A Legend Has Died

Ray Harryhausen was one of the heroes of my youth. His visions of monsters and mythological creatures brought my dreams to life, and there are sequences from Jason and the Argonauts and the Sinbad films that are as vivid in my mind’s eye as memories from life. Computers may make things look better and more realistic, but they’ll never capture the life–the real heartbeat–you see in the handmade work of Harryhausen.

Today, at the age of 92, Harryhausen finally joined his friends Ray Bradbury and Willis O’Brien in that great movie studio in the sky:

Ray Harryhausen, who brought sword-fighting skeletons to the 1963 movie Jason and the Argonauts and was known as the master of stop-motion animation for his work on that and other films such as Clash of the Titans and The Golden Voyage of Sinbad, has died.

The Ray and Diana Harryhausen Foundation says on its Facebook page that he passed away Tuesday in London. Harryhausen, who was a producer and director as well as a model animator, was 92.

In 2004, Harryhausen told NPR that it was seeing King Kong in 1933 that led him to a life in the movies. “I couldn’t figure out how it was done,” he said of the stop-animation in that film, and he set out to learn.

Here’s a quick trip through the work of one of the great visual artists of the 2oth century. (Turn the sound off: it’s awful.)

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Ray and Ray, together again:

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Ozzie & Harriet Meet Boris & Bela, And Then They Sing
The Three Pillars of Lent
Embracing Mystery
Finding That Safe Place in the Imagination, With General Urko and Dinosaurs
About Thomas L. McDonald

Thomas L. McDonald writes about technology, theology, history, games, and shiny things. Details of his rather uneventful life as a professional writer and magazine editor can be found in the About tab.

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  • http://www.parafool.com victor

    Computers may make things look better and more realistic, but they’ll never capture the life–the real heartbeat–you see in the handmade work of Harryhausen.

    I agree with the second half of that statement but would argue that the second half conflicts with the first half, to a degree. I disagree that even the best CGI has made things look any more realistic than Harryhausen’s effects at their best (“Clash of the Titans” was never representative of truly great Harryhausen for me. Maybe it was the owl, I don’t know). In terms of realism, stop-motion puppets have one key advantage which CGI can never overcome no matter how great it gets: the stop-motion puppets actually ARE real. They take up physical space. They have volume. They are embodied and so they are physically present in a way that CGI puppets (even Gollum) can never be. Granted, there is a lot of really crappy stop-motion animation out there, but in the hands of a master, like Harry Hausen and even Will Vinton (“The Adventures of Mark Twain” — watch the emotions flash across the characters’ faces with subtlety Dreamworks will never be able to match) stop-motion animation is being THERE in a way CGI can never be. To use an extreme anology: it’s like the difference between falling in love with a real, 3-dimensional, physical person and falling in love with a 2-D image on a movie screen. Because the Harryhausen puppets have a very literal body, even when they are filmed they are infinitely more real than Gollum (not to take anything away from Andy Serkis), in an existential and practical sense.

    Anyway, this is part of a movement in Phenomenological Existentialism I’m developing, dealing with stop-motion animation, puppetry, and comics, tentatively titled “The Creatureology of the Body”. If Christopher West had any sense, he’d be getting in on the ground floor with this (for a very reasonable $20,000 buy-in).

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Martha-OKeeffe/100002559433793 Martha O’Keeffe

    Sad news, God rest him. Maybe CGI fools the eye better with textures, but the amazing thing about Harryhausen’s work was the fluidity he achieved. The skeletons in Jason and the Argonauts are about the best thing I’ve ever seen, and still stand up well even against today’s effects.

    His work gave a lot of enjoyment to a lot of people. Ar dheis Dé go raibh a anam!