Tuesday, May 7, 2013

RIP - Ray Harryhausen

The film world lost a visionary today with the passing of Ray Harryhausen, visual effects pioneer whose legendary work included effects for films like Mighty Joe Young, The 7th Voyage of Sinbad and the original Clash of the Titans. He was 92 years old.

Harryhausen's love of effects began in 1933, when, at the age of 13, he saw King Kong. He fell in love with the film, coinciding with the simultaneous beginning of a life-long love of science fiction, and he began experimenting with making short films that focused on the then nascent filed of visual effects.

After having managed to meet Willis O'Brien, the man behind the landmark effect in King Kong, O'Brien began mentoring the young Harryhausen. Following WWII, where he served with Frank Capra, Harryhausen was hired to work as an animator on Mighty Joe Young. O'Brien trusted Harryhausen enough at this point, that most of the animating chores fell to him.

After the success of that film, Harryhausen was hired to do all the special effects for The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms. It was on that film that Harryhausen devised a split screen method for incorporating stop-motion animation with live action footage. Throughout the 1950s, Harryhausen worked steadily with continual innovation, creating mind-blowing sequences for such films as Earth vs. The Flying Saucers and 20 Million Miles to Earth.

But it was 1958's The 7th Voyage of Sinbad, made in colour, that would prove to be one of his masterpieces. By this point, his effects were so central to the films he made that he was virtually a co-director, though guild rules prohibited him from being listed as such. The 7th Voyage of Sinbad was a huge success, featuring classic sequences such as Sinbad's battle against a skeleton warrior.

The 1960's saw more successes, notably 1961's Mysterious Island and 1963's Jason and the Argonauts, the latter of which is considered by many to contain his finest work. He finished the decade with work on the smash hit, One Million Years B.C.

The 1970's began Harryhausen's decline into retirement. The decade featured two genuine triumphs, with the sequels to his earlier Sinbad film, The Golden Voyage of Sinbad and Sinbad and the Eye of the Tiger. But his work-intensive, time consuming style was being eclipsed by modern effects techniques coming to the fore in the wake of Star Wars. Even though 1981's Clash of the Titans was a modest hit, it was effectively the final major work of his career.

Due to his career being largely spent working in films made outside America, Harryhausen was never formally nominated for an Oscar, though he was presented a special Academy Award in 1992. He won many awards and accolades for his body of work, including a BAFTA, and a placement in the Science Fiction Hall of Fame.

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