Ray Harryhausen: A tribute to the king of featured creatures

May 07, 2013 | 7:10 p.m.
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Ray Harryhausen poses with an enlarged model of Medusa from his 1981 film "Clash of the Titans" at the Myths and Legends Exhibition at the London Film Museum on June 29, 2010. (Peter Macdiarmid/Getty Images)

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Ray Harryhausen poses for photographs with an enlarged model of Medusa from his 1981 film "Clash of the Titans" at the Myths and Legends Exhibition at the London Film Museum on June 29, 2010. (Peter Macdiarmid/Getty Images)

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Ray Harryhausen manipulates a figure of a serpent-like monster, circa 1965. (Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

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Greek warrior Jason (Todd Armstrong) travels to the farthest ends of the earth in search of the legendary Golden Fleece, in this glorious adventure featuring some of Ray Harryhausen's most memorable visual effects. (American Cinematheque)

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Ray Harryhausen poses with sets from "The Tortoise and the Hare," which he completed with the help of freelance stop–motion animators Seamus Walsh, Mark Caballero and producer Richard Jones. (Myung J. Chun/Los Angeles Times)

afp getty file   special effects pioneer ray harryhausen pas Ray Harryhausen: A tribute to the king of featured creatures

Ray Harryhausen appears onstage at the Jules Verne Adventure Film Festival at the Shrine Auditorium on Oct. 6, 2006, in Los Angeles. (Kevin Winter/Getty Images)

Model animator Ray Harryhausen, who brought monsters and dinosaurs and all manner of critters to life, frame by frame, in feature films from “Mighty Joe Young” (1949) to “Clash of the Titans” (1981), died Tuesday in London at the age of 92.

Inspired by Willis O’Brien, who animated “King Kong,” he was himself the stated inspiration for generations of sci-fi and fantasy filmmakers. And he scared a lot of little kids, which I know for a fact.

It’s not quite right to call his passing the end of an era, because Harryhausen’s era predeceased him by some time, buried in an avalanche of increasingly sophisticated computerized special effects from which the actual hand of man has been all but erased. To be sure, it was his own goal to make his effects invisible, to seamlessly mate his miniatures with the human actors with whom they shared a stage.

But that they are evidently handmade and -manipulated is one of the things that makes them marvelous — that, paradoxically, gives them life. Even on a flat screen, they have actual, not virtual, three-dimensional presence.

You can feel them, and often, you feel for them.

Just as a tin-can telephone is more marvelous than the smartest smartphone, whose wizardry it is almost impossible not to take for granted, Harryhausen’s stop-motion figures are magical in a way their digital descendants, for all their high-resolution textures and mathematically precise movements, are not. And that is because they embody — physically embody — the attention paid by their creator, first to their construction, and second to the choreography of their time-lapsed movements.

The fact that for most of his career Harryhausen worked alone only underscores the point.

For films including “The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms” (1953), “Earth vs. the Flying Saucers” (1956), “The 7th Voyage of Sinbad” (1958), “The Three Worlds of Gulliver” (1960) and “Mysterious Island” (1961), he animated sea monsters, aliens, dinosaurs, mythological creatures, living statues, giant animals (alligator, crab, turtle, walrus, squirrel, elephant, ape, scorpion) and perhaps his greatest achievement: the skeleton army from “Jason and the Argonauts” (1963).

Half a century later, it is still something to see.

The video below shows them all, all his feature creatures, chronologically, in 4 1/2 minutes.

– Robert Lloyd

Follow us on Twitter: @LATHeroComplex

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Ray Harryhausen poses with sets from "The Tortoise and the Hare," which he completed with the help of freelance stop–motion animators Seamus Walsh, Mark Caballero and producer Richard Jones. (Myung J. Chun/Los Angeles Times)

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Comments


One Response to Ray Harryhausen: A tribute to the king of featured creatures

  1. Virago says:

    Here's to you, Ray Harryhausen – the greatest!

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