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Saturday Art: Ray Harryhausen, RIP

Ray Harryhausen, one of Hollywood’s greatest, died on Tuesday, May 7, 2013 at 92. In today’s era of computer generated imagery (CGI), it may be a bit difficult to realize the impact he had on science fiction and fantasy movies where all of the animation is done by hand:

In most of Harryhausen’s films, model animated characters interact with, and are a part of, the live action world, with the idea that they will cease to call attention to themselves as “animation.” Most of the effects shots in his earliest films were created via Harryhausen’s careful frame-by-frame control of the lighting of both the set and the projector dramatically reduced much of degradation common in the use of back-projection or the creation of dupe negatives via the use of an optical printer. Harryhausen’s use of diffused glass to soften the sharpness of light on the animated elements allowed the matching of the soft background plates far more successfully than Willis O’Brien had achieved in his early films, allowing Harryhausen to match live and miniature elements seamlessly in most of his shots. By developing and executing most of this miniature work himself, Harryhausen saved money, while maintaining full technical control.

RayHarryhausen_JasoAndTheArgonauts_0 (23)

Scene from Jason and the Argonauts

This is the write-up I did on Harryhausen movies a couple of years ago when I did my Essential Movies for Saturday Art over the first few months of 2011. I covered Harryhausen films under Sword and Sorcery:

I have to start any discussion of Sword and Sorcery movies with Ray Harryhausen and his special effects. Jason and the Argonauts is the first movie I listed for this category and The Clash of the Titans (first version) is second. Other Harryhausen produced movies on my list here are The 7th Voyage of Sinbad (with the future Mrs Bing Crosby), The Golden Voyage of Sinbad, and Sinbad and the Eye of the Tiger.

Jason and the Argonauts is considered Harryhausen’s masterpiece work with the “seven skeletons” fighting “Jason” and two of his crew members. The original Clash of the Titans was his final special effects film. He also was responsible for three different Sinbad movies; The 7th Voyage of Sinbad with Kerwin Mathews in the lead role; The Golden Voyage of Sinbad with John Phillip Law as Sinbad; and Sinbad and the Eye of the Tiger with Patrick Wayne as Sinbad.

For what it might be worth, I never watched any of these Harryhausen movies with an eye toward deep philosophy or anything. They were escapist brain candy and nothing more. But Harryhausen was able to mix animation and live-action to create worlds of wonder. The Los Angeles Times notes:

The fantasy world of Ray Harryhausen inspired Steven Spielberg, George Lucas, James Cameron and many other filmmakers, some of whom have paid cinematic homage to the special-effects maestro.

USA Today ledes with:

Way before movies like Star Wars and The Lord of the Rings inspired the imagination of film lovers everywhere, audiences were enraptured by the sword-wielding skeletons of Jason and the Argonauts, the great ape of Mighty Joe Young and the dinosaurs opposite Raquel Welch in One Million Years B.C.

The New York Times ends their obit of Harryhausen with a quote from him:

“There’s a strange quality in stop-motion photography, like in ‘King Kong,’ that adds to the fantasy,” he said in 2006. “If you make things too real, sometimes you bring it down to the mundane.”

And because I can:

Photo from tonechootero licensed under Creative Commons


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Small town Kentucky country boy lived all over the country. Currently in Ruskin, FL