Special effects pioneer Ray Harryhausen didn’t need computer wizardry to bring his nightmarish creatures to life.
All he required was a camera capable of shooting a single frame of film at a time. His boundless imagination took care of the rest.
Harryhausen, whose stop-motion genius gave birth to a rogues gallery of monsters in films like Clash of the Titans, Mighty Joe Young and The 7th Voyage of Sinbad, has died at the age of 92. His passing closes a chapter on a Hollywood era, one without the visual disconnect often felt with CGI effects.
As a boy, I would watch any movie with his signature stop-motion effects. Campy acting? Silly storylines? Just wait. Harryhausen’s beasts were just a few minutes away, and it was always worth my patience. His miniatures moved with ferocity and grace, a combination that gave them an added sense of menace. As if they needed it. Harryhausen’s creations leaned on classical monster motifs given new energy through his precise manipulations.
He had a softer side as well, one showcased during Mighty Joe Young’s somber sequences. Harryhausen used miniatures to convey emotions in a way some actors couldn’t replicate.
Harryhausen’s finest hour may have come with Jason and the Argonauts, a swords and sandals epic featuring a cadre of skeleton warriors. The battle segued from menacing close ups to medium shots, those clanking ghouls giving our heroes the fight of their lives.
The sequence took four and a half months to complete and required a degree of planning that would stymie most artists. Harryhausen knew movie magic was worth the effort.
Modern audiences wince while watching older science fiction films, aghast at the special effects of the era. We see the strings, the fake blood and the creases in the masks, our sense of wonder weakened if not shattered entirely.
One doesn’t need any imaginative leaps to watch a Harryhausen film–then or now. The FX guru’s monsters made us believe the impossible.