RIP Special Effects Visionary Ray Harryhausen
Ray Harryhausen wasnât just a visual effects artist; he was a special effects visionary. Today, those who grew up with CGI graphics may find Harryhausenâs stop motion animations a little jarring, even âfakeâ looking. However, even 50 years later Jason and the Argonauts is still pretty fascinating to watch.
The film actually isnât very good. The plot meanders, the story isnât really concluded and the acting is more like cardboard than some of the sets. But the skeleton warriors; the film had those awesome skeleton warriors, which Harryhausen brought to life via stop-motion animation.
Again, these werenât perfect. The motions werenât exactly fluid, it was easy to tell that the skeletonâs sword movements didnât quite fit with the actors, but when did anyone see skeletons walk convincing (or for that matter at all) before the climatic fight scene in Jason and the Argonauts? In a word, never!
He continued to provide his skills for a number of movies, many of which would be just silly B-movies were it not for his effects. Consider his work in the 1981 version of Clash of the Titans to the recent remake. Neither are top-notch movies, but CGI canât save a bad movie, where at least Harryhausenâs effects made for something special.
Were it not for Harryhausen, we probably wouldnât have many of the great special effect-laden films today. Ray Harryhausen influenced Steven Spielberg, James Cameron, Peter Jackson, George Lucas and John Landis.
Harryhausen wasnât the first to utilize the stop motion technique and in many ways this great was influenced by Willis H. OâBrien, whose ground-breaking work was mostly done âuncredited.â In fact, while he is acknowledged today for his work in the 1933 version of King Kong, he wasnât credited for it. He did, however, work on the 1949 film Mighty Joe Young, where the then young Ray Harryhausen worked on the animation sequences.
Thus Harryhausen wasnât the first to âanimateâ miniatures, but he learned from the pioneer and refined the skill so much that was used even as CGI came into its own.
Spielberg reportedly wanted to go with stop motion animation for 1993âs Jurassic Park, and in truth the film is probably better for its use of CGI. In fairness, CGI has helped make the impossible possible, to some extent at least.
Say what you will about James Cameronâs Titanic, but it still looks like a computer generated ship in some scenes. For the money, Cameron spent he could have built a full-sized replica instead. Miniature ships might look like miniatures, but they donât typically cost hundreds of millions dollars.
The other part of this to consider is that stop motion animation (while still not looking quite real) actually impressed audiences. People were in awe of King Kong in 1931 and of those wondrous skeleton warriors in 1963. Today, Michael Bay and his ilk unleash Transformers and other CGI-laden films every summer and these movies feature stunning realistic effects with the requisite explosions and little else.
In other words, the effects may look better but theyâre hardly as special.
Ray Harryhausen, youâll be missed by those who love the real effects in movies.
Image Credit: IMDB.com