In the 2001 Pixar movie “Monsters, Inc.,” Mike, the one-eyed green orb voiced by Billy Crystal, takes his scaly, snake-haired girlfriend Celia out for sushi at a local haunt called Harryhausen’s.
The name of the restaurant was a nod to a man who influenced “Monsters, Inc.” director Pete Docter — special effects pioneer Ray Harryhausen, who died Tuesday in London at age 92.
Before the kind of computer animation pioneered at Pixar became Hollywood’s standard tool for crafting its fantasies, Harryhausen used the methodical, frame-by-frame technique of stop-motion animation to place dinosaurs in New York City in 1953’s “The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms,” to pit Jason against an army of skeleton warriors in “Jason and the Argonauts” (1963), and to release the kraken in the 1981 version of “Clash of the Titans.”
It was an approach that captured the imaginations of countless other artists and filmmakers as youngsters, including Tim Burton, James Cameron and George Lucas.
“Ray Harryhausen somehow seemed to know what little kids are intrigued by — all these creatures that were slightly dangerous,” Docter said, citing the cyclops from the 1958 movie “The 7th Voyage of Sinbad” as a sequence that stunned him as a child in Bloomington, Minn. “When we were growing up there was no computer graphics — this was the cutting edge.”
Docter, 44, discussed Harryhausen’s influence in an interview on Tuesday afternoon as he was in the midst of working on his next Pixar film, an as-yet-untitled movie that takes place inside a girl’s mind.
As a result of the “Monsters, Inc.” scene, Docter ended up meeting Harryhausen, whom he described as flattered by the sequence.
“He was always looking to push techniques, to make the animation smoother and more lifelike,” Docter said. “His pioneering efforts were always in support of fantasy. So when we were making a film about monsters … we thought, what a better way to make a slightly obscure tribute to this guy?”
– Rebecca Keegan
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