pioneer Ray Harryhausen has died at age 92. Before CGI there was Harryhausen, whose soaring imagination gave birth to creatures that inhabited the psyche of generations of SF and fantasy fans, and whose painstaking hand-done animation has never been surpassed for character and excitement.

Inspired by Willis O’Brien’s work on King Kong, the young Harryhausen began making his own models and figures, before actually working with O’Brien on Mighty Joe Young, His filmography includes The Seventh Voyage of Sinbad, Mysterious Island, Jason and the Argonauts, The Golden Voyage of Sinbad and Clash of the Titans, but his real legacy is the foes and battles he created for all.

Like Tom Hanks, I would have to say Jason and the Argonauts is the greatest movie of all times for the seven year old who grew up in its orbit. I watched it and Harryhausen’s other films a dozen times each, unaware of the master behind them. (Before the internet you were dependent on books and friends with access to books and people to learn the secrets of moviemaking.) IN later years I met Harryhausen, to shake his hand and get his autograph and heard him speak on panels a number of times…the seven year old me would have passed out from excitement at the idea.

What entranced me so much with his work wasn’t just the excitement and fantasy of it. Although Harryhausen’s “Dynamation” process was ultimately amazingly analog — he used glass to project footage and then match the models to the live footage and then photographed the result—it was poetic and alive. His creatures—from the cyclops to Medusa to the famed skeleton army—possessed life and a kind of sad loneliness which gave their battles a grim urgency. Is there a more eerie or disquieting scene than the awakening and death of Talos, the bronze statue?

Very very few CGI critters have even approached the humanity and vibrancy of Harryhausen’s creatures. Modern movies substitute an army of insect drones from a single giant crab, and the effect is quite different. I’d say that Gollum is an exception, but I’m hard pressed to think of many others. Different mediums, different results. There will never be another Harryhausen, but his creations will continue to inspire filmmakers, dreamers and children for generations.




  1. I think you mean Willis O’Brien as the animator for “King Kong.” Otherwise spot-on.

    I saw Harryhausen speak and take questions in Cleveland a few years back. Class act all around.

  2. My childhood hero when I wanted to make stop motion animation. I did not know his name until much later but I remember Jason and the Argonauts and Clash of the Titans as a kid.

  3. Yes, Ray Harryhausen’s inspiration and mentor was most definitely Willis O’Brien — not “Gordon Willis.”

    I’ve been a big fan of Harryhausen since the 1960s, and it’s a shock that he’s suddenly gone. He was at a Comic-Con panel not too long ago, and I believe it was just last year that the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences building in Beverly Hills had a real nice, comprehensive display of his storyboard art and stop-motion miniatures. Seeing the models up close was a first for me, so I was like a kid in a candy store.

    Rest in peace, Ray! You are already greatly missed!

  4. Gordon Willis was a cinematographer who shot the Godfather films and several Woody Allen movies — and director Alan Pakula’s “paranoia trilogy” of the ’70s (Klute, The Parallax View, and All the President’s Men).

    Re Harryhausen: Seeing Valley of Gwangi in a theater at 10 was a big thrill — and it wasn’t even one of his best movies. I caught up with his earlier work on TV, which used to show his films frequently on Saturday afternoons. Mysterious Island may be my favorite. He was a great and will be missed.

  5. I wanted him to go on forever. No fair.

    Jason and the Argonauts was an inspiration in every which way. And I can’t remember much about the Sinbad movie that I got to see in the theatre when I was apparently way too young for it, but I still get a deeply queasy feeling whenever I hear the Sinbad movies mentioned, from SOMETHING in it that was pure nightmare fuel. I mean that as the highest, highest compliment.

  6. I first saw “Jason and the Argonauts” when I was ten, and was utterly enthralled with Ray’s work. And over thirty years later, nothing’s changed. The undisputed master, and he always will be!

    Lance Roger Axt
    The AudioComics Company

  7. It’s not even about stop motion vs. CGI. It’s about art, and Ray Harryhousen was a one of a kind artist. No one could do what he did, because no one else could be him. While I was working on the Bradbury documentary we received a letter from him, regarding his friendship with Ray. I just remember feeling like I was standing in the shadow of giants. Those two men really were the best of friends, and now we’ve lost both of them, with no talents that really seem worthy to advance the ranks. I hope they’re somewhere out there, having the time of their afterlife, together.
    “We cannot tell the precise moment when friendship is formed. As in filling a vessel drop by drop, there is at last a drop which makes it run over; so in a series of kindnesses there is at last one which makes the heart run over.”
    ― Ray Bradbury, Fahrenheit 451

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