Legendary stop-motion monster maker Ray Harryhausen dead at 92

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May 7, 2013

One of genre cinema's biggest titans has left us.

Ray Harryhausen, the special-effects artist and stop-motion animator who created iconic movie monsters for films like Mighty Joe YoungThe Beast From 20,000 Fathoms, Jason and the Argonauts and Clash of the Titans, died Tuesday in London at the age of 92. The news was announced earlier today on the official Facebook page of the Ray and Diana Harryhausen Foundation, a charitable trust set up by Harryhausen in 1986. 

Harryhausen's love of monsters and stop-motion animation goes back to 1933, when he walked into a California movie house with his childhood friend, Ray Bradbury, and saw animator Willis O'Brien's groundbreaking work on King Kong. By the time he was 15, in 1935, he was experimenting with his own homemade stop-motion films, and by 1949 he was collaborating with O'Brien on Mighty Joe Young, which earned the 1950 Academy Award for Best Visual Effects. 

In the three decades that followed, Harryhausen became an icon of monster cinema through his creature designs and championing of stop-motion animation. His creations range from the massive tentacled beast of It Came From Beneath the Sea (1955) to the terrifying depiction of Medusa in Clash of the Titans (1981), but his most famous work is a legendary sword fight between Jason and a gang of skeletons in Jason and the Argonauts (1963), a sequence that took Harryhausen three months to film. 

After Clash of the Titans, Harryhausen largely retired from animating and filmmaking, but he did still show up in the movies occasionally. He made a cameo appearance in the 1998 remake of Mighty Joe Young, and even lent his voice to a stop-motion polar bear in the 2003 film Elf. He also continued to appear at film festivals, conventions and other events, and new generations of filmmakers -- including George Lucas, Peter Jackson, Steven Spielberg, Tim Burton and James Cameron -- kept his legacy alive by regularly referencing him as an inspiration to their own genre films. In 1992 he was presented with the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences Gordon E. Sawyer Award for his technological contributions to the film industry. In 2005 he became one of the first non-literary inductees into the Science Fiction Hall of Fame, and in 2008 he was given the British Fantasy Society's Wagner Award for a lifetime of contributions to the genre. In 2010, to celebrate his 90th birthday, he was given a special British Academy of Film and Television Arts (BAFTA) Award (presented to him by Peter Jackson) at a British Film Institute tribute to his life and work.

More than three decades after he made his final film, Ray Harryhausen's legacy is still alive and well in genre cinema. Many filmmakers have paid tribute to him over the years, and many more likely will after today. For now, it seems James Cameron said it best:

"I think all of us who are practioners in the arts of science fiction and fantasy movies now all feel that we’re standing on the shoulders of a giant. If not for Ray’s contribution to the collective dreamscape, we wouldn’t be who we are."

For more on the genius of Harryhausen, check out this list of nine of his most iconic sequences of animation, as well as this conversation between Harryhausen and Bradbury, who remained close friends right up until Bradbury's death last year.

(Via The Ray and Diana Harryhausen Foundation)



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