on May 7, 2013 - 11:54 PM
June 29, 1920 – May 7, 2013
LOS ANGELES – Ray Harryhausen, the stop-motion animation legend whose work on “The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms,” “Jason and the Argonauts” and other science fiction and fantasy film classics made him a cult figure and an inspiration to later generations of filmmakers and special-effects artists, has died. He was 92.
Mr. Harryhausen died Tuesday in London, where he had lived for decades, according to his Los Angeles attorney, Kenneth Kleinberg.
In the pre-computer-generated-imagery era in which he worked, Mr. Harryhausen used the painstaking process of making slight adjustments to the position of his three-dimensional, ball-and-socket-jointed scale models and then shooting them frame-by-frame to create the illusion of movement. Footage of his exotic beasts and creatures was later often combined with live action.
Working with modest budgets and typically with only two or three assistants – if any– to keep costs down, Mr. Harryhausen created innumerable memorable big-screen moments.
In “The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms” (1953), a dinosaur thawed out by A-bomb testing in the Arctic goes on a Big Apple rampage in which it devours a New York cop before meeting its demise at Coney Island. In “Jason and the Argonauts” (1963), the mythological hero Jason, played by Todd Armstrong, slays a seven-headed hydra guarding the Golden Fleece, then Jason and two of his men battle seven sword-wielding warrior skeletons that spring from the hydra’s scattered teeth.
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.
“I had seen some other fantasy films before, but none of them had the sort of awe that the Ray Harryhausen movies had,” Lucas said in “The Harryhausen Chronicles,” a 1998 documentary written and directed by film critic and historian Richard Schickel.
In 1992, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences presented Mr. Harryhausen with the Gordon E. Sawyer Award for technical achievement.
Born in Los Angeles on June 29, 1920, Mr. Harryhausen was 13 when he saw “King Kong” during its run at Grauman’s Chinese Theater in Hollywood.
Inspired by the landmark special effects of stop-motion animation pioneer Willis O’Brien in “King Kong,” Mr. Harryhausen began creating dinosaur models and making experimental 16-millimeter stop-motion films in the garage.
In high school, Mr. Harryhausen discovered that a classmate’s father had worked on a film with O’Brien. The man suggested that Mr. Harryhausen call MGM and talk to his idol. He did, and to his surprise, his special-effects hero invited him to the studio.
Producer-director George Pal hired him, at $16 a week, to help animate the models for the “Puppetoons,” Pal’s series of shorts for Paramount Pictures.
From 1940 to 1942, Mr. Harryhausen worked on the “Puppetoon” shorts. Then, with the world at war, he enlisted in the Army.
Assigned to the Signal Corps, he was transferred to the Special Service Division, where, among other films, he worked on the “Why We Fight” series supervised by Col. Frank Capra.
Mr. Harryhausen launched his three-decade partnership with producer Charles H. Schneer with “It Came From Beneath the Sea,” a 1955 film about a giant octopus that destroys the Golden Gate Bridge.
– Los Angeles Times