Culture and Trends ›

Ray Harryhausen's Unstoppable Genius

Getty Images / Peter Macdiarmid

Ray Harryhausen's Unstoppable Genius

Metaphorical demons and monsters plague the careers of many artists. Filmmaker Ray Harryhausen was obsessed with giving life to monsters of a more literal nature. The legendary special-effects pioneer died one year ago, and today we pay tribute to his lasting impact on the world of film and the imaginations of generations of moviegoers.

Harryhausen was captivated by dinosaurs and the world of fantasy at an early age and encouraged by his parents to follow that passion, according to the biography on his official website, "They never tried to discourage me in any way from my obsession, and could just as easily have said, ‘Get out there and be a doctor or a lawyer or follow some other profession that is going to bring you in money.’ Fortunately, they didn’t," he said.

After seeing King Kong in 1933, Harryhausen taught himself stop animation and shot a series of experimental films in his parents’ garage. During World War II he worked on propaganda films for the U.S. Army, working under director Frank Capra.

Harryhausen’s first job on a major motion picture was as an animator for the 1949 release Mighty Joe Young. Harryhausen was responsible for making the giant ape move on screen, using his now famous stop-motion animation skills to bring the creature to life. The movie won an Academy Award for best special effects.

His next big project, the 1952 film The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms, saw Harryhausen designing and animating a terrifying dinosaur that ravaged New York, an activity that has remained popular with movie monsters in the decades since.

While Harryhausen saw continued success destroying cities with space aliens in Earth vs. the Flying Saucers and 20 Million Miles to Earth and in other science fiction films, he is best remembered today for his groundbreaking work on the Sinbad films, particularly his thrilling swordfights with skeletal warriors, and his final film, the original Clash of the Titans. His work on Titans represented the culmination of nearly half a century of experience in stop-motion animation, and provided an epic end to a career spent bringing impossible things to life.

Written by Seth Joseph