Ray Harryhausen Has Died

I remember seeing 20 Million Miles to Earth for the first time. I was mesmerised. Rather blasphemously, I saw it before I saw King Kong for the first time, and thus the marauding Ymir was my first exposure to that kind of special effects. That somehow, a Venusian beast was able to lay waste to Rome without ever actually being there. It wasn't a cartoon, it was real. It was there, with William Hopper, or seemed to be. Later on, I saw Kong, and eventually 7th Voyage of Sinbad, and the incomparable Jason and the Argonauts. To say I am a fan of Ray Harryhausen is an understatement. I am in awe of him.

Yesterday, at the age of 92, by as of yet unknown causes, Harryhausen died in London. If you have seen a film made in the last decade, you owe Harryhausen a debt of gratitude. It was Harryhausen's stop frame techniques through the fifties and sixties that set the standard for movie special effects. While he wasn't the first to use the process, his films were the best, showed the most care and dedication, and treated the effects as integral parts of the story telling process rather then just something to make the film look good. George Lucas, in response to the news of Harryhausen's passing, has said "Without Ray Harryhausen, there would likely have been no Star Wars."

It was Harryhausen's depiction and style of dinosaurs in films like One Million Years B.C. and The Valley of Gwangi, inspired by the animals he saw in King Kong when he was young, were what every cinematic dinosaur up to Jurassic Park was based upon, and even when Spielberg entered production on JP, the intention was to use the same techniques that Harryhausen had used thirty years before, because at that point, it was the only way to do it. The advent of digital effects was transformative in film, but didn't become common place until after Peter Jackson's Lord of the Rings films in the early years of the new millennium. Stop motion effects were still very common up until then. Many directors, like Guillermo del Toro, Tim Burton and Sam Raimi still prefer to use practical magic and stop motion effects in their films. 

The images Harryhausen put on film are seared into the minds and imaginations of the popular culture, and will never fade. A duelling skeleton, a multilimbed beast rising from the ocean, a dragon attacking Coney Island. And he did it all by himself, in his studio in England. It took four months to animate the scant few minutes of skeleton fights in Argonauts, but the precision and adherence to detail, the life Harryhausen's dedicated hands brought to those clay models remains leagues above the lifeless digital models that appear in practically every film today.

In any industry, but especially in films, where fictions are brought to life on screen, and audiences are exposed and absorbed into fantastic worlds, where the only limitations are the imaginations of the magicians working to create such marvels, Harryhausen stood above the rest. He was no magician, he was a wizard. And his spells will last forever.
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About MR. Clark

Adopting the descriptor of "successfully unpublished author", MR. Clark began writing things on the internet in 2012, which he believed to be an entirely reputable and civilized place to find and deliver information. He regrets much.


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