by Jack Henison
Ray Harryhausen was a personal hero of mine; he was there right at the start when I first began to fall in love with films. As a child his films were very special to me and it was through watching them that even at a young age I realised just how powerful a medium film can be.
Ray was a stop motion pioneer, an art form which is sadly endangered now as cinema is becoming ever more reliable on CGI effects every single year. Ray was obsessed with the original ‘King Kong’ as a young boy and that made him realise his own dreams of one day becoming an animator. The creatures he animated are now legendary and he is responsible for some of the most memorable moments in the history of cinema. Whether it be the climactic skeleton battle in ‘Jason and the Argonauts’, the giant octopus destroying the golden gate bridge in ‘It Came From Beneath the Sea’ or Sinbad duelling with a giant Cyclops in ‘The 7th Voyage of Sinbad’. It was through him that we were transported to different worlds and exotic landscapes, be it ancient Greece, mythical fantasy lands and outer space. He did all the animation work by himself, which judging by how many people it takes to make a single effect using CGI is quite frankly astounding.
Ray will also be remembered as a true innovator of the fantasy genre and he influenced a whole generation of filmmakers who include Steven Spielberg, Joe Dante, John Landis, Tim Burton, James Cameron, Terry Gilliam, Sam Raimi, Peter Jackson, Nick Park and Guillermo del Toro. Because Harryhausen never directed he is often regarded as the only technician who is an auteur, he was always heavily involved in the pre-production conceptualizing of each film’s story, script development, art-direction, design, storyboards, and general tone of the films, and every director who worked for him had to agree to this as part of the contract.
Harryhausen retired in 1981 his last film being ‘Clash of the Titans’ however he never disappeared from the public eye, he continued to make cameo appearances in some of his protégés films and gave advice to aspiring animators. He was also awarded a special BAFTA award for his 90th birthday in 2010, one of the highest honours he received.
It breaks my heart to write that on May 7th 2013 the world lost the man who made so many of us believe in monsters. For me Ray Harryhausen will always be an influence, even if we do now live in a CGI dominated world and I’m sure his influence will endure for so many others as well.
Ray you were a treasure to cinema and the films you created will never cease to be magical and amaze generations for years to come. I want to say thank you for helping me on my journey through cinema as even though you were there at the beginning your films always remained firmly in my heart.