The name Ray Harryhausen probably isn’t familiar to the average moviegoer, but fans of today’s science fiction and fantasy films owe a debt to the legendary effects wizard, who died Tuesday at the age of 92.
For decades, Harryhausen was Hollywood’s premiere stop motion effects artist, building models that would seemingly interact with actors on screen in films ranging from “The 7th Voyage of Sinbad” through his final film, 1981’s “Clash of the Titans.”
In recent years, most of Harryhausen’s animation techniques have been supplanted by computer-generated imagery (CGI). But even animators who create their effects entirely on computers today use techniques pioneered by Harryhausen and his tiny physical models.
Film blogger Devin Faraci writes, “What Ray Harryhausen did was simply magic. He brought inanimate objects to life on screen, and he gave them character and personality that often dwarfed the so-so actors who were up against them. It is no hyperbole to say that the mind (and hands) of Harryhausen shaped the geek revolution that has swept pop culture in the last few decades.”
Beginning his career during the golden age of science fiction, Harryhausen counted many of the genre's towering figures among his contemporaries. For example, Harryhausen joined the Los Angeles Science Fantasy Society at the urging of friend Ray Bradbury in the 1930s. Bradbury would go on to write some of science fiction and fantasy’s seminal novels, including "Fahrenheit 451" and "The Martian Chronicles."
Along the way, Harryhausen created the effects for some of the most beloved genre films in history, including titles such as “Jason and the Argonauts.”
And with a backlash to what many consider an over-reliance on digital effects, it’s likely that Harryhausen may appeal to new generations of fans.