Considering what a vast legacy he left for generations of special effects artists, it may surprise you to learn that Ray Harryhausen, who died in London May 7 at 91, was only credited for his groundbreaking effects wizardry on 13 feature films: from 1949’s Mighty Joe Young to 1981’s Clash of the Titans.
Decades before digital painters could create monstrous creatures by pointing and clicking a mouse, Harryhausen got hands on, painstakingly sculpting tentacled beasts, reanimated skeletons, and scaly dinosaurs himself. And even after the initial model-making came the grueling stop-motion animation technique of subtly repositioning the creatures for each of the 24 frames that make up a single second of film. That right there is probably the reason for his quality-over-quantity output.
But even despite the advent of digital tools that have streamlined the creation of visual effects to fit within tight Hollywood blockbuster production schedules, Harryhausen is still the gold standard. Maybe it’s because there’s just something inherently more real, more tactile about his creatures than anything that can be created by pixels. Here are our picks for Harryhausen’s five greatest monsters, interwoven with quotes from his many famous admirers about his profound impact on their careers and on cinema.
5. The Medusa, Clash of the Titans (1981)
“Ray has been a great inspiration to us all in the special visual effects industry. The art of his earlier films, which most of us grew up on, inspired us so much…Without Ray Harryhausen, there would likely have been no Star Wars.”
4. Dinosaurs, One Million Years B.C. (1966)
“The Lord of the Rings is my ‘Ray Harryhausen movie’. Without his life-long love of his wondrous images and storytelling it would never have been made – not by me at least … His patience, his endurance have inspired so many of us.”
3. Sea Monster, It Came From Beneath the Sea, 1955
“What we do now digitally with computers, Ray did digitally long before but without computers. Only with his digits.”
2. The Goddess Kali, The Golden Voyage of Sinbad (1973)
“I think all of us who are practioners in the arts of science fiction and fantasy movies now all feel that we’re standing on the shoulders of a giant. If not for Ray’s contribution to the collective dreamscape, we wouldn’t be who we are.”
1. The Reanimated Skeletons, Jason and the Argonauts (1963)
“Ray, your inspiration goes with us forever.”
Follow Christian Blauvelt on Twitter @Ctblauvelt