After seeing King Kong (1933) Ray Harryhausen was inspired to experiment with and develop his own unique stop motion animation called Dynamation. He joined forces with model maker and animator Willis O’Brien, to bring his own unique creatures to life. He took art and sculpture classes at this time and also made life long friends with the writer Ray Bradbury.
‘Evolution of the World’ was one of the first demo reels he produced featuring fighting dinosaurs. His first animation job was on George Pal’s Puppetoon shorts.
Ray served in the U.S.A Special Services Division during World War 2. He made documentary shorts on the use of military equipment. After the war, he made a series of fairytale shorts, which he called his ‘teething rings’. His father worked the armatures of the models, while his mother assisted with little costumes for his animated characters.
In 1947, he was hired as assistant animator on Mighty Joe Young (1949) and then on ‘The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms’ as main animator. The film was a major international box office hit for Warner Brothers. Ray worked with producer Charles H. Schneer on Columbia Pictures and made ‘It Came From Beneath The Sea’ (1955) featuring a giant octupus. This was followed by the extra terrestrial invasion film, ‘The Earth vs The Flying Saucers’. After ’20 Million Miles To Earth,’ he began working with colour film to make ‘The 7th Voyage Of Sinbad’. It was the top grossing film of that year.
The 60’s saw the release of ‘Mysterious Island’ and ‘Jason and the Argonauts.’ After the success of ‘One Million Years B.C‘, Sinbad was to raise his handsome head again, in ‘The Golden Voyage Of Sinbad‘ and ‘Sinbad and the Eye of the Tiger.’ Both films were box office hits.
His last major motion picture was ‘Clash of the Titans.’ (1981) which was nominated for a special effects award. ‘The Story of the Tortoise and the Hare’ was originally undertaken in the 1950’s and finally finished in 2002. It won an award for best short film.
At 90 years old, Ray was given a special tribute hosted by John Landis, where he was presented with a BAFTA award by Peter Jackson. Steven Spielberg and James Cameron are among the many movie directors who have cited him as an enormous influence and inspiration. George Lucas said that without Ray Harryhausen, there would likely have been no Star Wars.
Harryhausen founded the Ray and Diana Harryhausen Foundation, a joint UK/ US charity, which perserves his collections and promotes the art of stop motion animation. John Walsh, a BAFTA nominated filmaker is a trustee of the foundation. He is also interested in developing Ray’s lost film projects and runs a podcast dedicated to him.
One of my favourite dynamation films is ‘The Golden Voyage Of Sinbad’ featuring Tom Baker, who plays an evil sorcerer. It was so memorable seeing ‘Clash of The Titans‘, in the cinema when I was eleven. The scene at the end with Medusa was very powerful and dramatic.
Ray brightened up my childhood with his unique fantasy movies. I have most of them and watch them regulary. I find them as magical and as exciting today as I did when I was a kid. As Tom Hanks says, ‘Some people say Casablanca’ or ‘Citizen Kane’, I say, Jason and the Argonauts’ is the greatest film ever made. ‘