Ray Harryhausen, born in 1920 in Los Angeles, had an obsession for fantasy from a very early age. This was nurtured by his parents who took him to theatres and cinemas.
Classic films featuring animation, ‘The Lost World’ and ‘King Kong’, inspired him to pursue a career in the film industry as it seemed to be the most viable way to bring his fantastical ideas to life. His firsts attempts at animation revolved around his passion for prehistoric animals and included a brontosaurus and stegosaurus.
Some of Harryhausen’s earliest work as a professional animator include ‘Puppetoons’ and, when World War Two broke out, ‘How to Bridge a Gorge’ which was an illustration of how stop motion may be used for propaganda purposes.
In 1951, Harryhausen got the chance to work on what would be a defining moment in his career as an animator. He was commissioned to be the chief animator on the legendary film ‘The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms’. He had to convince the company in charge of the production of the film that stop motion was the best way to do it. He also wanted to work on the project so badly that he made almost no profit for his work. The film was a huge success and inspired the famous ‘Godzilla’ franchise.
A picture of ‘The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms’.
12 years later, in 1963, Harryhausen worked on what is regarded to be his best and most famous picture; ‘Jason and the Argonauts’. In this production, stepped into new territories in the grounds of animation by combining live action with animation to create a mixed sequence which still flowed to add a sense of realism to the fantastical film. The famous skeleton sequence in the film, which runs for four minutes and thirty seven seconds, took four and a half months to photograph. This was so that the animated skeletons’ movements could be more smooth. It is estimated that 184,800 movements of the skeletons were captured.
HarryHausen officially ‘retired’ from animation in 18984. He does, however, still flirt with the industry. One of the most famous examples was the completion of a project that was thought to be scrapped decades ago; an animated retelling of ‘The Tortoise and the Hare’, which was released in 2001.
It is thought that Ray Harryhausen has animated over 40 projects. He helped pioneer stop motion into the mainstream by taking the original ideas that had inspired him and applying them in new and innovative ways. By combining stop motion with live action, he made it a much more believable form of art as it could be believed as part of the actual live acting and not just an added after effect.
Harryhausen died in 2013 aged 92. Memorials have been held since his death to celebrate his life and extensive collection of work. He inspired many famous directors in his lifetime, with legendary film director Tim Burton saying “you felt the hand of an artist in him, and it’s something that has always touched me and I’ve always remembered”.