Ray Harryhausen, Pioneering Visual Effects Artist, Dies At 92

on May 07 2013 10:29 PM

Pioneering visual effects artist Ray Harryhausen, best known for creating the stop-motion effects in “Jason and the Argonauts,” passed away on Tuesday in London. Harryhausen was 92. 

The Ray and Dianna Harryhausen Foundation reported his death on Tuesday.

“The Harryhausen family regret to announce the death of Ray Harryhausen, visual effects pioneer and stop-motion model animator,” the announcement read. “He was a multi-award winner which includes a special Oscar and BAFTA. Ray’s influence on today’s film makers was enormous. ... Steven Spielberg, James Cameron, Peter Jackson, George Lucas, John Landis and the UK’s own Nick Park have cited Harryhausen as being the man whose work inspired their own creations.”

Harryhausen was born in Los Angeles on June 29, 1920, and spent most of his early years consuming fantasy films. He specifically recalled his 1933 viewing of “King Kong” — the second film to feature stop-motion effects — as a turning point in his life. According to an interview with NPR, he became obsessed with figuring out how to create stop-motion animation.

From there, Harryhausen began learning the basics of stop-motion animation in his garage. In high school, he first met Willis O’Brien, the animator behind “King Kong’s” stop-motion, and stayed in touch with the animator for several years. Impressed by Harryhausen’s work for Paramount’s “Puppetoon” army training films, O’Brien hired Harryhausen to animate the 1949 film “Mighty Joe Young.” The film won an Oscar for Harryhausen’s special effects. 

After working on “Mighty Joe Young,” Harryhausen branched out on his own, creating seminal films such as 1952’s “The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms,” and 1957’s “The 7th Voyage of Sinbad.” His best-known work, “Jason and the Argonauts,” was released in 1963. Harryhausen’s creation of a massive sword fight between Jason and seven skeleton warriors immediately went down in Hollywood history. 

The Los Angeles Times reports that Harryhausen made his name almost as much for his frugal business practices as his special effects. Harryhausen would rarely work with more than two or three assistants in order to cut costs down.

According to the New York Times, Harryhausen was often credited only for his special effects roles, but he actually contributed much of the creative vision behind many films he worked on. Harryhausen would frequently scout for filming locations and lend his creative vision to the development of films’ scripts and concept art. Essentially, many of the films he worked on were designed specifically to feature Harryhausen’s visual effects. 

Watch a video of Harryhausen discussing his work on "Jason and the Argonauts" below.

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