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    Ray Harryhausen: The Greatest Artist in Stop-Motion Animation

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    Ray Harryhausen is the greatest artist in stop-motion animation.

    With a career spanning 40 years in cinema, Ray Harryhausen became synonymous with innovation, excitement, and entertainment in the world of special effects and film fantasy. Born in 1920 in Los Angeles, Harryhausen was fascinated with stop-motion animation from an early age, having seen King Kong at the age of thirteen. He was given the opportunity to pursue his dream and learn from one of the greatest animators, Willis O’Brien. According to American Film magazine (June 1981, p. 49), I had a magnificent two-year period while working on Mighty Joe Young with Obie,” “covering the long pre-production and photography. He was so involved in production problems that I ended up animating about eighty-five percent of the picture.” After gaining vital experience with Willis O’Brien and completing studies in painting, drama, sculpting, anatomy, and photography at the University of Southern California.

    Ray Harryhausen produced a series of short films called Mother Goose Fairy Tales. During the final phase of the series, he was approached by a young producer named Charles Schneer. They formed a productive partnership that lasted over thirty years. Together, they produced a whole series during the science fiction boom of the 1950s. Titles included It Came from Beneath the Sea, Earth versus the Flying Saucers, and Twenty Million Miles to Earth in 1957. It was also during this period that Ray Harryhausen pioneered his new form of stop-motion animation, Dynamation, which became a key feature consistent throughout all of his work.

    Breaking away from the 1950s, Ray Harryhausen and Charles Schneer left science fiction behind and ventured into the world of fantasy, fairy tales, and mythology. In the decade of 1950 to 1960, they produced the highly acclaimed Seventh Voyage of Sinbad. This was also their first opportunity to use color film. In 1963, Ray Harryhausen produced his most famous and successful film, Jason and the Argonauts.

    Quoted by Adrian Wootton interviewing Ray Harryhausen, Jason and the Argonauts” is also regarded by Ray Harryhausen himself as his most complete film, incorporating much of his seamless and outstanding stop-motion animation in memorable sequences. Ray Harryhausen finally brought the curtain down on his film career in 1982 with his and Charles Schneer’s Greek mythological epic, “Clash of the Titans.” In 1991, at the sixty-fourth Academy Awards, Ray Harryhausen received belated recognition for his abilities and received the Gordon E. Sawyer Award for Technical Achievement. Since his retirement from active filmmaking in 1982, Ray Harryhausen has been rightly recognized for his achievements in stop-motion animation. This period has seen a recovery of his work as technically innovative, highly artistic, and very distinctive in an aesthetic visual style.

    Due to his dedication and groundbreaking talents, Ray Harryhausen is seen as the godfather of 1950s B-movies and an icon to the next generation of filmmakers. Joe Dante, director of Gremlins (1984) and Innerspace (1987), James Cameron, producer of The Terminator/T2 and Titanic (1984), and Dennis Muren, visual effects supervisor of Jurassic Park (1997), Terminator 2 (1997), and Star Wars (1977-1999), all cite Harryhausen as a major influence. Quoted from an article by Paul Mandell, Harryhausen Animates Annual Sci-Tech Awards,” (2) “His success could best be measured by those whose careers were directly inspired by him.” Said stop-motion master Jim Danforth, “Ray Harryhausen is more than a great animator. He’s a storyteller.”

    Ray’s films affected an entire generation of people,” affirmed Dennis Muren, ASC. “George Lucas and Steven Spielberg were directly inspired by his images. We all owe a lot to Ray. His importance and success in his difficult field kept me and the others going when we were younger. He was a great role model for all of us. More than a technician, he’s an exceptional artist.”

    Although the films in which Ray Harryhausen participated were largely seen as low-budget B-movies, in more recent years, Ray’s achievements in the arts and his distinctive aesthetic claims have elevated his status to that of an auteur. This is due to his innovative approaches while creating his animations. His stylized approach can be seen in various works such as Eric Fogel’s Celebrity Death Match series (1998) and Henry Selick’s Nightmare Before Christmas (1993). Ray’s comprehensive studies have…

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    Ray Harryhausen: The Greatest Artist in Stop-Motion Animation. (2019, Feb 09). Retrieved from https://artscolumbia.org/harryhausen-essay-80542/

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