How do you properly pay tribute to a man whose work defines your childhood? On top of that, how do you write an interesting article about someone so influential that there is almost nothing left to say? Well, I’m going to mostly let the man’s work do the speaking here. Most of the time when you think of a cinema legend you think of a charismatic actor or a visionary director. Seldom do you think about the man who did the special effects. Well, when it comes to Ray Harryhausen, you never think of the film in terms of who was in it or who directed it. It is all about the amazing creatures he created that set the standard for and helped define science fiction and fantasy film for decades. He worked under stop-motion animation pioneer and King Kong creator Willis O’Brien, and in time his creations overshadowed even that impressive resume.
Ray Harryhausen was an institution, and his passing earlier this month was a blow to many film geeks’ childhoods. But on the other hand, it is causing a lot of us to stand up and give voice to something we always took for granted: that his creations not only stand the test of time, but are still the standard by which many of us hold modern CG effects to. I can only imagine what I must have been like in the 50’s to go into a movie theater having never seen anything like The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms and just be completely blown away by the massive spectacle of a gigantic prehistoric beast leveling buildings. What I don’t have to imagine is seeing modern CG effects and often feeling like I am watching a video game. Stop-motion animation’s usage of live models gave fantastic monsters a level of reality that had previously been unheard of in film, and the process took a lot of care and time that most filmmakers simply use computers to get around these days.
Rather than give you yet another brief, uninspired biography about Harryhausen I think the best possible way for me to express my admiration would be to give some of the finest examples of his work, and go back in time to when I watched these creatures come to life on my television as a kid on Saturday afternoon airings or from tapes from the local video rental store. These are some of the monsters that rocked my imagination as a child and helped fuel an obsession with the fantastic that has lasted a lifetime. Continue Reading »